Michelle Obama’s “Can’t Run Your Own House” Quote was NOT aimed at Hillary Clinton

Michelle Obama’s “Can’t Run Your Own House” Quote was NOT aimed at Hillary Clinton

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In his commencement speech to the 2016 graduating class of Stanford, Ken Burns updated an old adage, noting that the Internet “permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.”

In an era of politics-by-meme, a lie can spread quickly, along with a clever image or a video clip making the lie seem that much more substantial. The people who see/hear the lie, and want to believe the underlying message, are quick to “like” it and “share” it across their own social media feeds. No need to check on the verity of the information, although such a check would take only a few seconds and a Google search, and the person sharing the item is already using the Internet at the time s/he decides to spread the virus.

It is in this spirit of intentional dissemination of misinformation that a brief video clip has been resurrected, purporting to show “Michelle Obama TRASHING Hillary Clinton in 2008”—feel free to add as many exclamation points, emojis, and OMGs as you like.

I won’t link to any of the various versions of this clip, simply to avoid giving them any additional traction or movement—however minor.

At any rate, the (very brief) clip shows Michelle Obama, saying, “So our view was that, if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House.” Most newer versions of this meme pretend-contrast this with Ms. Obama’s recent DNC speech wherein she talks about trusting Hillary Clinton.

The big lie, of course, is that the 2008 clip is about Hillary Clinton. Given the full context, it is obvious that Michelle Obama was speaking about her own family, and how she and her husband maintain a balance between their career obligations, and their responsibilities as parents.

Here is the full quote:

So our view was that, if you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House. So, we’ve adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he’s traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I’m home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don’t care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that’s why we’re doing this. We’re in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.

And here it is in meme form (note, the picture is NOT at all related to the speech the quote is taken from—but, gee whiz, look at how that White House podium ties it all together—so long as you don’t think about why Michelle Obama would be giving a speech at the White House in 2008):

Michelle Your House

Sorry it’s not a short, punchy meme.  Context can get in the way of brevity and punchiness.  At any rate, you should be able to just drag and drop the meme, so you can share it anywhere, or, hell, share this whole post—especially in the comments section of anyone who is circulating the lie.  I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

I won’t go into why any thinking person would believe that eight seconds of a speech, completely out of context, means what some politically-motivated, usually anonymous source, says it means. We all believe what we want to believe. And we’ve seen it before. Who didn’t build what, again?

I could go on about how creating and disseminating misinformation—particularly when the truth is known and easily accessed—is deplorable, ethically and morally bankrupt, and a violation of the social contract; but since we’re expanding on the context of quotes, I’ll go back to that opening quote and let Ken Burns get this one (from a larger context where he actually IS talking about Donald Trump):

“The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.”

So, maybe…just maybe…check that meme out before you share it, even if it does feel truthy to you.

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Shooting Our Daughters’ Boyfriends: Toyota Camry Edition

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In the race to sell cars by appealing to (the stereotype of) overprotective fathers (aka fathers who are obsessed their daughters’ sexual behavior/fathers who threaten other peoples’ sons) Toyota manages to get in maximum gross-out in minimal time with a disturbing 15-second ad for the Toyota Camry.

Dad enters the Toyota dealership, phone-gazing tween daughter in tow. He approaches Toyota spokeswoman/pretend car salesperson “Jan,” telling her “I need a safe car.” Apparently dad just up-and-decided to head out and buy a car without doing any research beforehand, and thought it was a good idea to start off his negotiation for a new car by immediately notifying the sales staff of just how ill-informed he is.

Jan’s response, “The Camry’s really safe. It has ten airbags. It even has a backup camera,” is almost as bizarre as dad’s clueless request. Is Jan implying that other cars in the Toyota line are not safe? Have fewer airbags? Don’t come with a back-up camera? Is there some reason Jan didn’t ask normal salesperson-type questions, like, “How big is your family?” Or, “What do you need the car for?”

But the strangeness of the initial exchange pales in comparison to what happens next.

Dad says, “That could come in handy.” The commercial then cuts to a scene in dad’s imagination. Dad is sitting in the Camry in a driveway, watching the image from his backup camera. It’s his daughter and a boy, standing awkwardly, leaning in to kiss each other. Dad gives two quick blasts of the horn, breaking up the kiss. Tween daughter emotes, “Da-ad!” Tween boy freezes for a second, then bolts.

Toyota what dad saw

What dad saw.

Toyota’s ad agency apparently expects everybody to take this in without question, to chuckle at dad’s stealthy intervention, and to come away with the impression that the Camry has a lot of great safety features.

The ad begs so many questions, though, not the least of which is, doesn’t dad know how to work a rearview mirror? If dad had pulled the car in facing forward, instead of backing in, wouldn’t he have been able to completely avoid this situation altogether? After all, he would have been facing the kids as they said goodnight.

But the really big question is just what the hell is going on in dad’s mind that when somebody mentions a backup camera, his first thought is that he can use it to watch his daughter as she and her date try to have a goodnight kiss? Does dad imagine a number of other situations where he can use that backup camera to watch his daughter engage in physical contact with boys?

Probably shouldn’t answer that.

Toyota dad hands

Where are your hands, dad?  Show us your hands!

We cut back to the showroom, where dad throws his arm around his daughter, and says, “Gotta keep my little girl safe.” I’m not sure what form of virulent sexually transmitted disease dad thinks is lurking on the lip of his daughter’s 12-year-old date that he concludes he is keeping his daughter safe by using his car’s backup camera and horn to break up a quick peck.  If anything, dad’s actions just convinced those two kids to be much more careful about where they engage in any physical contact in the future—and to do all they can to hide it from dad.

Still, maybe that’s all dad wants—to make a little show of what he’s done to keep his daughter safe, so that he can feel better about himself for having such disturbing fantasies. Unfortunately, dad, your daughter doesn’t need you intervening in such a way—forever causing her to associate your leering…er…watchful eye with any romantic thoughts she might have toward another person. She might benefit from you being able to speak openly with her, and to move beyond your own shame about basic biological functions, so that she knows you are a safe person to turn to, rather than a controlling jerk who is likely to blow up at her if she admits to—I don’t know—let’s just call it ‘making a mistake’—of whatever kind—in her relationships.

You can just hear dad storming around the kitchen as his daughter sobs at the results of a pregnancy test. “How did this happen?!! I bought a car for Christ’s sake! It had a backup camera and everything!!” I’ll spare you whatever other thoughts dad might be having about backup cameras and his daughter getting pregnant.

But the commercial closes out instead with Jan ‘sympathizing’ with the tween daughter, saying, “He’ll only be like this for another 10 or 15 years.”

Pervy toyota dad

I’m so sorry, dear. I had no idea your dad would go there at the mention of a backup camera.

Wait. Does Jan have any idea what dad was just thinking about?   She has to, right? Otherwise, why would she specify 10 or 15 years? She is suggesting that in 10 or 15 years, the daughter might have gotten married, or moved away from dad, or whatever it is that supposedly is going to get dad to quit pointing backup cameras at her and her boyfriends, right?

Oh, Jan. You could’ve done so much better by this girl—by all girls. Don’t just encourage her to suck it up and put up with dad’s troubling attitudes and insecurities. Don’t just let dad get away with his pervy thoughts and car-based voyeurism.

Who am I kidding, though? Jan’s just trying to sell cars, not change the world. She’s just reading the words other people scripted for her—the stupid, stupid words, in a tired, awful, and nonsensical scenario.

You can see the whole commerical here (it has a “private” setting on Toyota’s own Youtube site for whatever reason).

Toyota. Let’s go places. Like the hell away from your dad. I think he’s trying to check us out on his backup camera.

 

 

D.A.D.D. is S.T.U.P.I.D.D. (Stereotypical Thinking Underscoring a Patriarchal Ideology of Domination & Desperation)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Once again, with all apologies for the overly hetero-normative tone of the piece).

Shopping for Father’s Day gifts can be hard.

A lot of dads will say they don’t want or need anything. Or if they do want something, it’s probably very specific to their particular tastes.

That’s at least in part why the buy-dad-an-unwanted-tie jokes have gone on year after year.

And speaking of jokes, one of the most enduring Father’s Day gifts is the joke T-shirt—or, rather, the T-shirt with the dad-related joke on it. You know the ones—touting dad’s love for beer, or naps, or fishing, or farting.

And those are all perfectly fine, I suppose.

But one gift you don’t want to get your father this year, or any time, is the “D.A.D.D.: Dads Against Daughter’s Dating” T-shirt. The T-shirt exists in many forms, and is available from Internet T-shirt sites and Etsy shops, all the way to the Father’s Day gift displays of department stores.

Many of said T-shirts simply have the main phrase, like this one:

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

But the full joke involves a follow up line of “Shoot the first one and the word will spread” or a similarly-worded joke about shooting any boy who asks a girl out, like this shirt, here:

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

I’ve written before about the whole cultural insistence on threatening boys with violence because of their interest in girls, even when that interest is totally age-appropriate. I don’t understand what such threats are supposed to accomplish, or why such jokes are supposed to be funny.

Most of the responses to questions about the alleged humor of such jokes involve adult men saying that they know what they were like themselves when they were teenagers, and so they know they need to set young men straight/keep them in line.

But I’m not sure if they are thinking clearly about what they are saying.

Are they saying that they needed an adult male to threaten violence against them (or their teenage selves) in order to keep them from raping a girl who agreed to go out on a date with them?

Or perhaps it’s that, as teenagers, they went on dates that ultimately led to kissing, or groping, or any of a number of acts all the way up to and including full-blown intercourse, because their dates were agreeable to engaging in such acts with them—and somehow they think that the best way to prevent their own daughters from being like the girls that they dated is to threaten any teenager who dates their daughters.

But that explanation spawns a whole host of other questions. Did those men, as teenagers and into adult life, really hate the girls they dated in high school so much that they live in fear of their own daughters behaving like those girls? And, if those men did, as teenagers, go out with any of ‘those girls’ (the kind who would engage in at least some form of sexual activity), did threats of violence really shut the men (then boys) down or get them to abstain from sex when it was being offered consensually?

Of course, there is the rather unpleasant possibility that those men are announcing that, as teenagers, they really did engage in sexual assault, and they believe that it was the responsibility of adult males—or more specifically, the fathers of their dates—to stop them from such behavior.

I’m guessing that if someone needs to be a tough-guy dad, threatening one’s daughter’s dates (who happen to be someone else’s children) with physical violence, all because of how one remembers one’s own teenage years, there are a lot of unresolved issues there. And perhaps those issues are manifesting themselves in a need to try and control one’s own daughters—and more specifically one’s own daughters’ sexual behavior, or their potential for sexual behavior. It’s essentially staking a claim to, and asserting a property right over, a teenage girl’s body.

At base, it is an assertion that girls and women are the property of men—first their fathers, and then their husbands. One implication of the anti-dating sentiment is that girls and women should skip dating altogether, and swear off interactions with boys and men, especially sex, until they are married. Essentially, it’s suggesting that there should be a title transfer of the female body/person from dad to husband.

In addition, it is an assertion that all teenage boys are in the throes of raging hormones to the point where they cannot control themselves—or at least not without the threat of violence and death to keep them in check. This, of course, is the kind of “boys will be boys” garbage that both encourages and excuses insufferably sexist behavior, up to and including sexual assault.  It is the idea that the behavior of boys and men necessarily involves violence of all sorts.

It is also a kind of challenge to teenage boys—prove you’re a man by persuading a girl to go to bed with you, while dodging the violent father who wants to put a stop to it. In other words, it’s macho crap that perpetuates notions of who is responsible for their behavior, who is not, and how people need to be controlled. It posits the idea that boys are supposed to want sex, and take it when they can, but that girls are not, and are supposed to resist it until it is forced upon them. It promotes the idea of relationships as conquest—at least for males.

If you deny the inherent sexism, stupidity, and outright creepiness of the joke, then why aren’t there T-shirts promoting the idea that boys shouldn’t be allowed to date?

Where are the D.A.S.D. (Dad’s Against Son’s Dating) shirts? Or perhaps the M.A.S.D. (Mother’s Against Sons Dating) shirts? Or even the M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Daughters Dating) shirts? Although that last acronym is taken (which could spawn a whole other piece of commentary about why anybody is deliberately “spoofing” Mother’s Against Drunk Driving).

Why not shirts with “M.A.  I.S.  G.O.D.: Mother’s Against Innocent Sons Going Out on Dates”?

Maybe it’s just that the M.A.S.D. and D.A.S.D. shirts don’t have a very catchy acronym—although I suppose you could make them into D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S shirts—except that the phrasing gets problematic. I mean, we don’t really want Dads or Moms to be “for” dating sons—especially if the implication of the D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S. shirts would be that parents are standing up against dating their own daughters and sons. Oh–but wait—there is that whole creepy Daddy-Daughter Date Night thing out there, isn’t there?

I guess when parents get overly obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their teenage offspring, things just automatically get creepy.

Overall, rather than getting into these stupid threats of violence, and assertions of rights over the bodies of others, why not, instead, teach all of our kids how to be empathetic, and respectful to themselves and others, when it comes to matters of physicality and sexuality? Why not teach them, both boys and girls, how to avoid succumbing to feelings of peer pressure, or partner pressure, to engage in sex when they are not ready? Why not teach them basic, factual sex education, starting from an early age, so that they will not view sex as some weird mystery, some taboo subject, something that cannot be approached because of the threat of violence, or of damnation, for such approach?

You can teach children and teens the real risks of sexual activity—whether those risks are physical or emotional–without making the main threat one of pointless aggression. And you can teach them how to reduce (not completely eliminate) the potential for unwanted physical or emotional consequences, without having to promote the idea that those people dating daughters should live under threat of violence for wanting to date, or even for having sexual feelings.

Or, perhaps we can keep making obnoxious jokes and T-shirts promoting the idea that daughters’ “purity” needs to be owned and protected by fathers, to the point where threats of violence and murder against other people’s children seem totally appropriate.

In line with those stereotypes and attitudes, how about some of the following, somewhat tortured, acronyms as T-shirts:

D.I.P.C.H.I.T.  Dad’s Instigating Pissing Contests w/ Horny Impulsive Teenagers

W.T.F.  D.A.D.? Why The Fascination w/ Denying Autonomy for Daughters?

D.O.D.G.E. Dad’s Obsessed w/ Daughter’s Genitals—Eww!

I.  A.M.  O.C.T.O.P.U.S. Insecure Adult Males Obsessed w/ Controlling Their Offspring’s Puberty Und Sexuality

I’m sure you all can come up with some acronyms that might work with the idea above.

Or maybe we can just shorten that original acronym to what it really means, and think about better ways to deal with it:

D.A.D.  Dad’s Afraid of Daughters

Happy Father’s Day!

A Duggar Finally Admits Josh Broke the Law

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On June 3rd, Megyn Kelly dedicated an entire episode of her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

There weren’t any particular surprises that turned up, except maybe that Jessa and Jill Duggar, two of the daughters who now apparently admit to having been victimized by Josh, were also interviewed by Kelly. But that interview is being aired later.

Aside from that, Jim Bob and Michelle did little more than reiterate that “as parents” (a phrase that was uttered constantly throughout the show by both interviewer and interviewees—part of the battle cry of Duggar supporters who feel the state should stay out of family business) Jim Bob and Michelle did the best they knew how. They also insisted that they were the real victims in all this, because some people with “an agenda”—a “dog-whistle” phrase for Fox News viewers that indicates the LGBTQ community—are trying to tear the Duggar family down.

Oh yeah, and, in reference to Josh Duggar, Jim Bob actually uttered the phrase, “he’d broken the law.”

"I didn't just say my son broke the law, did I?"

“I didn’t just say my son broke the law, did I?”

I’m guessing Jim Bob didn’t really mean to say that. After all, the interview was clearly coached, if not at least roughly scripted, and none of the participants referred to any of Josh’s actions as crimes or sexual assaults.

Jim Bob, instead, called Josh’s crimes “choices,” “unwise choices,” “decisions,” “very bad things,” “a bad thing,” “improper touching,” “what he did,” “the act,” and “stuff that happened 12 years ago.” When asked about the particulars of the crimes, Jim Bob could not help but minimize Josh’s actions, saying that Josh was “curious about girls,” that he “touched them over their clothes,” that there were “a couple of incidents where he touched them under their clothes—but it was like a few seconds,” that the crimes involved only “a real quick touch while they were asleep for most of them; and there were two other incidents that were when they were awake,” and best of all, that it “was not rape or anything like that.” (I don’t know, Jim Bob, some of those actions are about as “like rape” as you can get without actually meeting the legal definition of rape). Getting religious, Jim Bob said his “son’s heart had gone astray” and that Josh had “violated God’s principles.”

Doing her part, Michelle called Josh’s actions, “mistakes,” “wrongdoing,” “wrongdoings,” “really bad choices,” “improperly touching a young one,” and “some very bad things.”

At the outset, it seemed like Megyn Kelly might actually attempt to provide some clarity about the crimes, stating in the opening to the show that Josh had “forcibly touched at least five girls.” But, while she was talking with the Duggars, Kelly helped them along in their minimization, referring to Josh’s crimes as “this problem,” “testing,” and “a fondling.”

Perhaps even more disgusting than minimizing the sexual assaults Josh committed by using rather soft language to describe the crimes, was Jim Bob and Michelle’s repeated insistence that the assaults were of little concern to the victims, because in most of the incidents, the girls were asleep and “didn’t even know he’d done it,” or “weren’t even aware.” And, in those cases where the girls were aware of what had happened, the Duggars suggested that the girls “were confused” by the actions or “didn’t understand” what happened anyway.

So, y’know. No big deal for the girls–and, yes, I’m guessing that being sexually assaulted by your big brother is probably confusing and hard to understand.

Strangely enough, though, the Duggars said multiple times that they had talked to their girls about improper touch, so that the girls would understand what it was, and so that the girls would let their parents know if it happened.

Even when Kelly directly asked Jim Bob what it was like to have to worry about the sexual abuse “as a father of daughters,” Jim Bob was able to make only the most cursory of remarks about his daughters before fixing his attention elsewhere. His exact response was, in what may have been an unintentionally revealing look into the community to which the Duggars belong, “I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we talked to other families who’ve had other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”

So, again, no big deal. I mean, everybody’s doing it. Right? And a lot of them are doing worse stuff.

Beyond that, the Duggars provided many other tortured and defensive responses to the most common criticisms that have been leveled against them. For instance, they admitted that the man in Little Rock Arkansas, who Josh went to for ‘counseling’ really wasn’t a counselor, but “was running a little training center” (Jim Bob’s words).

Still, Michelle insisted that, “all of our children received professional counseling,” with Jim Bob adding, “from an accredited, professional counselor.” Now, there are scenarios where this could have happened. For instance, if the parents put the children into counseling sometime after the report that triggered the investigation had already been made, then any further reporting by actual counselors would have been redundant and made little difference in the progression of events. Getting the kids into counseling at that time would also make it appear as if the parents were trying to do the right thing by taking appropriate steps to address the situation.

Aside from that, though, any counselor who had any information about Josh’s crimes, and knowledge that Josh was still in the home with numerous other children, would have had to make a report to Child Protective Services. And unless CPS completely dropped the ball, Josh would not have been able to make it out beyond the statute of limitations that kept him from being prosecuted. But Kelly did not ask them to clarify anything about the “professional counseling” at all.

Kelly also let Jim Bob go unchallenged, as he spun his version of events regarding the “report” made to an Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who later ended up going to prison for possession of child pornography. (It was during this portion of the interview that Jim Bob actually admitted that Josh had “broken the law”). Still, the main point of Jim Bob’s story was that they told the police about Josh’s ‘mistakes’ and the police didn’t file a report with CPS, so that’s on the police. Or, as Jim Bob said, Hutchens “violated the law himself by not reporting this incident.”

In addition, Jim Bob asserted that, “The last jurisdiction of who he (Josh) needed to make things right with was the law.” It all sounds something like the Duggar version of ‘f*ck the police.’

Jim Bob’s explanation of events also suggested it was only by chance that the report was made to a trooper that Jim Bob knew personally (although Jim Bob implied he only know Hutchens incidentally because of a towing business Jim Bob had in the past), and that a “witness” went along to make sure it would be clear what Josh said to Trooper Hutchens. Jim Bob neglected to mention that the “witness” was actually multiple church elders.

It was, one can safely assume, by design that Jim Bob never said “church elders,” even though they had been brought up several times in earlier Duggar family accounts of events—including when Jim Bob Duggar met with the church elders to discuss Josh’s ‘choices’ before he was sent off to that “little training center”—all because one of the church elders allegedly advised Jim Bob not to send Josh to “one of those juvenile youth sex offender facilities” because “the success rate is not very good.”

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Kelly let the “success rate” statement slide even though at the conclusion of her show, she explained that, according to Department of Justice Statistics, “85 to 90 percent” of juvenile sex offenders “never are arrested for sex crimes again.” Kelly did not point out that those juveniles who receive treatment specifically for sex offense behaviors have lower rates of re-offense than those who do not.

At any rate, in the version of events doctored for the Kelly Interview, the elders have now been transformed into Jim Bob’s “good friends.” The reason for the elders now simply being good friends is probably because, in the state of Arkansas, clergy members are considered mandated reporters. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to the law’s language about what constitutes a “clergy member”—but not so much that the church elders want to go on being identified as people who were aware of Josh’s crimes, yet didn’t bother to make a report. That fear of attention would be of particular concern for any pastor who was aware of Josh’s actions. There’s no fuzziness about the legal language regarding the obligations of pastors to report incidents of child abuse.

Rest assured, though, Jim Bob is most certainly not a mandated reporter. He boldly declared that, “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”

That is, to be sure, a rather broad reading of the law. Parents are not mandated reporters in Arkansas (but they are in several other states). However, the law isn’t exactly set up so that parents can “do what they think is best” without any consequences. There are, for instance, laws against child endangerment—endangerment like keeping your sexually abusive son in the home with the victims of his sexual abuse, as well as numerous other potential victims (which is, if I remember correctly, a big part of the reason TLC claimed they cancelled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’)

But the Duggars really only want us to know that they did everything as best they knew how, and tried to do right, and that they are now being victimized.

They are being victimized by the Children’s Safety Center and the police, even though the Duggar children “shared everything” with investigators—or maybe not, and even though Jim Bob tried to keep Josh away from those investigators.

They are being “victimized by people with an agenda” (wink, wink, dog whistle, dog whistle). Kelly had to repeatedly ask a question about the appearance of hypocrisy—feeding Michelle Duggar a line about Michelle’s robocall that said transgender people are “child molesters” before Michelle finally remembered to start down the right road that would allow (or rather require) Jim Bob to point out that Michelle had really called them pedophiles—and Josh is not a pedophile (although he is certainly someone who engaged in sexual assault as a minor, including incestuous sexual assault).

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

And Kelly further helped with the appearance of victimization by asking if the Duggars are being “slandered” because of their Christian beliefs. One would think that Kelly, as an attorney, and working for a news organization, would be able to apply the term “slander” correctly—but I guess not. And then there’s the matter of what “Christian” actually means.

To the Duggars, Christianity means something far different than what most Christians believe, and is extremely distant from what most other Christians practice. In addition to their bizarre emphasis on sexual purity, the Duggars also apparently view humility, contrition, and truth-telling as optional elements of their beliefs. And, where that doesn’t violate the law, that’s their right as citizens of these United States.

But the Duggars want to have it both ways, proclaiming the greatness of God while indulging in the rites of Mammon. They want to have a hand in crafting the laws of this country, and in having laws enforced against others—but they don’t want the laws of the country being enforced against their family. And contrary to what the Duggars said about doing their part to deal correctly with the sexual abuse that Josh committed, they did not engage in any kind of legitimately legal process for addressing it—which is a stereotypical thing for politicians to do when their children get in trouble—pull a few strings, ask a few favors, keep it all hush hush, and lawyer up when necessary.

And if the interview with Megyn Kelly demonstrated anything, it’s that Jim Bob Duggar is, first and foremost, a politician—intent on crafting a message and maintaining an image. For her part, Kelly is complicit in that image-making, including the part where sexual abuse is minimized—and all for the same reasons as Jim Bob—ratings, money, and influence.

Serving Mammon, The Duggar Way

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, it came out that Josh Duggar, of the “19 Kids and Counting” Duggars, sexually assaulted four of his younger sisters as well as a young girl from another family. From what we know, this all happened back around 2003, when Josh was 14 or 15 years old.

Josh Duggar does not deny that he committed these crimes, although he refers to them as “sins” and “terrible things” and “mistakes” rather than crimes.

Josh Duggar never faced any legal consequences for his crimes.

The Duggar family claims that they addressed the sexual assaults by getting “closer to God,” by pursuing counseling for both Josh and the victims, and by going to the police.

But let’s be clear about this–the Duggar family NEVER GOT COUNSELING FOR JOSH OR THE VICTIMS OF HIS CRIMES, and THE FAMILY NEVER WENT TO THE POLICE.

How can I possibly know this? Well…

Let me first address the police situation, even if that is a bit backwards. Jim Bob Duggar (father to all of the Duggars—victims and victimizer), following Josh’s “counseling” took him to a law enforcement officer who was a family friend, for a “confession” that resulted in a “stern talk.” According to Josh’s parents, the law enforcement officer told them that since Josh had already gone through counseling, there was nothing more that could be done. So either 1) Josh’s parents are completely lying about what the police officer advised, or 2) The police officer was completely derelict in his duty, as far as what he was supposed to do when given information about sexual abuse involving children.

Also, the cop (again, a family friend) that the Duggars took Josh to meet with is currently SERVING MORE THAN 50 YEARS IN PRISON FOR POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. I’m sure he quite enjoyed his meeting with the young Josh Duggar.

Now, as to the counseling…

If any of the victims, or the perpetrator, had gone to any kind of legitimate counselor who deals with sexual offense behaviors, or with sexual victimization, or with any form of recognized counseling that requires a person to be credentialed at all, a report would have been made to Child Protective Services, and an investigation would have occurred much earlier than it did—early enough that Josh would likely have faced some legitimate legal consequences before the three-year statute of limitations on his crimes ran out, and early enough that his family would not have been able to completely manipulate the situation, and keep it out of the legal system, and out of the public eye—well, out of the public eye until now.

Simply put, counselors are mandated reporters. They cannot keep things like this on the down-low—not without losing their licenses.

Such a lovely wedding.  You'd never guess...

Such a lovely wedding. You’d never guess…

As it is, if it weren’t for an anonymous “tipster” contacting the authorities in Arkansas and the production staff of the Oprah Winfrey Show (who also contacted the Arkansas authorities) back in 2006, there never would have been an investigation at all. Josh would have victimized four of his sisters, and another young girl, and had to face the “punishment” and “counseling” he got by spending four months away from home, reading the Bible and helping a family friend do some remodeling work—not exactly an evidence-based means of addressing sexually predatory behaviors.

And, again, that’s exactly what happened: No punishment. No real counseling.

The victimized girls also did not receive anything that might be considered an evidence-based form of counseling for addressing sexual trauma and sexual victimization. We have a key to what kind of treatment the girls might have received, in Samantha Field’s blog post, where Duggar-family Guru Bob Gothard’s insanely creepy “Counseling Sexual Abuse” graphic is posted—a chart that, among other things, suggests that being sexually assaulted brings one favor with God, and special spiritual strengths.

In other words, the Duggar girls were almost certainly told that being sexually victimized was a good thing in the eyes of Jesus—in no small part because it helps them recognize how terrible they were as prepubescent temptresses, and because it makes them super-spiritual. In case there is any need for clarification, such “reframing” is not considered “best practices” for addressing sexual victimization.

In fact, if any of the children had gone to any legitimate form of counseling, the girls would have had control over whether they even had to listen to an apology from Josh, much less having him allowed back in the home after a few short months away.  And there would have been a much more involved discussion of how/whether to integrate Josh back into the home.

And just so you know where I’m coming from, I spent over two years working full-time with juvenile sex offenders, and then spent over six years working part-time with adult sex offenders.

I also read the entire (redacted) police report —something I have had to do in many other cases.

The story of Josh Duggar is not unique—in the sense that families are generally unsure of what course to take when such situations arise. Families do not want to invite shame on their children–victims or victimizers–or the family as a whole, and often delay any meaningful action or professional intervention until the problem has progressed to a state where it can no longer be viewed as a “phase” or as “innocent exploration”—or until one of the victims reports the abuse to a therapist, or a school counselor, or a camp counselor, or a teacher, or a friend who tells a parent, or a pastor, or anybody else who chooses to act in a responsible fashion.

I have had contact with families who earnestly sought help and support, and tried to do right by both their daughters and their sons—and any other victims. I have had contact with families where the abusers were clearly given the benefit of the doubt, and the victims shamed as if they had deliberately ruined the family–even to the point of sending the victims away so the abusers could come back to the home. And I have been in contact with families who tried to beat the bad behavior out of the victimizers, and who go on pretending they are being persecuted over some dumb crap that they are perfectly capable of handling.

Clearly, the situation with Josh Duggar progressed to a dangerous state. His was not a case of budding sexual curiosity leading to “playing doctor.” His was a case of repeatedly exerting sexual “authority” over girls who were smaller, weaker, and devalued in his family’s “culture.”

From a fan blog--a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

From a fan blog–a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

In fact, what many have viewed as the Duggar family’s “wholesomeness”—their constant harping on values of purity and modesty—could not be further from a healthy attitude toward relationships and sex.  It places girls and women on a “pedestal” that values their virginity first, their breeding abilities second, and their whole selves not at all.  It is a “culture” that infantilizes women, treating them as too stupid to be trusted with control of their own bodies. It is a “culture” that preaches submission of wives to their husbands to an extreme degree. Women are told to recognize their inferiority, and to be celebrate it, because that’s what God wants.

Consider what message is being sent to one’s daughters—and one’s sons—when the matriarch of a family asserts publicly that it is her job to submit sexually to her husband, even when she does not want to.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when parents say they should keep having children, no matter what, simply because it is biologically possible.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when it is deemed acceptable for a pre-teen male to “chaperone” his nearly-adult sister on a date, to make sure she and her boyfriend do nothing inappropriate.

Many conservative/Republican figureheads have come out in support of the Duggars, and in condemnation of people who are now criticizing the Duggar family for their handling of the sexual abuse situation—mostly in the vein of “quit picking on Christians” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” With few exceptions, those defenses involve labeling Josh’s actions as teenage frivolity, rather than what they are—deliberate, sexually predatory behavior that was covered up by his family.

Family friend, and Duggar-political-endorsement-recipient Mike Huckabee used the argument that a victim, or multiple victims, of Josh’s behavior, wanted privacy–both in defending the family and when he had a judge he appointed destroy the un-redacted police report about Josh’s offenses. He claims the Duggars sought out help, and went to the authorities. But, yet again, they didn’t—not in any real way.

Likewise, Matt Walsh, used the childish “Oh yeah?!? Well—liberals!!” argument (along with the ‘persecuted Christians’ argument) in a post where he also made the poignant observation that, “As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes.”

Really, Matt? What about your 12-, or 10-, or 8-, or 6-year-old daughter, or the 5-year-old neighbor girl? (No, I don’t have actual information on the specific ages of the victims). They’ve already had their “lives ruined” by the “mistakes” of your son. So, devalue the daughters? They’ll get over it? What’s important is that you protect your sexually-predatory teenage son?

But it’s not just a “mistake” when a 15-year-old male repeatedly gropes the genitals and chests of multiple younger girls. It is sexual assault.

I will note that the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders (and for adult sex offenders) who are caught and go through some sort of legal proceeding is much lower than the public perceives it to be, and that said rate goes down even more with appropriate treatment. So, given that Josh was caught, but not actually subject to legal punishment or real treatment, I guess I can believe that he’s steered clear of further offenses—as Josh and the family assert–although there’s not a lot of data on people who got caught but essentially are allowed to skate.

But I do not believe Josh has really changed his attitude toward his behaviors—especially when he calls them “mistakes” for which he feels he has already paid a big enough price.

Also, for those who are claiming to support the Duggars, let’s be clear about what is being supported. In pursuit of both political power, and celebrity, (the truest of Christian values) the Duggar family decided to bury sexual offenses committed by their son, against their daughters and another girl. Their attempts to prevent Josh from getting in trouble were successful, inasmuch as the offenses did not come to light until after the law no longer allowed any punishment for son Josh.

So, if you’re supporting the Duggars, you’re arguing that families should dodge the law, allow their daughters to be sexually assaulted by their brothers or by family friends, and do what they can to keep their sons from getting in legal trouble, all while counseling the children that sex is bad, but that it’s okay that the sexual assault took place because boys and men can’t help themselves and girls and women are really only important as breeding stock–and provoke sexual assault in the first place.

Furthermore, you’re advocating that it’s acceptable for the son who committed the offenses to take a prominent job with a well-known organization that utilizes bogus research in an attempt to control women, and demonize the LGBTQ community in order to deny them the basic rights that heterosexual adults have—all while accusing the LGBTQ community of habitually engaging in the behaviors that Josh engaged in, and that his parents covered up.

That’s not wholesomeness or purity.

Those aren’t “mistakes.”

Those aren’t the kind of beliefs, or actions, anyone should be lauding.

A Reframe for Dick Whitman OR Don Draper Gets Just Enough ‘Therapy’ to Go On Being Don Draper

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Spoiler Alert!)

Let’s imagine that Don Draper’s momentary breakdown—a realization of abandonment, followed by a phone call wherein he recounts his sins to Peggy, leading to an anxiety attack or some other form of emotional paralysis, which is essentially broken by a cathartic, sobbing hug with a stranger in a group “seminar”—is an honest therapeutic breakthrough.

don's anxiety

While many people have interpreted the final moments of the series as cynical—the smirk that rises on Don’s face as he sits in a meditation group, followed by the ring of a meditation bell fading into the opening of the Coke “Hilltop” commercial jingle—a better “reframe” for what happens with Don is that he recognizes how his own behavior has been impacting others, that he is able to identify his own feelings of emotional disconnection, and that he is able to gain some real acceptance of his situation and how to thrive in it.

Don's idea

In the terms of a therapeutic cliché, Don realized that when one cannot change one’s circumstances, one can change one’s response/attitude toward those circumstances.

Essentially, such a “reframe” relies on the acceptance of the idea that the “Hilltop” Coke commercial is Don’s concept (all apologies to Bill Backer)—an idea that hardly seems up for debate. Among other elements, in the final scenes of the final episode, Peggy’s plea to Don to “come home” involves the pointed appeal, “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” And the final words spoken, by one of the retreat leaders, before the Coke commercial closes out the series, are an invitation to greet the morning sunshine and bask in the possibilities of a “new day, new ideas, a new you.”

Don’s answer to Peggy’s question about working on the Coke account is, “I can’t. I can’t get out of here.” At that particular moment, it’s a statement of desperation. Don is panicked. He is stuck at a coastal retreat “somewhere in California” with no transportation.

But Don’s sense that he needs to be able to control where he is, and when he can leave, is about to melt away. After his moment of connection with fellow seminar-attendee, Leonard, Don realizes he can “work on Coke,” or any other account, so long as he abandons his need for control of the situation where he is working.

Don’s initial flight from McCann-Erickson is brought on by feeling he has lost control. He is called to a meeting for Miller Lite, only to realize he is one of many creative directors there—and not the creative director there. He quickly decides this is not for him, grabs up his catered box lunch, and hits the road.

Don’s need for control plays into his sobbing hug with Leonard—who details how he feels that his family doesn’t even look at him; that he doesn’t know how to give, receive, or even recognize love; and that “nobody cares I’m gone.”

don's hugg

In a moment of recognition and connection, Don realizes his family does not “care” that he’s gone, and that his idea of love is ill-defined at best. Of those family members he has tried to reach, daughter Sally and ex-wife Betty have told him to stay away, and that the lives of his sons are more stable in his absence. Stephanie, the niece of the (real deceased) Don Draper, both invites (the imposter) Don to the coastal retreat, and then leaves him stranded there, after telling him he is not part of her family (and after having her own desire for a therapeutic experience thwarted by what she feels are the judgmental and stereotypical attitudes about what she should value in life).

In the lead-up to Don’s hug with Leonard, it is only Peggy who urges Don to come home. And by “home” Peggy means back to work at McCann. It is Peggy alone who knows how to reach Don, and does so, rather than just accepting that Don does what Don does and leaving him to it. She appeals to the only thing that Don clearly loves—the pure joy of coming up with a winning ad campaign.

It’s possible to interpret Don’s brief breakdown as entirely self-serving—that he is distraught only because he has been abandoned instead of being the one to abandon, and because he lost the ability to just pick up and leave. He was even left without his usual means of numbing himself with alcohol and casual sex.

So when Leonard revealed his dream of being left alone in the dark on the refrigerator shelf, of course it struck a chord with Don. After all, Don’s whole career has been spent trying to get people to pick that particular item out of the refrigerator—the one that would make them whole. To do that, he needs to know how to connect with people like Leonard—people who have a sense of emptiness and who don’t know how to correct their emotional deficits. And now Don is trapped here with Leonard, in the dark and cold of that nightmare refrigerator where others are in charge of who gets in and out. That bit of recognition allows Don to plunge into his own feelings of sadness, if only for a moment, before he recognizes the value in what Peggy has told him, and the value of tuning into people like Leonard, at least until the end of the week.

It’s a fairly common misconception about therapy that such moments of insight and catharsis will lead to meaningful change, or that a therapist’s job is to provide a client with just the right piece of advice or insight to “fix” that client, and put the client on the right course for life. Part of that misconception can be attributed to “retreats” like the one where Don is stranded—certainly sold to the participants as a week of healing and life-affirming change. And, certainly, recognizing something lacking in yourself, and having a good cry can be helpful at times, but it doesn’t make you a different person. Real change takes will and work.

But if therapy is about meeting a person where s/he is, and helping that person to be the best version of who s/he can be at that time, and of using a ‘strengths-based’ approach that helps the person tune into their own abilities to address problems, then Don’s time away at the retreat is successful. Don not only has a moment of clarity and honest emotion; he gains acceptance about his own circumstances and how to change his response to them.

It is telling that in the final shot of Don’s family, we see them in a dimly-lit kitchen, Betty resignedly drawing on a cigarette, Sally, having assumed parental duties, washing dishes with her back turned to her mother and the camera. All this just before we see Don on a sunny cliff-top overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hear the opening words of the Coca-Cola jingle: “I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love.”

sally dishes, betty smokes

Don has spent a good portion of his adult life trying to fix problems with money and buying things, and exists in an industry where money and buying things is put forth as the answer to everything—even a broken home and the absence of love.

And Don has a significant history of childhood trauma and abandonment, and poor modeling from the adults in his life. A week of group seminars and meditation isn’t going to fix that.

But that week on the coast did give Don enough of a reframe to get him back to the work he loves, and to do that work successfully.

coke real thing

And that’s the real thing…or the realest thing we can expect from Don.

8 Pieces of Relationship Advice I Just Pulled Out of My Ass

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

A friend of mine recently turned me onto James Sama, a guy who, under the banner of “New Chivalry,” writes relationship advice, despite apparently having zero training in any relevant field and having nothing particularly original to say. Sama trades in stereotypes, and vague generalities, while somehow convincing people that his advice is just dandy and somehow forward-thinking.

Here’s one of his latest, which was featured on Huffington Post: 12 Stereotypes Labeled “Strong” to Hide the Blatant Sexism Involved

Sama has become a minor media figure and gotten over 30 million hits on his blog in about a year-and-a-half (his claim), which apparently qualifies him as a relationship expert. Have I mentioned that Sama has never been married and doesn’t get into a whole lot of discussion about how his amazing insight into relationships has personally made his own relationship(s) better?

Don’t get me wrong.  Sama’s not alone in the advice-peddling-with-no-credentials field.  Still, this all got me to thinking that maybe I could follow his business model—giving fortune-cookie-style relationship advice, presented in “list articles” about how this or that stereotypical thing is the key to a solid relationship. So, with the misplaced confidence and lack of thought that is often necessary to self-promotion, I present 8 pieces of relationship advice I just pulled out of my ass.

  1. I’m okay, you’re okay

Okay, okay—so I got this from somewhere else. I don’t really remember where. But until you can be okay, and know that everybody else is okay, you’re not going to have a good relationship. Or even an okay relationship. Okay?

  1. You need to love yourself first

We’ve all heard it a million times—you can’t love anybody else until you’ve learned to love yourself. This is true enough. But, seriously, none of us love ourselves all that much, unless we are lacking in basic self-awareness. I mean, you know everything you think and do! And a lot of that is just plain unforgivable. Just know that you don’t really love yourself, and so you’re probably incapable of loving anyone else fully. But the great thing is that your partner is in the same boat. You don’t really think anybody who loves her/himself would actually waste her/his time on someone like you; do you?

  1. If your partner is mad at you, it’s probably because he/she is really mad at her/himself

Relationship experts know that people in relationships are going to get mad at each other. It happens. Sometimes it happens a lot. When your partner gets mad at you, just recognize that it’s probably because your partner did something really dumb and is just taking it out on you. Knowing that it’s not your fault means you can accept responsibility for whatever the argument is about, while not really having to feel too bad about it. Everybody can move on a little quicker that way.

  1. Agreeing with your partner can help shorten arguments

Following from the previous advice point, we all know that the main goal in any relationship is to keep conflict to a minimum. When your partner is mad at you, if you can listen to their complaint just enough to agree with what they are saying, and prove you were at least sort of paying attention by making a semi-relevant apology for whatever that is, they’ll start to feel better and quit climbing up your ass. And remember, it’s not really your fault anyway. Your partner is just mad at her/himself.

Stock photos of happy and/or upset couples just aren't fun--but a rubber skeleton couple on vacation in an island paradise, possibly being swarmed by gulls...

Stock photos of happy and/or upset couples just aren’t fun–but a rubber skeleton couple on vacation in an island paradise, possibly being swarmed by gulls…

  1. Sometimes simply agreeing isn’t enough

Sometimes just agreeing and taking the blame isn’t going to fix an argument. Sometimes you have to promise to never again do whatever made your partner so upset in the first place. Again, since your partner is really just mad at her/himself, it’s really no skin off your teeth, or sweat off your brow, or whatever things come off of you when you’re stressed and having to put forth some effort.

  1. Try to keep track of your promises

Right now, I’m talking about your ‘negative promises’—you know, the promises that you won’t do something again. Positive promises—like, ‘I’ll pick up after myself’, or ‘I’m totally saving up so we can go to Hawaii’—are for another article entirely. Although, now that I think about it, I suppose those positive promises could be negatives, too—like ‘I’ll never leave my dirty clothes all over the bathroom/bedroom floor again’ or ‘I’ll never waste my money on video games again, so that we can maybe one day have enough money to actually take a nice vacation.’ Anyway, the point is, you can only promise never to do something again so many times before your partner catches on, and realizes you are doing that thing—again! Or perhaps–still!

  1. Relationships are hard work, but fun work

This is pretty much an obligatory point to make. Nobody’s relationship is perfect all the time. And when there are problems, nobody’s relationship just fixes itself. You have to put in some work. That work should ideally be fun—because arguing can really be a lot of fun if you know how to do it right. And it’s especially fun when you win.

  1. Winning isn’t the point

Another obligatory point. I know I just said it’s fun to win arguments. But, really, that’s not the point. I mean, if you were paying attention to the rest of the things I wrote here, you’d realize that I was telling you how to avoid arguments, or to just give up and let the other person win, so that the argument might just end and you can avoid doing any meaningful work toward understanding your partner, or improving your relationship.

If you can remember these points and try to stick with them, your relationship may just last another day or two. And if it lasts just another day or two, and then another day or two, and then another day or two…before long, you’ve spent a lifetime together.

Author’s note: Gee whiz, that was fun! I was afraid that having been trained as a counselor, and having been married for over two decades might have hindered me in advancing some pointless advice. But, since I’m not actually trained as a marriage and family therapist, and my marriage is—well, a marriage that exists in the real world—I was able to cobble some stuff together that sounds pretty good, actually. Plus, laying it out in short, numbered points meant that I didn’t have to actually put together a cogent argument.

Now if some of you can help out by sharing this around, or maybe getting it to the attention of “media outlets” I should be well on my way to 30-million blog hits, and solid status as a relationship guru.  Thanks!

Passing on Tradition: Easter Edition

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Being the son of a pastor, and having been raised religiously, you might think Easter would have a pronounced level of importance in my consciousness. But it doesn’t really register with me. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Good Friday church service—the overall tone of fear and denial, lapses of faith, betrayal, brutality, and sacrifice. Exiting the church in silence into a darkened spring night.

Easter service, in contrast, felt more like an obligation and an aggravation. Crowded with people who didn’t regularly attend church, those who showed up only to get ‘the good stuff’—just like at Christmas—it felt something like the story of the ‘Little Red Hen’ minus the justice of it all—which I suppose is the point of all that ‘grace’ business.

The idea of a resurrection was appealing to me, I suppose. But I like my resurrection stories with a bigger helping of horror and revenge.  (There’s that grace getting in the way again). And maybe the idea of an empty tomb as the big symbol of hope was just a little unnerving to me.

In my adult life, I don’t think I’ve been to a single Easter church service. I’ve occasionally made it to Christmas Eve (nighttime) services. Maybe if I thought ahead about Easter at all, I would take in a Good Friday service.

I do remember the fun of Easter weekends as a child—a quick (indoor) Easter egg hunt, getting a basket of candy. We, of course, dyed the eggs on Saturday, which I enjoyed. But perhaps being unable to eat eggs, the art project angle, followed by the hiding-and-seeking, was all I was ever going to get out of that. The church service was a sort of drawn-out block of time before a gathering of extended family members—with ham (or pink pig meat, as it came to be known in a family joke based on my younger brother’s objection to ham’s color reminding him of the actual animal we were eating).  And in another aside, my mother apparently makes amazing deviled eggs–something I’ll never experience unless allergy-defeating technology makes a huge leap forward.

All of this background is by way of observing my current lack of (meaningful) observation of the Easter holiday.

This morning, I treated my wife, M, to an indoor Easter egg hunt—a few plastic eggs stuffed with gifts. But that had more to do with a particular 7/$27 clearance sale that coincided with the holiday, than with anything else.

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The kid is off with her boyfriend, not observing the holiday in their own way.

And despite efforts—mostly aimed at all that business about creating fun memories for one’s children—to engage with the Easter holiday, we (M, the kid, and I) never really got any solid tradition going.

There were years when we colored eggs, sometimes with other family friends and their children—which inevitably involved me running out to a store on Saturday afternoon to get eggs, vinegar, and dye, as I hadn’t given it any thought beforehand.

There was a stretch of years where Easter involved me hiding plastic eggs, each containing a numbered clue, pointing the kid toward a fabulous gift—a basketball hoop, a rubber raft…something related to spring and getting outside and having fun.

There were years—or maybe just one year—when the kid went off with family friends to their big, extended-family gathering, out somewhere where I could not go due to work or school, and to which M did not want to go without me.

There was a year where we tried doing the public, child-centered, not-really-religious observation. When I asked the kid about Easter memories, she described it as that “Easter event at some community space we went to where they trapped a bunch of kids in a room with a bunch of plastic eggs with prizes,” and where one of the children who’d gone along with us “was scared shitless of the guy in the Easter Bunny costume.” For whatever reason, I found it rather amusing that the kid took pains to spell out “the guy in the Easter Bunny costume” rather than just saying “the Easter Bunny.”

There was a year when we were invited to a family celebration, which consisted of us arriving to a very short period of pre-dinner conversation, the serving of the meal, then dessert, then everyone being asked to leave so that there would be no further disruption in the family routine. Sure, there’s something to be said for stability, but if a holiday isn’t an excuse for an extended routine-disruption, what is?  Okay, to be fair, there were added complications that I won’t get into right now.  But, still, it felt like the least celebratory celebration in the history of Easter.

I sometimes have regrets that M and I were not more consistent in our own routines where (some) holidays and traditions are concerned. The kid simply has no solid foundation for an Easter tradition—or even a solid conviction about not celebrating the holiday. Perhaps that’s not so unusual as I think it is—a thought that is based on my own upbringing, and my vague sense of what many other people do to mark the holiday each year.

On some level, I suppose my concern about how we’ve celebrated, or not celebrated, Easter over the years boils down to a question of what kind of memories I’ve provided for the kid, or perhaps, what kind of memories she has formed around the holiday, based on the cicumstances we provided. Most of that is probably concern based around the knowledge that my own mother established a remarkably stable environment for our family, despite some major challenges—a level of stability I’ve never come close to achieving through the various moves, shifts in careers, and tenuous connections with friends and family.

But in the end, I suppose the kid has a sense of humor about it all. My feelings of urgency or importance to the holiday—feelings that are definitely muted and muddled—came out of the sense of importance assigned to the holiday in my upbringing. My feelings that I should be doing more about Easter are, ultimately, tied to a sense that my family did more for me around the holiday (and about religion and tradition in general), and that I should pick that up and go with it.

Still, what I grew up with was “normal” to me, and I wasn’t able, or willing, to maintain it. What the kid grew up with is something she has to define for herself, and which she can decide to expand on, or abandon. As much as we may like to think that such celebrations are universal in action and understanding, obligation and satisfaction, we’re all bringing our own baggage, and taking away what we will.

Happy Easter.

Suicide at the Oscars, part one: ‘Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1’

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

The topic of suicide came up in at least three acceptance speeches at the latest edition of the Academy Awards on February 22, 2015. (Okay, yeah, I’m late to the party again). And perhaps even more astonishingly, two of those acceptance speeches were actually related to films about suicide prevention hotlines. First up is the documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. (A post about the short film, The Phone Call will follow soon).

Having spent more than five years working full time for a crisis line, and continuing to work in a position sideways from, and occasionally overlapping with, such work, I can’t help but come to these films with something of a bias.

As a matter of fact, I first saw a portion of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 on a Sunday morning after coming home from an overnight shift at a call center where the crisis line calls represent only one of many mental health functions with which the staff is tasked. Having spent the bulk of my work week on understaffed shifts, I was perhaps a bit resentful at flipping on the TV to see a scene what Bob Hosk, one of the Veterans Crisis Line supervisors who features prominently in the documentary, described as “five hours here at the hotline” utilizing “about four personnel to help one guy.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that the resources were available and the effort was made, with (spoiler alert) a positive outcome for an active duty service member in Hawaii.

In the time since I first saw that segment of the documentary, I’ve become more familiar with the workings of the military in addressing the epidemic of suicide among veterans and service members, and will say it is truly impressive to see the complete change that has taken place over roughly the last two decades—from an approach to suicide and mental health issues that could be described as ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to one of increasing and highly-promoted access to counseling services, to working with suicide prevention specialists and investing in the crisis line depicted in the documentary, among many other avenues.

But, back on that summer morning, knowing that in similar situations (an unknown caller making a vaguely suicidal statement, then hanging up) rather than having a specific staff member on shift to call a special “law enforcement” phone number at cell phone company to get information on the caller’s location by pinging cell phone towers, and then being able to devote ‘five hours and four personnel’ to find the caller, whichever one of us took the call would typically end up trying to call back, and, failing any respone from that, doing a quick Internet search on the phone number (like they show in the documentary) and then making a call to 911 dispatch in whatever location the phone number (probably) originated, to report that somebody had called and threatened suicide—‘no, we don’t have a name; we don’t have an address; we don’t know how they might do it or if they tried anything yet; we don’t know if there are weapons involved; no, we don’t know much of anything about anything—we’re following our protocol, sorry to bother you.’ Then on to the next call—which could range from a hospital social worker inquiring about a client’s mental health history, to a client with chronic mental illness telling us about his dinner, to someone struggling to get help for a family member with a mental illness, to…

In the case of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, my sense is that the caller from Hawaii was truly coming from a place of desperation, and, perhaps, wasn’t aware of other options available to him, or just what sort of response might kick in as the result of the call he made. He may have thought that by hanging up, he could just drop the whole matter. He may have scared himself simply by voicing the thoughts he was having about ending his life, and so tried to walk away from that.

But beyond my initial reaction to the portion of the film I saw back on that sunny Sunday morning, and my somewhat-tempered-by-time-and-new-information response now, I have mixed reactions to the film.

I’ll say that, overall, I think it’s an excellent depiction of some of the most challenging types of work that happen at crisis lines, and at the Veteran’s Crisis Line Center in particular, which the film notes “is the only call center in the U.S. serving veterans in crisis.” (A more accurate description would be that it is the only call center in the U.S. specifically established to serve veterans, and specifically engaging the particular protocols of that call center in order to assist veterans. Any crisis line in the U.S. will take calls from veterans, and do what they can to help. Call centers affiliated with Lifeline routinely take calls from veterans and their families, in part because the callers don’t always ‘press 1’ when prompted to get transferred specifically to the Veterans Crisis Line Center. And, while Lifeline workers typically will explain to such callers that they have not reached the veteran’s line, they always offer to help.)

Semantics aside, not all calls to a crisis line are life and death—or even crises. Each time the phone rings, it’s not a given that the caller is a someone on the verge of taking her/his life, or a family member of such a person. But you wouldn’t know that from watching this film. You only get the slightest whiff of the lighter calls, when, early on, the camera moves through the call center, the sound of constantly ringing phones and poignant snippets of dialog, reaching the microphones at just the right time: “really proud of you…Where were you stationed?..So twice you tried to hang yourself before?…Do you want me to send someone there for you?…Did you get injured while you were out on active duty?…diagnosed with PTSD?…If there’s anything we can do for you…”

Okay, so those don’t come across as all that light. That particular scene is one of many subtle manipulations used by the filmmakers—layering audio to create a particular impression of an “always on” call center. For the sake of drama, the filmmakers leave out audio involving callers who are just seeking information or non-emergency services. They leave out the repeat callers who are really just touching base and giving a brief synopsis of their day. They leave out those calls having any of a number of angles that aren’t even remotely related to suicide.

The filmmakers also choose to escalate the drama in a completely unnecessary way. For instance, the music, most often quiet, involves drawn-out, high-pitched tones that add to the tension viewers are meant to feel—as if trying to talk a stranger out of suicide isn’t drama enough.

I love this woman: Maureen--Crisis Line Responder, Extraordinaire

I love this woman: Maureen–Crisis Line Responder, Extraordinaire

On top of that, the final segment of the film takes place on Christmas Eve. The scene opens with outside shots of the call center at night, American flag flying, trees wrapped in colorful, twinkling lights, as a soft jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays–the song adding a sting of dark humor with it’s ‘all our troubles will be miles away’ and ‘let your heart be light’ emotions. The timing of the scene was undoubtedly selected because of the heightened emotions many viewers are likely to have around the idea of a “Christmas miracle” or notions of family togetherness at the holidays. But it also serves to reinforce the popular, but ill-informed, notion that ‘the holidays’—Christmas in particular—are a time of heightened depression and increased suicide, an impression reinforced by a shot of the notepad where the crisis responder has written a quote from a suicidal veteran: “Holidays are depressing.”

There are other things that could be taken as manipulation, but which I think were not only clinically sound decisions, but also place the focus where the documentarians wanted it: on the people working at the crisis line. Not hearing the callers, for instance–while likely done just as much for clinical reasons, as for legal and artistic reasons–provides for greater control over how the information will be presented to the audience, and also removes any impressions viewers might have of the callers based on their voices, or the tones they are using.  While I obviously don’t know the specifics of how any of the callers in the documentary spoke or sounded, anybody who has spent time working on a crisis line knows that many of the callers can come across in a way that, shall we say, challenges empathy. Responders need to be aware of the potential biases they bring to calls, and need to develop skills for de-escalating and connecting with difficult callers. At any rate, difficult or not, hearing the callers’ voices would create a completely different film.

Still, one of the most valuable aspects of the film is in giving voice to the crisis line responders, not only in their moments of calm where they appear to be completely in control, but when they are giving voice to frustrations as well. During one call, Robert, a veteran himself, complains that the response time from police is “ridiculous.” In a separate interview segment, Robert expresses the anger that crisis line responders can feel toward callers: “How dare you take your own life?” But part of the reason Robert’s rawness comes across in a potentially endearing fashion is that the filmmakers also let him speak about his struggles with questions of his own abilities, whether or not he has made the right decisions, or whether he made them in time—questions born of situations where the interventions failed.

There are other responders in the film with whom I had a harder time connecting—feeling a sense of kinship, or understanding their particular reactions, or the ways they tried to connect with callers. I don’t want to dwell too much on my snotty, hypercritical reactions, though—or even mention them in any specificity. For one thing, I know only a very limited amount about what was happening in those particular situations. And I don’t know how those people move about in daily life, or in their routine work at the crisis line.

But why I will most back away from potentially harsh or nitpicky-sounding criticism of any of the responders is because I can’t imagine having to work a crisis call with the knowledge that cameras are on me, and that whatever I do could end up on HBO.

That said, there is one responder in particular, Maureen, who comes across as the undoubted ‘star’ of the film. Little is explained about Maureen or her background, except, perhaps, that she reveals that she has sons, as she is complimenting a caller on her handling of a difficult situation.

Beyond that, Maureen demonstrates the perfectly complicated balance of compassion and detachment that is rare in crisis line workers. She is able to connect to the callers, but does not get visibly drawn into the drama, despite mentioning calls that ‘stay with you.’ Early on, we hear her say, “It’s ultimately the veteran’s decision if they are going to live or die…and as a responder, you have to have a really good grasp of that.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Maureen is able to deliver lines of perfect connection to callers–lines that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with such situations. After asking a caller about how his friend (who died in combat) would react to news of the veteran’s suicidal intent, she listens for a bit, then says, “He’d kick your ass? So he’s a good friend.” Maureen is able to drably ‘contract for safety’ with callers, getting them to promise that they at least won’t kill themselves while they are on the line with her, and then works to expand on that promise.

Maureen is the responder featured in the final scene of the movie—the one that takes place on Christmas Eve. Against this backdrop of heightened emotion, she is tasked with drawing a soldier with a gun out of the desert, and back to his parents, despite much of his life unraveling. She is further challenged by limitations on her involvement—having to direct the veteran’s mother on how to bring him home, and then sitting silently, listening, and hoping it all works out.

In the end, Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 leaves much to contemplate—whether from a clinical or technical perspective—or any of the other myriad perspectives that could be brought to the film. It is incredibly effective in that it is able to provoke a range of emotions, and could, potentially, be used as a tool for training crisis line workers and volunteers, service members and their families, or really anyone who wants a better understanding of how crisis lines work, how the mental health system can be accessed, or how the military is responding to concerns of suicide among its ranks.

It remains to be seen if the film will help draw more workers and volunteers to crisis services, or perhaps scare more of them off. And this is where I have the most difficulty with the film. How much is too much when trying to convey the intenstity of real-life situations? What level of manipulation and film-making technique serves to create understanding, and what level serves to drive only emotional response?

Granted, the vast majority of people who see Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 will never work in a crisis line call center. But, there’s always a chance they might need one.

So (obligatory ending)…

If you are concerned that somebody you know may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, call (or get them to call) the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255—Veterans Press 1.

Clarity of Vision

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

I need to get glasses. I’ve been saying for at least two years now that I need to get glasses. I’m not having terrible vision problems or anything. But every once in a while—like when trying to read the instructions on a medication label, or the code on a sim card to activate an iPhone—I’m reminded that I just plain can’t see teeny tiny print.

Offhand, I can think of plenty of reasons for the tremendous resistance I’m experiencing, or creating/enforcing.

For one, the last day of third grade, when I was able to cast off my glasses ‘forever’ was one of the greatest days of my life. Of course, in true ‘me’ fashion, I waited until school was out to retire those glasses. I didn’t want to go through the last school day of the year answering questions about where my glasses were, and (oh, the horror) hearing congratulations if I were I to say I no longer had to wear them. The attention was not something I wanted.

Now you see them, now you don't...the incredible disappearing glasses.

Now you see them, now you don’t…the incredible disappearing glasses.

Another element in all of this is just the general difficulty of eye exams. Back in my early elementary school, glasses-wearing days I had an eye doctor—an optometrist—who was keenly aware of the foibles of my vision—or more accurately of my left eye.

My left eye has the peculiar property of shifting out of focus more and more the longer I rely exclusively on it. It’s sort of like, over the course of about a minute, the world shifts from a slightly out of focus photo, to a Seurat painting, to the obscured logos of non-sponsors on the clothing of reality show participants. My optometrist referred to this as a “lazy eye”—not in the traditional sense that the left eye was moving or tracking more slowly than the right eye, but in the sense that my left eye was perfectly willing to let my right eye do all the work, the left eye apparently feeling that playing its part in allowing me to see in three dimensions was work enough.

For a time, I had to intermittently (read: as little as I could get away with) wear a patch over my right eye—and not a cool, Snake Plissken kind of patch–bug a beige piece of plastic that clipped onto the top of my glasses frame, over the right lens—the lens which had no purpose whatsoever, aside from maybe keeping my glasses from tilting too much to the left. (It just now occurs to me that perhaps that thicker left lens carries some of the blame for the uneven positioning of my ears, which always confounds anyone trying to even out my hair in the final stages of a haircut.)

The patch was the kind of odd instrument that caused some of that previously mentioned, unwanted attention, as classmates asked what it was, and why I had it—almost inevitably leading them to stare at my left eye to see if they could tell if something was wrong with it, or to them asking if I could take off my glasses and look from side to side so they could see just how bad this lazy eye was—leading to the necessary, “Not that kind of lazy eye” explanation.

Beyond the attention, the patch just caused me aggravation, as anything I tried to look at would shift out of focus in short order, even through the “corrective” lens.

Ultimately, I’m not fully sure why I was allowed to abandon the glasses. I think it had to do with my hating them so much, along with indications that the ‘corrective lens’ was doing nothing to improve my left eye. Nor was the vision in my left eye deteriorating at all. Since the defect in my vision didn’t bother me or cause any particular problems, I was set free from the need to wear a delicate contraption of metal and glass, of which my care was substandard.

And despite my sister and me having many a laugh over the nose hair of our optometrist—which, in a darkened room, as he tilted his head back to look into our eyes, would be illuminated by the various contraptions he was using—I trusted him like no other person who has ever checked my eyes. Perhaps those were just warm feelings aimed at someone who had the final say in whether I continued wearing glasses—and who chose the way I was praying he would.

Then again, there could be more than a bit of fear stemming from various encounters with other people who checked my eyes. One encounter in particular, with a school nurse, caused much consternation in our household.

First grade year, or maybe second, when we were getting our various health checks, a school nurse came around to each classroom, tacked a vision chart to a wall in one corner of the room, and we all got called up, alphabetically by last name, always keeping the line about three or four deep, to have our eyes checked.

Mind you, by this time in my young life, I had already been wearing glasses for some time, and went in for regular check-ups with our trusted family optometrist. (I never have asked my mom how she kept up with the optometry bills for herself and six kids, all wearing glasses.) So, from the get-go, I didn’t really see why it was necessary for me to get another eye exam, when I’d had one before the start of the school year.

Still, I went up and dutifully got in line. But there was something off about this eye test.

My own optometrist had eye charts with multiple letters. RSTLNE—my sister and I joked about how we had memorized this, the smallest-print line on one of the charts. But the chart the school nurse had brought along was populated with various iterations of only one letter: capital E.

Some of the E’s were positioned as they normally would be. Others were backwards, or lying on their backs, or face down. And rather than the school nurse just having us read off the letters on the chart, (E…backwards E…E…upside-down E) she instead had a stick with a small hoop on the end. The idea in this particular eye exam was that the examiner would position the hoop, encircling one of the E’s, and then the examinee was supposed to point in the same direction that the prongs of the E were pointing.

By the time it was my turn, I had picked up on the fact that we were supposed to be pointing (although that concept was, to me, rather weird for an eye test), but hadn’t quite picked up on the particulars of the pointing.

So when I got to the front of the line, and confirmed that I was in fact, the person connected to the next name on the clipboard, the school nurse asked only if I knew how to do the test. “Yes,” I’m sure I responded. After all, I knew how to do an eye test for Pete’s sake—maybe not this one; but I’d been through much more involved eye tests. And for this one I didn’t even have to know how to recognize multiple letters, just point.

I like to think that I had some particular system in mind when I went through the test—like ‘point in the direction the E is standing’—if it is right-side up, point up—that’s where the top is; down on it’s face, point to the right—that’s where the top is; on its back, point to the left—that’s where the top is; upside down, point down—that’s where the top is.

Then again, maybe I was just thinking, ‘just point in different directions each time she moves the damn hoop, and I’ll be done with this soon enough—after all, I’m already wearing glasses and see a real eye doctor multiple times a year.’

Clearly, by the alarm I caused the school nurse, I wasn’t doing the test right. Again, she asked if I knew how to do the test. Again, I said I did, although I was a little less than certain at this time, and pretty sure I was about to get in trouble.

I don’t recall the school nurse ever actually explaining the test to me—i.e., if the three bars of the E are pointing to the left, point to the left. Perhaps she felt that my vision was so impaired that she had no way of conveying such information to me. Or maybe, by the time she actually did explain it to me, her fear that one of the students in her school had gone blind on her watch was so palpable that I was entirely too caught up in her terror to pay attention to what she was saying.

Now, I don’t specialize in child psychology—and it’s a fair bet that the school nurse didn’t either—but I’d think that if you had to deal with young kids on a daily basis, you’d figure out that when a kid says he knows how to do something, but is really doing a bad job of it, then maybe that kid really doesn’t know how to do whatever that thing is.

When you’re faced with a few possibilities—one being that a kid doesn’t really understand how the eye test works, and the other possibility being that the kid is legally, if not totally, blind, I would think the obvious choice would reveal itself. I mean, I was able to get through my school work each day, and I ran around in gym class and on recess without my glasses on, and nothing terrible had ever happened that might indicate rapidly deteriorating vision.

But, all other evidence to the contrary, the school nurse assumed the worst. And my mom got a phone call. And I may just have had to go to an ‘emergency’ appointment with my optometrist.

So, yeah…I was going to call for an eye appointment today. But maybe I’ll do that tomorrow…or maybe next week.