Category Archives: Family

Holiday Season

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often called the Holiday Season. My favorite part of this time of the year is the time spent with family. Most families make a special effort to be together. Hopefully, it is a joyful time that reinforces the connections that bind us, whether it be through blood or mutual caring.

It is a time that we send and receive cards and letters, emails and texts to one another, establishing even the briefest of connections. It is a chance to let those you care about know that you are there. And it is a chance to reminisce, even painfully, those that are no longer with us.

It is a time that we are reminded to wish well our fellow man, to seek goodness in others and demonstrate love and generosity to those around us. It really is a mission that should be the goal of every day.

Now that we have entered a new year, we may or may not make resolutions, but each day in this new year is another chance to make our path and lives better by choosing wisely, loving deeply and learning from life’s lessons. It is a time that we are reminded of new opportunities in moments not yet realized.

I hope you experienced a wonderful holiday season. I hope you take this and every opportunity to look around you, realize the world is full of wonder and awe, and to be thankful for all that you have.

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Changes for the better

Last week, my wife and I helped my son move from our home to his own apartment – his first. He was dealing with the nervousness and excitement of the prospect of living on his own. He now would be making his own decisions, preparing his own meals and taking care of his own place. It was a task that he was looking forward to, but at the same time, just a bit unsure of himself.

We all go through times like this, whether it is a dwelling place move, a new job, or opening a new business. These opportunities mix nervousness, fear, excitement, and joy. Each time we overcome even a small obstacle it boots our confidence. It can boost our self-reliance, and if we do need help, it can shine a light on who can help us and who really cares. It is a very broad learning opportunity.

My wife has been an empty-nester before, but this is the first time for me. I am very proud of my son for making this leap. We did our best to set him up with the basics that he needed to help ensure that he would succeed. I went on a strenuous hike with him yesterday at Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, NY. It is a beautiful park and very well maintained. We had a chance to talk while we climbed up and down steps more numerous than I cared to count.  My son told me that he is excited about his new life but that he missed me. I admitted, gladly, that I missed him too. But I assured him, that no matter where we were geographically, I would be there for him. This was especially true since just the night before, I went to the hospital with Brandon as he cut his finger with a knife so deeply that he required stitches. He was preparing a salad for his work that night. I am so glad that he is carrying on good eating habits. I know that he will do well. Knowing that will make my transition to becoming comfortable as an empty-nester that much easier.

Help Wanted Sign

   As I have been attending to my medical appointments and errands, I have been seeing more and more Help Wanted signs. It is nice to see this. I know that most of these are minimum wage jobs, but they are jobs nonetheless. I just read in one of my financial periodicals that the average unemployment wait is now 32 weeks, down from its high of 47 weeks. 8 months is still a long time to go without a job, but it does seem to be better.

   Many companies are still “right sizing”, outsourcing and flattening their reporting structure. In some cases, this is moving jobs from one company to another. Departments are shut and the work moved to another company, either here or overseas. The retailers seem to be more confident and asking for help, hopefully that means people feel more at ease spending their discretionary funds. Schools and colleges reconvening probably has some affect as well.

   My son has a full time job where he works overnight. He has just found a part-time job that he can work during the day, about 16 – 20 hours per week. He currently lives with my wife and me, but this income will allow him to move out on his own. As anyone moving out on their own for the first time, it comes with both excitement and nervousness. I am sure that he is looking forward to the freedom of being on his own, making his own decisions and not worrying about the rules and expectations of others. Yet, there is a nervousness about being on your own, realizing that you are surrounded by your support system.

   I have tried to reassure my son that I am still here. I still want to support him, counsel him and be available for advice. I don’t want him to be afraid to put up a Help Wanted sign when he is unsure or just needs assurance. My son and I have already agreed to examine his budget and decide together what his best plans are for meeting his needs, wants and savings.

   Another reason I like seeing the Help Wanted signs is that even in my own employment, there are cuts planned. Even if I survive the cut, many of the people I care about will not. I am glad to see that jobs are starting to come back to our area.

   Hope all is well with you. Take care, stay well and be safe.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

As much as we might like to think we know what the future holds, we really do not. Anything can happen to keep us on our chosen path or derail us. We need to be prepared for uncertainty as much as we can be. Of course, we cannot cover every possibility. A town less than an hour from where I live was struck with torrential rains and gale force winds. When the storm was over, homes were flooded and damaged. This came as a great surprise. The news showed the residents coming together to help out with assistance coming from other areas as well. We just don’t know what might happen tomorrow.

Each time I drive by a serious accident on my way to work, I hope that there were no fatalities. There are times I am surprised that the driver lived. Even though I don’t know the driver of a fatal accident, I cannot help but think of the profound affect that this accident had on the family. The sudden death of a family member leaves the family confused, angry and anxious for the future. It is never hard to face the loss of a family member.

Other losses, such as a loss of a job or career, can cause just as much anxiety. Even when we get news about a severe or terminal medical condition is a loss. Again, we never know what might happen. But one thing we can do is live in the moment. Knowing that we are in someone’s heart, their thoughts, and prayers can be comforting. It is important that we look inside ourselves for strength. It is also important that we look to others for support. I certainly hope that you have those persons or organizations to give you support when you might need it. If you are a religious person, seek out God. Your faith can be your comfort, even if you have to be angry and shout at God at first because you just can’t understand why. It’s okay, God has very large shoulders.

Whatever might come your way, I wish for you speedy healing. If it is a door that closes, remember that every exit door is an entrance to somewhere else. We cannot know what will happen tomorrow. We need to plan for the unknown, but live in the present. It is paying attention to the now that builds the bridges to tomorrow. We might not know what is around the bend in the path, but what we do can determine the road.

Peace be with you.

A Rose for a Butterfly

This Friday, February 7, 2014, I have a medical appointment that will put me near the grave of someone I love very much. Her name is Laura A. VerDow Santelli. She died on February 20, 2010. Like the previous years, I will put a single red rose at her grave.

I know that she is not there, not really, only the shell of her body that her soul left behind, but it is my way of remembering her. I do this for my parents as well. I buy a bouquet of flowers and spread them on their graves. I could not do it last year as I did not travel to the state of my birth. I will this year. My parents names are Virginia and William.

David Eagleman in his book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, wrote “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

Mom, Dad and Laura, your third death has not come for I have not forgotten you and I promise to speak your names.

I look forward to placing a rose on Laura’s grave. She was my Butterfly. She loved life and was full spirited and fun loving. I do miss her and love her very much. Remember those that have passed on and say their names. Remember them for that is how they stay in our hearts. Because all of us, like my Butterfly, will have to fly off someday leaving our bodies behind.

Struggles and Triumphs

A son was born. Freshly arriving in this new world of ours. Eyes bright and in wonder of everything he saw. His mother held him close to her chest, beaming with pride at the incredible miracle she held. Young parents, inexperienced in the ways of these kinds of miracles, were happily concerned with the welfare and safety of this frail little human.

A little more than a year later, a second child was born to this couple. Again, seem as a blessing and gift, but it was a challenge to keep up with these two small boys.  As both boys grew, it seemed that the second son was progressing more quickly than the first. This observation and later concern was borne to be true. The oldest son was diagnosed with a developmental delay, learning disability and a turned leg that mildly affected his walking. This was not good news. What did it all mean? How would they cope? What did it mean for their son? What would his future be like? And where would they turn for help.

The parents found help through a local organization called the Happiness House. The staff at the Happiness House assured the parents and helped them with the necessary paperwork to petition family court to provide the necessary services for their son.

Later their son was diagnosed with ADD, OCD and suffered tics under the tourette’s umbrella. Braces were fashioned for his leg to straighten out his walk. Again the questions peppered the minds of the parents. Physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and other professionals worked with their son.

When this young boy was old enough to enter the educational system, he received a new team of professionals. He had difficulty learning school basics. But with steadfast persistence by his team, patience by his parents and, at times begrudging cooperation by the young man, he did learn.

‘Leo the Late Bloomer’ by Robert Kraus was a favorite book used by his teachers. The book carried a powerful message of hope. This young man continued to struggle all through school. Eventually the most visible tics subsided. He had learned to read and write. He enjoyed video games, riding bikes and taking walks.

Unfortunately, before he graduated from high school, his mother decided that she needed a different life away from her family. This was an incredibly difficult adjustment for the boys and their father. But with patience and courage, they moved on.

His high school counselor helped his parents find continuing services after school. New York’s VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) provided referrals to the ARC of Ontario County. Their services placed him in a work program where he earned some money, learned to socialize with co-workers, and helped to develop his self-esteem. He blossomed there.

Along with his experiences in working, he wished to extend his life adventure by learning how to drive. After several years with a learning permit, he finally received his license. He continues to explore his growing independence.

It had been incredible to watch this young man push against these difficulties. Even though these conditions still exist, he still pushes gently against them. I am very proud of him. I am not sure of all the potential within this young man. But I hope that he knows that I will be in his life as long as I can to witness his further victories. This young man is my son, Brandon.

Brandon, if you are reading this, do not be angry about the challenges you face. Be proud of yourself, like I am proud of you, for all that you have accomplished. You are an incredible young man.

It’s Always Been That Way

As humans, we usually look for patterns. Even if we go out and look for the exotic, we still find comfort in the routine. We feel comfortable in knowing that things will be as we expect them to be. Life is challenging and ever changing. Events and relationships have a way of upsetting our comfortable setting.

Many times at work, I question why we do things a certain way. The answer I usually receive is that it is just the way it’s always been done. I might even hear, it works, so don’t change it. I like to try to streamline reporting and tasks to make it easier for everyone involved. It usually works, but sometimes what is easier for me, isn’t necessarily easier for someone else. What I change might make someone else very uncomfortable. I am sure that you have had this happen to  you as well. What makes perfect sense to me might befuddle someone else and vice versa.

This can happen in relationships too. We rely on our experiences from our childhood. Our family worked in a particular way, whether we liked it or not, that is the way it was. Sometimes we don’t think it could be different because it’s always been that way.

In a family relationship, especially in a blended family, bringing all these expectations and traditions together can result in a confusing mix of priorities. What is very important to one person may not be important at all to another. It isn’t right or wrong, it is just different. We bring with us our own understanding of what is normal and natural and how it should be done.

What might be very important to one might make another downright uncomfortable. Usually out of love, we genuinely try to respect and honor the differences. But it is difficult to always be mindful of what is important to someone else when it might not hold such gravity with us. It is part of being selfless, but our minds and bodies will remind us of our own needs.

I think the difference between work and home is that we expect work to dictate our actions and activities even when they don’t necessarily make sense to us. We usually do not practice that same flexibility at home, which is both good and bad. It is good that I can be myself at home but sometimes being myself might irritate others, just as they might irritate me. Any time you bring two or more people together for any reason; there is a possibility of conflict. It takes concerted effort to agree to goals and actions and move forward. It’s always been that way.

So we need to be mindful that everyone comes from their own series of experiences that colors their behavior and beliefs. In a work environment, it is to recognize the talents and strengths of those around us. We need to offer our own strengths and talents to lead to success.  In our family relationships we need to recognize that each of us have traditions ingrained in us by our childhood. It is up to us to decide which traditions to keep, which to discard, and which to meld into the tradition of others. In a sense, we need to make new traditions that not only work for us but for those around us.

Change is tough. Challenges are real. Opportunities to be better exist. It requires us to be mindful. It requires us to be present. But then again, it’s always been that way.

Remarriage Statistics

The US is the most remarried country of the western nations according to a study by Cherlin in 2009. In another study by Deal in 2005 found that one third of all weddings in America formed step-families.

I, myself, am in a remarriage. Being over 50, I am part of the statistic that 25% of people who remarry are over 50 years old.

Now, you would think that being married a second or third time, you would have the maturity and wisdom from your previous experiences. I would think that and do think that. However, even though I believe that a second marriage would be better, the Census Bureau in 2006 found that 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. But the challenges of remarriage are different. You deal with complex relationships made even more complex with differing backgrounds.

In most remarriages, I believe the main drivers of frustration are money and children. Expectations differ greatly, especially in the way children were raised.  What was totally acceptable and a non-issue in one household nearly commanded the death penalty in the other. This can definitely cause some tensions when you try to blend the two households. It is not that anyone is wrong, it is just different. This exists in first time marriages as well, but I believed it is amplified in further marriages.  It definitely take time, patience and trust to build newer, stronger relationships with the spouse’s children, remembering that it is a new dynamic for them as well. This is true for both minor and adult children, even grandchildren.

Both partners may have established careers and their own nest eggs.  This can be a concern of the children as well as the partners. Communication about goals and comfort levels can help alleviate money differences. It is also wise to determine in advance how monies are to be dispersed if one spouse passes away.

A 2002 study by Hetherington showed that on average, couples in step-families have three times the amount of stress of couples in first marriages during the first few years. But with time, stress levels for couples in step-families can fall to normal levels found in first marriages.

I said earlier that I believe that I can use the lessons from my first marriage in my first marriage to improve the happiness in my second marriage. I will admit, that I was not prepared for the some of the unique challenges that have arisen. I plan on working hard in my relationship and working though the challenges. Love and marriage takes lots of hard work and its worth it.

Are you in a step-family relationship? What kind of challenges did you experience that you did not expect. How did you overcome those challenges. It may be true that 60% of second marriages fail. That means that 40% make it.

I know that the statistics are scary, but couples do make remarriage work. Marriage always has challenges and it is overcoming those challenges as couples and families that make relationships stronger.

Take care, stay well and be safe.

Family

This has been a great summer for family. This next weekend, I will be attending the wedding of my wife’s niece. Yet another joining of families. Family is a very fluid concept. Some people have a very strict idea of what family is or even means. Some hold to the idea of the nuclear family. Family dynamics today take on so many forms. Blended families are becoming more prevalent. Even those without the benefit of marriage, there are still new dynamics and relationships created all the time. There are now stepparents, step-siblings, half-siblings, multi-generational homes, and families comprised of friends surviving together.
Speaking only from my own experiences, I think the hardest part of being a blended family is to realize that it really is a new relationship. But each person brings with them the history of their own. One might come from a home in childhood that was organized, neat, orderly, and emphasized appearance and image. Whereas the another might come from a home in childhood that was cluttered, more relaxed, without much structure. This creates for some very interesting discussions and disagreements. Even in nuclear family situations, parenting and discipline questions arise.
I think another challenge is figuring out where you fit in the family, especially in a newly formed family. In a blended family, you don’t really replace the other parent, but you still have a place in the family. In a traditional Mom, Dad, child family, there is usually no jealously from the Mom when Dad spends time with the child. But when the parent isn’t your own, as in a blended family, jealously can be present. It seems to be built in. It takes a lot of love and patience to create solid relationships, even in biologically related. Whatever your family dynamic, it is important to remember that all persons need attention, affection, appreciation and respect.
During my wedding, we had a unity ceremony to symbolize the combining of two families. As beautiful as the symbolism is, the reality is that it takes hard work, patience and trust to build real relationships. It is sometimes difficult to keep relationships strong with your own children let alone build them with your spouses children, when they are not yours. I think it is worth it.
Family is the one idea that I think we all need to practice. I know that it is so easy to caught up in surviving that we end up isolating ourselves from the world. I find that at the end of my workday, I really just want to relax and rest. I have never been one to plan outings or get-togethers so I appreciate that my wife’s family is good at that. This gives me a chance to interact with other family members and establish better relationships.
Happy family!

Where’s Dad?

If you are a Dad and you are involved, or at least try to be involved with your children, then Happy Father’s Day. But many children don’t have a Dad in their lives. About a third of American children are being raised without a father. There are many articles and pages on the internet concerning fatherless children and the effects that it has on the children.  Kirsten Andersen wrote an article outlining some of the latest statistics concerning children in single parent homes. It can be found here: The number of US children living in single parent homes has nearly doubled in 50 years.

In this article and others, Vincent DiCaro, the vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative blames this growing tend on many of the problems that we have in society. I agree. If fathers are in the picture, responsible and supportive, many of the problems will be lessened.

On the National Fatherhood Initiative website, some of the consequences of a fatherless household are astounding. Here is just a few of the findings:

  • Children in father absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor.
  • Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.
  • High quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.
  • Even after controlling for community context, there is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father.

At first glance, this does not speak well of single mother homes. I know that single mothers struggle to provide the best homes for their children. It takes incredible strength to work, care for a home and care for children. I respect that effort. But, I do think that the love of a father and the love of a mother differ greatly. Of course, it depends on the background and personality of each parent, a mother is more nurturing, protective and safety aware whereas a father is more adventurous, measured risk taking and independence. Neither love is wrong, it is just different. Men and women are different. Children need that balance from both parents to feel secure in the challenges that life has for them.

As I have said before, any man can be a father, but a child needs a Dad. A child needs a Mom too. There are homes without mothers as well, about 5 million children live in homes without Moms. Unfortunately, my children experienced the divorce of their parents. In my situation, I had custody of my children as my ex-wife left the country. I certainly would have preferred that we stayed together. My relationships with other women did not replace a “mother” figure in their lives as I would have hoped. They have grown up well despite the divorce, but I know that they are and will always be affected by the divorce. I love them dearly. Their mother loves them too. She says she misses them and I am sure she does.

I believe that America would greatly benefit from whole families, loving families, and strong families to provide the core and stability that our children need.