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Shine on you Crazy Mormon

Those of us who grew up Mormon had a childhood set apart from the rest of the world. We were in the world, but we were not of it.

Oh, how much we wanted to be of the world. How dearly we wished to be cool. But even when we would hang with the cool crowd, there was an air of “different,” or “nerd” about us because of our standards which we wore on our sleeve. When we were young, the standards were bright and shiny. For most of us, when we were older (high school and such), we rolled up our sleeves to hide that shine a bit.

For us Mormons, we always knew the uber-Mormons. We knew them because they would shine like a beacon on a hill. They would uphold every standard, chide us for missing standards, and then look hurt when we just wanted to fit in for a few hours each day. I’m related to some of these beacons. You know them because even in a crowd of weirdos (also known as Mormons), they don’t fit in at ALL. But 90% of the rest of us learned to fit in over time.

But try we would to fit in. I remember in 1st grade, when I was going to school at Lakeside Country Day (now gone from this earth because the owner died and his greedy children desperately wanted to cash in on that land). The playground had various structures made from old tires. I remember playing with a foul-mouthed friend, whom I never chided for his language. I stuck my head out of the tire and said, “Shit!” quite by accident. That was my first bad word. Even though I did that, I still remember telling on Taylor Valentine for calling me a dillweed. You see? I was in the world, and trying to look like I was of it, but I just was not.

No matter how much you try to fit in, people find out you’re a Mormon. I’m sure the first thing that happens is they go asking their parents over dinner (see how old-fashioned I am? There is no more “over dinner” – it’s drooling over your frozen meal on the couch in front of Glee reruns) what a Mormon is. Within a day, the kids are back at school asking how many moms I have, or how many wives my Dad has. Then in later years they’ll ask about magic underwear. They’ll ask if we go to Church in that huge white thing in La Jolla. They’ll ask if I come from Utah (in the same tone they’d ask if I came from Neptune). They ask if we have a golden Bible. My favorite are the ones who ask if we’re polytheists, and how many wives that means we can have. It’s best to just start with a basic English lesson at that point. With each one of these questions, our coolness factor drops through the floor and we’re reminded that we are a world apart from the world around us.

Then, sooner or later we find out we can’t date till we’re 16. So then we look at girls our age and realize we can’t really talk to them, because dating could ensue. For me, I was two years ahead in school and thus I wouldn’t hit 16 till 4 months before graduating high school. I stayed away from dances, and so met no girls. If I couldn’t go to school dances, I wasn’t about to go to Church dances, so I didn’t get that exposure either. Then I was in my senior year realizing I was coming up on my last Homecoming, and knew my parents’ answer before I asked, “That’s a dance, you’re not 16. Sorry.” I went to my prom, but I had been going to an all-boys school so everyone thought my distance from girls meant I was gay. So I asked the prettiest girl I knew if she’d go with me. Then I had Disneyland grad night. I asked the prettiest girl I knew of (well I went to her brother and mother first) to sorta get her on loan for the night. Who knows what happened to her. At least prom night girl is still a friend, and one of the cooler people I know. What a cluster.

Anyway, back to our weirdness. I’m trying to show the lifetime of avoiding ridiculously over-repeated questions. Here’s one: in grade school, Teresa Wilson thought it was funny every single one of the 367 times she told the story about passing a ward building in her car with a friend, and the friend asked, “Is that the Moron Church?” Oh man I hated that.

But now, us Mormons (and excommunicated Mormons waiting on the sidelines) are gaining cache. There’s an increasing coolness factor to us. But we haven’t changed! What’s going on here?

First of all, I’d say President Hinckley’s massive temple construction surge helped. Now in just about every important city in the Western world, there is a temple. The most visible symbol of our faith can now be seen in what is really the only modern mega religious architectural marvel. That helps to familiarize us with the Gentiles.

Then, we have Big Love. I have my complaints, such as the fact that the writers get to double-dip. They portray polygamy, with many of the airs of the LDS Church, and get to show our most sacred ordinances and rituals, and still poke fun at the uber-nerdy Mormon family constantly trying to convert the single mom who’s really a hidden third wife. That might be triple-dipping, or quadruple-dipping. They’re obviously no friend to us, but what it does is finally draw a distinction in pop culture between what it means to be a Mormon and what it means to be a polygamist. Nice first step.

Then comes the Jeffs weirdos. Mr. Jeffs goes to jail for running his weird 1850s-style (and Big Love bad guys-style) polygamist compound. People now see a connection between Big Love pop culture and real life weirdos. They start to get it a bit.

Then comes Mitt Romney. He fixes corrupt Olympics, and he has good hair, he is a governor of a really blue state (and gets criticized by fellow Mormons who believe that the only good Republicans vote against any tax over 0%, jails people who get abortions and who sell the Pill, and never compromises on anything. They believe it’s much better that he stand on principle, win 3% of the Massachusetts vote and have a noble loss, thereby leaving the State to another 4 years of liberal leadership. The shortsightedness is baffling and more naive than I can stand. I’ll put it another way. If far Left is -10, and far-right is +10, my idiotic purist compatriots would rather have a -8 than a +3 because it’s so noble to lose.).

And now Mitt runs for President! He looks like a normal guy – he is a little wooden, of course, but I think that comes from the way we Mormons stand apart. He seems like any other guy with a calling at Church to us, but to the outside word they want to see some stains on his character, something that reminds them that he’s human. They won’t get that, but I sincerely hope they get him for President.

Next comes The Book of Mormon on Broadway. We have now sunk down to the level of South Park. We can officially say Mormons have become an everyday occurrence in American pop culture. Very nice.

But just when you think we’ve made enough inroads from the periphery, there are billboards everywhere! But it now looks a little contrived. It’s like when every TV show had a black guy who was the funny, ethical guy. Or when TV Shows put in a gay guy to be the funny, ethical guy who had the only loving, caring, honest, faithful relationship in the show while they were surrounded by lying,c heating, boyfriend-trading, hateful heteros. Are we being pushed into liking Mormons now? I suppose it helps to show that we don’t have horns. But still, I kind of get my back up against a wall waiting for a criticism about that. I feel like it’s going to force me to defend the Church’s decision to spend dollars on these ads. But that’s just me.

All of these things happen, and it helps. But we still live in a separate world from everyone around us. We go to school and know that we are in a bubble apart from all the other students. I go to work and I know that I need to stay in my bubble, because when I get stuck going to events with my coworkers they’ll all be falling over drunk, cursing up a storm and looking at me weird for not being drunk with them. And I can have a bad mouth every now and then, but it’s something I work on. I think that helps show them I have stains on my character. And I’m rather free with the knowledge that I’ve been excommunicated. More stains. But they know I have the bright-blue letter M on my chest, even with those stains. They can see Mormon written all over me. When there’s a Mormon exec to call they tell me to get my Mormon love fest on with the exec to make him our ally. Which I do. You see, I know the lingo. I know the secret handshake (so to speak). I can joke about how I’m a California Mormon, so we think Utah is kind of on the other side of hell. They always get a kick out of that. Call this a bubble within a bubble. But still, the bubble extends between us.. There’s a silent exchange of nods, as if we know and are comfortable with this person being in our bubble but we don’t want to be seen as weirdos so we won’t exchange too many pleasantries or relieved sighs about it.

We’re still in our bubble. Our bubble can’t be pricked by those around us, even if we want it to. We are Mormon. We don’t have horns. We aren’t polygamists. We don’t all live in Utah. We don’t all cram into the Temple every Sunday for worship services. We don’t have any problem with soda. We don’t drink coffee. We aren’t weird.

Well, we’re a little weird. We just don’t really want to be. Now go look at that billboard before you ask any more [stupid, tiring] questions.


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Travel a Mile in My Shoes

I write this blog entry as I’m wrapping up a trip where I saw family in Austin, had 2 meetings in Austin, had a meeting in Atlanta during a 2-hour layover, and had two meetings in Raleigh and only 2.5 hours on the ground before returning to San Diego. This trip occurred between 8am Sunday and 6pm Monday. I love this stuff.

I just love travel. My mother grew up traveling around the world every summer with her father (and mother, and then stepmother). While I was growing up, my father would travel all over the country and all over Europe for his business. Travel is simply in my blood.

As with anything else, travel is something you have to do right in order to have the most fulfilling experience with it.

#1: Consistency. If you travel for work, make sure you pick an airline or two and stick with them. One of the big perks of travel is frequent flyer status, and the other are frequent flyer miles. Last year, I traveled with my bosses on whatever airlines they flew, and when I traveled alone for work I took the cheapest flight available. By the end of the year, I had 12,000-15,000 miles on USAir, American, Delta, Continental, United and Southwest. Had I consolidated my travel, I could have qualified for frequent flier status on two airlines – which I did this year. It’s not worth the $20 savings to buy the cheapest airline – with just a little advanced planning you can get a very competitive rate and push yourself toward airline perks. Also, it didn’t help me to rack up 75,000 miles across all those carriers because their frequent flyer miles are incompatible with each other. I get no free flights from all that travel!

#2: Comfort. If you travel for work do not travel in your work clothes if your flight is longer than an hour or so. Travel in comfort. You can ruin a good suit/dress by sitting on a plane for 5 hours in it. Take a suit bag with your clothes in it, and change in the handicap stall in the bathroom when you land (if you have a meeting right away). Otherwise, wait to change until you get to your hotel.

#3: Working. If you travel for work, try not to work the whole time you’re on the plane.

#4: Learn to sleep on a plane – sit against the window and lean against it to sleep. Nothing makes your work more effective and your mind sharper for meetings, etc., than to have a great nap to the lull of the airplane engine.

#5: International travel. The goal is to avoid missing a beautiful, exotic spot on the other side of the planet via jet lag. To avoid this problem, I stay up the night before. Then I’m so tired I have to sleep through the many hours of flight – and if I have to encourage it with two NyQuil gel caps, I do that too. This trick is how I taught myself to sleep on planes – enough times, and your body responds to aircraft sounds with the unquenchable desire to snore.

#6: Packing. A few points here
–>a. Rolling: My grandmother (my mom’s stepmother) taught me this one. Take your clothes and roll them up really tight, one at a time. You can potentially pack twice as many clothes in the same suitcase this way. It’s like rolling a cigar – and all your clothes will be tight little cigars you stack on top of each other – even the underwear!
–>b. Shoes: If you’re traveling for work, wear the nice shoes with your pajamas/jeans – NO ONE CARES. But it keeps you from having to pack them. If I’m traveling long enough to need more than one pair of shoes, I always wear the bulkier shoes for my plane trip, even if they don’t make a lot of sense for the rest of my ensemble. Then kick your shoes off for the flight!
–>c. Wrapping. There’s no reason to take up suitcase space with them. Anything breakable, I wrap in jeans/sweats/something like that.
–>d. The BULK. In conjunction with #2 above and if possible, I wear everything bulky onto the plane. If you have a jacket and a

#7: Talking. You’re stuck on the plane with a couple of strangers. Why not talk to them? Start by asking if wherever you’re going is their final destination. They want to hear about you, and you can learn something from them. Don’t succumb to your inner introvert: you are already cramped in coach with them. How much more cozy can it get?

#8: Sudoku. Learn to like it. It’s in the airplane magazines and can keep you busy awhile.

#9: Traditions. My dad would buy Popular Science before the flight, and would order Mr. & Mrs. T’s (bloody mary mix – no alcohol) to drink. I now do the same thing. I have added cranberry juice to my ensemble, since it’s good for your kidneys and I’m sure flying dries you out. Figure out your own traditions and do it! Traditions can extend to other parts of the trip – I make a point to eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants if I can find them. Sleep naked in your hotel room – no one can see you! Take a bath – they’re paying for the water! Whatever your traditions are, they can help relax you during otherwise stressful travel.

#10: Hotels. I like to stay at boutique hotels – they’re often reasonably priced, and they give you a trendy, edge place to stay with marvelous amenities. They’re just as easy to find on or Expedia as the major chains. Also, stay at the same hotel when you go back to the same city. You can start getting rooms upgraded, free wifi, etc., if you’re seen as a regular.

#11: Don’t do bad things. They will come back to haunt you. We live in a very small world and your actions will come back to haunt you.

#12: ET phone home. Call/email/text home. They miss you.

#13: Junk food. I can’t tell you how many frequent travelers I know whose health has gone to pot and whose girths have doubled or tripled. You don’t have to eat at Denny’s, McDonald’s or Waffle House. There is plenty of delish food out there for a reasonable price. As for me, I love Indian food. I can buy Indian food in any city on the planet, and it’s always good. Pick your food and find it.

#14: Exercise. You don’t have to pack the gym gear (though more power to you if you do!). Make a point not to take the escalator/elevator if it’s reasonable to do so. Take the stairs. Walk 10 blocks instead of cabbing it, even if it’s cold or hot or whatever your excuse may be. Don’t order take-out food (dovetailing with #13), walk to a nearby restaurant and feed yourself there.

#15: Take pictures. Anywhere you go, there may be something that moves you. You can turn a mundane trip into something exciting, or take an exciting trip and preserve it forever.

#16: facebook. Share where your’e going and what’s exciting to you. Your friends and family are interested. You could inspire them!

#17: Shaving. Shave before you go. Once, in Austin, I shaved like any other day. What I didn’t know was that the water there is terrible. It got into my skin and I broke out like I had a fungus or something. It was horrible. Take care of that stuff just hours before you leave. If you are traveling too long, you’ll have to shave, but you may be used to the water by then if you’re bathing regularly.

#18: Caffeine. If you’re traveling for work, you don’t have to prop yourself up with caffeine. You can make yourself alert with the proper balance of protein and sugar. Today, I had a tuna sandwich and a peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks. I was alert, with only a few hours’ sleep.

#19: Loved ones. Take them along sometimes, if your’e traveling for work. They will happily wait in the hotel room/poke around town while you’re doing something for the office. Then you get to retreat to your Love’s embrace.

#20: Security lines. Be ready. Don’t be “that person” holding everyone up. Untie the shoe laces while you’re in line. Take off your jacket. Pack your fluids in a Ziploc before you leave the house. Empty the pockets (I put all of my things in my bag as soon as I leave the car).

#21: Parking. Find one lot you like to park in. In San Diego, the commuter terminal has a lot that costs significantly less than the more convenient lots. I park, walk across to the Commuter terminal (which I very rarely use), and then take the shuttle bus to my terminal. I save time and the shuttle is free! There are always more distant lots which are cheaper, but the lot owners don’t really pay their shuttle drivers. You end up with a shuttle driver who gives you nasty looks because he expects a tip. You’re already paying for parking – don’t pay for the ride, too!

#22: Extended leg room. For $50-$75 each way, you can upgrade your seat to more legroom. It’s worth it if your flight is longer than 2 hours.

#23: First Class/Business Class. Sometimes you can upgrade to these for as little as $50 each way. It’s worth it if your flight is longer than 2 hours. The flight attendants treat you with more respect, too. And you get more points. And you can get fed. It’s worth it and your’e worth it!

#24: Charging stations. If you have electronics, charge them up while you wait for your flight to board. There is little more frustrating than getting on a plane with a half-charged iPhone/iPod/iPad/laptop

#25: Keeping Track of the Regulars. I’m a natural-born forgetter. And yet I travel a lot. This travel tip may be my most important. When you travel, there are little tickets (e.g., for parking), papers (e.g., tickets for various flights), keys, your wallet, ID/passport, etc. You need to have one consistent place for everything. Check before you leave the house to make sure it’s all there. When you get out of your car at the airport, put it all in your special spot (e.g., a particular pouch in your bag). When your’e packing up from the hotel, check to make sure it’s there. You can completely avoid the disasters from losing any one of these things by forcing habits on yourself. I’ve seen seasoned executive travelers show up at the airport just in time for their flight and realize they don’t have their ID! To avoid this problem, and avoid the embarrassment from it, I always travel with two forms of ID. That way if one is stolen/lost while I’m far, far away, I am not stuck being unable to board my flight. I have a passport and my driver’s license. Either one will do, but both ensures I sleep peacefully in New York, Chicago, Raleigh, Atlanta, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, Portland, Cleveland, Boston or anywhere else.

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Discipline 2.0: Executing It Properly

My Experience
Many people have assumed that since I suffered under bad discipline as a child, I must be totally against disciplining my own children. But the truth lies far from that assumption. I believe children should be managed in as tight of a virtual box as possible, so that when they rebel (because it will happen!), they don’t rebel that far. Set a high bar for your children, and they will rise to the challenge.

Where the children do not meet your bar, is quite likely where your fellow parent does not agree with the bar. If you want your children to get A’s in school and are willing to help them get there, you can make that happen – unless your fellow parent takes the approach that effort is what matters. Effort is not what matters. Effort is something easily faked and dodged. The proof is in results.

Another thing: We are teaching our children to survive a big, bad, ugly world where there are consequences for your actions. Now, we can’t dock their pay, we can’t fire them, we can’t demote them, etc. We can, however, devise a set of consequences for their actions that an employer can’t do: Place them on restriction/ground them, put tabasco on their tongues, put them in time out, flick them and smack their bottoms. They are learning to respect their elders, which (as Occupy Wall Street morons will never learn) translates to respect for your employer/manager/supervisor/boss/company owner. They aren’t learning a lesson to respect you as a marvelous human being, which is the warped definition of “respect” that the hands-off parents live by. We aren’t their best friends; we are their shepherds, trying to prepare them to forge out into the great, big, ugly world without us.

I believe most modern parents do not have the strength to discipline their children. And again, the point is not to hurt them, but to shepherd them into adulthood. That takes strength – the strength to deal with bad behavior even though they’re very, very cute. We are teaching them to think before they act.

I believe in time-outs, flicks, spankings, you name it. I think if your kid doesn’t respond positively to one or two smacks on the bottom, then you should try another method. I don’t think the answer is an increase in the number of times you smack that bottom. My schedule of punishment goes something like this:

First of all, and I’m surprised I have to say this – there’s no reason to ever close your hand and punch a child – anyone, for that matter, unless they’re a person of equal size/age who’s actually trying to hurt you (in that case, fight to win!). When I talk about smacking your child, it’s all about the open hand on their clothed bottom. I agree with threatening to do worse, but that’s a bluff and it’s totally allowed. Bluffing is one of our many parenting tools (example: a threat that you’ll “smack that look off their face” doesn’t actually mean you’ll smack their face, it means you’ve shown the strength to smack their bottom in the past and are convincingly threatening to smack their face instead).

Age 2-5: A child of this age doesn’t have a firm enough body to withstand the force of your hand. Keep your hands off of them. If they are being bad, however, they’re like dogs – they only remember what they’ve done wrong for a few seconds. You have to catch it and deal with it. You can flick their arm or leg with your finger. It shocks them like licking a 9-volt battery. But you should bifurcate your punishment between bad behavior and bad acts. If it’s bad behavior, then immediately send them to time out. If it’s a bad act – getting mad and biting someone, or purposely destroying something – flick them and then put them on time out. The pain is gone after a second, and the memory after their time-out minute is over. After all, with bad acts they can seriously hurt themselves or another person. And your damage to them is limited to the outward force of a single finger.

One tool, really only for public places, is pinching a part of your child’s arm that’s tender (like right behind the elbow). The nice part about this one (which yes, I learned from my mother), is that you don’t have to squeeze hard to get their attention – it’s very tender, and they respond without you having to leave a mark, which is what happens when you try to pinch a more calloused piece of skin, like their forearm or something. Then you just leave horrible marks that actually require healing, instead of getting their instant attention so you can correct bad behavior. Let me tell you: it is unacceptable that your child is lying on the ground throwing a 5-minute tantrum in the middle of the bank/grocery store/etc. That bad act of your child is the pinnacle of your refusal to act as their parent and deal with bad behavior (Translation: It’s your fault). I should add, if they’re spitting in your face, that’s your fault too. You can spit at an acquaintance; you’d never spit at someone you respect.

Another trick I learned is the impact of a very large movement that doesn’t actually hurt them. Somewhere in this age range, when my daughter was being bad, I would place her hand, palm down, on mine. Then I would reach way back with my other hand, and in a giant sweeping motion with the arm extended, I’d bring it up and over my head in an arc and meet my other hand – like a big clap. It makes a sound, it’s a big scary move, and it doesn’t actually hurt them. It snaps their attention at you and the lesson your’e teaching that moment.

Age 6-10. Your child is outgrowing the first phase. They realize at some point that the flick isn’t really anything but annoying and you can’t really scare them by clapping your hands around theirs. You have to safely utilize the smack. That means they must be clothed, because you’re not trying to denigrate them. That means you look very angry and make them stand up. You hold onto their arm so they stay upright and you don’t accidentally hurt them and you smack their bottom. I’m not against using a large spoon or a brush or something if your’e careful. Again: you’re the adult, you have self-control. They have not yet learned self-control, which is why you are exercising it and they are learning it.

What not to do: My parents decided they needed a terrifying implement for their spankings, and learned of the glue stick. If you know what a glue gun is, and how you can buy foot-long glue sticks for them, this tool was their whip of choice. And whip it is. You cannot break them on a bottom; they are indestructible except by heat. They are cheap and plentiful. If you’re ever in Wal-Mart, and happen to find an open bag of them in the crafts section, pull one out of the bag. Now hit your own palm with it. See how it whips back and feel the sting! My 45-minute spanking from the earlier post was with this. My parents would leave welts and it would sting to sit for days. It’s impossible to control this sort of thing – it really hurts, so you squirm, and you end up with welts on your back, bottom, sides and legs. Don’t do this.

Also between ages 6-10 you are learning to strip your children of the things they love. Even though you spent good money on their favorite things, you have to be willing to permanently rid your household of those things if they do not correct their behavior. I am all for doing these things in impactful ways – then they will remember the consequences for bad behavior. Some possible punishments:

– Taking a sledgehammer to their Playstation
– Making them carry their things to the Goodwill donation station
– Semi-permanently taking away the power cords to important toys/machines and not letting them have it back for a month.
– Letting a relative/family friend have the game machine (for example) with the understanding that you will ask for it back in a month/two months/etc.

My daughter doesn’t remember a single punishment I’ve ever meted out on her, except for some of these impactful ones, such as the time I cut the head off her stuffed animal with scissors as proof that it was never going to come out of the trash can. Again, if you make threats (such as throwing away stuffed animals) and then feel bad for them later, these sorts of punishments actually help ensure you will stick to your guns! After all, my daughter is precious; I am just as much a sucker as any other parent when she looks all cute and sweet.

Ages 11-17: It’s all about restriction, grounding and getting rid of their favorite things. There’s no law against making your child sleep in a bare room with a bed and clothes and THAT’S IT. They don’t have to have a door to their room. If they were living under these conditions, knowing that the key to their happiness will be turning around their bad behavior, then you will go far with your parenting.

Ages 18-30: Kick them out, please. There are plenty of cheap places to live, and it’s totally unacceptable to have 6-foot-tall children. They’ll respect themselves more if they’re out in the real world.

The important message here: Parenting is about exercising your strength which in turn builds their strength.

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Discipline 1.0: Surviving the Bad

Punishment is good and right and true – and that includes parenting.

If you’ve read my other posts, you will know that I am the child of parents who took discipline way too far. I won’t rehash some of those things – but I encourage you to “read” the other posts and “like” them to your heart’s content. But I have a few important things to say about it all.

The old adage goes: “That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It’s true. I just look at my brothers, and I would have to say that I was much better armed for life’s obstacles than they were by virtue of the fact that I’d already been through what I consider to be significant battles of life. Quite frankly, divorcing my parents helped me divorce my wife. By needing to stay strong as my own person as a child (rather than succumb to my mother’s will), I formed my own opinions and steeled myself against the onslaught of those who would try to control me. I saw difficult situations as just another prison someone was putting me in, which I needed to survive until I could escape. It’s precisely how I viewed the last few years of my marriage – and that’s no exaggeration (as my friends will attest). It’s also how I reacted toward Air Force Basic Training, in which I excelled.

Side note on divorce: I want to spend one more moment talking about this parallel to prison and divorce. When I first asked my ex-wife for a divorce, I felt defeated when I couldn’t get out. She uncovered all of my sins, and proceeded to use them as leverage for why I was a horrible husband. She listed off a dozen things she’d always expected of me that I had never provided for her as a husband. Right or wrong, my perception of my prospects from that moment were, “Hide all my discomfort until I satisfy her list of wrongs, and then get out.” I knew I was right that I should be divorced, and I wanted to feel right in following through on that need.

Surviving this sort of childhood isn’t about fighting back every minute – no one can do that. It’s also not about learning to put up with it – I think that sort of thing will kill you in the long run. It’s about using every tool you have to make it better for yourself, convincing your captor that everything is just fine and dandy, and manipulating your way into better circumstances. I think that manipulation is an important muscle you must exercise in order to survive life, regardless of your circumstances. It doesn’t mean lying frequently – it means moving the chess pieces around you in a way that you can win. It means making alliances with those around you, and sidling up to those who oppose you so that you become indispensable until you indispose yourself, so to speak.

It’s not that I kick against every yoke. I understand that in the workplace, I work for somebody. I understand that there are hierarchies to life, and I encourage them. I just won’t be led by the nose into my own destruction. I had the thought throughout my childhood that my mother would be happy if I attempted suicide – after all, it runs in the family. But I created my own lofty sense of self-worth despite her deprecating treatment, so that was never going to happen.

it’s interesting, the parallels between how you feel as a child under unreasonable punishment and an adult under the yoke of a marriage that should be over. The other spouse often ends up striking the same chords that your parent(s) did. At least, my situations felt this way.

It’s also important to forgive, but never forget. You can’t walk around as an adult, despising your parent(s). You have to learn their lessons and then act accordingly. Herein is why I disagree with abstaining from corporal punishment altogether: should you be an anorexic (or manorexic!) because your parents ate too much? Should you refuse to get a job because your parents were workaholics? Should you eschew all religion because your parents were Scientologists, snake-biter Baptists or ascetics? Should you eat all junk food because your parents had a crazy diet? No: it’s about learning from your parents’ mistakes and living a life with reasonable limits.

My next post will discuss how to discipline your children properly.

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My 2nd Divorce

Every young man loves his mother. I wanted very much to make her happy. But I learned two important lessons from the long process of leaving her.

My feeling of ownership over my mom probably happened when my dad started traveling a lot. I was “man of the house” (or so they said), and I would feel protective over my mom. We didn’t have an alarm system in the house, so while my dad was away I would prop our bar stools against the doors of the house. Then, I would take the pots and pans and balance them on top of the stools. In the morning, I’d take the pots, pans and stools down.

Side story: When I was about 11 we got our first cat. Cats are no good for keeping things in balanced places throughout the house, and periodically our alarm would go off.

When the divorce happened, I helped my mother with the divorce agreement. As I said in a previous post, I’m the one who pointed out to her that Dad was paying her child support (and not alimony). I liked the idea of getting rid of my brothers, but when there’s truth that others haven’t discovered I have to be the one to reveal it! (It’s just part of who I am.)

Here are a few things I did for my mom:
–>From the age of 5, I massaged her back and neck daily. She had a parasailing accident in her teens that gave her whiplash; she was in and out of acupuncturists’ offices.
–>I always helped set up chairs and tables at the hotel meeting rooms where my mother would have her multi-level marketing meetings.
–>I helped pitch her business to strangers at street fairs. At one hot, summery street fair I gave free five-minute massages to every slimy, fat person who was sweating like an unwashed hog who wanted my hands on them for five minutes, during which time I pitched them my mom’s business.
–>I already mentioned typing out her love letters.

It was like being married. (To answer one commenter: no, this is nothing Oedipal. I wanted motherly love, nothing else.) I helped with the business, I helped watching the kids, I cleaned the house since I was 5, everything I could. And only recently did I liken leaving my mother’s house to marriage.

The End is Near…or is it?
But then it started to unravel. In about February of 1994, I decided I needed to leave home. When I’d complaint to my friends, such as David D. and Brooke B., they’d tell me I needed to get out of there. At first, I was insulted by the suggestion. Then I realized I wasn’t actually in a healthy situation and needed to leave. I was estranged from my father (and he was probably out of town), so I knew I couldn’t go there.

I had a friend named Malachi. He offered to get me out of there. So I arranged a time he could come by before my mother would wake up (she never came downstairs before 9 on the weekends). I loaded all my things into trash bags and put them in his car, and then I made him wait. I put my shoes just inside the front door (I remember; they were my snakeskin Doc Martins). When my mother came downstairs, I told her I was leaving. It had all the same feelings as a breakup; the uncomfortable, the bitter woman, everything. She told me goodbye, and as I leaned down to pick up my shoes, she lashed out in her meanest voice, “You can’t take those; you didn’t pay for them.”

Suddenly a thousand thoughts flew through my head. I knew exactly how she viewed me, and my worth in this world as long as I was in her world.

Side note: Fast forward 17 years, and I had all those same feelings when I divorced my ex-wife. I’ll return to this side-note in a moment.

I ran out to Malachi’s car, and he took me to his Dad’s house. Malachi lived in a detached garage. He had a ton of THINGS piled into that garage. And I couldn’t just sleep in his place; I had to make nice with his dad, Martin.

Martin was a postal service worker who smoked more pot than anyone I’ve ever even heard of. He would smoke out his kids, daily. He agreed I could stay at his house but that I needed to find a permanent solution, quickly.

The first thing I did was call my friend David D. I told him proudly that I’d run away and I needed a place to stay. He said, in his laughing-at-you-because-you’re-an-idiot voice, that I couldn’t stay there.

Another thousand thoughts flew through my head. I knew right then I’d eventually have to crawl back to my mother’s house, because I had no options.

I had three days at Malachi’s house. One night, Malachi and I went to a party with a bunch of mutual friends. The guy who hosted that party is now dead (as a 30-year-old man, he mainly used these parties to sleep with 16-18 year old girls). I am pretty sure this party was the first one where I ever drank alcohol. As a Mormon, you can see that the road to apostasy was directly beneath my feet.

While at Malachi’s, I sat in the circle as Martin got his fill of his joint, his sons did, and they passed it to me. I took it and tried to get some out, and it was already spent – no pot left! By sheer chance, my one attempt to smoke pot was a failure. Thank goodness. For you skeptics, there was actually no smoke – it was dead. In 1997 I spent most of the year casually smoking cigarettes, so I know what it’s like to have smoke in my lungs. There was simply nothing there. Saved by happenstance!

Martin spoke ill of his wife, and I didn’t like that. He said he was full of energy and youth, and she was all used up, but that she was good to him so he wasn’t going to leave her (I just learned that he did in fact leave her in later years for a much younger woman). He also said he had a bad back, and thought I really needed to have my a__ kicked, but that he couldn’t do it on account of his back.

The Wisdom of Martin
I learned one important lesson from Martin. He told me to earn my keep I needed to dig out a tree stump in his front yard. It was a hot day and I dug and dug and didn’t get it out. I sweat a lot, spent an hour or so working on it, and told him I was giving up. He and his other son, Micah (I really liked his kids’ names), went out and dug the stump from the ground. He then lectured me about how I had an opportunity to do something good and failed. Then he and his son had a great father-son bonding moment. He said I failed because I stopped before I was done, and that one big lesson I needed to learn was to finish what I started. More to come on that in a moment, too.

The End is Not Near
On the third day, Martin made me call my mother. I knew the jig was up, and that I needed to humble myself. I cried, and she told me to come home. Martin spoke to her as well.

Lesson #1: Finish What you Start
Martin was right. I didn’t finish what I started. So I resolved from that point onward to finish anything I started. It didn’t work at first. I went to work at the Sony plant and quit the first job they gave me. Then I got assigned to watch old TV tubes come out of a 100-yard-long oven for 12 hours per day. I lasted two days. But each time I quit something like that, I kicked myself for not finishing what I started.

This motivation helped me finish college. It helped me finish law school too (because I hated so much of it, it was hard to do!). It helped me finish projects, and really continues to push me to this day. I recommend assuming that motivation if you can; it helps. However, it can also make you finish something that perhaps you weren’t meant to. But </I.I'd rather be a mediocre finisher than an excellent quitter.

Lesson #2: Parallels with Real Divorce
I now knew I had to get all of my ducks in a row if I was ever going to successfully leave that house. I knew I needed to get out; but how do you do it? It’s the same thought process you go through when it’s time to actually get a divorce from a spouse.

Fast forward to 2007, and I asked my ex-wife for a divorce without having anything planned out, and found my feet stuck in quicksand. Once again, I had to humble myself and not go anywhere, but had to get every duck in a row. I had to take her list of complaints, and fulfill them so I would have clean hands when I left. Whether or not she felt satisfied in her complaints, I had to feel I had satisfied my duty to her complaints.

Also concerning my actual divorce, I really don’t care that I have consternation from about a dozen people who think I’m horrible for doing so. I tried to leave and was stuck like a duck.

The moral of the story: It’s not enough to know you need a divorce; you need to work out a whole lot of the how of divorce too. I had to figure out how I could feel I had clean hands. That was important for me.

I am not saying you should put together a wad of cash you’ve withheld from your family (my uncle actually tried to tell me I was irresponsible because I went into divorce without any money to pay for it). I am saying you need your emotional and spiritual ducks in a row. You need to have God on your side because you will need His strength to do such a terrible deed. You need to realize that God wants to hear your prayers, asking for anything you need, and that includes the support to leave your spouse and continue being a good parent.

A month or two later, I leaned on my father and got out of my mother’s house. He came to my rescue when I needed him the most. I stayed with him for six months and then plunged into the world alone. And about 15 sideways years began.

I haven’t had any meaningful relationship with my mother since 1994. I do not hold anything against her. I forgive her, but I will not forget. As a result of “breaking up” with my mother, two of my brothers will likely never speak to me again. I cannot control whether they are under her thumb.

When I chose my ex-wife, I chose the person I thought would be least like her. Ironically, that ended up being the one thing I got in many respects. With my new bride, I have looked for some of those positive qualities which my mother did have, and then looked to avoid the negative.

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CPS Scare

After a recent post, I had a question from Beckwith Mansion, as to whether Child Protective Services ever stepped when I was growing up. They did! Here’s my story.

It was 1989, my first year in high school. I was 12, and 9th grade meant a new school, and my first parochial school at that (St. Augustine, an all-boys Catholic high school in San Diego).

I had plunged into as many Honors classes as they offered, and quickly found out that my effortless style in school would no longer cut it – I needed to hurry up and figure out how to do more, do better, and not be so apathetic. Unfortunately, I also learned how video games and modems worked, so those two things kept me busy in my off-time.

In Honors English, Mr. Cudal scared me. And he had no patience for my lack of effort, and no forgiveness for it either. He was a solid teacher I couldn’t sway to give me better grades than I deserved. First quarter went by and I got a C. And this is where the ball started rolling.

Mr. Cudal’s Class
Side note: Only three things I remember about Mr. Cudal’s class: PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In Developing Excellence, which we had to write at the top of every paper), memorizing the first stanza of The Raven, and being surprised at how excited I was to read The Last of the Mohicans and how little I liked the book (I couldn’t seem to absorb a single sentence of it, and my grade on the book report reflected that).

The Threat
My mother told me that if I didn’t pull up my English grade, I would be spending a night in the garage. This punishment was reserved for lying and getting really bad grades, and it was part of my mother’s “Japanese Torture” philosophy. It meant staying in the garage from the time I came home until the time I went to school. I was terrified of it because of the cockroaches. I was not allowed to sleep in the car, because that would be too comfortable and I was supposed to be punished. When I was sure my parents were sleeping, I went out to the backyard and pulled in the patio furniture so I could sleep on it and avoid the cockroaches. Spending the night in the garage also meant being forced to skip any meals while I was in there. Once in awhile, my parents would leave while I was in the garage, leaving my brother Luke as babysitter over Zack and Dustin, and Luke (in one of his greatest accomplishments) would sneak me some food.

The Bomb
When the last day of the semester (the last day of the 2nd quarter) came, we could stand in line outside Mr. Cudal’s office to get our grades before report cards went out. I was sure I had eked out enough effort to pull my grade up to a B-. When I got into his office, with the door to his office open I learned my grade and I started bawling (one more reason why 12-year-olds shouldn’t be in high school). I was blubbering about spending the night in the garage, and who knows what else. He shut the door and called in the school counselor, and my Spidey sense started going off; perhaps telling people about what happened at home wasn’t a good idea.

They calmed me down and asked if everything was okay. I wiped away the tears and left his office.

The Man
The next day, I got called into the counselor’s office. There was a nice-looking man with a beard there. You don’t see many beards any more. He introduced himself and said he was from Child Protective Services. He asked me everything and I knew I couldn’t deny what I said earlier, but I could soften the blow. I said, “I understand the reason for every punishment my parents have given me.”

The Worry
When I got home, I told my mother what happened. She told me I may have caused a disaster, that CPS would rip me away from my parents and send me to Hillcrest Holding Home, where they rape little boys every day. When the man from CPS knocked on the front door, my mother told me to go pack my things because unless she was able to talk him out of it, they’d be taking me away right that moment. I didn’t even know how to pack my things, so I sort of puttered around my room while I awaited my verdict.

The Effect
My mother charmed the socks right off of the CPS guy, and he quoted my statement to show how he knew it was going to be all right. He said obviously my brothers were well-adjusted, so if anything he might just take me out of the home for a few days. He also said if he had a kid as bad as I was, he would probably have punished me too.

The Aftereffect
The funny thing is, the nights in the garage didn’t happen much after that little incident.

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My Mother’s Wisdom

I learned some important lessons from my mother while growing up. Here are 10 rules to live by:

1) If you want to know how a woman will look in 20 years, look at her mother.

I know many people subscribe to this idea. But the fact is, barring some horrible physical disorder, you don’t inherit your parents’ fat cells, you inherit their habits. If you decide to live an active life and be a doer, you may be a little soft around the edges but you won’t be morbidly obese. If you decided to take up triathlons, do you really think by the time you run your first Sprint you’ll have any meaningful amount of fat left on you? NO.

In 1992, when I first crushed on the woman I married in 2011, she was a skinny little thing with a mother who had lost her figure. Until my bride found me in December 2010, I assumed my mother was right and wondered how that skinny little frame could put on 150 pounds. As it turns out, my mother was wrong. She’s still a skinny little thing. She’s skinny because she looked at her mother’s habits and chose not to inherit them. She has always lived a healthy lifestyle.

2) Going steady is tantamount to marriage.

I never said my mother was always wrong. But she did take it a little far. The premise is, if you’re 10 and you crush on a classmate, you shouldn’t do any of the usual flirting, “going steady” or any of the rest of childhood relationships, because it’s like an early marriage. If you aren’t ready to marry them, then you aren’t ready to “go steady” with them.

This may be mean, but perhaps if my mother had practiced more relationships before she married my dad, she would have learned to be a better partner.

3) Persistence beats resistance.

This rule is the one that I took with me to live by. It never fails. It is particularly helpful in my job. If you persist, you will always win.

3a) Subset of rule 3: If you persist and don’t win, it wasn’t good enough for you anyway.

What I will say here: This rule, when applied generally, works better for women than for men. Men can’t be brutally persistent or they’ll go to jail. It’s pretty hard for a woman to go to jail for being persistent.

4) Your competition is your enemy. Hate your enemy.

My mother would tell me when I was 8 and onward, “You have to see the people you’re competing against as your enemy. You have to hate them so you can beat them.” I would be all dressed up in a suit, with my sheet music in my lap, surrounded by other 8-10 year olds. I’d try very hard to figure out who was my toughest competition and hate their guts. It didn’t help. I won, but only when I ignored her advice. I still get an automatic hateful feeling inside me when I think about certain kids I used to compete with. And when I find myself in competitive situations, I have to consciously avoid being too aggressive.

The Law of Unintended Consequences: My mother set my brothers and I up to compete with each other. I can’t stand one of my brothers, and he can’t stand me. Thank you, Mommy. Then again, he is a loser.

4a) Subset of rule 4: Pulverize your opponents.

My mother always said, “If a kid tried to fight you, you have to knock his lights out. Aim for his gut and his nose – you have to flatten him.” What this actually accomplished is that I never fought in my life, because I was afraid of what damage that would do to someone (or the damage it would do to me if I missed!). Probably not the right thing to say to a kid, anyway.

5) White people are weak; best to discipline your children with “Japanese torture.”

My mother was never one to settle. When your kids are bad, why look like a wuss and make them sit in a corner? No, she wanted to exceed expectations.

5a) Subset of rule 5: Spankings should be measured in minutes, not strokes. At one point, getting a couple of smacks on the backside weren’t enough, so she decided to punish me by X minutes’ worth of spanking. I quickly learned to yell like the dickens when my butt got numb, or else she’d find more tender spots to spank in her rage. My longest spanking? 45 minutes.

5b) Subset of rule 5: Time-out is for wimps. My mom decided the best time-out is measured in days, and should be in a scary place. She punished us (mostly me, but once or twice my brothers got this one too) with X number of days in the garage without food. It was never more than 2 or 3, and there were ways to get food. We had our cans in the garage, and my dad ran his business out there, so I would use his mill (like a drill) to open cans and eat tomatoes and stuff. We had a lemon tree outside so I ate some of those in season.

6) White men who marry Asians want a subservient wife.

My mother had a best friend whose twin married a series of Asian women. I think because those marriages didn’t really work out, she was convinced the man married for subservience’s sake (that rhymes with “rake”, not “hockey”). The final reason I ran away from her house was that I was dating a Filipino girl for a few weeks. My mother wanted to forcibly end it so I wouldn’t shame her when her friends found out an Asian was in the picture. When I balked, she swung a large vacuum at my head.

7) Junk food is bad. Really bad.

My mother turned healthy eating into an element of our already out-of-the-mainstream religion. More people noticed my eating habits than my religion, and often would ask if it was part of being Mormon (with fear in their eyes).

7a) Subset of Rule 7: No white food. No white flour, no sugar, no salt and no milk. These were the rules she lived by, so we had a lot of honey, alternatie flours, soy milk, and she really had to fudge the salt so we’d get some sodium intake.

What good did it do? Well, she also had a rule against vaccinations, but my brother caught whooping cough anyway. Someone else I know had a similar mother and all the kids caught German Measles (that’s the Rubella in the MMR shot). All of us kids caught the flu every year, we all caught chicken pox, we still got strange rashes and tummy aches and everything else under the sun. It did nothing!

8> Fat people are bad people.

My mother despised fat people. She always told us, “If you ever get fat, I’m locking you in the bathroom till you get skinny. You’ll have all you need there: water and a toilet.” The funny thing is: she was fat until she was 19 years old. She certainly ate all the donuts she wanted until she needed to drop the pounds. I wonder if she ever fully lost her inner fat girl; she was certainly afraid of her.

9) Plan your children’s lives out for them.

My mother had it all planned out. I was child #1 and I would be a concert pianist. Child #2 would be a dancer or a model. Child #3 would be in sports. Child #4 would be… something, maybe an accountant to handle the other children’s riches. That’s a quote.

She also sat down child #2 and I and said, “Child #1, you will always have to rely on your brains because you don’t have Child #2’s looks. Child #2, you will have to rely on your looks because you don’t have Child #1’s brains.”

The aftermath of Rule #9: Child #1 gave up piano, is still smart and is now beautiful. Child #2 lost his looks and is still dumb as a box of rocks. Child #3 never got into sports. Child #4 is marvelous at the piano, can’t dance, can’t do sports, but has planned his own life out so well, he has things figured out better than the rest of us.

10) Set strict rules for the kids and then be a blatant hypocrite.

See all those rules above? You would think she would have learned about spankings, as her father was famous for his beatings. But no. See the dietary restrictions? She would have Rocky Road ice cream in the fridge at times, and bought herself chocolate frequently. She bought flour tortillas for her own meals. There’s more, I’m sure.

These are things I learned from my mother. What have you learned from yours?

By the way, I’ve come to one important conclusion: As parents, it’s our job to make sure we only pass on 1/2 of our personal psychoses. Good rule to live by. I sincerely hope I have less than half of hers.


My First Divorce

My first divorce was my parents’ divorce. My second divorce was breaking things off with my mother. My third divorce was the one I just wrapped up in 2010.

My parents divorced in 1992. I was 15. This was back when I was always the youngest person in the room (that was annoying, then fun, and now it’s gone!).

My parents were divorcing. Here’s how it went down.

My parents fought a lot. It usually ended with my dad driving away to sleep in his office. Once it ended with my Mom taking us kids to her friend’s house for Christmas. Sometimes it ended in laughing, which meant my mom was punching my dad in his gut and he was choosing to laugh about it.

My parents thought poorly of people who divorced. I still remember my father telling me about a lady in our ward (our church community) when I asked where her husband was. He wore a look as if he had tasted bad milk and said, “She’s divorced.” So even though the fighting had gotten bad, and I would tell my friends at school I expected my parents to divorce, it was hard to imagine it would ever happen.

I only once saw my mom run to the front door and kiss my dad when he got home. I remember being shocked — I practiced piano 4 hours a day, 10 feet from the front door, so if it had happened I would have seen it. I never saw any snuggling. I never heard any sounds from the bedroom. I knew they were married but never learned anything about what it meant to be married.

The most intimate thing I saw my parents do was actually a point of massive frustration for my father. It was right at the end of their marriage. They had been fighting in their room – I remember it was just before a holiday because she had been wrapping presents in her room. I think it was Easter, though, and not Christmas, but I could totally be wrong. I heard her make a different kind of frustrated noise than I had heard before, and I walked into their room. They were fully dressed, but dad had her sort of awkwardly pinned down. He had reached his last straw and had no idea how to handle her other than to hold her down to make her listen. He ended up taking his blanket and driving away that night, and I helped wrap presents, but my mother had to tell me to leave during that event, but not to worry and not to call the police. I remember thinking two things: “This is not good,” and “This is really more intimate than anything I’ve ever seen them do.”

The Snowball Starts
The year is 1989. I got my first computer. My dad gave me a computer he was done with from his office – an IBM AT with a 10MB hard drive, DOS, WordStar, and a 600 baud modem. Soon he upgraded me to a 40MB hard drive and I thought, “How will I ever use this?!”

The year is 1991. My parents have been much more on the rocks lately than ever before. When my dad upgraded my computer, once again giving me a hand-me-down, within a week I typed “delete *.*” (a command my dad had just taught me) from the C:\ directory. For you geeks out there, stop groaning. For you non-geeks, that means I accidentally deleted everything on the computer. Dad gave me a copy of Norton Utilities which helped me be able to see everything that had been deleted off of the computer. In my spare time, I started tooling around with it.

I soon found a document that outlined how my father would want to divide the estate if he divorced my mother. I printed it out and gave it to my mom. I knew this was a seminal moment.

The year is 1992. My parents go through the divorce process after a lengthy separation. My mom enlisted my help, which meant slowly turning me away from the father I loved very much. She had a multi-level marketing business called Sunrider. While she was out of the country seeing her married Australian boyfriend, I would run her business for her. In her defense, there was no boyfriend until she became separated from my father – that meant she saw separation like I do: You’re never going back. Her error was making my father believe otherwise. Also in her defense: She got the Australian to divorce his wife, and she’s been married to him now for 15 years.

While my mother was seeing the Australian, she would have me type her love letters to him (she was embarrassed of her handwriting, which was quite good). This was the first exposure I ever had to romance. I found other letters she didn’t want me typing for her, which she faxed to him. They were dirty! Also a first. Later, when I was mad at her, I opened up the suitcase where she stored those letters and showed my dad.

My Brothers
My brothers were born in 1980, 1984 and 1987. My mother started off the divorce process saying she wanted to give up my three brothers to my dad, that she never wanted to be a mother and he forced her to have them, but that she’d keep me because I was such a big help. She then said, “I’m getting $3200/month from your father anyway, and they cost a lot.” I told her that I had read through her divorce agreement, and I was fairly certain it was child support, not alimony – meaning the money goes away if she doesn’t have the kids. She made me show her the spot in the document – I was right (see the name of my blog). From that point on, she full-on manipulated my brothers every time they even hinted of wanting to see more of our father. She would even produce tears – she’s a wonderful actress.

My Faith
I was born in the LDS faith – “Born in the Covenant” as we call it. My parents had both been complete zealots when I grew up. I couldn’t date till I was 16, and that meant missing out one every important high school function because there would be girls there. No dances, no formals, nothing until Senior Prom (when I was actually 16). My mother would scream at me how evil I was when I was 8. She was a Mormon’s Mormon, good and bad. The only thing she hated about the Church was Utah – probably why I still have never been. I still remember her holding the hymnal during songs at Sacrament, and teaching me the melodies as we sang, including how to sing the other parts (Tenor, etc.) instead of just the melody.

A few things we didn’t have: We didn’t do family home evening often. I didn’t see the temple more than once before one was built in San Diego, and by then my parents were almost through with their divorce. I didn’t go to Church dances and generally we didn’t go to a lot of Church events (the reason would usually be that Dad was out of town and Mom didn’t want to do it alone, or that they had “bad food” there and my Mom didn’t want to cook something just for us kids to eat).

When my parents’ marriage began to disintegrate, my mother stopped going to Church. Her only appearances were the meetings with our Bishop, and she got really involved in trying to block my father from remarrying in the Temple. I am personally bracing for a similar fight when I go to the Temple again. My mother never went back. When missionaries went to her door, she and her husband screamed profanities at them until they left.

Note: She never withdrew her records from the Church, and won’t ask my brothers to do it either. I think that means that deep-down she knows the Church is true, but has too much pride to humble herself and submit herself to God. When I left the Church when I was 19, I tried to rekindle a relationship with her. She asked me to convince my brothers to withdraw their records – I told her that was a really big decision for me, and not one I’m going to influence for them.

My Mother’s Great Error
I mentioned it above – not letting Dad know it was over. I know how she thinks – I’m half hers, remember? The moment she was into getting a divorce, she was never going to be comfortable in that marriage again. She was emotionally out. However, the initial divorce agreement wasn’t favorable enough to her desires. I still remember being quite frustrated that even though she was signed off emotionally from the marriage, she would go out on dates with Dad and string him along some more. She explained why: if she could convince Dad he had a chance at reigniting the marriage (And again, she’s a great actress), he would give in on divorce terms. She always had in her arsenal the threat to divide the entire estate, including his business, but felt that you can attract more flies with honey. So she laid the honey on thick, got everything she wanted (including the entire equity in our home, instead of partial; Dad assumed all of the debt; and she got child support till we turned 19 instead of 18). Probably the most worthwhile nonprofessional acting in history.

My Father’s Error
He gave in. He loved my mother and wanted the marriage to be repaired. At every turn, he chose to run instead of fight. He may have done it for love, but the wrong things happened – my mother got her way. That means she got all of the financial gains, and she got my brothers and I “on her side.” I don’t think he realized, though, that he would lose so many of his sons in the process. I think just a little foresight, however, a good lawyer and the right counseling (perhaps from his lawyer) could have told him to put up his dukes where it counted.

This divorce left plenty of dead bodies, so to speak.

My mother continued to reach into my father’s life and screw with him for another decade after their divorce. She tormented him with hateful faxes, and my dad’s failure to fight back properly had his second wife convinced that he was still in love with my mom. Dad’s current wife put a stop to that by standing up for him. But even recently, at my brother’s wedding of all places, my father sacrificed a lot to get to China to be there. At the wedding, my mother used every last ounce of knowledge about how my father ticks, and ticked him off enough to leave right after the wedding. She has a tremendous sense of timing. I am firmly convinced that if his wife had been there, or I had been there, things would have turned out differently at that wedding.

I think my father believes he could have saved his sons’ souls by sacrificing his own soul and staying with my mother. He fails to understand a few things, though. The way some people think (including my mother and I), once you sign off of a marriage you never go back. Why make such a monumental decision if you aren’t going to stick with it to the end? What kind of spine would you have, or moral confidence? His real responsibility, the main effort, needed to be from the day she asked for divorce. Instead, he concentrated on making her happy. All that did was sink him into her smokescreen while she had her way with us.

I too bore many of the influences from my mother before I could properly sort out who I was and what was important for me in the long-run. By the time I graduated high school in 1993, I was firmly disgusted with my father (partly by him giving up, and heavily because she had convinced me of all the usual suspicions an ex casts on her hated ex-spouse – manipulation, being a control freak,etc.). On the night of my graduation, outside City Hall (where graduation happens) I told him he was no longer my father. I remember shaking while I was doing it, thinking I was making him pay for his errors and making my mother proud. He didn’t take it well, and I didn’t get to repair things fully until 1998.

My parents taught me nothing about marriage. They taught me some good lessons about divorce, however. My brothers are still reeling from the after-effects and it’s now been a long, long time. Years after the marriage, my third brother asked my dad when he was getting back together with Mom. It embarrassed Dad, but he failed to recognize even at that point how much he needed to be shepherding us through the process. That brother doesn’t even speak to him (or me) any more.

The Lesson
You can avoid many of the long-term damages that can stem from divorce if you take a strong hand with your life and the lives of your children from the moment a divorce seems inevitable. Your children need your strength. Your soon-to-be ex (or now your ex) needs to be dealt with in the legal process, and you need to treat them with respect, but you are no longer responsible for their salvation. They made their choice by asking for a divorce, or for their contribution in destroying the marriage to the point that you had to “man up” and make the divorce happen. Your children need you. Your own soul needs you. Shepherd them.