Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where did all the friends go?

When one's marriage ends, friendships often end also.  People that used to invite me to their homes regularly with my wife and children now don't even answer my e-mails. 

Throughout the process of my divorce, one message was incessantly emphasized.  Every action was done under the guise of doing "what is best for the children".

Presumably what happens in civil actions represents the beliefs of our society.  In other words, our society wants the most important outcome of divorce to be what is best for the children.

This society is made up of the same people who no longer answer my emails or invite me to their homes.  It is also made up of my children.  My children constantly want reminders that there is still a family that consists of a mommy, a daddy, and the children, even though they know that we live in two homes. 

As I have read books about divorce and parenting, the one most important message is to not be negative about the other parent in front of the children, and if possible, be positive about the other parent, no matter how much you resent that person. 

For my children this can be very simple.  Once I slipped after my daughter said that she loved mommy.  I absent-mindedly said "I love mommy too".  This brought her so much joy that I didn't even mind that it wasn't true. 

Another example is my daughter's desire to have "group hugs". in which my ex-wife, me, and my children all hug together as we once did when we were a single family.  Although I have no desire to hug my wife, this is a small price to pay to bring comfort and happiness to children whose worlds have been turned upside down.  I don't believe this is lying to them.  I think it is doing something kind for them.  They still know that my ex-wife and I maintain two separate homes and seldom interact.

It occurred to me that the same society that wants to do what is best for the children could walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.  Divorce is like death or cancer.  When either one occurs, people tend to stay away as if they could catch it. 

My suggestion is that people reach out in these situations where others most need their friendship.  Those barbecues that you used to invite us to?  Why not still invite us and let us decide whether we are comfortable coming?  Certainly our children would delight at the opportunity to be at a barbecue where both parents  are present as well as all the children of the other couples we used to socialize with.

It is rare that there is a villain in a divorce.  Although each party probably has issues with the other, one person may choose to vilify the other partner and be vocal about it.  Seldom is this the whole story.  Let's really do what's best for the children and continue to include them in our lives.  It's easy to write people off, but it takes a caring person to take a chance and do what's more difficult and more right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Divorce

Much is said about doing what is in the best interest of the children.  I used to like the famous line "it takes a village to raise a family" and still believe it is true to an extent.   A village provides the infrastructure that makes raising a family possible.  The schools, the libraries, the cub scouts, and book sales. Friends are important for that emergency pickup when you can't make it to get your child from her karate lesson, but it is the nuclear family that raises the children and it takes two people to do that.

There are many instances where a second person is needed.  As mundane as washing dishes is, it occupies a parent while the kids are unsupervised.  It would be better to have a second parent read to the children or supervise their independent play.  All too often the kids get an electronic parent like the television, ipod, or internet to keep them busy while the single parent is busy.  At the end of the day, a single parent is exhausted and has had no time to do the things a person needs to do to remain happy, and it should be a right to pursue happiness.  When there are two parents, either parent can disappear for some private time, to read a book, take a piano lesson, or mow the lawn.  For a single parent, each of these tasks becomes a juggling feat and the children pay for the juggler. 

I don't understand opposition to gay couples adopting.  Any child would be lucky to have two loving parents, even if they were from another planet.  With a 50% divorce rate I don't think it really matters what sex the parents are, but that they stay together. 

In her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Meg Meeker, MD makes several points about what is good for children.  She makes it clear that there is good evidence that divorce damages children.  Her advice is to stay married if at all possible, that it is better to divorce when the children are 20 than when they are 14.  My inference is that divorce is essentially a selfish act when there are children involved.  Once you have children, you have committed yourself to their lives, their happiness and not your own.  To go chasing something better is not right, unless there is abuse, etc.  Marriage is difficult and there is value in making it through the hard times, even if they last years.

Part of my divorce was a required "course" on divorce, in my opinion after the horse was out of the barn, but required nonetheless.  It repeatedly mentioned that kids are resilient and do fine after a divorce.  I believe this is the wrong message.  I think it should be difficult to get a divorce, and perhaps even difficult to get a marriage.  I think the course should be given early in the marriage, before there are kids, and should discuss the damage that divorce does to children.  Earlier loss of virginity,  out of wedlock pregnancy, learning disorders, emotional disabilities, behavior problems, and shorter lives among others.

Our ideas on what is best for kids change over the years, proof that we never did know and probably never will know, what is important in raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted children. 

In divorce, it used to be that the mother was felt to be the most important influence, and fathers had to fight hard to maintain time with the children.  Usually it was a small number of days and this did not allow the father to feel involved.  Many fathers just tossed in the towel and gave up.

Now it is recognized that a father is also important and the courts tend to make sure the father gets significant time with the children, but there are many other variables involved and the court should not pretend it knows the answers to these parenting issues. 

A lot of emphasis is placed on maintaining things as they were during the marriage, mostly on "living in the style one has become accustomed to", but a divorce changes the marriage and the lives we had become accustomed to.  When a parent decides to leave, there is no reason why they should continue to be supported.  The children deserve to be supported and this should be looked at by the court, but the onus need not be on the same person who played the support role in the marriage, since the marriage is now over.  A better way to look at it would be as two single parents, each of whom has to make a life for their children without the redundant luxury that a marriage provides. 

Just because during the marriage one partner could stay home and enjoy raising children while the other parent worked does not mean this should be the case when a parent has decided to leave.  Both parents should be prepared to give up their own needs in order to provide for the kids, even if that means working at Walmart instead of going to school to further oneself.  Of course arrangements and deals can be made.  "I'll pay for you to go to school since that will provide you a better future".  This way you won't have to spend your life working for minimum wage to provide for the kids."  This is OK but it should be a deal between the parents, not a court mandated distribution of money.  If one parent worked hard to provide money, he/she gave up something precious to do that-time with the children.  That parent should be able to keep what they made and the other parent gets to keep the bonds they were allowed to make with the kids while their partner worked.

If anything, there is an incentive for divorce in many cases, from a financial perspective.  The above would change that and perhaps make people think more seriously before ending their marriage. 

At most, the financial situation should be returned as closely as possible to the pre-marital status.  If the father leaves the marriage wealthy and the mother poor, that is only addressing the money.  I would gladly have handed over half of my money  if I thought I could get half of the time with the kids that I gave up when I slunk out of the house each morning before the sun rose, and before the children were awake.

This deal should be understood when a couple decides to have children.  The mother may be giving up a career to raise the children while the father works, but this is a conscious decision made by an adult, and it has repercussions that the mother must live with.  That's being an adult.  Staying with a marriage that has difficulties (don't they all?) to pursue a happier life should not carry with it the right to live as if one were still married.

Marriage should not be portrayed as a romantic, live happily ever after, fairy tale to our children as long as we live in a country where half of the marriages fail.  Anyone planning to get married should have more work to do than picking out the best font for the invitations.  They should be required to take a marriage course, just as they will be required to take a divorce course.   A more realistic picture of marriage, and a better and earlier preparation for dealing with marital difficulty would help solve our epidemic of failed marriages.  A prenuptial agreement should be mandatory, not just to preserve the wealth of one partner, but to have a plan for a reasonable separation made while the partners are still being reasonable with each other.  After a divorce, the wedding gifts should go to a thrift shop that serves the community.

There are exceptions for abusive relationships, but the solution really should focus on removing the abuser from the abused and trying to help both people.  In these cases people generally come from backgrounds that are abusive and it is the time to stop the cycle.

In a society that worries so much about threats from abroad, I wish we spent more time fixing the problems we create ourselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

egg drop soup

Jesse doesn't like eggs, but he likes egg-drop soup.  Today he woke from his nap grumpy.  He stalked the house with a scowl on his face, head tilted down, eyes looking up menacingly for a four year old.

I suggested that we go fishing, and the scowl faded away.  We went outside to find worms.  Each rotting log was a small adventure with all sorts of odd living creatures under it.  We scampered from log to log until we had collected a dozen or so worms, got our tackle together, and headed off to the river with a candy bar.

Ever the negotiator, he asked for three junior mints on the five minute drive to the river and finally settled for one.  I had three.  We walked to our favorite spot and sat down on a rock in the misting rain, not really fishing, but hanging out.  We ate our candy bar and caught a ridiculously small fish.  Getting restless, we decided to put our rods aside and go exploring in the woods.  Jesse is a master mushroom spotter and we went mushroom hunting, enjoying the different shapes and sizes.  We threw rocks in the river.  After a while we both got hungry and left for home where I got out a can of chicken noodle soup.  Jesse suggested that I drop an egg into it.  I asked him how I should do that and he said to mix it up first, so I gave him a whisk and a bowl with an egg and he whisked it and then poured it into the soup while I mixed.  The picky eater devoured the soup, which also had just the noodles from a packet of ramen.

After lunch the day dragged and Jesse and his sister quarreled.  Jesse's bad mood returned.  I was saved by a phone call from a new friend with a daughter, Emily, aged between Jesse and Amy.  Jesse was jealous, as Emily is a girl from Amy's school, and thus really a friend of Amy's, not Jesse's. 

Somehow, even at their young ages, chemistry took over and the three of them played happily together dressing up, exploring the yard, and finally collapsing in front of a movie.  Emily didn't want to go home so I prepared dinner for the kids.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with honey, and chicken noodle egg-drop soup, a la Jesse, who is always full of surprises.

Car Mechanics

A few years ago I had to get my Subaru inspected for my registration.  I was relatively new in town and wasn't familiar with the various service stations.  I took my three year old car in to a tire dealership that does inspections and was shocked to find that I did not pass inspection.  Apparently there was too much rust on my brake rotors.  Since the car was pretty new and the brakes seemed to work fine I chose not to have the expensive work done.  I had to pay an inspection fee though.

I took the car to another inspection center where it passed with flying colors. 

As I thought about the situation, I began to recognize the unfairness of the position the car-owner is put in.  An unethical inspection center can get lots of extra business by finding problems.  In my opinion, the center that performs the inspection should not be allowed to do the work they deem to be required, as it provides an incentive for them to invent problems.

One could argue that this might put unsafe vehicles back on the road, but the vehicle was driven to the service center in the first place, so it's not as if it hasn't been on the road. 

One could argue that an unsafe car could just be taken from one service center to another until the vehicle passes.  One solution to this could be a three strikes and you're out rule, but more effective would be inspection criteria that are objective.  It should not be a judgment call as to whether a vehicle passes inspection.  The measurements to be made at inspection should be clearly described so that a car gets consistent results from one center to another.

Most owners are not very familiar with their cars.  I was ripped off for an unnecessary three hundred dollar rear brake job on my old K5 Blazer back in the 90's.  There's nothing more convincing than having a mechanic show you a broken piece from your car, telling you that the part needs to be replaced.  The shop that I was taken by was later shut down because they performed unnecessary work.

The rust on my brake rotors that caused me to fail my inspection is apparently a normal finding on a car that sits for a few days, especially if it is humid. 

The best solution of all is to report unsavory mechanics to the Better Business Bureau or the state DMV and to establish a relationship with a good mechanic.  The Mechanics File on Car Talk is a database of over 16,000 mechanics that are recommended by listeners of the Public Radio show Car Talk.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Review of Scientific Anglers Fly Fishing Made Easy Fly Fishing Kit - 4-Piece, 9’ 5/6wt

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . This Scientific Anglers Fly Fishing Made Easy fly fishing kit comes with everything the upstart angler needs for a great day on the water. Includes rod, reel, line, backing, leader and DVD Rod: Performance matched to the fly line Graphite Cork handle Wire snake guides 4...

Considering learning to fly fish?

By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

I don't ski, I don't like winter. I needed something to keep those winter blues away, so I decided to take up fly fishing. This is a good quality outfit at a good price. It's well suited for trout, bass and I feel I could probably handle a fish up to 10 pounds. The reel does have a drag. It comes with backing, weight forward fly line, one 4x leader, rod and reel. The leader uses Sci Anglers connector that doesn't require a knot, but you can use any leader you want. No flies included. It would have been nice to have a few flies. It does come with a DVD that provides a nice introduction to fly fishing, knot tying, etc.
I was choosing between this one and the Wild Water fly fishing kit and chose this one based on price. The Wild Water comes with a case, which is a nice addition and is probably a little higher quality.
Anyway, this winter I can learn to tie flies while everyone else is on the slopes.


My Review of Columbia Sportswear Highland Crest Sweater - Zip Neck (For Men)

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . The Columbia Sportswear Highland Crest sweater has a comfortable, casual style that pairs nicely with jeans or slacks. Microfleece collar lining is luxuriously soft Traditional styling works with jeans or slacks Neck zip: 7” Length: 27” Fabric: 55% ramie, 15% acrylic, 15% nylon...

Comfy sweater

By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

Chest Size: Feels true to size

Length: Feels true to length

Sleeve Length: Feels true to length

Pros: Warm, Comfortable

Best Uses: Casual Wear

Comfy sweater that is nice because it's not all wool and is not itchy. I received compliments starting the day I first wore it. I certainly didn't need another sweater but it's a good deal for a warm, comfy sweater, and sometimes that's enough to ward off the winter blues.


My Review of Boker Hunting Knife - 4¼” Fixed Blade

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . This classic hunting knife from Boker features a genuine stag handle, 440 stainless steel blade and full tang construction. 440 stainless steel drop-point blade Genuine stag handle Full tang construction Pommel eyelet Includes premium leather sheath Blade: 4-¼” Overall ...


By deepdrop from New Hampshire on 10/10/2009


4out of 5

Pros: Sharp Blade, Good Weight

Describe Yourself: Casual Adventurer

I like Boker knives. This one is really nice and the sheath is also very nice. Many times you get a crummy sheath with a knife but this one is good. It's a little hard to get out of the sheath at first but it eases up in a short while. The stag handle feels a little like plastic and is on the thin side. Also, I prefer a knife with a finger guard but this one still feels safe. All in all, it's currently my favorite and it feels like a high quality knife at a good price.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fathers are parents too

Today I dropped my children off at day camp.  My son Jesse, who is 4 years old, was clinging to my back as I hung their backpacks and lunch-boxes, and led my children to the main room.  I was about to leave and reached behind me, taking hold of Jesse's shirt, and pulled him around to my front, telling him for the nth time that I don't like him clinging onto my back and that it was time for a hug and a kiss goodbye.  At this point, the camp director stepped in and said "no, no, no" and took over.  She "comforted" Jesse and suggested that I get something of mine to let him hold for the day.

I found myself becoming irritated.  Why?  My initial reaction is that I don't need or want someone to direct my parenting.  She knows my children superficially, but doesn't know much about my relationship with them, my values, how we resolve issues, whether this has been dealt with before, or whether I want him to learn how to get through the day without having to rely on holding a reminder of me.  She probably acted in a way that was based on her experiences with her own children, or, my worst fear, her assumption that as a father I was an incompetent parent.

As I thought more about it, I began to wonder whether she would have done the same thing to a mother.  As a father of young children, it sometimes seems that the assumption is that I struggle through my interactions and various challenges with my children, when in actuality I have read a great deal about parenting and have a style that I am comfortable with and that evolves as the children grow and change.  At the same time, I am not opposed to hearing suggestions on parenting when presented as just that, suggestions, rather than dictations.

Finally, I began to stew because I am not just a father, but a father whose marriage ended in the last year.  I sometimes feel that there is a bias against divorced fathers based on the assumption that they must have been bad husbands or bad fathers to have ended up divorced.  Perhaps there are rumors about what kind of husband/father I was.  This camp director also knows my wife.  In my experience, most of the people who are involved in taking care of my children outside of the family are women.  This includes camp counsellors, teachers at school, and teachers at extra-curricular activities.  My sense is that these women, although not openly hostile, tend to have a bias of sympathy with my children's mother rather than with their father.

In the end, I realize that this woman was trying to do what she believed was the right thing and the helpful thing, but it makes one think of the Golden Rule, which is not "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  A more proper interpretation is "Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them".  This requires communication.  It requires asking "Would you like some help with your son?", "Would you like me to suggest something to do about this?", because my answer might have been "No, I prefer to handle this myself".    It is important to remember that people do things differently and if you are trying to help them, it is wise to inquire  about the situation first, especially if you don't know the person well.

Obviously in cases where there is neglect or abuse we accept that others can step in and act, but even here, the definitions of neglect and abuse are subject to interpretation.  She may have felt that pulling my son off my back by his T shirt was abusive. 

I'm reminded of the recent case of a woman who let her kids go to the mall unsupervised.  She ended up charged with endangering the welfare of her children.  Her children were 7th graders left at a mall in a small, safe city - Bozeman, Montana.  Both children had attended babysitting classes which teach CPR and infant care.  The girls were also with three other children at the mall, aged 8,7,and 3.  My point is that there are many variables involved and many arguments could be made for either side of the endangerment issue.  The question is at what point the criminal system should appropriately become involved.

When divorced, a parent is under more scrutiny than parents in an intact marriage.  It can create a sense of paranoia, leaving one too afraid to speak up and defend one's parenting style, especially after reading about cases such as the above. 

I like this day-camp, and I like the camp director.  My children socialize with other children, learn new skills, and develop their growing sense of independence and accomplishment.  I wish that there was more sensitivity and understanding shown to single fathers, not just at this camp, but in general.  Fathers are parents and one should assume that parents know how to take care of their children and enjoy doing so.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Doctors should lead healthcare reform

Medicine is in a time of change. Hopefully we can create a healthcare system that provides rapid access to quality medicine for all of us. The details will be difficult to work out, but there is no question that physicians should be involved in helping to craft the new plan.

After all, physicians ultimately know what the day-to-day care of patients entails and what issues contribute to making the delivery of quality healthcare efficient. Of course the creation of a plan will also require the input of other groups including politicians, various industries, and patients, but without physicians, there will be no healthcare, and it is important to hear their voices.

So what do physicians think? Who represents their opinions? What do physicians want in the new healthcare plan?

The AMA, founded in 1847, has typically been perceived as the "voice of physicians", yet physician enrollment in the AMA has waned to a current level of 245,000 members representing about eighteen percent of American physicians. I don't think it can be said any longer that what the AMA says is what physicians believe.

Recently, an organization called Sermo, the Latin word for conversation, has become active politically and has engaged in debates with the AMA on national television. Sermo has about 100,000 physicians in its community and it's CEO is Dr. Daniel Palestrant. Membership is for physicians only. Their relationship with the AMA is antagonistic at best.

These societies may be the only exposure the public has to the opinions of large numbers of physicians as a group, and the message sent by these societies greatly impacts how physicians are viewed and whether their message affects policy decision making.

So, how does the public know what physicians think? Upon visiting the website of the AMA, there is a section for physicians as well as one for patients. The section for patients presents resources on healthcare as well as the AMA's vision of healthcare reform.

Although they do not offer membership to non-physicians, Sermo does maintain a blog , accessible from their website and available to the public, which purports to represent the Sermo physician community's perspective on select issues, presumable issues selected by Dr. Palestrant. The blog is heavy reading and focuses mostly on physician discontent with the current healthcare system, rather than presenting to patients a discussion on how fixing these problems would improve healthcare for patients, ultimately what the public wants to know. Unfortunately it sounded like doctors complaining, rather than doctors working for a better healthcare system.

I posted a message on the Sermo message board suggesting that a section be created for patients, on which Sermo could explain the issues facing medicine, doctors, and what doctors think should be done to help our healthcare system. The responses reminded me of something I learned in college psychology. A rat was randomly shocked in order to create a stressful environment. A stuffed animal was placed in the cage and the rat attacked it. On the Sermo message board, I was the stuffed animal.

Although I explained carefully that I thought a physician-only organization was great, Sermo had an obligation to present a face to the public once they had entered the debate on healthcare. The Sermo blog does this in a sense, but is difficult to read. I suggested a simple link from the homepage to a site where the public could read about the realities of medical practice from the people on the front line, not from politicians and insurance companies. The response to my suggestion was unanimously negative.  Doctors have become so stressed that they need a place where they feel safe. The sad thing is that doctors could help make the whole healthcare system a safer place for doctors and patients.

Medicine is an honorable field. I can think of nothing that feels more rewarding than making another person stop hurting, or fixing them when they are broken. Many years of training go into becoming a physician, typically at least eight years following college, and often several additional years. Physicians usually leave their training in enormous debt, and having sacrificed much of their youth to serve fellow humans. It used to be a sure bet that one would be successful as a physician, and physicians were a happy lot.  Most physicians would not want their children to go into medicine. This is troubling. 

In crafting a new healthcare plan we must not neglect the needs of physicians, but it is up to physicians to make their needs known. Both the public and doctors want the same thing and they need to be working together against the enormous political clout of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that fear a loss of profits. Most doctors are in favor of a single payor system that would eliminate for-profit insurers and curb the power of big provider chains, thus allowing more dollars to go to patient care. This is similar to the 67% of the general public who support a single payor system. Doctors want healthcare decisions to be made by doctors, not by insurance companies. The New York Times reported that between 2000 and 2005 the number of Americans with private health insurance fell by 1 percent, while employment at health insurance companies rose 32 percent. The implication is that the insurance companies are working harder to decide who does and does not deserve healthcare. Denial of care is often a decision made by an insurance clerk with high a school education. The result is a burden on doctors to deal with the insurance companies when they could be taking care of patients and the need to see more patients in less time. Doctors views are really pretty much in sync with that of the public. Doctors can't be perceived as an isolated group of fat-cats that don't care about their patients and don't want to interact with patients except to make money. In general, physicians are people who want to help people, and they have chosen this path as a living. It's time for physicians to become the strongest unified voice for healthcare reform and I think the public will support them.In searching the internet for public opinion of physicians I found almost all positive reports. People seem to still trust their doctors. Doctors should stop complaining among themselves and lead the way to a better system.  A good indicator would be when doctors want their children to be doctors again.