Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

It really is a myth that women are the only ones who can serve as a ‘primary’ caregiver to a child…

by Rod Smith

Dear Rod Smith

I want to write this letter anonymously to protect the identify of my son.

I read your column of 26 January 2011 in The Mercury with great interest and really wish to comment.

It really is a myth that women are the only ones who can serve as a ‘primary’ caregiver to a child. Its ‘first prize’ if both parents are available and share the parenting responsibilities (even though they themselves might not be joined in a romantic or marital relationship). I am, in the same way as you, living testimony that men are totally able to provide for all the caring needs of an infant child. I reconciled with my son’s mother two days after he was born. He is not my biological son (although none of the family is aware of this) and since we took him home from the hospital, I have provided for virtually all his needs (material, emotional, developmental). His mother struggled to bond with him after his birth and with my support we worked through this period and I did my best to ensure that its effects on him are minimal. During this time, and even to now, I play the most significant parenting role in his life (and this does not mean his mom does not have a wonderful and loving relationship with him).

I believe that the myth that men are not capable or competent to nurture young children is institutionalised by views such as those expressed by the writer of the letter to you and this is as a child which leads to men being denied the opportunity to build strong and meaningful relationships with both their children and the mothers of their children. On the other hand I do feel that race can have its own dynamics, but need not necessarily be an impediment to good parenting.

Durban Dad

January 31, 2011

I was so inspired by your column I wrote a book on the subject of divorce

by Rod Smith

Hi Rod,

You probably won’t remember, but in the past you have very kindly printed some of my letters to you in The Mercury here in South Africa, and you have even E-mailed me directly on a couple of occasions. Much appreciated!

Just a touch of news, I was so inspired by your column, I set out and wrote a book on the subject of Divorce, and the shambolic events which take place when one doesn’t quite know what to do, the procedures and all the other elements which make up this sad happening. The title is, “Divorce, a beginners guide!” Much to my great surprise, the book was immediately accepted for publication! Talk about beginners luck!

I would consider it a great honour to send you a copy once the printing is complete, if you would like a copy, please let me have your postal address.

Once again, thanks for everything!


Spike Farrell.

January 30, 2011

Key terms for at least one approach to Family Therapy….

by Rod Smith

Who shows the most health and freedom?

Readers often express interest in the Science of Family Therapy. Here are a few key words to guide any reading to stimulate further interest in at least one of many approaches:

Murray Bowen – is considered one of the pioneers;
Genogram – a diagram of a family usually starting with immediate family or “family of origin”;
Space – the distance between and among people;
Under- and over-functioning – playing more than your own role or doing less than your role deserves or requires; Anxiety and chronic anxiety;
The human need for autonomy;
The human need for intimacy;
Differentiation of self;
Cut-offs, fusion;
Mutuality; respect;
Invisible loyalties – the often irrational and rational loyalty among family members;
Low- and high-functioning individuals; low- and high-functioning families.

Keys to change in a family (if change is indeed possible):

Change in a family often comes from first identifying the most self-differentiated person in the family. This person is challenged by the therapist to move his/her life toward greater levels of health and integrity, despite the cost and the sabotage that will naturally result. Family resistance to change is to be expected. When some seek greater health there will be “push back” from those who benefit from the status quo.

January 30, 2011

Taxi driver has anxiety attacks when driving…..

by Rod Smith

“I have been having anxiety attacks for the past 6 years. I had my first one on the freeway. I thought I can’t drive the freeway for awhile. I started getting them in short places. It is really bad for me. I own a taxi and drive for a living. In the past I have had two bad car crashes when I used to drink and drive a lot. I was in a bad crash while I was working one night. A bus pulled right out in front of me and it was bad. It took about 5 months then my attacks got worse! I didn’t drive for about a year and a half but in that time I was getting attacks in the car with other people when I wasn’t even driving. I’m back to work but still get them very, very bad to where I got to stop and have someone who works for me come get me. I have tried programs and nothing is working. Please help.” (Edited spelling only)

If driving is causing you this much anxiety you might want to consider another form of employment other than driving a taxi. While this does not conquer the problem there is something to be said for removing oneself from the immediate contexts where the stresses occur.

January 30, 2011

He will not consider counseling because he hasn’t been in love with me for the last 10 years…

by Rod Smith

“I have been married for 20 years. My soon to be ex-husband is 18 years older than me. We had children from previous marriages and one child together. After about ten years of marriage I started going out to bars and staying out late. When I look back I am not sure why I did this. He threatened divorce and I never did it again. He now wants a divorce because he says I have not truly treated him as an equal partner and that I gave up caring. I love him with all my heart. He will not consider counseling because he says he loves me and cares about me but hasn’t been in love with me for the last 10 years and so there isn’t anything to work on. I can’t imagine my life without him and it is so hard because he won’t see me to talk face to face because he says he has too much anger towards me. I know I need to find myself. I just want another chance.”

The client’s presented issue is seldom the issue. This is not about bars or staying out late ten years ago. Take up your life, woman – he doesn’t want to be married. Don’t waste your future on him.

January 26, 2011

His child has no respect for my daughter….

by Rod Smith

“My daughter is living with her fiancé. He has a nine-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The girl has no respect for my daughter. My daughter and her fiancé argue about caring for his child. Now his daughter wants to live with her dad because her mom who does not work yells at her all the time. She is already living with them 3-4 nights a week. My daughter and her fiancé have a 1 year old and another ‘on the way.’ He expects my daughter to take his daughter to and from school and to all of her activities while also taking care of two babies. She cannot do this. He has told my daughter that he will always put his daughter first over her. Is my daughter legally responsible for doing this?”

This must be faced.....

Your daughter and her fiancé owe all of the children (including the one “on the way”) an honest discussion about marriage, child-care, the involvement of the former wife in the life of her daughter, and much else. I’d suggest you do not rescue your daughter or the children by functioning over and above the call of any sane, loving mother and grandmother. Attempts to “save” your daughter will prolong the couple’s avoidance of issues that ultimately must be faced.

January 25, 2011

Why is the end of this marriage so hard for me?

by Rod Smith

“I married a man I knew had a drinking problem. We had two children and his behavior never changed. He has stayed the same, drinking and going out, but now there has been an affair. Even the affair wasn’t the breaking point for me. He kept going back to the woman so I finally filed for a divorce. The divorce goes through soon and he has since moved onto a second woman who drinks with him. Why am I taking this so hard even knowing that he wasn’t right for me and that I wouldn’t choose him again?”

Attraction is only enduringly poss

Please, go to Al Anon

He’s the father of your children, you are accustomed to his ways; the stress of living with him has fed some emptiness within you and allowed you to feel needed. There are many ways to attempt to explain the reasons you are finding this termination difficult.

I believe you have accommodated his life, his problems, and his illnesses more than you have loved and treasured your own life – which is a sure-fire formula for you to become as addicted to him and his difficulties as he is to alcohol.

Please, seek out our nearest Al Anon group as soon as possible – even though the divorce is almost final.

January 24, 2011

Healthy track or not?

by Rod Smith

New romantic interest? Here are a few simple questions to answer to see if you are on a healthy track:

1. Are you more you (more alive, more inspired to be fully who you are) or less you (walking on egg-shells, hiding your wants, desires, ambitions) as a result of your newfound love interest? Of course the former is what would suggest health.

2. Have you maintained most of your former friendships or become isolated from your community of family and friends as a result of this new relationship? Of course the latter would be an indication that all is not well.

3. Are you diminishing (abdicating personal responsibility for your life, vacating all or part of your brain and expecting him or her to think for you) as you get closer to each other, or are you able to hold your own (speak your mind, hold firm opinions) in the face of strong attraction? The former may feel like loving sacrifice but it is no indication of healthy love.

4. Are you driving everything about the relationship and have the sense that if you didn’t things would grind to a halt? If you are doing all the work now you’d better gear up for doing it all in the future.

January 23, 2011

Three questions that on occasion come my way….

by Rod Smith

You adopted two children at birth as a single man. You are white and they are both black. Three questions: 1. Did you ever think of your actions as selfish given that there are thousands of couples trying to adopt? 2. How did you handle the children as infants – men don’t usually do that part of rearing babies? 3. Is race an issue? (Questions contracted from several sources into one reply).

Here we are: dog included!

Thanks for your loving concern. In both instances my children (now 12 and eight) came to me – as in, I did nothing to search for children.

1. Thulani’s mother approached me. Nathanael’s arrival was “out of the blue” when a friend knew he was “alone” and available at the local state hospital. I was present at Thulani’s birth and met Nathanael when he was 8 days old. So, no, I did not “take” my children from any couple but rather responded to a mother’s request and to a need.

2. It is a myth that women and not men can nurture a baby. Any reasonable man, given my circumstances, could and would do the same. I loved the late night feedings and all that went with loving infants.

3. Race is not an issue for me – clearly it is for you.

January 23, 2011

Living with an Open Hand…..

by Rod Smith

Hospiality, grace, radical freedom

Open your hand using all your strength. Stretch your fingers. Allow the lines on your palm to feel as though they might tear apart. Study the contours, colors, ridges and valleys, joints, dents and spaces. Push, pull, and rub. Move your fingers through their paces: together, apart, back, forward, curved, strained and relaxed, cooperative yet unique. Feel the texture and every curve. Touch the crevices. Spread your hand further, turn it at the wrist, examine and compare patterns from every angle. Here are pieces of yourself you might never have studied.

Your hands are your constant companions. They have met the needs of others, pioneered romantic moments and worn rings of commitment. They are the way your heart leaves fingerprints, the eyes at the end of your arms. Hands reflect a person’s being and are the front line agents of your life. If eyes are said to be the windows of a soul, hands express the soul.

Hold other people with your hand thoroughly open. Allow them to know the warmth and welcome of your hand, investigate its curves and benefit from its scars. Invite others to follow the lines into the fabric of your life and see the risks you have taken and the adventures that are yours. Allow them to wrestle and rest, search, see and speak. Let them stay; let them go, but let them find your hand always open.

The Open Hand of friendship, at its widest span, is most rewarding, most challenging and most painful, for it enduringly acknowledges the freedom others have while choosing not to close upon, turn on, coerce, or manipulate others. In such friendships, expectations and disappointments become minimal and the reward is freedom. As others determine a unique pace within your open hand, they will see freedom and possibly embrace their own with excitement and pleasure.

Openhanded people do not attempt to “fix” others, change, or control others even for their own good. Rather, each person is given freedom to learn about life in his own way. Openhanded people, instead, express kindly and truthfully what they think and feel, when asked, knowing even in the asking, others might not be interested or willing to learn.

The Open Hand is not naive. It is willing to trust, while understanding and accepting that no person is all good or all bad, and that all behavior has meaning. The Open Hand is convinced it cannot change others; it cannot see or think or feel or believe or love or see for others, but trusts people to know what is good themselves. It will not strong-arm, pursue or even attempt to convince others because it has little investment in being right, winning or competing. Here is offered a core-freedom of the deepest and most profound nature: allowing others to live without guilt, shame and expectation.

Further, the Open Hand offers oneself freedom that extends to one’s memories, ambitions, failures and successes. This allows for growth of enduring intimacy, greater personal responsibility, authentic autonomy, and the possibility of meaningful relationships with others.

In the discovery of a closed hand, even at the end of your own arm, do not try to pry it open. Be gentle. Allow it to test the risky waters of freedom. As it is accustomed to being closed and fist-like, it will not be easily or forcefully opened. So let the closed-handed do their own releasing and trusting, little by little, and in their own time and manner.

When openhanded people meet, lives connect in trust, freedom and communion. Community is set in motion. Creativity is encouraged. Mutual support is freely given. Risks are shared. Lives are wrapped in the safety of shared adventure and individual endeavor all at the same time.

Rod Smith, July 1997 / Copyright