Archive for ‘Difficult Relationships’

May 16, 2019

What brings you joy?

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Friday

What brings you joy?

It doesn’t take much to please me:

• It brings me inordinate joy, even quizzical joy, to find a lost sock and to reunite it with its mate.

• It’s a shot of pure joy when either of my sons asks me how I’m doing or how my day is going.

• I really like it when friends, whom I introduce to each other, end up doing something wonderful together.

• Being in a position to send a little cash to another country to buy a third-world child’s soccer boots and a soccer kit and knowing the child will be part of a team delivers a joy I can hardly begin to describe.

• Having sufficient excess income to be able to tip well knowing the server is a single mother working several jobs to make ends meet is thrilling to me.

• Meeting the sons and daughters of couples whose wedding I performed and feeling somehow and oddly connected to their very existence makes me really happy, especially when they are unaware of the connection.

• It’s a huge source of joy to me when I see my sons being enjoyed by their friends and embraced by a community and valued by people I don’t even know.

Please, let me know some of yours.

May 14, 2019

Loss, grief, mourning

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Wednesday

Loss, grief, mourning

A few things I’ve seen, known, experienced about significant loss, grief, and mourning:

• Grief can go into hiding and emerge months, even years later, as something quite unexpected – like anger, disappointment and/or cynicism, or kindness, joy, softness, and appreciation.

• Time itself doesn’t heal, not usually. Some grief is never “healed” and some losses never find “closure” but the lack of both does not necessarily mean survivors will not or cannot live full, productive, beautiful lives.

• Replacing a loss with another person “too quickly” may we’ll be unwise, unfair, irresponsible (all things I’ve heard) but it doesn’t feel that way for the one who has suffered and insisting on it is usually alienating and counterproductive and rip already suffering families apart.

• Mourning has a life of its own, at least initially, and it’s best not tamed by the untrained.

• When a person who had suffered loss declares he or she’d rather not talk about “it” the desire is best respected.

• Our uniqueness as individuals is also reflected in how people respond to difficulties associated with significant loss and it’s ridiculous to approach a grieving person with a step-by-step generic packaged formula.

• Non-possessive warmth, listening ears, and a hot cups of tea may be the most powerful gifts a person can offer one who has suffered loss.

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My evening walk

May 8, 2019

To Nate’s birth-mom, wherever you are……

by Rod Smith

To Nathanael’s mother, wherever you are……

On a weekend like this, with Mother’s Day getting a lot of attention, birthmothers who willingly or unwillingly placed a child for adoption might feel they have somehow disqualified themselves from the honor of celebrating Mother’s Day. Not so in my book.

There’s a woman somewhere in Indiana, whom I do not know, who has immeasurably blessed my life with the gift of her son. And now, the infant, bulging with good health in his dark blue sleepers, is asleep in a crib in a quietly lit upstairs bedroom.

Thanks, Birthmother. Your gift to me, I know so painfully offered by you, has vastly enhanced my life and life of the baby’s older brother.

You do not know him as he is now, but of course, he is very real to me. I know his sounds that announce when he is hungry, and I know when the dog has entered his room by the unashamed thrill in the child’s voice.

I know he is real to you, too, for you carried him within your womb. Now, and I am only guessing of course, he is probably real to you in the manner the baby of a distant relative might be to me. I know the child exists, but I do not have the smells and the sounds that make him a person. I hope it is something like that for you. I hope you are not daily in pain over your decision to give him to me. I want you to know he is safe, and, although I do not know you, I hope you are, too.

You are “mother,” and even though the boy is very young, I regularly tell him everything I know about you. I tell him that you carried him to full term; that you spent hours at his bedside in the hospital before you signed the papers consenting to his adoption.

A nurse, who would not describe you to me or tell me your name or estimate your age, leaked that she watched you sit lovingly with your son for several hours while he was in intensive care. She said your love and your anguish were very evident. She told me she watched you place a final kiss lovingly and gently on his brow, as if to say goodbye for years, but not forever. She said she watched you turn for the large glass double doors of the hospital ward and walk away to your hard life.

We do not know each other, but we do have something in common. I have your child. He is here. He is growing up under my roof. You completed all the paperwork, and now he has my last name and the first name I chose for him because no other name would fit.

I want you to know that he stands up by himself now. He walks holding onto things. He likes to play, and his favorite game is crawling away as quickly as his little legs will carry his little body when he sees me coming to do one of those repetitive parental tasks like change a diaper or wipe a nose.

Thanks for trusting me with your son. Thanks for believing a single man could do it. On this particular weekend, his first Mother’s Day, and on a day when his image and memory must surely visit you more than it does most days of the year, I want you to know the baby is safe with me. He is deeply and profoundly loved and widely celebrated.

Your gift to me is of immeasurable worth, and the world is better off because of women like you. Thanks, Mom. You are his mother. He carries you around in his being as indelibly as the memory you doubtless have of carrying him within you for nine months. You have richly blessed me, and I am very proud to be the parent of your beautiful son.

First published in The Indianapolis Star, 2003

May 6, 2019

Not all mothers get to celebrate Mothers Day

by Rod Smith

As Mothers Day approaches…..

Mothers who have chosen adoption for their babies are often ignored on Mothers Day.

How their hearts must ache.

This coming weekend an unseen army of brave women will quietly witness families rightfully celebrating Mothers Day – and find no place at the tables with the children whom they generously offered, for whatever reasons, to families eager to rear their babies.

I admit my awareness of birth mothers is acute.

These women, women who are often shamed, labeled as irresponsible, hard, or uncaring, have radically shifted my life. Each of my boys’ mothers fought untold difficulties while carrying her child to full term, in full knowledge other options existed.

Despite abandonment, derision from family members, financial difficulties, and who knows what other social pressures (and I don’t know what each faced) each delivered a beautiful baby and made the hard choice to forever enrich my life by allowing me, a single man, to adopt her infant son.

You are not forgotten – not on Mothers Day weekend or any other day.

You are so deeply etched into their individual psyches and into our family experience that you are regularly part of our awareness and conversation.

So deep is their desire for you, so deep is the urge for a mother that my boys have often called me “mom.”

I have never stopped them.

I let it go because I think I know what it’s about. It’s honoring or obeying primal urge. It expresses a heartfelt longing. To stop them, when each was first learning to talk, seemed unwise, as if I were stopping something deep, powerful, unstoppable.

I knew each boy was boy looking for the mother he had never known.

Of course it has gotten us a few strange glances at times. A five-year-old yelling, “Mom, zip me up,” at the urinal in an international airport can turn heads when it’s (of course) the men’s room. When my older boy, now 21, expressed his frustration while standing at his locker at middle school over something we’ve both mislaid, his loud, “But Mom, it must be here,” addressed at me did get some quizzical stares from peers.

“Mama” or “mom” and even “mother” seemed to come as easily as rolling over, as cooing, as first steps, and as all those things that come with early development – and so I let it go.

It seemed as if “mother” and all forms of Her names were buried within to emerge and be attached to the nearest, warmest person no matter what gender.

Yes, the woman waiting your table at your Mothers Day lunch, the teacher whom your child adores, the woman co-worker who goes silent for no identifiable reason or who appears to be sometimes lost in another world when the conversation turns to babies or showers or Mothers Day, just may be a member of that unseen army of birth-mothers – who do not acknowledge the day.

She may be one of the gracious, brave women who have made Mother’s Day complete for countless women around the world and given a man like me the unique pleasure of sometimes being called “mom.”

May 5, 2019

Wealth

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

Wealth

I am convinced than that the miracle and beauty of a successful, meaningful life is rooted in the wealth and health of our deepest connections, and not, as so pervasively promoted, in the depth of our wallets.

Belonging trumps buying. Knowing we matter, in the lives of even a few, trumps the power of possessions – no matter how valuable, admired, plentiful, powerful, or envied the possessions may be. Knowing we love others and knowing we are loved by others, even a handful of people, provides security, fulfillment, trust and encouragement that no amount of power can successfully demand and no amount of money can buy.

This is the miracle.

And it (the miracle) has nothing to do with wealth, status, or the common understanding of what it means to have power, yet it offers it all. It unleashes an arsenal of goodness and almost unlimited healing power to be at the disposal of those who seek it least – for those who seek it least, can apparently, handle it most.

PS: One magnificent evening at Church of the Good Shepherd (“COGS”) Sean Dooley said this: “If all you have is money you are truly poor” and this sentiment and truth has reverberated within me and formed a basis for many of my decisions since. Thank you, Sean Dooley.

May 3, 2019

Spoiling a child

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Monday

“Spoiling a child” is more than giving him whatever he wants and creating unreasonable expectation of how the rest of life works.

Such children often grow up to be self-centered, demanding adults, but humans, even those who have not been “spoiled” seem endowed with a natural propensity toward this anyway.

The real terror of spoiling a child is that he grows up without having had to develop innate skills and abilities to cope with adversity, because one or both parents (or teachers and coaches) refuse to allow natural consequences following the child’s choices to occur.

Such parents (and others) constantly interject themselves as buffers between the child and what the world will naturally deliver.

“They (indulgent parents) spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to separate cause and effect, behavior and consequence,” a high school football coach observed recently.

Pain is a wonderful teacher and motivator. It develops character and promotes the development of crucial survival skills. While no loving parent wants his or her child to be deliberately subjected to pain, there are enough natural moments in any childhood where “clean” pain comes to teach, and the wise parent gets out of the way and allows it to do its necessary work.

April 29, 2019

I asked for an update…… and it came:

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

I asked for an update regarding a letter I responded to some years ago about an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

This response was in my email today and I am overjoyed:

“Regarding your request for an update in your article from a few weeks back about advice given seven years ago on a pregnancy out of wedlock. Just to let you know that that this beautiful and clever most precious child is loved by all close family and is a blessing to us all.”

Thank you. I am so pleased to hear from the writer. I am thrilled to know the child is doing well and is a blessing to his or her family.

He or she will join the ranks of about 12 young men and women known to me who were also the result of unanticipated conception. In almost all cases the pregnancies led to major family conflict, experiences of deep shame, cut-offs, bouts of anger and blame, and loss of face in the respective communities.

All the babies, each and every one, once born, won the heart of every family member and all the shame and conflict was for nought.

In none of the situations were things “easy” but they were all worth it.

April 28, 2019

News, events, our response

by Rod Smith

Mass shootings, expressions of rampant prejudice, church bombings, attacks on synagogues, attacks on schools – I could go on!

These unsettling events get our attention. They should. They make any reasonable person and group ask the question: “What can I do?” and “What can we do?”

Please consider these ideas designed to be deployed in unison:

  • Read the reports of these events, the ones that catch your attention. Meditate on the fact that there are innocent people involved. There are children, very young children involved. Let the horror hit you even if it is something that occurred on the other side of the planet. This is not an invitation to baptize oneself in horror but to allow oneself to grow in compassion and the capacity to identify with suffering. May the inhumanity of some help you and me to become more humane, more human, more caring, more kind.
  • Rid yourself of all prejudice – gross and subtle: racial, religious, and all the other ways ignorance seeps into our thinking and being. While we carry the virus we also spread it and when we do we are part of the problem and not its solution.
  • Revere, love, honor, and treasure all people, especially those with whom you have religious or political differences.

 

(As I have written a hundred times, I am always my first reader.)

April 25, 2019

Note to self……

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Thursday

Note to self ….. perhaps you’ll join me

Note to self: the best time to begin a journey of no regrets is today, right now, this very minute. Please join me in meeting the following challenges:

• Contact that estranged relative. Begin a process of mending and healing. Do so while first protecting the integrity of your immediate family and taking care of your primary responsibilities.

• Establish firm boundaries with everyone you know, from the most casual of acquaintances to the most intimate of companions.

• Do what you can to right your known wrongs. Also, acknowledge that some errors of judgment and lapses of integrity are, with the passage of time, beyond your power to redeem. Sometimes, all you can do is sincerely apologize and not repeat the same errors.

• Embrace unusual challenges and opportunities, especially the opportunities to serve others and those opportunities that test and challenge your natural desire for comfort.

• Go counter. When others are seeking power and influence do what you can to give it away. When others are angry and resentful, look for opportunities to bring peace. Find goodness where it appears to be absent.

• Acknowledge that there is more to life that what you know and others have the capacity and the power to teach you, no matter who they are, if you are open and available to learn.

April 23, 2019

Joy – its causes

by Rod Smith

Causes of joy…..

1. Generosity – giving more than you can afford.

2. Faith – in God and in the humanity of others.

3. Forgiveness – absolute, and especially when undeserved.

4. Transparency – living without deceit or hidden agenda.

5. Openness – willingness to try new things and new adventures.

6. Awareness – of the impact left on others and on the environment.

7. Kindness – treating others in a manner that fosters their highest good.

8. Assertiveness – finding your way without impeding the growth of others.

9. Usefulness – finding a meaningful place in a community.

10. Love – deciding to love without expecting recognition or reward.