September 3, 2017


by Rod Smith

I am learning from my boys and other sources that I am not as funny as I think I am. I recall the day when a woman looked at me right in the eyes and said Rod Smith you are not funny.

Humor in print (and all other kinds for that matter) is not easy. I might think something is very funny but unless readers think it is funny it is a waste of words, if being funny is my goal. A well-seasoned columnist once told me, after one of my funniest columns about the Queen of England got me a lot of hate mail, that we are often funny but some readers are deadly serious.

I’ve learned:

  • Good humor has no victims.
  • Good humor can endear an audience to a speaker or a writer; tasteless humor can send an audience in the opposite direction.
  • What is funny shifts and changes a lot with geography.
  • Some things are never funny (promoting cruel stereotypes).
  • The ability to really laugh and to really laugh at one’s own foibles is an indication of emotional and psychological health.
  • Persistently putting yourself down, selling yourself short, using yourself as the butt of your own jokes is not only tiresome, it’s probably a suggestion that all is not well within.
September 3, 2017

by Rod Smith

September 2, 2017


by Rod Smith

I love the topic of anxiety and reading about it and writing about it. Please, don’t confuse it with mere worry – although of course worrying is part of it. While simplistic, situational anxiety is the reason we use seat belts, the chronically anxious are strapped in, car or no car.

Anxiety is a killer – it kills joy, ambition, truth, and vision. When people are anxious they cannot see, think, hear, or communicate with any reliable sense of accuracy.

Anxiety can lead people down rabbit trials in search of reducing their anxieties only find it spiked by new and unexpected sources.

Anxiety let loose makes victims of as many people in the circle of influence as possible. It’s contagious.

Chronic anxiety is not usually reduced by making different choices or decisions but by understanding and negotiating loyalties – visible and invisible.

While freeze, flight, and fight are often the response to chronic anxiety; distorted protecting and fused caring are both its product too.

So, what may the chronically anxious do?

Connect as deeply and appropriately as possible with family, take time to search for the source, and find a small community of supportive friends who are unafraid to set their boundaries and join you in a journey of growth.    

September 1, 2017


by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Friday

For 14 years I have worked at an Episcopal school in Indianapolis.

I wanted this job because it meant that my children could attend a school I could otherwise not afford. And, it’s so close to our home we can hear the bell from our kitchen.

Both sons have completed the entire journey, one from grade 1, the other from when he was 3.

For 50-plus years St. Richard’s Episcopal School has served the greater Indianapolis area by providing a very diverse (from its inception) population of children a fine classic education.

This includes chapel on a very regular basis.

I love chapel and a highlight has always been the regular celebration of Eucharist. For 14 years when it came time for the “passing of the peace” I made a beeline for each of my sons, embraced them, shook hands, or did whatever their developmental stage would permit. I always found it moving. It would ease, even obliterate whatever morning domestic tensions we may have known over forgotten homework, lost books, or who didn’t take the trash out.

Yesterday was the first Eucharist celebration for this school year.

My younger is in high school and the older is at university.

When it came to passing the peace I didn’t know whether to sigh with relief or cry – so I did a little of both, one a little more than the other.

August 29, 2017

Recurring themes in therapy……

by Rod Smith

• Grandparents who are excluded from their grandchildren’s lives and the severe pain this involves for the grandparents. This can be the result of vast distances but it is usually not. It’s often an expression of unresolved family issues that don’t even involve the particular set of grandparents. It’s the son-in-law who won’t resolve issue with his own parents so he restricts his children from access to his wife’s parent. Grandparents can be easy and convenient targets for unresolved issues.

• Women (yes, it’s usually women) who give too much too soon to men who for whatever reason refuse to grow up and take responsibility for themselves. While their hope and resilience of such women is to be admired, sometimes hoping a woman will see that loving herself first will save her a lot of heartache seems lost. Like any addict they have to reach rock bottom before change can come and growth may occur.

• Parents who have lost each other as partners and lost themselves as individuals to their over-dedication to parenting.

• Young adults who have been so over-parented and so over-protected that they cannot believe how harsh the world outside their home really is and how much it really seems to insist that they have to grow up.   

August 28, 2017

Beyond resentment……

by Rod Smith

Were you over-looked for a promotion, jilted by a spouse, tricked out of a fortune, or betrayed by a friend?

I am sorry. I really am. Human indifference and cruelty impacts us all.

Like you, I have heard many tales of the horrible things people can do to each other.  I’ve done some rather destructive things myself.

This I do know: Harboring resentments, gathering injustices, collecting, and tabulating wounds and inflictions, while they may be human proclivities in response to injustice, are behaviors that are not usually very helpful. Not only does un-forgiveness make for a heavy heart, it distorts whatever thinking may be possible.

Resentment twists everything. It makes you an uncomfortable person to be around. It ruins your experience of life, no matter what initiated the resentment.

Do whatever you can to cleanse your heart of bitterness.

Take the first step and the steps that follow will probably come a lot easier. What I am suggesting is not easy. I understand.

After a lifetime of offering incredible hospitality to family and strangers alike, I watched my own father endure painful rejection from extended family who’d had no problem enjoying his hospitality for years.

And, he never let it get to him – he rose above it and lived with dignity and grace.

I know it’s possible.  

August 27, 2017

Soccer hero…..

by Rod Smith

Two days ago I was talking to my sister who lives in Durban and she causally mentioned that Bobby Chalmers had just arrived for a cup of tea.

I really don’t like the casual ways she throws around the name of my childhood hero.

She says “Bobby Chalmers is at the door” and my knees weaken and I hear stadiums of adoring fans applauding his winning goal against Durban United or Highlands Park.

At 62 I am still stuck by the power that South African soccer had over me as a boy.

Certain men lived in my inner-hall of fame: Bobby, Alan Varner, and George Wooten were tops. Henry Hauser, Les Salton, Vernon Wentzel and Trevor Gething would certainly have occupied similar status except that they played for Addington and Durban United and other lesser teams.

My developing brain could not adore players who wore anything but the blue and white jerseys with the red trimmed sleeves.

So, Bobby came on the phone and I asked about his finest moment in soccer.

With characteristic humility he said it was simply playing the game. I pushed him. He said it was in 1964 when Les Salton set him up to score two goals against Real Madrid while playing for “South African 11” securing a loss of 5-2.   

Now I can casually say things like…..”When Bobby Chalmers and I were chatting on the phone the other day…….”

August 23, 2017

The Felt twins…..

by Rod Smith

Les and Colin Felt were my friends.

Knowing them made me what is now termed “cool” which was something I was not.

When their mother pulled up at my dad’s tearoom at the top of Blackburn Road for bread sometimes Les and Colin would run out the shop and up our driveway and dive into our pool.

This always thrilled me.

Despite their mother’s pleas it would turn into an hour of spontaneous and often very rough fun.

The Felt twins and I met at Northlands Boys High School. I admired their courage, their sharp humor when they whispered about teachers. I vividly recall them switching names and places with each other in Mr. Hockey’s geography room. When they’d have conflict with each other it was best to stay out of the way. But, their real fierceness was evident if ever one was threatened. The Felt twins were tight!

Les let me know Colin had died several years ago – and his lingering pain was evident.

Les died last week.

I wish I were there to speak at his memorial. His last message to me via Facebook was a thank you for the sandwiches we shared as boys at school.

If I were there I’d say thanks for making me cool.

August 20, 2017

Open, closed families

by Rod Smith

Open families

·      Expect, allow, and encourage differences among people.

·      Expect, allow, and encourage necessary space and separation between and among people.

·      Welcome and embrace “outsiders” and place a high value on hospitality.

·      Encourage dialogue and conversations about difficult or taboo topics.

·      Trust, and continue to trust, even though letdowns will be inevitable.

·      Affirm each other without an attached agenda.

·      Anticipate spontaneity and unpredictability.     


Closed families

·      Value uniformity.

·      Emphasize togetherness.

·      Breed suspicion.

·      Control content of conversations with silencing nods and slicing looks.

·      Punish breaches of word or trust and remind others of their former failures.

·      Affirm to teach or to control.

• Plan the fun and the unexpected out of everything. 

August 19, 2017

Sister power

by Rod Smith

Having my Durbanite sister in my home in the USA for the past three months has been an indescribable joy. Jennifer is so at home among us that you’d think she’d done a lot more in our home and in this city than a visit for a few months every few years.

She knows and is known by more people than some who have lived here their whole lives.

There’s something more powerful about an adult sibling’s extended visit than the joys and the stories shared over meals, than making each other coffee or tea in the mornings, or exploring the shopping areas or visiting a series of favorite restaurants.

My sister (and a brother, for both have visited me for an extended time recently) knows me. Her knowledge goes deeper than the knowledge possessed by any other people in my cadre of relationships.

She sees beyond any attempts at pretense and calls them for what they are in the nicest and kindness of ways. My sister really knows my children and she knows how to love them. The added bonus is that when she is with us they see me, their single parent, engaged in a mutual and respectful adult-to-adult relationship right within the walls of their own house.