Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BAD DADS (cont'd)

Following up on our previous story, "Tumbleweeds and Crabgrass," here's another one about bad parenting. Its author asked me to withhold it for the longest time, but was perhaps emboldened when he saw that he was not alone. In the intimate, soul-searching experiences I've had in men's circles over the years (25 of them, since I first started this challenging and rewarding work,) I have heard more stories about men failing the test of fatherhood than I can count. The wounds run deep, and last often well into adulthood. There are those, I'm sure, who never do recover. There are those who spend years in therapy--not to mention a ton of money!--as a result. And there are those, of course, who simply breeze past the experienced put it all behind them. As the author of "Tumbleweeds" wrote to me after the appearance of his story: "So long ago. Forgive and forget."

By Stuart Rapeport

I have a handful of primary remembrances of my father, mostly kind of sad. I have pushed them out of my consciousness for the most part, but...

After one of his big fights with my mother over some trivial thing, he thought he and I should drive off and leave her behind. I must have been around five years old. I had a shitfit and cried and cried until he drove us back home.

Then I recall a time in our old Hudson when the doors flew open and we almost fell out when the car made a right turn. It was raining real hard. This was before Ballona Creek was a concrete storm drain and the water was way above the curbs, I was doing my screaming and I recall watching the water rush by as I held onto my older sister, then the car straightened out and the door slammed shut.

I want to remember something positive, though. When I was thirteen he gave me a nice signet ring for my Bar Mitzvah. I gave it to a girl in high school and never saw her or the ring again.

While planning my sister's wedding I found him alone in the master bedroom, crying. He said he was crying because he felt bad he didn’t have the money to provide her a big wedding.

I saw him cry one other time, when his father died.

I now believe his detached parenting was result of his WW2 experiences. He did get a Purple Heart while in the Army. He fought in the South Pacific, but he never told us what he did or what happened; he refused to talk about it.

If I think hard I seem to recall going with him to the local deli sometimes on a Sunday to buy bagels. But mostly he worked on Sunday so I’m not sure how that could have happened.

Monday, April 24, 2017


There are boyhood memories that are hard to tell. These are the dark ones, often secret. We prefer to keep them to ourselves because they can be painful to share with even those closest to us. I have found, though, that the telling of them is a kind of liberation. Once told, the memories lose their power to create reactive patterns in our lives, controlling us at some level below consciousness.

I have no way of knowing whether the following brief, poignant memory falls into the category I describe above, but its very brevity gives it the sharp edge of truth. The author has expressed the wish to remain anonymous. I took words from the first line to give the piece a title. I hope it works for him...


This story comes from the land of tumbleweeds and crabgrass. 

I was eight years old in 1958, living in Canoga Park, out in the San Fernando Valley. My mother was the type of person who wanted a perfect dichondra lawn in the middle of the desert. Often on weekends, she would end up screaming at my father about everything from money to weeding the half-dead front lawn. 

On one such weekend, being an underage prisoner at the forced labor camp that was our home, I tried to intercede during a very loud, demoralizing argument my parents were having with the proclamation, "Why don't you just love each other?" 

My mother turned to me and said, "I don't love you!" 

Well, fat long pause, and I retreated crying, thinking 'Wow, I really am alone on this rock.' 

My father just melted into spineless goo and I remember my mother later giving me a heartfelt apology. I accepted that apology, but think I never really believed it was real. 

Just one of those moments that's etched in the memory, unable to be forgotten. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


(A French adage, in case it's new to you: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... The more things change--the more it's the same old, same old...)

I was watching the 2006 documentary, The US vs. John Lennon, the other night--a wonderful reminder of both the talent and the visionary genius of a man whose loss still haunts and saddens me. It's a reminder, too, of the social upheaval of the 1960s, the opposition to the Vietnam war, the young people's rebellion against the corporate and governmental powers that be. It seemed, at the time--and I was there, in the midst of it--a moment of such hope for a planetary paradigm shift in the earnest search for a new way of living together in "peace and love." 

And I thought about our situation today, about the new spirit surging in the country in opposition to Tr*mp and Tr*mpism, the spirit that was evident in the Women's March a couple of months back; and I hope will be evident again on April 15 in the nationwide Tax Day marches demanding the release of the president's tax information. 

Is it time, finally, for us to get past the obstacles that divide us and past the tired old solutions that have proved time and again to prove nothing? I'm reading a brilliant new book that sees "destructive global competition" at the root of all that plagues our vulnerable planet and seeks to replace its pernicious effects with the power of collaboration and co-operation. It's called The Simpol Solution, by John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, and I hope it's widely read. I'll be posting about it myself when I've finished reading it. 

Meantime, here's a brief boyhood memory written by my friend, the artist Sam Erenberg (please check out his website!), reminding us how things sometimes conspire to tantalize us with the prospect of change, but end up repeating themselves time and again. The yahoos, it seems, are always with us, with their prejudice and hatred...

Here's the image of a painting by Sam that I saw last time I visited his studio:

Sam Erenberg, Study for The Battle of Los Angeles No.3
acrylic, oil on canvas

by Sam Erenberg

In 1952, Adlai Stevenson, the former Governor of Illinois, was the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States. Stevenson had the unenviable task of running against General Dwight
David Eisenhower, the WWII war hero and Republican nominee.

Our parents were liberals from Chicago and admired Stevenson, who was scheduled to give a speech in Los Angeles. He was met by his supporters at the airport, and they then formed a motorcade, a long line of cars that followed the candidtate’s limo, horns blasting.

As the line of cars slowed down at an intersection, supporters of Eisenhower on the street began to throw rocks and shout “dirty communitsts,” “traitors..."  The window shattered in the back seat of our car.

I was too young to understand the crowd’s anger, but afterwards, my parents tried to explain that Stevenson was not popular with most Americans; he was also an “intellectual,” a term often associated with Communism in many U.S. newspapers in the 1950s. 

It’s 2017 now, and not much has changed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


I have just returned from visiting my son, who lives in Coralville, Iowa, next door to Iowa City. He has lived there almost all of his life--was born in the University hospital while I was attending the Writers' Workshop and studying for a Ph.D. back in the 1960s. It's too rare, these days, that I get to see him.

Anyway... I wanted to do this quick check-in, in part because I have been neglectful of this blog these past two or three weeks. I still have stories to publish, and will get back to them soon. But I'll confess to being somewhat discouraged by the response the blog has been getting--just a few visits a day, a handful of followers, and nary a "comment" since day one. I've used all the social networking techniques I'm aware of, but nothing has helped very much. So this is a plea to interested readers: would you be so kind as to reach out and recommend the blog to friends, whether virtual or real; or otherwise suggest ways in which the blog could be made more interesting to a wider audience. I still think the idea is a good one. I think it's a valuable exercise for us men to look back and rediscover some part of ourselves that we may have lost along the way.

Please let me hear from you, either in response to this post or via personal email (peterclothier at mac dot com) if you have any thoughts. Your feedback would be welcome.