It’s been a long time since I have posted anything on this blog, but here goes. I have been real busy and part of that busyness is writing a book about the need for men to get in touch with their emotions, to take off the masks that keep us stuck in hiding our heart, emotions. Most of us have women in our life that want us to open up that emotional side. In my counseling office many women have said in one way or another, “I wish he would talk to me about his emotions!” My response is of course encouragement that they are on the right track in thinking we need this, but then I ask them, “How many men have you heard who were in conversation and one said to the other,’I’m really feeling sad John and I’d like to tell you about it’.”

If this is true that many men don’t even know what emotions they feel how could they ever fulfill the most common unfulfilled need of most women? In twenty-seven years of counseling, the most common expectation of women is to “Improve communication!” in our relationship. Eventually it comes to “He doesn’t listen.” It’s important to mention that she doesn’t want him to listen with a mind to fix her problems, she wants him to empathize with her, to understand her. To show empathy to someone we must be able to communicate understanding not only logically, but most of all walk in her shoes with a feeling for her emotions. The problem is we don’t speak that language.

There’s a lot more details to this dilemma and women need to understand that most men have been trained like special forces soldiers to shut down our emotions. It’s not the norm for us to even know what we feel let alone be able to communicate them.

Life Baggage

“Life Baggage” is a term I use to describe the carryover of our life experience into our current marriage and parenting. When we travel we carry with us baggage loaded with important items for the journey. When we marry we carry into our marriage journey baggage loaded with life experiences that have shaped us for life. The average person spends 18 years or more of being shaped/molded by their life with parents, siblings and a variety of models and experiences from many other areas in life such as time spent with extended family, childcare, school,work and a multitude of other social environments. How we experienced teaching and modeling in these environments shaped what we believe about everything in life, whether that experience was influenced by a parent, sibling, extended family member, neighbor, teacher, coach, priest, pastor, Sunday school teacher, childcare staff, boss, peer, or any other person along the journey.
Your own personal journey may have started in a home with abuse of some type or many types. You could have experienced verbal, physical, sexual, spiritual or a combo of several. It could have included domestic violence fueled by addictions or fueled by religious extremism. The list of abusive environments is long. You could have experienced a home environment where there were never any arguments or fights at all. Even this environment could set you up for marriage problems because you never saw how to resolve conflicts.
The examination and analysis of how we were influenced or shaped by our life experiences can take some time and could be emotionally stressful as well as relieving. The journey can enlighten us as to how our life baggage damages, blocks intimacy in our marriage and lead us to personal healing and increased trust and intimacy in marriage and parenting.
Probably one of the most discouraging facts about marriage conflicts I see in my counseling office is that most of us have never been given insights or knowledge of how to succeed in marriage or parenting. In the last 29 years of marriage counseling I have often asked the question, “Have you ever had a class on marriage or parenting?” Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time the answer is a resounding “NO”. Year after year in our education process most of us have had math, science, language, history etc.year after year for at least 13 years, but never a class on marriage or parenting. We load up on knowledge that will help us with our career choice and experience, but we are totally ignorant of how to succeed in marriage and parenting. Ignorant does not mean stupid, but it does mean lacking information. How could we succeed in any area of life with ignorance?

SAFE for the Holidays

This is a tool for fighting the holiday blues. It can be used by anyone, especially recovering addicts, alcoholics and codependents. It is not uncommon for many of us to have the winter blues. Whether we have experienced living with our own or someones addiction the holidays can be so stressful.
I use an acronym for remembering this plan: “SAFE”
S- Secure a place of escape when things get stressful, a prayer or meditation sanctuary. There is usually a bathroom where you can escape to and lock the door. It is a good idea to take with you a daily devotional with positive quotes for the day. We can also prepare a list of gratitude for the tough times. We need to focus on the positive. Another place of escape can be taking a walk from the scene. Tell them your on a workout regime and need to get some exercise. Maybe take a safe friend with you.
A- Attend twelve step meetings, maybe even an alcathon. If you don’t know what that is look it up on the internet. Plan ahead. There are twelve step meetings all over the world. Check the net in your area.
F- Focus on God or your Higher Power more than yourself. Keep the Faith, you can endure anything if you don’t drink, use or get stuck wanting to fix or control someone. The reward of resistance will feel so good, even in the beginning of recovery. I know I have been there!
E- Ease up on yourself, remember to give yourself some grace. That word really means unmerited favor. You may not think you deserve it but give yourself some. Then you can say, “I may not be where I think I should be or where someone else thinks I should be, but I am not where I was!”
In the beginning of my recovery it was a miracle that I was able to even just survive the holidays. After 23 years of addiction and intense holidays I did not know how to act without alcohol, drugs or drama. Often I just wanted to numb out, not feel a thing. Now after years of practicing recovery I love the holidays. It may take a long time, but the rewards are incredible. “Don’t leave til the miracles happen!”

Codependency ???

Codependency is sometimes a difficult word, difficult to explain and difficult to assess when to let go of a person in danger, especially if that person is your child or grandchild. In my counseling practice I will sometimes hear of how my client has been glibly told to “let go and let God”, a term often used in Al-anon. Until you have walked in the shoes of a parent or grandparent, you have no idea how painful or scary it can be to back out of protecting a child or grandchild.

Just imagine for a moment that your 2 year old granddaughter is living with her parents who are meth addicts. Even if you call CPS there is no guarantee she will be protected or that they will even be caught in the act. Calling is important, but it may not work in protecting her, so do you just let go!?

A second scenario, imagine you are a divorced parent and your ex-spouse is in need of anger management and just happens to drink a little too much every now and then. What do you do to protect your child when they are with them? The answers are not always as simple as “let go and let God”!

Finally, sometimes I think if Jesus were to come back to earth today, they might throw him in a codependency treatment center because He cared too much! Oh, and He was also a martyr. Just thinkin out loud.

Children of Divorce

Marriage, once considered one of the most sacred commitments, has become one of the most easily dismissed commitments. Sacred has a religious meaning, such as holy, set apart. Webster mentions related words as inviolate, pure; privileged, protected, secure, shielded; exempt, immune. It is also suggested that something sacred is entitled to reverence and respect.

Maybe we should reconsider our tendency to throw away anything in this country that has a religious connotation. Is it so disrespectful to suggest that marriage should be sacred? Maybe religion has been abused, but does that mean we should throw away all the moral principles related to religion.

Ask the adult children of divorce how they feel about these qualities of marriage: pure; privileged, protected, secure, shielded; exempt, immune. You will find they have not felt protected, secure, shielded, exempt or immune from the pain of divorce.

Before you consider divorce please read “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”. This book was written from the results of a 25 year study of the lives of children of divorce. The following is a portion of the “Discussion” section of the original research article:

“The call to liberalize divorce in the early 1970s promised happier and better marriages. Ironically, findings from this study show that although divorce sets many adults free, and many second marriages are happier, these benefits do not extend to their children. Divorce begets fewer marriages, poorer marriages, and more divorces. This should not encourage us to retreat from regarding divorce as an adult right. However, it does call attention to enduring problems in the lives of the children involved. Where did we go wrong, and what can we do?”

I wish those thinking of divorce would hear the stories of the children of divorce in my counseling office. I have been counseling families, couples and individuals for 28 years and when rapport is built they will break the silence of unresolved grief. They have often made a vow of silence leading them to the “denial” stage of grief. Many teenage children are also stuck in the “anger” stage of divorce. This results in a commitment to serious repressing of feelings with deep emotional wounds that often become “baggage” carried into their future relationships. Stay tuned for some comments on “baggage”!


It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if we just keep talking, we’ll eventually solve all our problems. But that’s not true. Sometimes talking only makes matters worse, especially when we say, “But I just want you to understand where I am coming from,.” Which, being translated, means, “I want you to see what a fool you’ve been and how wrong you are because when you see that, you’ll see things my way and you’ll admit I was right all along.” Sound familiar? We have thoughts like that all the time. But as long as we insist on always being right we will never be set free.


It appears I may be the third generation of “fatherless” men. When I say “fatherless” I don’t mean a totally absent father. My Grandfather (Dad’s father) was a very busy farmer with nine children. He was a strong/stoic Swedish man. He lived a life of many hardships and suffered with anxiety and was often angry. Two of his oldest daughters wrote me about his angry outbursts and how they felt distant from him until his last year of life. He suffered and died of stomach cancer at the age of 54. They both said he really softened that last year as his faith in God grew strong. It appears he was not emotionally available until that last year of his life.

My father was also a very hard worker and great provider although I seldom spent time with him. I only remember two times in all my childhood that I went anywhere with just him and one of those times he had to be with me to represent me as a minor in court.  I had been arrested for drinking alcohol as a minor in a county 60 miles from our hometown. I know he loved us but he too was very stoic and emotionally unavailable. It is hard to be an emotionally available father when you have not had one yourself.

I made a vow as a young man that if I ever had children, I would never abandon them emotionally or any other way. I failed badly the first 20 years of being a father, but God and addiction recovery have helped me be available to my children for the last 35 years. It hurts a lot to think I abandoned my first two children. I have made amends and tried to emotionally bond with them, but I wish I could have given them what I never had myself. I have been able to change with the help of God and have tried hard to be emotionally available to my last two daughters. My wife, their Mom, has assured me that I have.

In my own failures as a father I have gained compassion and forgiveness for my father. Mostly I have been humbled as I have walked in his shoes through the difficulties of being an angry man and an alcoholic. It was only through my faith in God that I could forgive him and myself. I miss my father so much sometimes and if he were to return to earth I would spend so much time with him. We bonded emotionally in the last couple of months of his life as he too got recovery. That experience was worth a fortune to me. He had cirrhosis with some dementia and became childlike at times and very humble. It softened him. Our heart (emotional side) was not hidden anymore.


Back in the saddle again

I grew up ridding horses, what can I say!

I have been absent for a long time on this blog and now it is time to post again.  If anyone is reading this please let me know.  I have many subscribers but I am sorry I have not posted for so long.  It is a time for posting again as I am writing again for a book I hope to publish.  I have been busy editing and learning more about writing.  It is a humbling experience to write and I once heard that even published writers have periods of doubt!  I am learning as I write and often wish I had paid more attention to reading and writing and not just math (along with science, it came easy for me).

I have overcome a reading disability (I prefer to call learning disabilities, learning differences) and continue to improve my vocabulary.  Many years ago when I decided to get some college education, my wife became acutely aware of my deficit in vocabulary.  I explained how I hated reading, but listened to people talk and sorta learned the meanings of word, however reading was still a brutal challenge for me.

Now that I was in college I carried a pocket dictionary, had to take bonehead English and often had to read the assigned chapters as many as three times because of my poor vocabulary. I did obtain an undergrad degree and then a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.  It was a grueling process, but I have overcome most of that deficit and am still learning and loving the process. Editing my writing is a lot of work, but I learn as I go.

Will he live up to his promise, only time will tell, tune in next week.  Hopefully I can keep this up, but I am not going to condemn myself if not. That mind set comes very rarely these days and with God’s help leaves quickly.

Fatherless Men

I have met hundreds of fatherless men in 27 years of counseling individuals, couples and families. By “fatherless” I mean men who would answer the question: “Have you had a close relationship with your father?”, with the answers “seldom”, “rarely” or “never”. I’m thinking of starting a weekly blog on the suject.

Two Horses

Someone sent this to me and I’m just passing it on.

Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it.
From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing….

Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.

If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two friends, you’ll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back, making sure that the blind friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.
Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way….
Good friends are like that… you may not always see them, but you know they are always there.

Please listen for my bell and I’ll listen for yours.