Sunday, October 22, 2017

An Hourglass of Inheritance and Insanity


John Lennon forgot to "Imagine" one crucial scenario in his classic song of that title. "Imagine there's no money" would be the lyric I would add. That unnatural resource of currency is perhaps the one thing that rules all of our so-called civilized behavior as a species. That and sex, of course. I know that my life would be a lot less complicated if money were not an issue, and recently it became an even more stressful complication in the care of my aging father.

The facility where my father currently resides has petitioned the court to appoint a "guardian ad litem" to take over all of my father's decision-making capabilities. A guardian ad litem is most often appointed in cases of child custody disputes, abuse, or neglect, the guardian being a supposedly unbiased party advocating solely for the child or other person who is incapable of fully defending themselves. I learned of this when I received a copy of the papers in the mail from the petitioner's attorney. No phone call, no interaction, just straight to a judge.

Furthermore, statements in the documents assert things that I never said, judgments I never made, and describe all of this in language that I could interpret as libelous, defamatory, and slanderous. If the retirement home my father is residing in treats next-of-kin like this, no wonder he is unhappy.

This legal action probably stems from an incident in which my father became combative, and could be construed as endangering himself as well as the welfare of others in the building. My father is a chronic alcoholic. He drinks when he is depressed, bored, and otherwise unhappy; and he either has not availed himself of recreational programs at the facility, or there are none that he is interested in, or both. He repeatedly expresses his desire to be done with life. He never fully recovered from the passing of his second wife (my stepmother) several years ago. While his emotional state continues to deteriorate, his cognitive abilities remain intact, which is why this legal action is all the more revolting.

Meanwhile, I am not in a personal financial position to take any action myself. In fact, I have no potential income on my immediate horizon. My major client employs me mostly from late spring through early fall. Yes, I do have some hesitation to visit my father for the same reasons the retirement home finds him to be a handful. He is hard of hearing, and prone to temperamental outbursts. Still, the overriding reason I do not visit is because I cannot afford the airfare. I am an only child, so I also do not have sibling help. My cousin, who does live closer, has understandably reached wit's end, and he also has his own family, and a business, to look out for.

I received the court documents late on a Friday, naturally, so contacted the attorney for my father's estate via e-mail the following Monday. The attorney is the kind of guy that makes you think twice about telling a lawyer joke. He is kind, understanding, thoughtful, and expensive. Retaining him in this matter would bankrupt me in a matter of days. I told him as much, politely. His response was that his firm's fees would come from my father's estate since this issue pertains directly to his estate.

Here is the thing. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was rather looking forward to a bit of inheritance from my father, to ease my own financial burdens in the future. I have concluded that I will be damn lucky if the whole thing doesn't get burned up in efforts to protect that inheritance. Forget the "death tax," attorney fees and other expenses will take a greater, ongoing toll. Heck, the retirement home appears to want to get as much as they can out of him right now.

Everybody wants their cut. The yacht club got a sizeable chunk out of him to build a new bar. How appropriate. Given that the yacht club has been one of the communities my father truly has felt comfortable in, I don't object to his donation, honest. Still, the sands of money and time in the hourglass steadily slip away.

It is all I can do some days, probably like my father, to just get through, accomplish something of worth, and steel myself for the next day. My father and I are a lot alike, it occurs to me, in our isolation, our internal demons, our addictions, and our struggle not to have a bleak outlook on the future, both personally and for the world at large. At least I have my words, and expressing my mounting frustrations, dwindling hopes, and raw emotions does help. One of those hopes? That this kind of thing is never visited on you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, too


No, I am not a woman who has been sexually harassed in any way, shape or form. I am, instead, a man who is guilty of inappropriate behavior, in my past, if even unwittingly. The standard of what constitutes sexual harassment has changed considerably over the last few decades, and that is a good thing in the sense that no one should have to tolerate even the lowest, most passive forms of abuse.

For the record, I am making a sincere public apology to any and every woman I have offended, whether I realized it or not at the time. I am totally ok with assuming whatever degree of guilt I deserve for the unwanted touch, the "compliment" on a woman's external beauty, or any other gesture or language that was or is unacceptable to the recipient. I am better at taking shame and using it to better myself these days than I would have been at a younger age. I am eternally grateful to the women who have asserted themselves and told me in no uncertain terms that my conduct was intolerable, even if a single incident.

Each woman has her own personal threshold for what she is willing to accept or, more likely, overlook when it comes to misconduct by males. Men have to understand that and make the assumption that almost anything said or done in the arena of sexuality (even the outskirts of sexuality, to include beauty and attire to name two) could be interpreted negatively by any woman. Men should not express physical intimacy unless unequivocally invited to do so.

I vividly recall having expressed a desire for affection from a woman, being politely but firmly rejected, and learning from her the next day that she had a stalker. The fact she did not throw me out of her home the night before speaks volumes about her strength, tolerance, and trust. Naturally, I apologized profusely, but, to this day, not enough for my own conscience. We remain friends and I will always hold her in high esteem. The point is, I assumed incorrectly that she had not experienced the trauma of harassment. It amazes me that women still trust men at all in the face of our misogynistic society.

Last Sunday my Facebook newsfeed was full of "me, too" posts from nearly all of my female friends who have experienced the indignity and shame and guilt and horror of sexual harassment in one form or another. I remain appalled by that, but sadly not surprised. As one woman pointed out, this does not even include women who never told their parents, spouses, or authorities about the harassment they experienced, so are not about to disclose it on social media. Understood.

I would hope the tide is turning, but we cannot rely on men in power to address this epidemic in any meaningful way. Even leaders of this country have either confessed to sexual harassment or been implicated for it. Many powerful men feel entitled to conduct themselves in any manner they see fit, whether they create victims or not as a result. If your code of conduct is ruled only by whether or not you have done something you could be prosecuted for, then you are missing the point. This is an insidious plague that casts a constant chill over women.

The solution is going to be the average man taking an above-average stand, every day, when they witness sexual harassment. It means conducting oneself with a degree of self-censorship in word and deed that we have not paid enough mind to until now. I have pretty much vowed not to hug anyone I do not know, unless obviously invited to do so. I will be more careful with what I once considered "compliments," that were in reality thinly-disguised attempts to initiate sexual intimacy.

Today, I am married, and am a better man for that institution. Having a spouse makes you more keenly aware of what is (or should be) acceptable behavior and what is not. We, as men, need to unlearn behaviors we learned from our fathers, uncles, and other male role models in our youthful lives. We then need to take the new standards of positive behavior to our sons and other boys in our community. We must earn respect, and teach boys they must also earn it. Right now, every woman on the planet has the right to assume the worst about us. I don't want to be the one implied in "me, too." Do you?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Business as Usual


How is it that the Dow, NASDAQ, and New York Stock Exchange finish the week on an upswing after the monumental tragedy in Las Vegas less than a week ago? Hell, how are they still open? And how, in God's name, does our CBS television affiliate find it appropriate to run an advertisement for a local shooting range, right after a sobering memorial piece on Sunday Morning? Seriously. Now, I don't expect the economy to come grinding to a halt after any devastating event, but I think it should. Business as usual is supposed to offer some kind of comfort to us when our faith is shaken, but in reality it only comes off as disrespectful.

Mass shootings themselves have become something of business as usual, the periodic output of a culture and society that suffers from sicknesses we refuse to address in any meaningful sense. We have an economy increasingly based on suffering, death, and fear of both. As long as there is profit to be made from prescribing drugs, guns, and other products in response to personal and social cataclysm, that is what we will continue to do, business as usual. We'll see more ads for Zoloft and lawyers and life insurance and yes, firearms. "Have you been injured in a mass shooting? If so, call (insert your local law partners here)."

That is the basic problem, of course. We insist that the economy (business if you will) and the government, cure our ills. Legislation and products and services are how we handle everything else, so why won't they work in these cases of catastrophic violence? I would argue it is because commerce really is not solving anything. It is creating and perpetuating economic inequality, raising personal and collective stress into the stratosphere, and dividing our society in every conceivable way in the interest of promoting exclusivity, luxury, and lifestyles we are supposed to aspire to but that in reality are devoid of anything spiritually and emotionally fulfilling. Business as usual is the business of making you feel inferior while making empty promises that you can run with the rich and famous if you only invest your money in "this."

Meanwhile, our government will conduct business as usual, too, because the business of government continues to be insuring not the welfare of our citizenry, but the "wealthfare" of corporations and industry. The deathcare industry certainly gets a boost with every terroristic act, and then gun sales soar because we are conditioned to believe that if we are armed, then we won't be a victim the next time. Wow, we really didn't learn a thing from the kindergarten playground, did we?

The new bully on the block is still the old one: the gun lobbyist, the oil and gas tycoon, the climate change denialist, the bully-pulpit President, the pharmaceutical industry that profits from our misery, and on and on and on. We don't get the results we want, the results we need, as long as we let them all run rampant. We can no longer elect people to office who are not like us. We need to elect our neighbors, our literal neighbors next door, and the coworkers we admire who demonstrate leadership with compassion, respect, cooperation and compromise. People who are not so far removed from our circumstance that they can afford to ignore us.

The cure for stopping massacres like this No one else is going to do it for us. Remember Smokey the Bear's slogan? "Only you can prevent forest fires." It still rings true, and it applies to more than just those wildland conflagrations. It means fires in every other sense, too.

The fire next time....could be worse if we don't manage the forest of humanity with the proper compassion and care it needs and deserves. Products don't work. Hugs, handshakes, generosity both financial and social, and participation in your community. Those are things that work, we just need to do them more often. Tweet the positive, the non-product ideas. Post the pictures of your community garden. Let your neighbor know you care. Let us not all be where we are now, with this overriding sense of being misplaced, dropped in a selfish, fearful, and wealth-obsessed society, determined to be relentlessly marching on, Business. As. Usual.