Archives: October 2010

Remembering Alzheimer’s

10.21.2010 10:06 AM

The current issue of Time magazine features a special report on how our understanding and treating of what is believed to be Alzheimer’s disease is changing.  Drawing upon the data presented in Maria Shriver’s study The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s, the report shares humbling truths such as: 

  • “5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a number that will grow to 13.4 million by 2050,” and
  • “Health experts estimate that a 65-year-old has a 10% risk of developing Alzheimer’s and that baby boomers currently approaching peak age for the disease (60 to 80) will add $627 billion in Alzheimer’s-related health care costs to Medicare,” and
  •  “Nearly 10 million women either have Alzheimer’s or are taking care of someone who does, and that number is expected to triple in the next 40 years.”

Although the data is staggering, there are several quotes from the personal essays in the report that truly took my breath away.

Dr. Mary Ann Becklenberg, a retired family therapist who spent much of her career serving in hospice care, writes of her experience in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She offers this advice to people with the disease:

“Be gentle with yourself.  This disease requires that you lower expectations of yourself…The fear is losing yourself, knowing that you won’t bring this self to the end stage of your life.” 

I contemplate what I would feel like to know that I am losing my sense of self…

Nancy Gibbs writes quite profoundly on how we cope with becoming caregivers for our parents.  Painting a picture of how the stress of “raising kids and lowering parents” affects us, she writes,

“Relationships are elastic only to a point.  If you are a wife, mother, and daughter or a son, father, and husband and all those ties are pulled taut, you are no long a net.  You are a sieve, and the first thing to slip through is peace of mind.”

And finally, Patti Davis, writes of her journey caring for her father, Ronald Reagan, and the lessons she has learned from that role:

“Mostly we learn the hard lesson of acceptance.  It does no good to ask why.  Just be there. Show up and listen, even to the silences.  Beneath the surface of the disease is a soul that can’t have Alzheimer’s, a soul that still wants to be heard.” 


Children as Caregivers?

10.20.2010 9:50 PM

In today’s Huffington Post, Dr. Lloyd Sederer highlights a Florida program called the Caregiving Youth Project that is funded by the American Association of Caregiving Youth.  The project conducts a short survey in Florida middle and high schools in order to discover the students who are acting as significant caregivers for ill or disabled parents.

Dr. Connie Siskowski started the program because she

 ”recognized the changing demographics of families, with more women working, more single parent and multi-generational households, more grandparents as parents, and a broken health care and long-term care system that relies tremendously on families to take care of their loved ones, even if the caretakers are children. Estimates are that over 1.3 million youth ages eight to 18 are caregivers, with responsibilities for ill, injured or disabled parents, siblings or grandparents. Rates of isolation, anxiety and depression are high among these youth, and one in four has serious educational problems. These were the problems that Dr. Connie and Caregiving Youth sought to remedy.”


When one of the 14-year-old caregivers was asked for advice she could give other adolescent caregivers,

“She initially demurred, saying no words can quite express what it is like having an ill parent and providing care for him or her. But with some encouragement she added that in caring for others, “patience is the key … don’t give up on them. You would not be here without them. They did not give up on you.”

Her quote conveys a tremendous sense of obligation to her parents.  Thankfully, there are groups like this one in Florida who are working to support children like her both in the caregiving role they are called to play but also who are working to help restore some semblance of childhood for them when their parents are not able to do so. 

But, I wonder if she would feel the same sense of obligation if she were called upon to care for a stepparent? Or, if her parents were divorced and she were caring for one parent because the other parent lived across town? Or, if she were caring for a disabled single parent because the other parent is a non-present sperm donor?  Dr. Siskowski is right about the changing demographics of today’s families and, if anything, the dynamics of being family are only going to become more complicated in the future and all caregivers, not just adolescent ones, are going to need support.

Preliminary 2008 State-Specific Teen Birth Data

10.20.2010 3:24 PM

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy announced today the release of preliminary 2008 state-specific teen birth data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The National Campaign writes, in part:

  • As a general matter, teen birth rates in 2008 were lowest in the Northeast and upper Midwest and highest in Southern states.
  • It has been widely understood that some of this variation is attributable to state-level differences in the racial/ethnic makeup of the population.
  • However, NCHS analysis of 2007 birth data (the most recent data with state-level detail by race/ethnicity) shows that even within racial/ethnic subgroups, there are great differences across states.  For example, some states with lower overall rates of teen births rank among those states with the highest rates for some racial/ethnic groups.
  • NCHS pdf document here.

    Dorian Paskowitz: Ultimate Dad

    10.20.2010 12:36 PM

    Dr. Dorian Paskowitz graduated from Stanford in 1946. He was one of the most respected doctors in his new home of Hawaii and was often sought to run for governorship. When Paskowitz is asked to reflect on this point in his history he says, “It was the lowest time in my life!”

    After two failed marriages he traveled to Israel for a year of spiritual reflection and self discovery. He introduced surfing to Gaza. After being rejected from the Israeli military he decided to return to the United States where he found his third and ever-lasting wife, Juliet. Tanned and in superior health from surfing and a strict diet, Dorian stole Juliet’s heart by approaching her in a bar, walking right up to her and saying, “Ma’am, you could very well be the future mother of my 7 sons.” She replied, “Well, my mother had nine.”

    Juliet would follow her mother’s foot-steps and give birth to 8 boys and 1 girl by Dorian. But “Doc” had interesting views on money, family, and health. The Paskowitz’s  actively rejected money. “No one should have more than they need.” Doc says. For 25 years they traveled the world, surfing together as a family. The kids were never enrolled in formal education. One of his children later said, “Most parents would say, ‘go to school ’cause its safe, but don’t swim with sharks because sharks are dangerous‘. For us, Doc would say,’Go ahead swim with the sharks but you can’t go to school because that s*** is dangerous.” Doc talks about school as if it is a way for society to steal his children away. “I wanted my kids around me. I wanted my kids surfing with me. And education be damned,” he said.

    His grown children are all successful and happy people. They are a mix of rock-stars (literally opening for The Rolling Stones), surf champions, and successful film-makers. They are attractive. They are high energy. They are healthy and wise.

    “I didn’t want to be a doctor,” says Dorian. “I wanted to be a good husband and a good father, and thus, a good man.”

    One of the complaints the kids had was having to endure the sound of their parents having sex every night in the small quarters of their 24-foot camper van (packed with 11 people). Some of the kids developed strategies of holding their ears and squishing their heads between pillows to avoid the apparently very loud noises from Juliet & Doc’s bunk. When asked about the offensive nature of exposing his children to sex as they grew up Doc responds, “[Sex] is a beautiful, beautiful thing… You want to hear something tragic? Tragedy is not the child that overhears his parents making love. Tragedy is the child that has to look away while its father beats his mother.”

    I wish I had had a father like Dorian Paskowitz. A father that loved my mother. A father that pursued character before status. A father that rejected money so he could spend more time with me, even if it meant we had to squeeze into a camper van.

    Youth Pastors and Children of Divorce

    10.19.2010 11:27 PM

    Today I had the pleasure of leading a discussion on the inner lives of children of divorce – via conference call — with a network that includes 750 Lutheran (ELCA) youth pastors. Podcast here.

    Miss Conception (2008)

    10.19.2010 7:48 PM

    I found a copy of Miss Conception (2008) while browsing my local Korean DVD bootlegger. The movie stars Heather Graham and I’m sorry to report, the only decent bits of the movie are when Ms. Graham is either undressing or jogging. All the other scenes were a waste of time unless you’re studying how not to make a movie, or, in my case, the character and psychology of those who buy anonymous sperm.

    I am trying to find more information on Camilla Leslie, the Dublin born screenwriter, but all I know is that she has a son, no partner is listed, and she lives between Ireland, her home, and France, the most conspicuous place to live in the universe.

    Georginia (Heather Graham) has a one-dimensional (but very cute) boyfriend named Zac (Tom Ellis). They break up for a forgettable reason- he doesn’t showcase the intense enthusiasm to procreate that she does. This leads to a fight where Georgina cries “What about me?! What about my needs?!” and effectively throws away a 6-year romance.

    After breaking up with her near perfect, yet highly imperfectable boyfriend she decides to go to the fertility clinic to check up on her bod. The doctor says (in a bad French accent), “Georgina, you have only one ovum left.” Her early infertility means that she only has 4 days of ovulation before her chances of getting pregnant are over. And she desperately wants a baby. Her friends congregate and come up with a plan to get her pregnant- a different strategy for each of the four nights.

    Day 1- Make fake ads saying her apartment is available for sublet for single males only. Her two best friends wait outside of the door and screen all the men before they’re allowed in the apartment. Ugly? Awkward? Out. Dashing? Handsome? Welcome in…  Georgina manages to almost have sex with a potential “renter” even only after thirty seconds of small talk and a couple sips of champagne. “You like Italian food? Me too!” she squeaks in excitement as she disrobes…

    Day 2- The funeral. Where’s the best place to take advantage of emotionally distressed single men who may want some comforting. Funerals! Georgina almost nabs a semi-decent looking accountant but when she rushes him back to her apartment he discovers her calendar and current to-do list which reads “Lure stranger home”. He smartly takes this as an opportunity to leave.

    Day 3- The nightclub. Georgina teases her hair and cuts her dress short to compete for the attention of a male gigolo. He is brawny and beautiful and when she buys a hotel room for the two of them to awkwardly consummate, he robs her and leaves before any successful insemination.

    Day 4- Donor sperm. She express delivers anonymous sperm from the internet. Georgina and Klem exhaust several minutes of film for cheap turkey baster jokes and when the time comes to insert the inseminating utensil, somehow her future children are derailed into being extra icing on the top of a birthday cake. A big birthday blunder by anyone’s standards.

    Finally she solicits her closest gay friend to be her sperm donor. But he fails to reach climax under all that pressure and ditches his duty to instead take a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and work with one of his idols, Elton John.

    The stereotypes run rampant.

    There are about four false endings and zero dynamic male characters.

    Men are studs in Georgina’s world. Her boyfriend is only slightly more eligible as the father of her children than strangers, gigolos, and gay acquaintances, yet when he returns to confess his undying love for her, she yields, accepts his embrace, and like any predictable chick-flick, she gets what she wants: a miracle pregnancy.

    Heather Graham is cute and pretty nice. Our screenwriter’s strategy was to manufacture likability with vanilla blandness and uncontroversial, middle-class (un)culture. Perhaps the shallow desperation of picking up random guys to get pregnant at nightclubs stings less because of Heather Graham’s buoyant curls. It’s so much easier to forgive Georgina’s complete disrespect for fatherhood when we sympathize with her visceral desire to experience motherhood.

    We need new and better movies on this topic.

    Ask Funeral Fran…Funeral Processions and Public Acknowledgement of Loss

    10.19.2010 12:22 PM

    This next advice letter is inspired both by a question posted in the comments several months ago concerning proper driving etiquette in a funeral procession and recent comments concerning our public comfort level with acknowledging loss.

    Dear Funeral Fran,

    A dear friend of mine recently died.  Even though we lived in different cities for most of our adult life, we kept in touch through the years.  I decided that I would travel to her hometown for the funeral.  The visitation and funeral services were held at the funeral home, and we were instructed by the staff how to follow the hearse in procession to the cemetery for the burial.  There were many cars caravanning to the cemetery, road traffic got mixed into the line, I got totally lost, and I didn’t make it to the graveside services.  I was really annoyed and saddened to miss that final piece of saying goodbye to my friend.  Aren’t people supposed to pull to the side of the road for a funeral procession?

                                                                            Sincerely,   “Lost in Procession”

    Dear “Lost,”

    You are correct.  Not only should most drivers know that the common courtesy is to allow a funeral procession to pass but also many states have laws granting funeral processions right-of-way.  Several states even allow the funeral procession to pass through red lights in order to stay together, as long as cars in the procession properly identify themselves by turning on their headlights or using flags provided by the funeral home.  But really, regardless of law, we should grant a funeral procession right of way.

    But your question digs at a deeper issue.  When we fail to abide even the common courtesy of allowing grieving people safe passage to a cemetery, our communities have lost more than manners, but a part of our soul. 

    I once asked a mentor to tell me what grief is like and he shared with me this story: His father died when he was a young boy.  A week or so after his father’s death, he and his younger brother were playing in the living room when they heard the sound of breaking glass out on the porch.  They ran out to the porch to see what had happened and there was their mother sitting on the steps, surrounded by milk and broken glass.  She looked up at them and asked, “Can you believe they had the nerve to deliver the milk?!?!”

    Even as a young boy, he understood one of the many cruel aspects of grief: my dad is dead and my world has stopped and will never be the same, and yet everyone around me carries on as though it’s just another day…going to work, delivering milk…

    When we fail to stop and honor the dignity of life as it passes us by on the street, we fail to acknowledge that for someone the world has ended and will never be the same.  We need to stop and not only honor the dead but also honor the suffering of the living. Perhaps we need to learn from the communities that not only stop for funeral processions but even get out of their cars and stand in respect for the dead and for those who have lost. 

    What a powerful message to those who are grieving: “Your loved one mattered and your grieving matters.  We see you. We see your suffering.”

    ‘What Insha’Allah means to our world’

    10.19.2010 9:51 AM

    Leah Ward Sears, retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, a senior fellow here at the Institute, and a blogger for our own, has written a beautiful piece today for about her recent trip to Oman through our Center for IjtihadReason.

    …Looking back, I was grateful to be halfway across the world from my Atlanta home in Muscat, the capital of the tiny country of Oman, when those e-mails came in. It gave me some time to digest the news that I was among the finalists to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, a man whose distinguished service on the U.S. Supreme Court began when I was in college contemplating a career in law.

    I had been nervous when I first arrived in Oman, given that a sultan rules this Arab country where few women hold positions of power. But my audiences couldn’t have been more attentive or gracious. I was there as a retired American judge, giving a series of lectures to students and dignitaries about values inherent in our way of life. I was discussing core values that many of us take for granted and that many of us have worked ceaselessly to achieve — justice, the rule of law, individual freedom, equal rights; values that we are extremely lucky to have in this country…

    …I’m more optimistic that one day, a mother in Baghdad might be able to make dinner and feed her children without fear of bombs or night invasions, and that she or her daughter might one day become a voice for justice and that leaders might choose to listen….

    …When I went to meet with the Omani minister of cultural and religious affairs, a small man with placid eyes, I was a bit distracted during our meeting. Sensing my internal turbulence regarding the news from the United States, he reminded me that I shouldn’t dwell on what was to come because only God knows of the plans he has for my life. “Remember this,” the minister said. “Insha’Allah.”

    The phrase is Arabic for “if it is God’s will.” His words remained with me, weaving through my thoughts as I made my way back to the hotel. Insha’Allah. If it is God’s will. The message is the bedrock of my Christian faith, as well, and long has given me the strength to confront the many courses my life has taken…

    …I don’t pretend that one trip by me to Oman will change the world, but it’s one act of many that, when enmeshed, will begin to take hold.

    Meaningful exchanges between and among the world’s Muslims and Christians must continue to take place, as it will take a flood of mutual understanding to make the religious soil hospitable to tolerance and inhospitable to terrorism. And the tentative tendrils of peace start with such small actions and, with light and nourishment and diligent care, they will strengthen and take tenacious root…

    We Baha’is love that phrase and the belief it expresses too: Insha’Allah.

    Is there such a thing as “the new grief?”

    10.18.2010 5:26 PM

    In today’s Huffington Post, Joseph Nowinski writes on what he calls “the new grief,” a term he claims has been coined by many and describes what he calls the experience of when a family member learns that you have a terminal illness or potentially terminal illness.

    I am confused by why this experience would be considered “the new grief” instead of simply known as a loss.  In life we experience copious amounts of losses, including loss of self identity, loss of security, loss of meaning, loss of relationships, loss of skills and abilities, and the loss of a loved one. In his many books, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, lifts up these many types of losses and highlights the ways that we grieve them. 

    However, Dr. Wolfelt makes a great distinction concerning loss.  We all grieve, which is the internal expression of loss, but we don’t all mourn, which is the shared response to grief. 

    What Nowinski means to say concerning “the new grief,” which is highlighted well in his case study following Mark’s journey living with terminal colon cancer, is that our culture is experiencing and already has experienced grief in learning of a terminal diagnosis. Our culture needs new ways to mourn learning of a terminal diagnosis.  

    Nowinski goes on to lift up an interesting interpretation of Mark’s experience of sharing his terminal diagnosis with his family and their response to him and his journey over the following three years.  He pinpoints “resilience” and “fragility” in the family system as the key factor in how we cope with this “new grief.”

    “The differences in how families react when faced with a terminal diagnosis are determined in part by personality factors. One of the most important of these is what is called “resilience.” Not only do individuals differ from one another in terms of how psychologically resilient (versus “fragile”) they are, but entire families can be more or less resilient. That’s because every family tends to establish its own culture, and one aspect of that culture has to do with how resilient it is.

    What is resilience? It is a personality trait that is associated with certain ways of looking at life and responding to crises. Research has shown that individuals with a resilient approach to life are less vulnerable to both emotional problems (e.g., anxiety, depression) and physical problems (e.g., hypertension, insomnia). To sum it up, resilient people (and families) have the following outlook on life and its crises:

    • Crises are an unavoidable, normal part of life.
    • We are not helpless in the face of a crisis.
    • Life (including crises) has meaning, if we are open to finding it.
    • Optimism: Crises present us with opportunities.

    In contrast to the above, psychologically “fragile” people (and families) act as if they believed the following:

    • Crises can be avoided if we live a low-risk life and always play it safe.
    • Pessimism: Nothing good can come of a crisis.
    • We are essentially helpless if a crisis does hit us.

    Individuals and families are not necessarily conscious of the above beliefs; rather, these beliefs are revealed through their actions. Here is the essential difference between psychologically resilient versus psychologically fragile individuals and families: faced with a crisis such as terminal diagnosis, resilient individuals and families will marshal resources and confront it; fragile ones, in contrast, will avoid it as much as possible and become paralyzed.

    Julie came to realize that Mark’s family was decidedly on the fragile side of this dimension. “I can see now how they’ve always been that way,” she explained. “I mean, Mark told me more than once how he’d had to ‘parent his parents’ since he was 12 years old. He gave me examples of how, whenever something went wrong or one of the kids got into trouble — no matter how minor — his parents would act as if it were a catastrophe. He said they’d become paralyzed.” So Mark, beginning from an early age, had been the one to step up to try to solve crises whenever they struck. As a result, Mark became much more resilient than the rest of his family. But when Mark got sick, his family lost what little resilience it had.”

    I tend to agree with Nowinski’s appraisal of resilience versus fragility.  As I have said before, we die the way we live.  We see in hospice that families do not make saintly transformations when we are sick or aging or dying.  The rules of our families will move into high relief under stress and our social workers and chaplains tend to spend most of their days assisting caregivers and patients to navigate their way through the mine field that is our family history.  And, of course, we find the trip to be so much smoother if the patient and loved ones have been thinking about the resilience of their family system BEFORE terminal illness enters the picture.

    So, how resilient is your family?

    Commodities and The Politics of Value

    10.18.2010 1:28 PM

    On this one now, Rethinking Commodification: Cases and Readings in Law and Culture.

    Commodities and The Politics of Value, by Arjun Appadurai:

    Pg. 34-43

    Economic exchange creates value. Value is embodied in commodities that are exchanged. …What creates the link between exchange and value is politics.

    In modern capitalist societies, it can safely be said that more things are likely to experience a commodity phase in their own careers, more contexts to become legitimate commodity contexts, and the standards of commodity candidacy to embrace a large part of the world of things than in noncapitalist societies.

    [There are four types of commodities]:

    • Commodities by destination, that is, objects intended by their producers principally for exchange
    • Commodities by metamorphosis, things intended for other uses that are placed into the commodity state.
    • A special, sharp case of commodities by metamorphosis are commodities by diversion, objects placed into a commodity state through originally specifically protected from it.
    • Ex-commodities, things retrieved, either temporarily or permanently, from the commodity state and placed in some other state.

    [Demand] emerges as a function of a variety of social practices and classifications, rather than a mysterious emanation of human needs, a mechanical response to social manipulation (as in one model of the effects of advertising in our own society), or the narrowing down of a universal and voracious desire for objects to whatever happens to be available.

    Wherever clothing, food, housing, body decoration, number of wives or slaves, or any other visible act of consumption is subject to external regulation, we can see that demand is subject to social definition and control.

    Modern consumers are the victims of the velocity of fashion as surely as primitive consumers are the victims of the stability of sumptuary law. The demand for commodities is critically regulated by this variety of taste-making mechanisms… Demand is a socially regulated and generated impulse, not an artifact of individual whims or needs.

    Is Homophobia Driving Young People Away From Conservative Churches?

    10.18.2010 11:32 AM

    Robert Putnam and David Campbell argue that an sharp increase in young people not identifying with any organized religion is caused, to a significant degree, by young people being repulsed by conservative politics, and in particular by homophobia.

    We were initially skeptical about that proposition, because it seemed implausible that people would make choices that might affect their eternal fate based on how they felt about George W. Bush. But the evidence convinced us that many Americans now are sorting themselves out on Sunday morning on the basis of their political views. For example, in our Faith Matters national survey of 3,000 Americans, we observed this sorting process in real time, when we interviewed the same people twice about one year apart.[...]

    This backlash was especially forceful among youth coming of age in the 1990s and just forming their views about religion. Some of that generation, to be sure, held deeply conservative moral and political views, and they felt very comfortable in the ranks of increasingly conservative churchgoers. But a majority of the Millennial generation was liberal on most social issues, and above all, on homosexuality. The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were “always” or “almost always” wrong plummeted from about 75% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008. (Ironically, in polling, Millennials are actually more uneasy about abortion than their parents.)

    Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives. Increasingly, young people saw religion as intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic. If being religious entailed political conservatism, they concluded, religion was not for them.

    Sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer of UC Berkeley were among the first to call attention to the ensuing rise in young “nones,” and in our recent book, “American Grace,” we have extended their analysis, showing that the association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.

    I don’t know if their analysis is correct, but I certainly hope it is.


    10.18.2010 10:51 AM

    “Infertile couples are very easy to exploit,” the doctor says.

    Still trying to make sense in my head and weigh the pros and cons. I like it when a poor woman in India can pay off her debts and pay for her children’s education. I feel confident in the love and care the child born will receive when hir birth was so expensive and time consuming.

    I don’t like the commodification of babies and women’s bodies. I don’t like a culture that disrespects the wisdom and thoughtfulness put into surrogacy restriction laws at home to bypass them in a remote country to possibly harm remote people. I don’t like couples spending 20 years trying to have children and spending $30-100,000 on fertility treatments when they could pluck a kid or two out of foster-care and really make the world a better place at home.

    It makes everyone feel so cozy that Indian women can buy a house and educate their children with their big paycheck, but what about dedicating that energy to a foster kid? Aren’t there vulnerable children at home who need help setting up their life, receiving an education so they too may be able to buy a house and educate their kids? Or are we only helping the poor and vulnerable on the opposite side of the planet now? Here’s a check, now go be good girls and boys and by the way thanks.

    The comfortable old says to the vulnerable young: We’ll pay you to fight our wars and bear our babies

    10.18.2010 10:08 AM

    In a taxi recently I heard a radio ad which touted joining the army reserves as a solution for young people overwhelmed by (usually federally-financed) student loan debt.

    Yesterday a colleague sent me a link to a news article on military wives who become surrogate mothers. (This topic appears in the news now and then, creates a small ripple, and then disappears again until another reporter discovers it seemingly for the first time.)

    Surrogate agencies say 15 to 20 percent of surrogate babies nationwide are born to military wives — even though the military makes up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population.

    What usually goes unnoted in these stories is that the surrogate’s prenatal, labor and delivery costs are paid for by — you guessed it — you and me, which makes for a great deal for the “commissioning” parents. (The ABC News article I linked to does examine the issue of surrogates using the military health plan for their pregnancies.)

    Someone should write a dystopic futuristic novel about a society in which the vulnerable young generation is induced by its leaders to take out crushing amounts of debt (called “student loans”) which they are then told they can repay by “volunteering” for military service (to fight wars the leaders do not wish for their own children to fight), while their wives stay home and are paid to bear children for other, wealthier couples.

    Oh wait, that wouldn’t be fiction.

    Emerging Adults

    10.18.2010 9:57 AM

    While most of us had to grow up by our early twenties, at the latest, a strand of social scientists would like to change the terms of analysis in a way that lets young people not become “adults” until sometime in their thirties. (Never mind that most people have children in their twenties, and that most people cannot afford the luxury of exploring themselves and the world for a decade or more after high school before becoming self-sufficient and responsible for others.)

    Funny quote from NYT columist Gail Collins yesterday on the concept:

    In the Delaware debate, O’Donnell claimed her opponent had broken an agreement that no one would mention anything the other candidate did in their 20s. (She made the famous “dabbled in witchcraft” remark at age 30, but that would at least have excised her condemnations of masturbation, evolution and the theory of separation of church and state.) She might have a point. Social scientists have proposed that the entire 20-30 decade be redefined as “emerging adulthood,” in which young Americans stay in school, live at home or hitchhike through Europe while their emotion-controlling prefrontal cortexes ripen like fine wine.

    NYT Rediscovers Culture

    10.18.2010 9:46 AM

    Reporter Patricia Cohen argues today that 40 years after the Moynihan report sociologists are willing to talk about culture again.

    Her piece conveniently ignores the fact that for at least 20 years many social scientists and others have come together, over and over, in statements and reports to the nation that examine child and social well-being related to marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, and civil society, many of which have generated sustained national media debate and treatment in academic journals.

    But perhaps it is true that a new generation of social scientists may well be more willing to approach these questions, as for example 35 year old U of Chicago sociologist Mario Luis Small is quoted as saying, “without the baggage of that [Moynihan-era] debate.”

    I hope so. Time will tell.

    PS — Glad the reporter talked to Kay Hymowitz: “Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz complained, reduce some of the new work to ‘sociological pablum.’” But I do wish the reporter had not embraced the typical framing of saying that only “conservatives” have been talking about the family all this time. Often enough it works the other way around — talking about the family (and culture) gets you labelled a conservative.

    For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti

    10.15.2010 5:21 PM

    Sufjan Stevens has always been a favorite of mine. And this is probably my favorite song of his.

    The lyrics have something to do with God. Interpret at your own discretion. I think he captures the parent-child sentiment well, whether you are the parent or the child (of God). It seems I’m only religious when I’m listening to music.


    I have called you children, I have called you son.
    What is there to answer if I’m the only one?
    Morning comes in Paradise, morning comes in light.
    Still I must obey, still I must invite.
    If there’s anything to say, if there’s anything to do,
    If there’s any other way, I’ll do anything for you.

    I was dressed embarrassment.
    I was dressed in wine.
    If you had a part of me, will you take your time?
    Even if I come back, even if I die
    Is there some idea to replace my life?
    Like a father to impress;
    Like a mother’s mourning dress,
    If you ever make a mess, I’ll do anything for you

    I have called you preacher; I have called you son.
    If you have a father or if you haven’t one,
    I’ll do anything for you. I did everything for you

    Conception Stories

    10.15.2010 1:28 PM

    Karen Clark forwarded this article to me on Susan Jameson’s rejection of her biological son Nigel.

    Jameson gave her son up for adoption to pursue her acting career. As he got older he also pursued entertainment and now makes a living as a pianist. “I used to fantasise that my real parents were actors or musicians or artists. Something that would explain me and where I fitted in the world.” Nigel says. “[My adoptive parents] were very strict and they had no time really for the arts or music, which I always loved and was good at. So I made up this version of my life story where my mum and dad were famous actors and one day I’d meet them and it would all make sense. Well I was half right.”

    The first rejection followed by the second rejection by his mother has left him with a lingering question, “Why wasn’t I good enough?”.

    And, it seems, that kids absorb the dignity of their conception story into the fiber of their being and gauge their own self-worth by the circumstances under which they were first created. Nigel finds out that he was conceived in a regrettable, drunken hook-up. “Finding that out did a world of good for my self-esteem.” he jokes.

    He expressed jealousy when, sixteen years after he was born, Jameson gave birth to another unprepared for child. This time, she felt the maternal pull and kept her daughter and has raised her enthusiastically and with love ever since. Jameson said all she wanted was to be with her baby, Lucy.

    So what is the difference for some biological parents? Why is one child wanted and loved and others are given away to strangers to raise without a bat of the lashes (as in sperm and egg donation)? For the parent, the desire to raise the child may have a great deal to do with the story of their conception. Would you rather raise a child you conceived via rape or marriage to the love of your life? Would you want anything to do with a kid that contacted you from a regrettable affair you had? What if that estranged child were conceived on one of the most romantic, memorable nights of your life with the-one-that-got-away?

    Conception stories matter to parents, and they matter to children. And they all dictate the worth of the child in the parent’s eyes. And those feelings of worth stay with the child for the rest of their lives for many of us.

    So when we tell donor-conceived children that they should be thankful to be alive because they are “so loved and so wanted” we must remember that that is only half the story, for half of our parentage. The other half gave us away for a little bit of cash- at best for school supplies/tuition, at worst for beer money or a boob job. Both halves matter.

    To Find Him or Be Free of Him

    10.14.2010 5:00 PM

    A couple of days ago an acquaintance familiar with my work asked me what I knew about my father. I know that he was 34 when he donated, lived in the LA basin, was of Polish descent, and was a respiratory doctor. I know his birthday and I know a few of his hobbies. My acquaintance asked me why I haven’t tried to track my father down. Surely there’s only so many people with Polish last names that were practicing pulmonology in 1985 around LA, he asserted.

    That made me think. Why haven’t I tried to track him down?

    A while back I spoke at a workshop. It was me against the moms, and one woman in the crowd, after listening to me beg them not to have their children this way, asked me, “Well would it have been better if you could have met your dad when you turned 18?” I cringed. “What good is a dad after 18?” I said. That’s like someone giving you a power-drill after you’ve already built 80% of a house with a hand-screw and a hammer. Maybe it would give me a littler closure, but something about tracking him down now while I’m just starting to set up my life seems like a big waste of time.

    • What if it takes years to track him down?
    • What if I never track him down?
    • What life experiences must I sacrifice if I dedicate so much of myself to find him?
    • If I do find him, will he reject me?
    • If I do find him, will his family reject me?
    • If I do find him, will my family reject him?
    • Will my family be insulted by my decision to pursue him?

    And of course there is the question: What if I meet him and I hate the guy? What if he is shallow and weird and off-putting and I don’t get along with him at all?  Should I spend the youth of my twenties hunting down some M.D. in America’s second largest city just for a coffee date and a “Sorry kid, but I’m not interested in playing dad.”?

    Kathleen LaBounty spent years trying to track down her Baylor U. father.

    Theresa Erickson was a serial egg donor in her twenties and now has a successful law firm specializing in egg donation and surrogacy. She makes her money making sure social parents never have to feel threatened by their children’s biological parents. “I do not consider any of the offspring created through my donation to be my children and I have no interest in meeting them, ever.” she said at a workshop this summer.

    There are a million obstacles to finding our biological parents. And the courts aren’t exactly facilitating these reunions. People are always saying to disgruntled donor offspring “Just live your life! Go to the beach! Have a good time! Life is such a gift!” Never mind all the holes in that blanket solution to our ontological crises, there will always remain an ever present loss, and a list of sacrifices and risks associated with filling that loss.

    I think I did it right when I wrote a movie script on the subject. Creating your own fantasy and being able to watch it on the screen seemed to be an appropriate solution to my fears.

    But a movie will never replace my father.

    Wharton Prof Writes in NYT Marriages Like His Are Doing Just Fine, Thank You

    10.13.2010 11:06 AM

    In an op-ed in today’s NYT Wharton prof Justin Wolfers asserts that despite what you’re hearing in the news, marriage is surviving just fine, even in the recession.

    He argues that today’s “hedonic” model of marriage, in which couples unite around shared “passions” such as their love of books, travel, and hobbies, is thriving even amid recession.

    He does acknowledge, glancingly, that these successful “hedonic” marriages are more likely to be found among the college-educated.

    Wolfers writes:

    The decline in marriage, it turns out, is concentrated entirely among women with less education — those who likely have the least to gain from modern hedonic marriage.

    But never mind them. The 25 percent or so of us in the adult population who have college degrees are doing just fine, thank you.

    Meanwhile, what’s the one word never once mentioned in Wolfer’s op-ed? Children.

    How are the children faring who are born to those less educated women who are less likely to get married? Not a word. How does the “hedonic” marriage of college-educated folk adapt (or not) when children — not a love of books and hobbies — becomes the dominating concern of the marriage? Nothing.

    But no matter. Wolfers assures us that if you look at the data like he does, ignore the issue of children, track something he calls “wedding certificates” (note to NYT eds — it’s your job to catch something like this) you’ll find that amid recession, job losses, more children than ever before living without the security of their own two married parents, and persistently high divorce rates, those who are fortunate enough to finish college and marry someone who shares their pricey ”passions” are doing just fine.

    What a relief.

    Abed’s Secret Show of New Life

    10.13.2010 9:47 AM

    Several days ago I posted an imaginary letter sent from the TV show Community’s Jeff Winger to Funeral Fran that requested guidance on how to cope with the inevitable awareness that life is limited. My brother, who is also a huge fan of the show, sent me link to a video of the show that splices together and higlights what I and I am assuming many of us missed, which was Abed’s secret show in the background.

    How true to life. How many times do we, like the characters in the show, become so obsessed with defining life we miss that real life is going on right around us? At the same time that the other characters are focused on culling meaning out of death, Abed is quietly in the backrground helping to bring new life into the world.

    Makes me think of Anne Lamont’s Traveling Mercies. She refers to how the Dalai Lama says that whenever everything seems to be falling apart in our world and we are overwhelmed with stress, it is exactly then that God is trying to birth something new and beautiful into the world, and God needs us to be as distracted as possible so as not to mess it up!