Thursday, December 29, 2011


I have been struggling with myself about my decision to post my musings about sensitive family matters online. Many friends have graciously offered words of encouragement, thinking that the act may be therapeutic for me and perhaps even helpful to others who are suffering similar challenges. (We are many.) I hope on the one hand that these generous renderings of my motives may be true and doubt on the other hand that such faith is warranted.

It may help my case to note that I have saved my darkest thoughts for a private journal-- though in a family with children the assumption of privacy is always suspect. But I know that, for each friend who has offered a note of support about the openness with which I discuss Tim's circumstances--and now blog about them--there are four more who remain silent. Perhaps feeling--as I also do!--that somehow such sensitive matters should be kept private. To protect the child, perhaps to avoid excessive scrutiny on the pathologies of family life and parenting that are better hidden, or perhaps which invite such judgments as may be damaging to the parties, particularly the children.

Am I whining about my child's crisis, playing for sympathy we don't deserve, rather than privately shouldering the blame I am due?

I don't know.

There are some days I cannot read the newspaper because there is too much in it. Most days I cannot write my life for the same reason. Perhaps any reader who stumbles across this stuff and despises it can be trusted simply to move along to something more palatable or at least better-bounded.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An old picture

Sometimes, when I am lonely, I light a candle on the table of the apartment I use during the week. Last night, I lit one in honor of Tim. I was looking at a portrait of all the children that was taken in Hopewell when Tim was perhaps 18 months old. Their six sisters are gathered around a chair in which 10-year-old Mark happily clutches Tim to his chest. Tim looks as though, but for the hug, he might just slip from Mark's lap to the floor. Everyone looks delighted, except Tim, who appears merely to be tolerating the posing and fuss around him.

A few weeks ago, Tim did slip from our collective grasp to the floor of his room, where his mother had to perform CPR to save his life. He had used marijuana, then taken an overdose of pain medications given by a friend, then gone to bed when he found he could not concentrate on  his homework. When his mother heard his strained gasps early the next morning, she ran to his room, found him unresponsive, and began emergency resuscitation. Molly and Mark were awakened by her yells to call first an ambulance and then me. Tim was transported to the emergency room, where he coded twice before being transferred to intensive care with aspiration pneumonia, sepsis and a collapsed lung. He now recalls a visit with his deceased grandmother, who told him to turn around to face his life again, and he did.

I look at the picture on the table and remember the pain on those very same faces, now 15 years older, and think how horror has changed them. On the day that Tim crashed, they learned the terror of realizing that what they had most feared, they could not, in fact, predict--or perhaps somebody might have caught Tim on the way down. The feeling they experienced--and I know too well--is pure outrage. We were tricked. And when we are not outraged, we feel guilty that family life has made us so gullible as to believe in a life free of trickery.

Of course, all children fall. To appropriate a religious metaphor from my past, adolescence is the long moment when we depart Eden and become ruined as our parents have been. Addiction is hardwired into my family DNA--experienced as alcoholism in generations before Tim's. Our youngest is not the first among his siblings to experiment with more current intoxicants. He only took it further, younger. And if the stakes are higher now, the reasons are external to him.

I look at that old picture, and I see the infant's cherubic indifference. How do I convince him that the fuss matters now?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Random stuff so I can fall asleep at night

In addition to all my professional and moral challenges, I am thematically challenged. I have 47 random ideas for blogs and so have written about zero of them. On the other hand, I have started a journal again--after 30 years--and so am deciding it's better to start somewhere than nowhere. I have the nowhere concept down pretty well, I think.

I started a journal again because my 17-year-old son is doing so, as part of a recovery program that I believe can help him enormously. The theme of recovery may or may not figure in my own journal or blog. I haven't decided yet, but I am thinking not. For me, the notion of recovery is akin to that of salvation. As an ethnic Catholic, I am searching for a faith about it. As a devout agnostic, I can tell you that nobody cares. We have to figure this stuff out for ourselves.

"In the name of the father" was the working title I used for the fragment of a novella I wrote in college, as my ersatz thesis. It spoke to me then, not only of my religious heritage, but of my own experience as the son of an ambivalent father. (He loved me; it was just late in his own life to engage with his sons.) Now, it speaks to me of my relationships with my children, shaped by my own early experience, and brokered by my wife's. Naming is a powerful convention that men in our society still own, for better and for worse. It may be that the father's name is his greatest single contribution to a child's sense of self. A paltry thing as against what mother gives, but an important thing, as the word is made flesh.