Archive for the ‘Parenting Heroes’ Category

Left Behind

May 18, 2011

I read an illuminating and provocative essay recently about how, and why, the No Child Left Behind Act has failed—and I thought it worth sharing in this space.  It happens to have been written by my older son, Nate Dolin, as a paper for his Junior year history class.  He became interested in this issue having volunteered in several public elementary school classrooms, having worked with special needs/autism spectrum children and tutoring kids who struggle in their public middle school… and having been faced with numerous inequities, subsequently found himself wondering why things are as they are.

So, if we want our kids to be encouraged to consider growing up to help, perhaps even to step up and educate, the next generation of kids… our future grand children, we are well-served to deepen our understanding of why things may be as they are.


Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind act seeks to leave no child behind in terms of academics, but the intentions of the act will never be met.  Even though President Bush claimed that the act was having a “dramatic effect” in 2008, the average white student scored 28 points higher on the reading section than the average African American student, and 26 points higher on the math section.[i]  Since the White students are obviously not inherently smarter than the African American student, what is causing the immense score gap?  Is every child in America really treated equally?  If society believes all children should have an equal opportunity for education, why are the most disadvantaged children being left behind, why is excessive testing proving to be more harmful than beneficial, why can’t the “supposed” intentions of the act be met, and why do some argue that the act was intended to benefit the economy rather than the children?

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Dr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

April 13, 2011

I met Carl Rogers in a bookshop in Paris.  Well, I guess I didn’t actually “meet” him, but I did encounter him, by way of one of his books, “On Becoming a Person.”

I was on my honeymoon, having been accepted into a doctoral program in psychology, knowing that my days working thanklessly at a movie studio were numbered, and living a free man in Paris feeling through a magical string of lovely September days, when I wandered into a charming bookstore with an open heart.

When it comes to ideas, I love a vast and wild tangle of possibilities, but when it comes to shopping, I hate malls and too many choices all lined up by focus-group-driven statistics to guess my behavior, exploit my fear-gripped psychology and divest me of my capital (be it time, money or spirit).  Thus when it comes to shopping, I love small places that are run by curators of things—shoe-sellers with soul, booksellers who pick a few gems.

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Won’t you be my neighbor? And can we MAKE it a beautiful day in the hood?

April 6, 2011

A recent New Yorker article by Paul Tough, “The Poverty Clinic,” is wonderful and inspiring, although too narrowly titled in my view.  It is about a parenting hero, Dr. Nadine Burke, who is making a difference with some of our least supported and most hurt children and families; and it’s also about the effects of abuse in childhood on not just emotional, but also physical health in adulthood.  But it’s also about how to help, how to connect, how to work more effectively… by taking feelings more strongly into account even when looking at physical healing—and that is about the world we all live in, a world where the “poverty” may be spiritual, compassion-oriented or consciousness-oriented.

Abuse in kids leads to later psychological and physical illness when they grow-up (see the ACE Study, which I wrote about previously, and which underpins Burke’s actions).   Since we cannot be happier than our least happy child, if that child lives in the hood, the barrio or in rural poverty (or in a more economically advantaged part of town, even under our own roof) we must do something about it.  And that something starts with accurately understanding feelings, something that both medicine, and our broader culture, have given short shrift.  Why is this?  Perhaps we just don’t know how to deal with emotion effectively… and we have not yet bought into how effective and important it is to attune with our kids:  this is a huge part of how we enhance self-esteem, improve academic performance, reduce wasted health-care dollars (i.e. after people are already very sick) and heal out children and our collective community.

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Paterfamilias’ Progress

June 20, 2010

Happy Father’s Day.

There were two guys playing golf and a terrible lightning storm came up and the first friend was ready to run for cover when the second friend walked up to his ball, lightning hitting all around them, and prepared to hit his next shot.  His terrified friend shouted, “What are you doing—you’re going to get killed!”  To which the more intrepid golfer of the two calmly replied, “Don’t worry, I’m using my two iron—even God can’t hit a two iron.”

As to whether God can or cannot hit a two iron… it’s just a joke.  But we can now be sure that “God” (or at least random lighting) can, and did, hit a six-story high “touchdown Jesus.” This Father’s Day I miss my father-in-law, Arthur, who in the end of life had Judaism to win and Catholicism to place in the horse race of religion, but I am not privy to that particular betting window and so I do not know if any of his bets paid off.

Meanwhile, a reader comment on that Touchdown Jesus breaking news item caught my eye; peppered between smug quotes from Exodus about not making graven images and counter-comments about the folly of religion was, “If lightning hits a statue of Zeus is it different?  Discuss.”

On this the week of Father’s Day, that comment got me thinking of the archetypal Father and His evolution.  Whether it’s Zeus hurling lightning bolts or Moses going ballistic and smashing the tablets, I wonder how many men suffer under the yoke of internalized paternalism.  In other words, how many hotheaded guys end up acting like dicks mostly because that’s what they’ve been taught—that this is the way that real men, particularly Fathers, behave?

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Eye on the real prize

June 9, 2010

Okay, I just love Derek Fisher.  One of the Lakers’ most senior players, he is my favorite not just because he’s great, but because he plays (and lives) with so much heart, so much love—and you can just see it and feel it.

Wherever the series goes (and obviously I hope it goes to the Lakers), playing away in Boston is a tough place to win a game on the road.  Kobe may be the “star,” but he was cold last night and Fisher won that game for his team.

In the post-game interview, standing on the court, Fisher had tears in his eyes as he expressed how much he loves his team and helping his team win.  We all have our heroes, but I can’t relate to Kobe in his often super-human skills and somewhat remote emotional presence; however, Fisher is a person I can look to and say, “I want to be more like him.”

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Hotel Rwanda

June 8, 2010

Life is a dream-like poem; the trick is in learning to simultaneously live it and interpret it as it’s happening—and in learning to trust the dream’s architect rather than in making constant changes to the plans.

On Memorial Day I was turning my tumbling composter as a squadron of WW II planes flew directly over my head in formation.  I have come to expect this Memorial Day sight, and yet I found myself, heart pounding, imagining what it might have been like to have nowhere to run as they dropped bombs on you—to be their enemy rather than their appreciators.

Will is supposed to inhabit a character from any book or film his humanities class read or watched this semester.  Cool assignment.  He decided to be the cameraman from Hotel Rwanda.  I had missed that film when it came out (more like dodged it because I just wasn’t up for more bleakness at that particular time).

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Mothering Heights

May 9, 2010

It’s Sunday, I’m hosting Mother’s Day and I know that it’s not a good day for lengthy posts pondering mother meaning.

So, I’ll just say that when it comes to mothering, my mom has to get credit as a “good enough” mother—and at 49 I take the blessings and the wounds into an embrace trusting that all is perfect, I’m just tasked with figuring out how.  Particularly as a spiritual being I really love and appreciate my mom (even if her incarnate self has rooted more deeply than Narcissus by the still waters of the zeitgeist, even if she literally shot me down in a past life, per her own reckoning… or was it I who shot her down?).  In the spirit of this time, perhaps we might strive to allow the mother wounds and as well the hugs and kisses to be so much water under the bridge… provided we’re ready to sit under the bridge and hear the river laughing and crying.

While Andy is not my mother, she is an amazingly good mom—engaged, sane, fun, fair and able to really think about what kids need (our own, but also other kids).  I’ve noticed that kids really like being around our house, sleeping over, etc.  And while they may “thank” me the way one thanks a driver who takes you somewhere, they thank her as a true host.  Whatever penchant for mothering that I may carry, the lioness’ share I’ve learned from her (and her mom Ellie, and my buby Rose, and her sister Karen—a true earth mother), and on this day I particularly want to celebrate the food, the touch, the light, the tears and the laugher… and ditch the ideas, symbols and words lovingly into the crying and laughing river.

We sit on the banks, we are the stones, and we are the river:  we are each other’s flesh and blood, and we are each other’s spirit.

“Mothering” is an attitude and not merely a gender—it is an ethic of nurturing, caring and transcending the individual Self—and in this spirit I want to appreciate the many wonderful “moms” that I encounter in the course of my life:  in my friendships, in my clinical work, in this blogosphere and in our expanding and awakening consciousness where, at least at the spirit level, the child and the parent are but passing reflections in a shattered mirror, rainbow images dancing upon a dazzling brook—a unity of opposites that every mother can love, but only the great oceanic Mother can possibly hold.

Namaste, Bruce

Who’s our mommy, who’s our daddy? Venus and the Man

February 13, 2010

The Walking Man recently sold at auction for over a hundred million dollars, more than any other art piece up until present times—and this leads me to believe that the attenuated, “modern” man striding forever forward into a future where he never arrives is an icon for the end of this “modern” age—a snapshot of the collective “what were they thinking?” ethos that has lead to the world as we have it.

On the other hand it seemed to make a nifty contrast to the so-called “Venus” of Willendorf (a Venus symbol that was made long before humans “invented” Venus) that is also a snapshot into the dawn of human consciousness, the time when girls ruled and nature was fecund, corpulent, sensuous and pulsing with life.  Walking Man is a missile, Walendorf woman is a goddess—an embodiment of earth as paradise.

We start as Venus, or her child, but we put our goddess, our earth and our mothers alike, through the hell of history—the paradigm of past and future, conquest and acquisition, dominion and control, that sucks the life and sustenance out of the present moment.  The human consciousness has lost a lot of weight in 25,000 years, and it is “modern man” who appears to me to be the biggest loser.

So, let’s dedicate today to a plumper consciousness, to stillness instead of over-striding, to tasting our milk and honey—in the service of lovingly nourishing all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


December 24, 2009


Twis the day before Christmas and so I thought I would honor one of my favorite parenting heroes—Thomas Coram.  One hundred years before Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, Thomas Coram created the London Foundling Hospital in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury.

Coram had no children.  He was a ship’s captain and after he retired he was horrified at the way impoverished children fared, often dying, on the streets of London.  The notion of an orphanage was unprecedented at this time.  In order to even try to start a charity, the world’s first incorporated one at that, Coram needed permission of the crown.  The aristocrats he approached initially refused to take an interest in poor children—it was beyond the realm of their thinking to value such kids, despite the epidemic of “foundlings” left to die on doorsteps as destitute mothers lacked means to care for them.

It took years, but Coram finally got one aristocrat on board and then a few more and they eventually appealed to the Queen.  He kicked in his own money, but to raise enough, his artist friends donated works and this marked the first art auction as well as the first time that common folk were able to see paintings by such notables as Hogarth (who famously painted Coram).  At this time there were no art museums and besides church, the only people who were privy to fine art were the wealthy.

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Going Deep with The Sponge—Can SpongeBob make us better parents?

October 7, 2009

Tom at Aroma

This summer marked the tenth anniversary of SpongeBob who, in his timeless decade, has kindly made his way to reigning Puer Aeternus (Latin for “Eternal Child,” i.e. Peter Pan).  The Sponge has cried and laughed his way to the top as the world around him, and us, has grown ever more bitterly Squidward.  Meanwhile, the little square-panted trickster has ridden a sort of porous authenticity, with his kind heart and open tear ducts, to an unprecedented level of global recognition.  Given that SpongeBob is beloved from the mansion to the hood, from Ivory Towers to the darkest prisons—a laughing Buddha soaking up the zeitgeist free of all judgment—perhaps SpongeBob is an archetypal unifier, a manifestation of something we all can love.  The Sponge is post-political (his country is the ocean), post-intellectual (smart enough to dispense with smart in favor of real), post-cultural (in mirroring our culture he has become our culture), post-developmental (no one really knows if he’s a grown-up or a child) and thus a perfect mirror of our own awakening kindness.

Given all this (and as you can tell from my writing as a quasi-intellectual, left-leaning, middle-aged, white male Beverly Hills shrink, I am not post-anything:  I’ve known SpongeBob and I’m no SpongeBob… I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas) I thought we should try to get a little closer to the Sponge in honor of better parenting.

Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, was kind enough to sit down with me the other day to share his thoughts about what SpongeBob might bring to the endeavor of parenting. After years of being asked about why SpongeBob is so popular, Tom got tired of saying, “I don’t know,” and turned to giving it some thought.  Tom says, “Voice-over wise, I’ve always tended to play characters who are pretty sweet and not very smart.  I’m not sure what that says about me.”

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