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Absence Makes the Kids Grow Independent

My recent trip overseas resulted, as most such trips do, in many unexpected and enlightening experiences. It was an extraordinary adventure. What I truly did not expect was what happened back at home while we were gone.
I had made the decision to allow my sons to stay home alone during the duration of our trip. My younger son is 17 and he was alone for two weeks before his older brother -20-" came home from college. They were together another three weeks before we returned home. What emerged from that time together was as surprising as any adventure I had during our visit to 13 countries and 20 or so cities in the Middle East, India, and Africa.

A dear friend of mine chastised me quite passionately about my leaving the boys alone, declaring that she would never do such a thing. Frankly, upon hearing her stark judgment, when I was already on my trip, I wondered if I’d been derelict in my parenting responsibilities. Then, I got the surprise of my life in a call and subsequent chat via IM with my older son.
Let’s set up context with some back-story. I was an only child, due to the death of two siblings, and all my childhood and later life, I longed for siblings. So, when I got married, I was determined to have at least two children. Had I gotten married younger, I would have likely had more than my two boys. My fantasy was that they would bond and have the longed-for relationship with a sibling that I didn’t have.

Like most fantasies, the reality was a bit different. They were as diverse in temperament, interests, and even looks as one could possibly imagine. The result was that they butt heads as good and hard as the giraffe we saw “necking” in South Africa (“necking” is the ritual fighting that male giraffe do when competing for a female in “estrous” aka “heat”).

Prior to my friend’s dressing-down, my only concern about leaving the boys alone was their general disdain for one another. Would they fight and would I get those whiney complaining calls/emails about each other? I’d left them with plenty of resources in case of emergency and for daily living, from money to a list of adult friends and their phone numbers, all of whom were on “alert” to watch over the boys if needed.

So, when I did get that emergency call, I was shocked to learn that the details were a far cry from the expected bickering. It turns out that they handled an emergency together so very well that it led to a heart-to-heart, the details of which neither cares to reveal, from which they emerged tighter and closer than ever.

The details of that emergency frankly are irrelevant to this story. The upshot, so unexpected, was that my absence required them to be adults. My absence forced them to be independent, to face life square between their eyes, and to think smart and quickly and act accordingly. Together, they handled this emergency and emerged confident, proud, and vastly closer than had I been there to “rescue them.”

To be clear, this emergency did not involve any direct health or safety problem to them or our dog or our property. It involved a neighbor having a problem. To quote my friend Stan Lee, “’Nuff said” on that.

The more I thought about what occurred the more I reflected on how valuable my absence turned out to be for my sons. Too many parents are protecting their children from life and not equipping them to handle life. My boys are physically and legally adults (at least my older one is “legal”) and it’s time they learned greater independence. My older son’s journey on that path had begun the year before when he went cross-country to attend college.

However, most colleges are really a surrogate home in which there are plenty of safety nets and the biggest thing students learn is how to party, binge-drink, and have serial sexual escapades. If they ever get in trouble, the school will rush right in and help out, especially at the expensive private universities where they have a great self-interest in protecting the income they derive from the students (and their parents).

Yes, my son grew in his first year at college but more often than not, I’d get calls and I’d help guide him through whatever problem he faced. At times, I made it clear that he had to handle a particular issue himself but I was available to consult and advise. On this trip, his access to me was limited and the immediacy of the problem was such that finding anyone else was not an option.

How do our teen and young adult children learn to fend for themselves if not given the freedom to fail? How will they learn if dad and/or mom are always there? I realized from this experience that many parents are forestalling the inevitable that life will provide by coddling their grown children for far too long. I’m glad I left my boys alone and I’m thrilled with the result. Who knew?

Note: A mea culpa is in order. Since I wrote this column, both boys have expressed quite emotionally that they felt abandoned over the holidays. Their cocky exterior, which I was eager to perceive, was simply that -teenage cockiness and this lame dad missed it. They still got some great lessons on their own, but I sure got a harsh slap in the face as well!
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Bruce Sallan, author of A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation and radio host of The Bruce Sallan Show - A Dad’s Point-of-View gave up a long-term showbiz career to become a stay-at-home-dad. He has dedicated his new career to becoming THE Dad advocate.

The Best-Worst-Wonderful-Life

Thanksgiving has just passed and I hope everyone had a lovely time. I hope everyone actually took some time from the food and the games to actually “give thanks.” I also hope everyone ignored all the political pleas to discuss politics at the Thanksgiving Meal. What a horrible idea and suggestion! But, most of all, I hope and pray that everyone reflected on the blessings in their lives and encouraged their kids to give thanks along with the adults.

The Holiday Season is a very complicated time of the year. On the surface, it seems it should be filled with joy, fun, and family love. Under the surface, we all know that the reality of family get-togethers can bring out lots of emotional wounds, animosities, and other old business. When you add eggnog and other so-called “spirits” into the mix, it’s often the adults who make the biggest fools of themselves.

As parents, we like to imbue tradition into our family lives and create new traditions with and for our children. One of ours is something I heartily recommend as a regular happening, but suggest that it might be especially good to do at a holiday meal. We did this every Friday evening at our Shabbat dinner. First, we lit the candles, and then said the blessing over the wine, the children, and finally the bread, aka challah.

During the meal that followed we would share our “Bests and Worst.” Note that “worst” is singular, which I’ll explain shortly. In no particular order, we would each take turns sharing the best and the worst things that happened to us in the previous week. There was no limit to the number of “bests,” but we wisely limited the “worsts” to a single one so we’d all get in the habit of looking at the blessings in our lives rather than dwelling on the problems or minor irritations of the week. And, let’s face it: most of them are minor!

When my boys were younger, I’d need to prod their memory about what had happened during the week before. Their world-view was short and often they could only bring up things that happened to them that day. With time, age, and experience, the boys became as seasoned as the adults at sharing and participating in this Sallan tradition.

We extended an invitation to any dinner guests to join in our tradition and I don’t think we ever had a person decline. They’d listen to some of us go first, get the idea, and then volunteer their own experiences.

Perhaps you can bring this tradition to your family? Perhaps you have your own traditions that help celebrate gratitude and reflect on the many blessings most of us share living in the United States and in a time when health and our general welfare is the best in human history.

Do not think I’m a Pollyanna that doesn’t understand the grave problems humanity faces all over the world, in addition to the many challenges we face right here at home. But, during the holidays, it behooves us to try and bring the brightness of life into the room, at the dinner table, and around the Menorah or Christmas tree or at the Thanksgiving meal.

The habit of speaking out about the good in one’s life can help us actually bring this attitude into our hearts and minds. With the repetition of all that blesses us, we might actually believe our good fortune, especially during the times when things may be rough. Let’s face it, all good times and all bad times come and go. Life is not inert. It flows with good and occasional bad. Our choice comes to bear in how we view life our attitude will guide us to count the positives with greater magnitude than the negatives.

Again, my mantra of parental modeling comes to bear. Mom and Dad show the way in their appreciation of their blessings. We show the way in how we express our gratitude at every family meal and perhaps with greater vigor at the special-occasion meals and holidays.

One of my favorite movies of all-time is, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I am blessed to own two original posters from the movie. I was further blessed to share a cross-country flight many years ago with Frank Capra, the incredible director of that incredible movie, made in 1946.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was not a hit when it came out. Sometime during the subsequent years it grew in popularity and has emerged as an all-time holiday favorite. The lessons in this movie are so pure and simple in how each one of us can impact the lives of others.

What can you and/or your children do in the coming months to make such an impact on the lives of those around you? Perhaps, this is the time to be “George Bailey?”

Men vs. Women: How We Choose Our Partners

Our Men vs. Women blog series continues with a biggee: How we choose our partners. I sincerely believe this is yet another instance where our differences show up big-time and reflect our inherently diverse sensibilities. I will also declare up front my bottom-line conclusion that women are smarter -for the most part- in this area.

There is often a debate about what the prevailing divorce rates are. Conventional thinking has divorce in first marriages at about 50%. What I find so ironic are the stats for 2nd and 3rd marriages. You’d think “we’d” learn from our failures, but evidently second marriages end in divorces 2/3 of the time, while third marriages end in divorce 3/4 of the time! So much for learning from our mistakes!

Again, I recognize that generalities and stereotypes all have exceptions but they’re often true for the majority. So, let’s have at it with my list, once again in no particular order:

-- Men use the real estate mantra, but instead of location location location, it’s looks looks looks

Men are slugs when it comes to women. We tend to make our initial choices based totally on looks, sex appeal, and surface impressions. For some men, that is the beginning and end of their “look” at a woman. For some of us, we actually pay attention to a little more than the superficial considering such factors as intelligence, sense of humor, character, interests, political point of view, religion, etc.

-- Women tend to choose based on several factors including income, sense of humor, and income (that’s NOT a typo)

Women, on the other hand, do tend to “look” a bit further than a guy’s looks though some are hung up on height. They respond a LOT to a good sense of humor and probably the biggest factor women care about is a man’s ability to “provide,” his job, income, and potential to support a family.

-- Men make snap judgments

While men and women both rely on first impressions, I will assert that men may not get past a poor first impression if they’re not satisfied with the looks of a potential partner.

-- Women are more thoughtful

As suggested by the previous male predisposition, women will “take a second look” after perhaps a neutral to negative first impression. If the man makes her laugh, if he’s a “gentleman,” if he picks up the tab (a big deal for a first date), and if he follows through on things he says (like calling again), a poor first impression may get turned around.

-- Men might need encouragement to make that commitment

If a man doesn’t have to marry, especially if he’s not particularly religious, he won’t. Women make the rules in this regard by asserting a “take it or leave it” choice at some point.

-- Women will likely provide the needed encouragement

After my divorce, I was NOT getting married again. I met Debbie. She was terrific. She made it clear that without marriage there was no Debbie. I reconsidered because she was worth it.

My cousin took another path when her boyfriend was reluctant. She moved out-of-state. Within a few short months, she had a proposal.

-- Divorced men are usually more reluctant to re-marry than divorced women -note the word “usually” in this declaration

I am sure this will equalize in short order since women are now coming closer to parity with men on income. However, now and in the past, most men got reamed by divorce. There was a horrible sexism in most so-called Family Courts,* favoring women on all counts.

-- Women have more of an inherent need and desire for a monogamous relationship

Women are born to nurture. With that instinct comes the desire for a safe, monogamous family. Its nature and nurture at its best, pure and simple. I am grateful for this biological tendency. I believe the family is the single best structure for raising good children.

If men could get away with bigamy they would. If married men could easily have a mistress or serial affairs, they would. What women don’t understand is that this doesn’t mean they love their wives less. Men are just built to procreate. It’s civilization, religion, and women that keep men in line!

-- Men would prefer to have their cake and eat it too!

Men actually do better married. Most men, unlike Hugh Hefner, do recognize the value of marriage, want children, and ultimately at a certain age, get tired of “the chase.” However, if women allowed men to fool around, most men would. Thankfully, most women won’t tolerate it, most religions preach against it, and our culture tends to discourage it, though I do believe there’s a double standard that lets some men get away with stuff that a similar woman would get horribly chastised for. Best example: Bill Clinton.

-- Women humanize men so ultimately it all works out in the end

Men live longer when married. Smart men realize this. Men like what a woman brings to them. When it comes to home and family, women bring much to the party though I suspect this is rapidly changing with the rapidly changing workplace. Nonetheless, men are better off married and they live longer, too!

Okay, that’s it for the third column in my Men vs. Women series. I await your comments…

*I prefer to call Family Courts, Anti-Family Courts much as I believe Family Lawyers are really Anti-Family Lawyers. This is simply based on the reality of how the system works.

Are YOU Afraid of Your Wife?

How many men do you think are afraid of their wives? If “afraid” is too strong a word, how many men believe they must walk on eggshells in their wife’s presence? What marriages do you know - well - that are successful and appear happy? I chose the word “appear” because no one really knows what is going on inside another’s home and life, so all we can make is educated guesses based on how well we know people.

The three happiest marriages I know well have one common theme. The man is clearly madly in love with his wife and lets her run the show. My parents fit that description to a T and were happily together for 73 years, married 66. However, after being part of a men’s group for over a decade, I witnessed way too many men who feared their wives or partners.

What are the signs that a man - YOU - might be scared of YOUR wife?

~~ You are extremely careful with anything you say in her presence.

~~ Some topics are just not to be discussed, whether about your sex life, money, or her opinions on how to raise the children.

~~ She adores her parents; hates yours and you allow those feelings to determine the outcome and invitation list of family events.

~~ Saying “No” to her causes heart palpitations.

~~ You’ve long ago realized that your “fix-it” reaction to her problems never is appreciated and now you just begrudgingly listen and offer no ideas or solutions. Note: in many cases, this is a wise move, period.

~~ When you must bring up something you think will precipitate a tough discussion or a fight, you put if off and/or bolster yourself with substances.

~~ You don’t even remember why you fell in love in the first place.

~~ She controls all the purse strings and when you want something, you dread asking for it.

Well guys, how’d you fare on the above things? Ladies, do you recognize your man in the above list?

We’ve been living through a very feminized time in human history. Women dominate our elementary schools and all our schools seem to favor girls/women in their curriculum and in so many other politically correct ways. Boys are failing at higher numbers than ever and more and more women are accepted to colleges while their male counterparts are often floundering. Plus, the work place is now fraught with HR rules. Men can literally be brought up on sexual harassment charges simply by the perception of a female co-worker saying something he did or even how he peered at a female co-worker was sexual harassment.

Heck, I’d be scared to work in any large environment today. Towards the end of my showbiz career, post Anita Hill, I stopped hiring female secretaries simply because I didn’t want to be walking on eggshells. The irony was that I experienced pretty harsh sexual harassment twice from women in positions of power and was laughed at by my (male) bosses at the time.

So, is it any wonder that our boys and young men might be afraid of their women at home and at work?

There is no easy solution. But, for most men, I think having good men in their lives can make a huge difference. Even without all these societal changes, many men will stick their feet deep into their mouths at times. I am certainly guilty of this far too often. Having an outlet with other men might help prevent the legitimate lapse in thinking that is endemic among many men.

The decade I spent in a men’s group helped me deal with the hardships of my divorce, raising my boys alone, and dating again in a changed world. The men in my group sincerely helped me navigate the new relationship that ended up leading to my second marriage. I’d bring them issues and they’d give a perspective and/or advice that I just hadn’t thought of or realized. They saved me from myself in many cases.

In other cases, it’s just learning that the new World Order is simply different. The empowerment of women is largely a good thing, but it has diminished men to a degree, which is why there are so many men living in fear of their wives or partners. The irony of this column is that I expected it to contain much humor, yet upon writing it, the harsh truth of this topic kept me from my usual quips.

I’d really love to know what you think: men and women? With women, I want to know if you respect the man in your life? Has his kowtowing to you made you love him more, if he’s acting that way? Men, do you resent your wife? Do you feel less a man? And, parents - what are you seeing from your boys and from your girls? Are you happy with the state of Gender Affairs?

Why is Everyone SO Darn Busy and Tired?

I continue to marvel at how busy everyone seems to be these days. Wasn’t all this new technology supposed to make our lives easier? Do any of you feel life is easier today? Or, are you busy and tired ALL the time? My wife has two favorite words - “I’m so tired.” So, I can’t count. Why is she so tired? Why is she so busy? Why are we all so (apparently) busy? Is this a new way of life or do we have some choice in it?

Obviously, we all have certain choices in how we live our lives and allow ourselves to get too busy or tired. Some things are out of our control such as raising a child with learning disabilities, having our own health problems, or dealing with aging parents. These add stresses that we can’t avoid, but we can perhaps manage.

I remember taking a Time Management class long before there were personal computers and smart-phones. Perhaps, we had analog answering machines in those days, but not much else. Pencil and paper and manual or electric typewriters were our tools. Television consisted of three networks and if we wanted to see a movie we had to go to a movie theatre. Oh, and long distance phone calls were expensive and an expensive indulgence. We were busy and tired too, but not to the extreme I feel is going on today!

Yet, then many of us felt overwhelmed with life. Hence, I took that Time Management class and this was before I was married, had kids, or had sick parents. And I thought I was busy then! Looking back, my life was mighty simple then though breaking into showbiz was a continuing challenge that I conquered to a degree. And, that choice of career was as much of a 24/7 job as there was then -and now, for that matter.

My tool of choice for so many years was a handwritten To-Do list. I would write it out by hand every evening. If I completed the list, I’d start another. Since I rarely completed any list, I carried over the undone things -often using the same piece of paper- and added new things to go with the crossed off ones that I’d actually accomplished. When I got to my office each morning, instead of unpacking a laptop or turning on a desktop computer, I simply pulled out my list.

How did I go about doing the tasks on the lists? They usually involved calling business associates, reading scripts, books, or other submissions, and/or replying to correspondence I’d received. No email since everything came by mail. No voicemail of any import, just a secretary or receptionist that would write down a missed call on a duplicate form, putting one copy in my inbox and keeping the other as back up. I’d line up those small pieces of paper and prioritize them.
My secretary would bring in her call log. I’d pencil next to open calls the order in which I’d want her to place the calls for me. Depending on my office configuration at the time, she’d either shout out “Bruce is on line one” or, later, we got this fancy contraption where I’d get a screen sort of notice saying the same thing. Wow, that was high-tech.

That’s my walk down memory lane. Let’s answer the question posed with the title of this column. I think we are busier and more tired today for real. I don’t think it’s anyone looking back and just saying it was easier back in the day, one of our current done-to-death expressions.

We are busier today because most everything today is more complicated. We now live in a 24/7-connected world, if we choose. We now cannot trust our public institutions to take care of our kids and we now -not always for the best - don’t give our kids much independence.

The result is that every aspect of our lives is actually more difficult. Again, we all have choices, but we are also living in one, if not the worst, economic times of my life.

My generation’s ability to get into college, have a summer job, get internships, and ultimately get employed upon graduation from high school or college was bluntly, easier. Many young boys took shop classes in high school - recognizing they either were not interested or just were not college material -and began making money as a mechanic, plumber, electrician, etc. immediately after getting their diploma.

While I don’t mean to sound like Abe walking six miles in the snow to get to school, I actually went to work immediately after receiving my high school diploma. That afternoon! I worked as a recreation aid at a local elementary school and my shift occurred shortly after our graduation ceremony. Can you imagine a high school grad today doing that instead of the myriad sort of after-school affairs that occur today?

Is there a solution to the hectic nature of life today? For some, yes: for others, it may be harder. If unemployed, the pressure is extreme for any individual or family. Support, in the form of extended family, is less present than in the past. Life is harder and I do fear for my kid’s future in so many ways.

So, instead of saying how much harder I had it -which had been the norm for each generation- I actually think I had it easier than my boys will. I also had and made good luck for myself. No one controls that destiny. My wish is that we all can find more balance in life and learn to turn off at least for a few hours once a week. What do you think?

Why Our Kids Should Take Risks

Yes, we should encourage our kids to take risks. Of course I don’t mean foolish or dangerous risks, but those that will help them succeed in life. In our contemporary world, it’s the risk-takers who will succeed. Too many kids feel entitled, have been pampered or helicoptered, and the idea of taking a risk is completely foreign to them. Thomas Edison is a perfect example of a man who not only took risks, but also didn’t allow failures to deter his determination.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work ~ Thomas A. Edison
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time ~ Thomas A. Edison
Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up ~ Thomas A. Edison

In essence, I’m equating success with taking risks. And, I’ll back it up with several examples in my own life. I would define my life as a combination of passion, perseverance, and risk-taking. Within that definition, there were plenty of misses and failures. If I allowed those failures to either define or discourage me, I’d not be writing this column right now.

Let’s be clear on what I am calling a risk. I do not mean jumping out of a plane with a parachute, skiing over a cliff that appears not to have a landing clearly in sight, or bungee jumping a deep cavern or high bridge. Those certainly have their place, and in fact, I’ve taken my share of that kind of physical risk though I think with care, thought, and preparation. The risks I’m referencing are those that involve putting yourself out there, taking a chance on rejection whether personal or professional, and maybe venturing outside your comfort zone.

My favorite family example is what my older son, Arnie, did when he was sixteen. It has become -in so many ways- the defining moment of his life, so far.

My son found his passion in music. I did everything in my power to steer him toward sports but upon giving him an electric guitar when he graduated elementary school, it was clear where his future was heading. He took to it like the proverbial bee to honey. I recognized that passion as the same I had for tennis, which was my first big life passion. And, wisely, I let go of my hopes for a future NBA or baseball hall-of-famer.

Naturally, his music tastes ventured all over the music landscape. But, a singular hero for him was Chris Cornell, who was part of two major rock ‘n’ roll groups, AudioSlave and Soundgarden. He is a premier rock guitarist and vocalist. . My son literally knew how to play every song of his. I supported my son’s love of music by first taking him to concerts of the greats of rock such as Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. As his own tastes developed, he would “take” me to his favorites such as Green Day and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Over time, we attended dozens of concerts including twice going to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco. I came along both times and I was the old man on the festival grounds. He also got to see his idol, Chris Cornell, a couple of times at smaller music events.

When he learned that Chris Cornell was going to give an acoustic performance for a charity, he begged to attend. It was expensive, but I knew it would mean the world to him. So, I sprung for two tickets. He was now just sixteen, with a girlfriend, and this was clearly a time that dad was not needed or wanted as a chaperone. I was simply the driver.

That day, at school, he exclaimed to all his friends that he was going to jam with Chris Cornell at this show, where it was a small venue and he expressed this with unwavering conviction. His friends indulged his claim with good humor and considerable skepticism, as did I.

Given that it was an acoustic concert at The Roxy, where attendance was limited to 300 or so standing-room only fans, Arnie was able to get a prime position near the stage. Cornell was performing with an acoustic guitar and a cello as his only back up.

Much as Eric Claption did in his first unplugged concert, Cornell did his heavy rock music in a passionate but slower style. Also, given the nature of this concert, there were short, quiet breaks between songs. During one of those breaks, as recounted to me, the following dialogue took place between Arnie, Cornell, and the audience:

Arnie: Hey Chris, can I ask you a question?
Note: At the time, Arnie had very long red-hair and stood 6’2”.
Cornell (looking a bit confused): Yeah kid, what is it?
Arnie: It’s been my lifetime dream to jam with you!
Cornell (more confused): Oh, what instrument do you play?
Arnie: I’ve played guitar since 6th grade!
Audience (getting into it): Let him. Let him!
Arnie’s Girlfriend: He can do it!
Cornell: What song would you like to play?
Arnie: Fell on Black Days
Cornell: Heck, that’s our next song.
Audience (louder now): Let him. LET HIM!
Cornell (looking around, a bit bewildered): Okay, what the heck.
Audience (shouting): YEAH!

Arnie heads to the stage where Cornell helps him up. He whispers in Arnie’s ear, “What’s your name kid,” to which Arnie answers. Cornell takes off his guitar from around his neck and hands it to Arnie. Cornell pulls a chair up and motions to Arnie to sit in it while asking someone backstage to bring him another guitar. An electric guitar is brought out. Cornell checks the tuning, looks at Arnie and they exchange that Are-You-Ready look between musicians and then Cornell launches into the nearly seven-minutes song.

Arnie matches Cornell note-for-note, including the somewhat complicated solo, which you can see in the YouTube video that we fortunately got from another spectator. The audience is whooping it up and some are shouting to Arnie’s girlfriend, “This was a set-up, wasn’t it?” because they played so well together.

When the song ends, Cornell gives Arnie a bemused expressed and says in the mike something to the effect, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

Throughout the song, the expression on Arnie’s face was one of unmitigated joy -an expression I hadn’t really seen since he’d become a teen.

The YouTube ( of that performance, in my opinion, was one of the factors that contributed to Arnie’s acceptance at The Berklee College of Music in Boston, given he had poor grades and didn’t even take the SAT. By then, Arnie’s primary instrument was drums so he had auditioned at Berklee on drums.

How many young kids would take that risk? And, really, what did he have to lose?

I had a 25-year career in showbiz that was defined by taking such risks. I brought a baby black-spotted leopard to a series pitch about a wild animal vet. I brought two WWF famous-at-the-time wrestlers to another series pitch that involved the participation of wrestlers. They came in full regalia. In recent times, I walked up to Guy Kawasaki at a conference and asked him to be a guest on #DadChat after he’d just given a keynote speech. He said, “Yes” (Note: He’s coming back to #DadChat on April 25).

Had I held back out of fear or embarrassment, where would my life be? Had Arnie not gone for it at that concert, where would his life be now as he’s finishing his freshman year at Berklee?

Taking risks can be a good thing. Teach your kids to go for it. Teach them the when and when-it’s-not boundaries and perhaps model some risk-taking yourself since our kids learn so much from what we parents do. Mostly, don’t be afraid. Don’t let them be afraid.

Losing Friends Over Politics

In last year’s election cycle, it seemed that the discourse was more raw, rough, and angry than ever before. It seemed that posturing was taking place among the candidates, of course, but also mainstream media was clearly favoring one candidate/party over another. How does this impact our relationships? Does it impact them? And, since the election, has it changed? I think not.

One of my favorite movies of all-time is a 1970’s French film by the renowned director, Claude LeLouche. This movie, “And Now My Love,” has a conceit in its concept that only the French would do and, in this case, pull off magnificently. It is the story of love at first sight. However, the destined lovers do not meet until the very end of the movie as they are figuratively passing ships in the night. We do learn that they share one thing in common -they both take three lumps of sugar in their coffee.

That is ultimately the McGuffin of the movie to use a movie term that I believe began with Alfred Hitchcock films and doesn’t really apply. Let’s just say it’s the device that threads throughout this adorable, lyrical, and amazing cinematic achievement. For me, it’s also been a lifelong lesson in relationships that has now encompassed political views -for me.

Should taking three lumps of sugar be the basis of a relationship? Maybe not, but it was an allegory for this particular couple’s destiny. When I got divorced and began dating again, I realized that my three lumps of sugar were not what I had always thought they would be. Religion turned out not to be that important a difference since my (second) wife turned out to be Christian, while I’m Jewish. But, the fact that we both shared the basic tenets that both our religions share, turned out to be more relevant than if I’d met a secular Jew. She believed in the Old Testament, just as I do. She believes in the values it espouses and our only difference, essentially, was the role Jesus played in the world.

Similarly, we shared the same politics and I realized that I could not be with a woman who thought the opposite of me. The consequences of that thinking, in my opinion, would be catastrophic for our country, our world, and more importantly to me, for the future for my boys. Of course I don’t mean on every single policy, but an overall belief system. So, how could I share a life with someone who believed otherwise?

As my view of the world and my values solidified, I began looking at my friend’s values and views. I found that with many on “the other side,” we could just not have a respectful dialogue. In some cases, we agreed to just take politics off the table and continue to stay friends and talk about the more micro issues of our lives: work, family, fun.

In other cases, the extreme views and values of some friends just made it hard to continue the friendship. I found that these friendships more or less drifted apart in a natural way without any rancor though for me, with the realization that our time had passed (as friends).

Of course, we should not choose our friends solely by their ideological views. Or should we? I would suggest that friends we had from years past should be given more slack in this regard and just as with the example described earlier, maybe some topics are just not discussed.

However, with new friends and especially with a life-long partner, I believe sharing similar values and (political) views just is easier. Of course it does none of us any good to just have friends and/or family that simply agree with everything we say or do. But, on the other hand, some views/values are just beyond casual discussion and inevitably lead to passions getting inflamed.

I’m a pretty out-there guy with out-there views of life and the world. I could just keep my mouth shut and not let some of these macro issues of the world intrude in my personal life. But, I’m just not that sort. Passivity about anything isn’t in my blood.

I have no doubt that this column will stir much debate and disagreement with this point-of-view. You are welcome to express those contrary views to me via email or in the comments section of my website. When I wrote a pretty over-the-top rant about the Occupy Wall Street movement, the response was significant.

Happily, the vast majority of those that disagreed with me did so with thought, respect, and intelligence. They were still wrong, of course, but at least the discourse was civil. Those that simply called me names usually did so anonymously and I did not delete a single one of those hateful comments because they really did speak for themselves and require no response.

In my personal life, I’d rather not have the rancor that we are seeing in the public sphere. I am glad that my friendships have evolved so that the majority of those close to me do think along similar lines, though with varying degrees of harmony.

Frankly, most of the friendships that have drifted have done so not due to politically different views, but just the natural evolution of our changing lives and/or a silly, small incident that grew to more than it ever deserved and unfortunately, derailed the friendship. I’m not proud of those friendships that ended over trivia, but I’m far from a perfect human being.

What do you think about this issue? Have your friendships endured significantly different political positions. Have your views of the world changed while your friend’s views haven’t? Please share your thoughts.

Men vs. Women: Looking and Flirting

I had a discussion the other day with a young woman friend who said she preferred dating older men because the guys her age were only interested in one thing. Ironically it was the guys that either were not interested or feigned disinterest that attracted her the most. I was struck by the irony of her statement, though I was sure it was true for her and many other of her contemporaries. Like the song said, “Love is strange.”

There are so many things about men and women that are generally and inherently different as I hope this blog series has demonstrated. I’ve chosen to tell the truth rather than adhere to any gender politics or higher education belief systems. Sometimes that has generated some raised eyebrows, but not nearly as much as I expected. I still want some Women’s Studies and/or Gender Studies professors or students to weigh in.

So, let’s look at “looking” and flirting. Again, I will represent several generalities that I assert to be largely true. Again, I acknowledge that there will be exceptions to every one of these generalities. And, again I say, “So what, they’re generally true for a reason - they’re generally true!”

First, I want to admit that I have that looking disease that afflicts many men. It’s almost chemical that when a woman enters the room, I will take notice. When I’m with my wife or when I was with any other women prior to my marriages, I did everything I could to try and be subtle about it, but I usually failed miserably. I took to sitting facing the wall whenever we’d go out to a restaurant. At least that would inhibit my insulting and useless looking behavior.

What struck me most about this pattern that I and many other men suffer from is the reality of what we could possibly think might happen with our gazing at an attractive woman across the room. Did we think -or hope- that said woman would cross the room, come directly up to us, give a cursory and dismissive glance to our female companion, and insist we leave the restaurant immediately because she hand to tear our clothes off right now. Really, what could we men possibly think might happen, especially if we are with a date or permanent partner?

It’s laughable, really. It’s even more pathetic when you do the lookie-loo thing while driving. We men see a woman running and do an exorcist-like turn of the head -- expecting what?

For this series of columns, I’ve usually done lists in which I’d alternate men and women’s differences on a topic. This time, I will just carry on in the style I’ve already begun -list-less.

Let’s face it; women are just more classy and subtle around these issues. Perhaps, it’s changed among the younger generation, but I suspect not much. Part of the reason is that women are generally less “turned on” by looks and much more attracted to a man’s mind and wallet contents, neither of which are that readily apparent at a glance.

Okay, if that is the case, maybe women are as superficial as men, just in other areas. Women generally care about a man’s ability to provide and to engage their attention intellectually and humorously. Both are, I suspect, to some degree built into a woman’s DNA and both, especially the provide part, relate to historical needs of our species.

Taking my generalities even further, I will really go out a limb by stating another generality. Men can and will be promiscuous and would always be promiscuous if they were allowed, could get away with it, and not risk bringing home any diseases. It’s societal pressure and their partners that help domesticate the wild rover in most men.

On the other hand, women are generally more interested and comfortable in a monogamous relationship. I’ve never known a woman - granted this statement is an unscientific sample of women- that has ever had anything beyond a brief period of promiscuity, and usually in reaction to a breakup and an attitude of “if they can do it, so can I.” But inevitably, women will wake up at some point during this promiscuous period and recognize they plain don’t like it.

I believe women flirt simply by being a woman, the way they dress, the way they display a smile, and a look they choose to give a man that may interest them. Again, it’s subtler and I would assert classier than many of the guy’s come-on lines, the lameness of most being laughable and fodder for comedy routines.

Where does all this leave us? Ahhh, that is God’s handiwork. We will never fully understand the opposite sex but, if we are wise, we will learn from each other and grow as a result. Rather than try to be like our counterpart, let’s express wonder at our differences, celebrate them, learn from them, and perhaps actually enjoy one another simply because we are so different, yet fit together so very well when it works.

John Evans
Greg Hertel
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Teresa Smith
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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