Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

Forgiving An Unfaithful Partner Ambivalence Takes Over

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

#divorce #betrayal #infidelity #betrayal #marriagecounselling #brokenfamily @childrenindivorce

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Truth in the therapist’s office is an elusive thing. I could go all week convinced that I no longer wanted to return to my marriage. I missed my children very much. But every time I checked in with them they were doing fine. They were so accustomed to having me gone that it was normal for their day to begin and end without seeing me. When my wife started bringing guys into the home, they took it right in stride. I was the only one suffering the consequences of separation, or so it seemed.

To overcome my lonesomeness, I taped pictures of my children on the kitchen cabinets. On returning home one night, I poured myself a stiff one and the cork came out of the bottle. I began to grieve. I’d look at the pictures and miss each one of the kids and the times past when we were all together as a family unaware and unthreatened. We were like a lot of families. We were going from one day to the next, taking life for granted, overcoming the problems that came along, and then we’d awake one day and realize that a chapter had come to a close. The time together then was special and now, in the flow of events, it was somehow complete, encapsulated with a beginning and an end. We could never go back, but we could remember it as we pushed ahead confident of the continuity in our lives.

Clustered as in an era . . .

Someday we’d enjoy recognizing not only that we had all grown older but also that we had lived through something special with one another, something that time and the order of things had taken away from us, but once taken, became incorruptible. Our days and months clustered as in an era, each complete with its own distinguishing character that ran through our time like a theme. Perhaps it was as simple as when we lived in a certain house. Or perhaps it was when we were all happy with the fellowship at the church where we belonged. The times would be recalled in their completeness. “Oh, gee, remember that time we were all so excited about moving to Detroit.”

I missed those days. I knew who I was then. Or at least, I was content in letting the roles I filled with others define me. I had a sense of the future and a sense of purpose. Now confusion reigned. I didn’t know my wife any more. I had seen a side to her that I never knew existed. She didn’t appear to regret the separation. I saw no grief in her brown eyes. We had grown accustomed to sharing our feelings. That was gone. I was alone with the desolation I was feeling.

It was those times, those chapters, that caused me to grieve all alone, alone as I never thought I’d ever be, in a dingy furnished basement apartment instead the home with my children laughing as they prepared for bed. Darkness at the end of the day flooded my musty apartment with futility.

Author's family, 1974 - Two years before the breakup. Front (l - r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l - r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

Author’s family, 1974 – Two years before the breakup. Front (l – r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l – r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

For all that, however, I didn’t pine for my wife’s company. She had moved out of my life. I knew she was dating other men. My 12 year old son, in all apparent innocence, invited me into the house one night only for me to find her entertaining a man in the living room. I backed away and left before she knew I was there, though I had to wonder about my son’s motives. Perhaps he wanted to see what kind of trouble could be provoked by my unexpected appearance. More likely, he just didn’t give it a thought. Whatever the case, in those brief moments, I realized our house had become hers. Nothing belonged to me any longer. The new furniture we bought was being systematically shredded by the two household cats, and nobody seemed capable or motivated to stop them. I  shrugged. Why not? The ripped up furnishings struck me as a metaphor. Everything was at a distance, dreary testimonials to the faded life we once enjoyed as a family.

But it wasn’t a clean break, even after all the months apart. I could be alone all week and begin to pull myself together, reach moments of fragile resolve that I would eventually come out of my funk. The panic attacks were less frequent. Then, I’d see my wife’s Ford round the corner, and my heart would leap up as it did when I was a teenager – one of those take-your-breath-away down the spine zingers. That surge of inexplicable feeling meant something. But what? Fear? Anger? Love? I didn’t know. Did those emotions feel the same in a person? It felt, at least for an instant, that my head was in one place and my heart in another.

I never resolved my ambivalence. The chance was taken out of my hands when my wife called a halt to everything. She didn’t want to try any longer .I didn’t insist that she continue. Her final decision came while we were working with our third counselors, a couple of my wife’s choosing who practiced co-joint therapy. After spending weeks with them on her own, I was invited to join in. It was the first indication from my wife that she wanted to work things out. During these last sessions my ambivalence returned. I confessed to the feelings I experienced when I encountered her by chance but I didn’t report my confusion in the counselor office.*

Too much uncertainty . . .

Yes, I’d admit, I wanted things to work out. Yes, I still wanted to work on our marriage. I didn’t admit it to myself, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy, the one to walk away. No wonder the psychologist found working with us a challenge. My feelings felt true in the moment but once away from the therapeutic setting my doubts returned. I don’t know how I would have handled things if we decided to give it another try. There had been a time when rolling back the clock and having all the trouble simply go away was what I wanted. Now, that was unrealistic. Too much fear, too much distrust and too much uncertainty had entered in.

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda Joe not pictured)

Restoring trust in our relationship seemed impossible. I don’t think I have ever known at any point in my life the full extent of my motivation for doing anything. There were those moments of abandon when doing something was a joy, when my self -consciousness evaporated, moments when doubt never entered my mind. Yet here I was negotiating my future in the therapist’s office, and I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I wasn’t fully disclosing. Had I been, I would have admitted something like, “While I’m here I feel one way but as soon as I walk out the door, I know I will feel differently.” I was letting circumstances control me. I needed to commit. I needed closure, as much for myself as for everyone else involved – the children, my wife, even my friends who wondered how long things were going to be strung out. I wanted to hear an expression of regret or sorrow over what had been lost – something that resonated with what I was living through. I wanted to feel safe again. My ambivalence kept me from asking her for anything, whether to stop seeing other guys or for an expression of regret or something as simple as more time. It was not a conscious strategy but I wanted her to do as she felt prompted on her own. Perhaps she sensed my ambivalence and that’s why she walked out.

I knew attraction drives a couple forward in their relationship and culminates ultimately in committing one another. It didn’t appear that it was there for us. We had to move to a different place, a place that substituted hope and good will for desire and trust. We could never again ignore the knowledge we had gained about one another.  It would mean commitment. It would require an expression of remorse and full forgiveness from both of us. Trust would take time, lots of it. Every late night return from work would require an explanation. Every out-of-town seminar, a full report. The only reason we’d take the shot would be that both of us thought it was our best chance at happiness – not for the kids, not for our parents, but for us, selfishly. Putting an end to the pain was not enough any longer. Time would take care of that eventually. We had to make a water rescue of sorts, get pulled from the tempest and dry off back on board again with life going on as it had before the storm overtook us. Neither of us was fully aware of what it would take. Guarantees are never part of any proposition, but promises would have to be kept. I don’t think either of us had faith in a solution once we had lost faith in one another.

If we had a chance at all, a good start would be tot acknowledge and  grieve over what had passed out of our lives – grieve to the point of anguish. Gone forever was the dream that together, despite the troubled beginning to our marriage, we could make things work. We’d be the model couple with the liberal beliefs and the beautiful family. Struggling with the low income, with the unrealistic plans and seeing them fail, we still had the courage to put our hearts into it. We had been dear, trusting friends. We lost our sense of magic – the faith that because we wanted it we could make it so. However laughable that may have been to others, it was purity itself to us. Time eventually would wash away our simple script. We would not have noticed it being slowly carried out to sea and merged with the depths that cannot be recalled in the passing of years. But our lives had collapsed in crisis. We had too much ground to cover and too little time. We were suddenly part of the world we had tried to hold a bay. We had worked hard.  Our effort alone was cause enough to mourn. Our youth was all but spent.  If we could have acknowledged all of it – the richness of the days as a family together that others have a lifetime to release at their leisure – and pulled it back into mind, despite the anger and the hurt, perhaps then we could have looked at one another to see if any hope remained. As it turned out, we walked away, wept alone and moved on.

*Each of the therapists we worked with insisted on confidentiality. I respect their wishes despite the passing of years and the death of my first wife. I believe it would be unethical to quote any statements made by either or us and any observations on the part of the professionals.

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Affairs, Fodder for Comedy, Not a Laughing Matter in Real Life

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

#divorce #infidelity #marriagecounseling #betrayal #affair

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

I never thought I’d marry more than once. I remember driving down I-35W in Minneapolis one winter night after my first wife Elaine disclosed she was in love with another guy. I kept saying divorced over and over to myself because I could not get the idea to fit with ny definition of myself . But like a lot of things I never expected in life, it happened.

My wife had her reasons, all stuff I didn’t want to hear. She, too, felt as though life was passing her by. Midway through her thirties, she realized she had missed the carefree years. The women’s movement was in full swing. She wanted to be part of it but felt she had forfeited her membership by marrying as young as we did. There was still time. She was still young and very attractive. She also had complaints about me.

I wasn’t an easy man to live with. Selfish. Controlling. My views of marriage were very conventional, sexist in many ways. I had not made her happiness a priority. I was resentful at being held back in my career by family issues and the burden of providing support. My college classmates were all moving up in the world. I was envious. I finally landed a job where I could make up for lost ground and I was consumed by it. I was unavailable most of the time. I traveled a lot and left her with a house full of teenagers to raise. I took too much for granted.

Shared expectations . . .

Elaine did not share my aspirations for financial success. She grew up in a working class home. If anything, she was distrustful of the upper-middle class values, country club membership, and all the trappings. Other than returning to school to get a degree in nursing, I didn’t know what she wanted out of life. We almost never discussed it.

We tried to take a vacation with the children in the middle of everything. I was reeling from her indifference toward me, sensing something was wrong but not knowing the cause. We took a hike with the kids up one of the hillsides near Dillon, Colorado. I was in terrible shape – overweight, no stamina, short of breath from smoking. I stopped to rest while my wife went on with the children. While I waited, I scratched my name onto a gray rock that fit my palm, and I threw it down the hillside as far as I could. The meaning of the metaphor, hopelessly melodramatic as it is, was clear to me at the time, but the impulse that prompted me to act it out was still buried in my subconscious. I had been thrown away. My self-esteem since a teenager had been almost totally dependent on my wife’s affection and affirmation. That must have constituted a hell of a burden for her. Every time I was unhappy, it was her job to make things right. It was pretty much the same job my mom had as I was growing up.

When we finally got to a marriage counselor, there was so much to sort through that, after a couple of initial meetings, our counselor decided it would be better to work with us individually before tackling the tougher stuff that had our relationship all jammed up. “She can see your anger,” the therapist said during one session. The statement struck me as strange. I didn’t know that I had been all that angry. I was a storm trying to find its center – lots of lightning and violent downdrafts of depression. “I feel like a money-making machine with a dick on it,” I said in one later session and was surprised to see my wife react with dismay.

Ever Been Tempted . . .

“Haven’t you ever been tempted,” the therapist continued. “You’ve been away from home a lot. Haven’t there been any situations where you might have done something?”

“I’ve been tempted often enough,” I said, “but it’s a long walk from the hotel bar to my room. I had time to think things over. Besides, I got nervous. It was something I’d never done. I couldn’t do like other guys, just chuck it and make a move.” The therapist was disappointed. She must have wanted me to admit a comparable guilt. I had nothing to confess. Yeah, I lusted after other women. Found myself obsessing over this one or that. But I never had whatever it took to act on the attraction. I’d be the one guy in a thousand who’d get caught and there’d be a terrible price to pay. The moral injunctions of my Catholic upbringing reigned me in. My emotions got all jammed up. My own history was a restraining influence. I had paid enough for the sexual transgressions of my teenage years. I had profoundly disappointed my parents. I threw away any chance at enjoying carefree years to discover my intellectual strengths and preferences. Marrying shaped my life before I was of age to decide much of anything for myself. The little head had ruled once. I was not about to give it a second chance.

The therapist wanted me to see the human dimension in my wife’s conduct. To see it as a frailty that all of us fall victim to from time to time. I get that today, but at the time, her appeal was misdirected. My mind was elsewhere. My life was falling apart. My self-image had been shattered. I had been living a lie. My wife fell in love with another guy. It was an affair. It had gone on for months. I didn’t know what or who to trust any more.

Less the Flailing and Panic . . .

The Author, 1976 "No idea who I was.

The Author, 1976 “No idea who I was.”

Perhaps things would have cleared up a little for me if the therapist addressed my pain, let me express it and talk it out. I might have been able to move to a more settled place, grab hold of something in the torrent to lessen the flailing and panic. As it was, I was so distrustful that I obsessed on nearly everything my wife said. One business trip to Washington, DC, I felt compelled to walk the streets of the city to control my raging doubt, and as I walked, I obsessed on what she had said as I left the house to make sure that I had understood its meaning and could believe her. At work, unless someone shoved something right into my face, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d close the door to my office and brood. I’d burst into tears and embarrass myself.

My wife, meanwhile, went passively along when all the ramifications of what was taking place swamped my thinking. She didn’t move out. She couldn’t afford it. She didn’t ask for a divorce. She was glad when I went off on business. She was in the driver’s seat but refused to put her hands on the wheel. The consequences were clear for me. Daily contact with my children was at stake. I’d need to change jobs so that I could stay home if she left home? I didn’t know whether I could afford to support myself living alone and the family also? I didn’t know how the children would react. I didn’t want them hurt.

For that matter, I didn’t know what I wanted. If Elaine turned to me full of remorse and begged for forgiveness, I don’t know what my response would have been. The months leading up to her confession had been some of the most unhappy in my life; the weeks after, sheer hell. No. There was no easy stopping place. No timeout. No fix-fix, as if it were all pretend. I needed time to decide but anxiety stole every moment from me. For all I knew she was still seeing the other guy. I finally did the unthinkable. I called him and implored him to stop seeing her until I had a chance to do whatever was needed to reorder my life. I pleaded. He agreed.

My wife was angry at her lover’s decision to put their affair on hold. There was a dimension to her rage that I understood. She stormed about two guys deciding what was right for her as if she had no say. That’s what guys do, right? Stay in charge. The male code called for punching the guy’s lights out. But I wasn’t feeling angry. All I felt was a disabling anxiousness, as if I had been hit across the broad of my back with a baseball bat.

Just Watch Me . . .

It took years for me to understand. I was bottled up. Crippled with anxiety. I told our counselor during our first meeting the I was traumatized. My wife’s betrayal was not the only cause for my severe disorientation. My world was collapsing. All of the avoidance and pretense was crashing down. I was 35 years old and had never been through a disappointment in love. My family was my justification for everything. Being a father, a husband and a moral man were huge parts of my definition of myself and braced me from the outside. On the inside, I hardly knew who I was. I was a pleaser. A chameleon. I sought the acceptance of others even to the point of forsaking my own perspective. I was raising a happy family, unlike my father who ruled a stormy home in which fights broke out suddenly and frightened my sister, my brother and me. I was going to earn more money than he without benefit of professional degree. Just watch me was my mantra. I’d make up for all the disappointment. Everyone would say that I had done all right. I’d been a good son after all. But now everything translated into the indictment that I had failed. I didn’t have the ego strength to remain stable and confident of who I was, all of which should have been the product of taking life head on instead of hiding in a marriage. I couldn’t see it then, but most of my anguish was from a crash of my own making, errors in my navigating my way. Many causes were yet to be discovered,  tasks that had been abandoned or never addressed, but for the moment, I had not equipped myself to cope with a crisis.

To be continued . . .

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Certainty Never a Given in Remarriage

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

#Divorce #Remarriage #Therapy #Doubt

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

“You didn’t!” a friend exclaimed when I told her that I posted my most recent article. “I’d have thought you’d write it and throw it away.”

“Why? It was part of my life, all those years ago.”

“But why now, so long . . . What, over 30 years . . . after it all happened?” she continued.

“Gosh, I was hoping I’d get credit for keeping my mouth shut all that time.” My friend laughed. She knew I was kidding.

It is difficult to know just how far one should go writing a autobiographical piece. I struggled with it, especially when it came to deciding how much of the truth should be told. There is always more. More is almost always worse. Worse is almost always hurtful, or at least embarrassing, to others, if not myself. I had more that I didn’t write. I still question whether I went too far or not far enough. I tried to draw a line between what seemed to me to be deliberate acts – those one makes as a matter of choice – and idiosyncratic behaviors which are habituated to the point of being unintentional, predisposed and a likely reaction given a person’s psychological makeup. To illustrate, most of us learned as preschoolers that lying was not a nice thing to do. Unless we are pathological liars, a rare condition, when we are untruthful it is usually by choice. When I lie, for example, I am usually trying to make myself look better in the eyes of others or to avoid negative consequence of the truth. I think I am very much like others in this regard. (Or the one I really like: What do you call a person who lies 99.9% of the time?  – Answer below*)

My friend thought that I sounded angry in the piece. If that is true, I failed.  I was angry then. I’m not now. There’s a huge difference between who I was at the time the events took place and the guy who is finally writing about them today. If I regret one thing in the piece upon rereading it, it’s that I admitted to any anger at all. I wish I would simply have owned the hurt that fell to me through the actions and thoughtlessness of others.

A Watershed Event . . .

What my friend was probably trying to say is that I should have let go of my anger and my hurt years ago. I’m going to insist that I have. Any conclusion reached to the contrary upon reading my article is evidence that I failed as the author. Those things happened. They happened to me. I wept about them. I stormed around in therapy to overcome them. They are real moments out of my life. Today, I am glad that they happened.

The failure of my second marriage is a watershed event in my life. I would never have found the happiness that has been mine for the last half of my life had all not taken place. I won’t even attempt to imagine what my life might have been like had I chosen to stay put. I had no guarantee my children would have been happier. No guarantee my spouse would have been happier. No guarantee that I would eventually be more solvent financially because, with my marriage stabilized, I’d be more successful at work. No guarantee that I would be happier even if those around me were, although I usually take others into account. Doing nothing would have spread the misery out for years. As it was, I took a short hard dose of it and moved on. If I failed in writing, I failed on the side of not sounding grateful, of not acknowledging the courage it took to move on with my life. I benefit from 20/20 hindsight in all this, but I counter that I was resolved then and ever since never to give up on my own mental health and my own happiness.

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Some therapists might want a person to believe that eventually all memories can be stripped of emotion and brought to mind as clinically sterile facts. They should stand stainless on the sanitized slate of a lifetime. I’ll don’t agree. Dump the excess, yes, the disabling tsunami of emotion that sweeps away all perspective and rational explanation, but memories always carry some feeling in them. A person who claims not be troubled in the least about the past is a person who seldom bothers to think about the journey of life and the path it follows.

Most of us, or course, live as our beliefs direct us. We like to think if we live by the rules we will be happy. Sometimes, however, it is important to question the rules. Who made them? Why? Suffer in silence, for example, is really idiotic. Whoever made that rule must have wanted terribly to avoid being inconvenienced by responding compassionately to the cries of another. Best possible interpretation is that we all need to avoid a crippling case of self-pity. But then, how does one overcome self-pity in silence. Sounds like a real challenge to me. Fairness and sense of justice ultimately have a role to play as far as I am concerned. If the victims of cruelty never speak out against their fate, their oppressor is free to move on with impunity to make others miserable.

Up for Grabs . . .

Of course, if you shed all your baggage, including most, if not all, of your beliefs, you encounter life on a different plane altogether. You make a good friend of doubt, not always the most congenial of companions. Where once you enjoyed certainty about life, heaven, hell and all the rest, suddenly everything is up for grabs. It very uncomfortable at first. You may not really be ready to move forward with your life, to grow and expand your horizons, until you confess in all humility that you really don’t know much at all. When you’ve nothing left to be indignant about, it becomes a comfort to know that you cannot possibly be wrong. Doubt, by definition, is never wrong.

Doubt gets a bad rap because people who are certain equate doubt with intellectually lazy. They’re wrong, of course. (I’m certain of it.) What’s really going on is that a belief system relieves a person of the need to think. Beliefs are intellectually slothful, bordering on self-indulgent. Think about it. It’s comfortable  to wake every day to the certainty that life is meaningful beyond question. Your life is on auto-pilot because what you believe tells you that everything will turn out all right. Suppose the thought trots in on little cat feet to question, “What if none of this has meaning? What if man is an accident of nature? What if death is the end of me?” It takes a perverse kind of courage to let tabby back in the house if these are the messages that tag along after her. Doubt is like the coat you took off upon entering the house only to find yourself wandering around wondering where to hang it up. You may go the rest of your life holding on to it. You may go the rest of your life without the comfort of certainty.

What can happen is that doubt brightens a person’s life. It opens doors that stood closed and forbidding. It leads to doors that you didn’t know were there. Doubts, open, intellectually honest doubt, a state uncertainty, leaves the mind and the emotions open again almost as child’s to let the sights and sounds and events of every day register as fresh and new. I’d bet if a survey were taken the results would prove that the most unhappy people around are those who cling to some system of belief as a way of making life make sense to them. Doubts don’t need to make life makes sense. Life is to be lived, not understood. Travel alone, or travel with a partner. The choice is always there but don’t do either because somewhere something is telling you “you’re supposed to.”

*A liar.

To be continued . . .

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Blending Families Successfully – Destined to be a Classic

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

#blendingfamily #stepparent #remarriage #stepchildren

Blending Families Successfully, by George S. Glass, published in 2014, deserves much more attention than it is getting for all the wisdom brimming between its covers. Dr. Glass is a board-certified psychiatrist with years of experience in counseling parents and individual clients. In Blending Families, he gets out from behind the desk very quickly and speaks to his readers directly in an authentic conversational tone. The result is a genuinely warm, caring guide through the stormy passages following the collapse of a marriage and all the goes into starting over again.

Blending Families Successfully is the second book to be reviewed on the web site. She my earlier post on The Overparenting Epidemic.

Second Marriages Fail . . .

The rate at which first marriages fail has dropped over the recent decade, but the percentage ending in divorce is still very high when measured against historical norms. Worse yet, as Dr. Glass points out, second marriages fail at a greater rate than first marriages. One major contributing reason is that remarried couples clash over how the children of the new family are to be guided and raised. Glass begins his examination of the reasons behind these failures by focusing first on the difficulties the newly divorced parents face. Any reader who has lived through divorce will feel right at home with a chapter entitled “How Did I Get Here?” Most will recognize that awful feeling of having lost direction in life and contact with the true self. Glass knows. He shares of his own experience, from the many years he continued as a single parent through to his own remarriage and the blending of the family to include his children and his wife’s, and (yeah, get this) their own new baby. Within a few pages, most readers will very much in touch with the author and sense his presence.

George S. Glass, MD - Author

George S. Glass, MD – Author

“Divorce can render even the most secure person a mess,” Glass declares in an early chapter. A great deal of trust goes into every act during the normal day of a married couple. It may be as simple as trusting that the bills will be paid or the car serviced. But when a couple separates, the to-do list is refreshed right from the start. Going to a PTA meeting brings back painful memories have attending with a spouse. The future is not clear any more. Or as Glass observes, “It (divorce) creates vulnerability were it may have not ever existed.” Alarming and realistic as that description may be, it is a comfort to those who have suffered the mental disorientation and anguish that accompany the loss of marriage. The author knows all about what lies in store. He knows what it takes to get through it all.

Children Come First . . .

Glass focuses on the children of the broken marriage. “No matter how chaotic, unhappy or disinterested their parents may have been, children, particularly younger ones, prefer an intact family. . . . More than that, it (divorce) almost always comes as a shock to them and one they will always remember as an event that changed their life.” The author cautions against dismissing the children’s concerns. The suggestion that they may be better off after the divorce than if they continued in a household where strife ruled is often a statement of denial. Continued concern for the welfare of the children is a must. As the author writes, “In my practice, I can often date the onset of an individual’s loss of self-esteem, lack of motivation or poor performance in school to this point in their life, when a divorce changed everything.” In a later chapter, he reminds readers, “They (children) need time to grieve the end of their biological family before they can move on and greet a new life.” Bringing a partner into the home to share the bed while the children are there and have not had a chance or the time to adjust is a serious mistake, one that will lead children to believe they do not count.

Dr. Glass takes an almost avuncular tone in some of his advice. “If you fall in love – or think you have – too soon after the divorce it probably means you haven’t examined yourself sufficiently.” Don’t be in a hurry, he admonishes. Get to know yourself first, the new person who emerges with renewed self-assurance and strength.

Blending Families Successful - cover

Blending Families Successful – cover

The most frequently visited posts of this web site over the years have been articles concerned with step-parenting. (The click here for the most recent of those earlier posts.) The amount of correspondence this column has received attests to the ongoing challenges and rewards to blending a family. Glass, again, insists on being realistic. He writes, “Life as a step-parent can run the gamut from the best experience in your life to the worst, and quite often it provides both.” The line brings to mind a man who remarried when his own children had left home and took on the role of stepfather to a seven-year-old stepson. “Things went well between us,” he said, “because I played with the little guy – a lot. There was no need for discipline, and when there was, his mother handled it. One evening, after he had graduated from college and moved away, my wife and I went to visit him and he invited us to go out for dinner. At the end of the meal, he said, ‘You know, I have always loved my dad. We stayed in touch all through everything that happened. And that was great, but you guys, you have been my parents.’I am so proud of what he said.”

As mentioned earlier, what makes Blending Families Successfully so very comfortable is the author’s reporting on his own experience. But the book goes well beyond the story of his blended family. The selected episodes and the words Glass shares from his work with clients are especially poignant. Readers draw comfort from the realization that others have lived through the same painful, confusing passages. Non-judgmental and compassionate, Dr. Glass gives direct advice. No psycho-babble. The advice is laced with understanding. Go slowly. Be patient with yourself. Glass knows current trends and fads. He offers advice about dating, when to introduce children to a special other, how to manage expenses after the marriage, relations with former spouses, how to communicate with the ex, and many other areas of concern.

This reviewer, thirty years into his marriage and blended family, found the book full of insight and sound advice from trying to save a failing marriage  through starting over, remarriage and from there on to the end of your days, Blending Families Successfully belongs on your bookshelf. To be read, certainly, but also to be retained as a reference, as a guide, as a comfort. Glass is a name that should become synonymous with blending families as Dr. Spock is with raising children. Blending Families Successfully is destined to become a classic. Counselors everywhere should make it available to the clientele.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form in, a web site dedicated to reviewing books.

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Marilyn Monroe — Icon: The Life, Times and Movies of Marilyn Monroe

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962, yet she has remained alive in the minds and hearts of people throughout the world ever since. While 600 books have been published about the actress, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, is a prodigious achievement that easily relegates the efforts of all others to obscurity.

Meticulously research, Vitacco-Robles digs for all the details; i.e. Marilyn’s attire, choices in reading, housekeeping habits — the minutia that is part of her day-to-day existence. The result is that the reader experiences Monroe almost as if she draws breath, steps out of the pages, comes into the house and sits down to chat.

With a sturdy, straightforward prose style, the author takes a balanced, compassionate approach to his subject. He begins with Ms. Monroe’s great-grandparents and traces her lineage through her out-of-wedlock birth to a mother who was hospitalized off and on throughout her life due to mental illness. Marilyn is shunted from household to household as a child. By the time she attains age 16, she is a ward of no less than 12 different caretakers. The impact of being abandoned, rejected, and abused is beyond calibrating.

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Vitacco-Robles, a psychotherapist, reports objectively about the damage done Marilyn during her nightmarish childhood. About one of Marilyn’s early successes, he writes:

The little girl who had never been told she was pretty and who bathed in the dirty water left behind by others, now commanded attention. There was no turning back.

At another critical point in the text, he observes:

Marilyn compensated for her lack of parental support by endearing herself to motherly and fatherly figures who could help her attain her dream of becoming an actress . . . Acting had now become more a religious calling to Marilyn, and like spirituality, it provided her with purpose and meaning. 

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

The author offers clear insights as Marilyn matures and confronts her demons. He avoids the jargon of his profession and debunks many of the unsubstantiated claims of others. Marilyn, it turns out, did go into psychoanalysis very intensively at one time. In addition, she began working with Lee Strasberg in Actor’s Studio where she was required to delve deeply into her own emotional past to give power to her performances. She eventually gives up on her therapy sessions because she decides that they are not good for her. Strasberg and his wife, however, nurture her through her strongest film achievements.

The book is filled with quotes from the greatest stage and screen actors and directors of the era who testify to Marilyn’s power and sensitive delivery in her roles. She was, and often still is, seen only as a dumb blond, a sex symbol, but the author breaks through this stereotyping to depict Marilyn Monroe as an incomparable artist.

The author reminds his readers of the prevailing cultural values of the times. These references provide a backdrop of relevance to his subject’s struggles and triumphs. He presents a synopsis of all of the films in which Marilyn appeared, even those in which she had bit parts, and for good measure provides much more detail on each in an addendum. He takes the time to draw poignant thumbnail bios on many Hollywood personalities – actors, directors, producers, hairdressers, coaches – helping readers viscerally grasp the impact of Marilyn’s interactions with the people around her.

The book takes Marilyn’s story up to 1956, a year in which she goes over the top and finally achieves the recognition her hard work and extraordinary talent have earned. The author reports on Marilyn’s three marriages, giving a studied, objective view into each. Her first marriage to James Dougherty was arranged by her legal guardian when she was only 16 years of age. He abandoned her for the merchant marine. Then along came Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, who was physically abusive, controlling, and jealous. The reader is treated to a good dose of adolescent behavior on the part of DiMaggio and Sinatra as the latter goads the ballplayer into breaking into an apartment one night where they expect to find Marilyn in bed with another. The author adds credence to his reports by using the testimony of friends close to Marilyn in writing about such incidents.

Nitpicking, the text is nearly flawless except in the handling of some proper names. Bennett Cerf is correct; not Bennett Cert. Bob Fosse; not Fob Fosse. And finally, is Miller’s home on “Goldmine Road” or “Gladmine Road?”

This review covers only volume one which ends with the marriage between Arthur Miller and Ms. Monroe, an event that surprised many at the time but makes perfectly good sense once those unacquainted with both parties grow to know them better. The second volume, according to the publisher, is due out at the end of the summer, 2014. Vitacco-Robles has written a monumental, definitive work on one of greatest actresses and enduring public personalities of all time. The next volume will carry Marilyn’s story forward to her untimely death in 1962. Readers have every right to expect that the same balanced, compassionate treatment will follow the actress through to what ultimately must be viewed as a horrible tragedy.

This review was initially written for and published in

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through some of the previous posts and the other pages of the site. My novel Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, is available in the Kindle version through Amazon for $1.99. Watch for the sequel to it, Blood Lots, which is due out sometime this summer.


Meet Barbara Hinske, Author of Coming To Rosemont — A Debut Novel

Friday, July 12th, 2013

John J. Hohn, Author

Somewhere in a crabby moment, I wrote that the self-publishing industry exists for those who work in it; namely, the printers, publicists, promoters, contest sponsors, etc. A horde awaits the arrival of every neophyte author into the arena, eager to capitalize on the writer’s aspirations, ignorance, and boundless belief in self. All of that is true, but I’d like to think that reputations of the careless, the incompetent, and the unscrupulous will eventually catch up with them, and they will be forced out of the industry.

I am reluctantly inclined to modify my opinion, hard-earned as it has been from personal experience. Writers, even if they never sell a single copy, benefit from the self-publishing industry in surprising ways, none of them being especially monetary. The industry brings them together in a virtual fraternity—a granfalloon. To illustrate: a wonderfully well-written review of my novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, appeared one day on Amazon. Literate, I thought, and I was gratified to find the author of it gave my humble mystery five stars. Of course I needed to know who this person was, and it turns out, she too is an author. Her first book is Coming to Rosemont. I was intrigued, ordered the book and wrote to the author, Barbara Hinske.  She agreed to let me cobble together an interview with her on my web site. But first, a little about Barbara:

Barbara Hinske, Author

Barbara is an established practicing attorney who inherited the fiction-writing gene from her father. She began her career as an industrial engineer, but found her true passion in the law. She has been married three times. Her second marriage produced two children—now grown. Tragedy stuck when her second husband died of cancer in 2006. She describers herself as being “lucky in love,” and indeed that must be the case, as she married her current husband in 2010 and inherited two stepchildren. The couple lives in Phoenix, Arizona and share their own Rosemont with their two adorable and spoiled dogs.

Barbara Hinske, Author
“Coming to Rosemont”

Barbara recently published her novel, Coming to Rosemont, which begins with forensic accountant Maggie Martin’s striving to recover her well-ordered life after it is shattered by her husband Paul’s untimely death and the discovery that he had been leading a double life as a bigamist. Dealing with the financial and emotional wreckage left in Paul’s wake, she learns that she inherited an estate known as Rosemont in the seemingly-serene Midwestern town of Westbury. She travels to see Rosemont, fully intending to sell the property. Once there, however, she is won over by the charm of the house and the town of Westbury and she realizes that it is the perfect  place for her to fulfill her wish to get a fresh start in a quiet, solitary life  She moves halfway across the country to make Rosemont her home. Before she can unpack her first box, she finds herself knee-deep in a battle against political corruption, where defeat and retreat are not an option.  Still bearing the scars of betrayal, she is hopeful that her new home will help her find joy, romance and fulfillment.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a little girl; I wanted to be Jo in Little Women.  Life gave me a push in this direction when I was seriously injured in an auto accident – including double vision — and the only activity I was capable of doing to relieve my boredom was sketch out my novel on a legal pad.

Coming to Rosemont is your first novel. Tell me a little about it.

“Coming to Rosemont”

Forensic accountant Maggie Martin survives the sudden death of her husband only to discover that he had been leading a double life. Struggling to recover from the trauma of his betrayal, she learns that she has inherited an estate known as Rosemont in a town of Westbury miles away in the Midwest.

Maggie travels to Westbury to arrange for the sale of the property and hopes to find answers to her all-consuming questions about her sham of a marriage; her sham of a life. To her surprise, she finds Rosemont and Westbury ideally suited to helping her start her life over again. Rather than sell the home, she decides to move into it. With a quiet, orderly–and distinctively solitary–life in mind, Maggie gets drawn into a crusade against political corruption in her new hometown.

How would you describe your writing style?

My style is spare, clear, and fast-paced.  As a reader, I deplore long-winded descriptive sections.  I loved the premise of The House at Tyneford, but the 3-page descriptions of birds along the heroine’s path almost killed me!  I also want my readers to say that they feel like they know my characters.  I’m an attorney and do a lot of technical writing – I don’t want my novels to read like a contract or brief.

Elsewhere you describe Margie Martin as “cautious,” but the Rosemont decision seems almost impulsive. How would you describe her as your central character?

Maggie’s greatest strengths are her optimism and resiliency.  She’s action-oriented and keeps moving forward.  She hasn’t let herself get gridlocked by regret and indecision.   Her greatest weakness has been to underestimate herself and under-challenge herself, especially in her past.  She was content to play backup when she should have been playing first-string. With the decision to move Rosemont, she throws her trademark caution to the wind. Against the objections of her opinionated grown children, she pulls up stakes and moves halfway across the country, determined to make a fresh start in Westbury. (more…)

April 6 is My Mother’s Birthday, My Tribute to her: Ileen Carlon Hohn

Sunday, April 7th, 2013
Author John J. Hohn's Mother Ileen Carlon Hohn, 1980

Ileen Caron Hohn, 1980. John J. Hohn’s Mother

#birthday #mother   #lawrencewelk

April 6 is my mother’s birthday. She died in January, 1985 after struggling with breast cancer for several months. I loved my mother. I can’t say that I always understood her. She had difficulty making herself understood to others. I think, in fact, that she had difficulty making herself understood to herself as well.

“Oh, Sonny,” she would start to explain, and then lose the thread to her thought. “That’s just the sort of thing that a person . .  . well . . . a person just . . . knows.” She would laugh until she cried at Donald O’Conner, Danny Kaye, Lou Costello, Gracie Allen and Lucille Ball, especially when they seemed overwhelmed with their plight. In later years it came to me that their humor was a metaphor for her. She must have seen herself in their antics and laughed because of it. When Dad wouldn’t take her to the movies, she took me—on a school night, no less. We saw Mario Lanza in The Student Prince, The Great Caruso, and Because You Are Mine. We saw all of the Francis, the Talking Mule movies and Singing in the Rain every time it came back to town.

She loved Lawrence Welk who was a guest in our home when he first began with WNAX radio in Yankton, SD. She exhorted my sister and my brother and me “ . . . to be somebody” in a way that told us that she didn’t think we were and that she probably didn’t believe she was either.

Ileen Carlon Hohn as a College Student, circa 1921

Mother was proud of her Irish heritage. Dad, of course, was German. Mother would decry during one of her lectures to the three of us, “An Irishman may be drunk. He may be a good for nothing loothy,* but he could make his woman feel loved.” Or later, when she thought we were older, therefore, sympathetic, she delighted in saying, “First there’s me, then Gott, then nobody, then nobody, then maybe you. That’s a German for you.”

Poor Dad. Mother remained a mystery to him. One year, Dad gave mother a 20 gauge shotgun for Christmas. “I got buck fever,” Mother said when she came out of the cornfield. A pheasant took flight in front of her in the corn rows that towered over her stout 5 foot, 2 inch frame, and she could not fire the gun. She never tried again. Dad cut the stock down on the gun so that my brother and I could fit it to our shoulders.

We often drove over to Lake Okoboji in Iowa, a distance of about 300 miles, to stay with my Aunt May, mother’s sister, who had a cottage on the lake shore. Dad often stayed home to attend to his dental practice. We loved it when Mother drove and Dad was not in the car. The speed slowly picked up on her until she was flying down the highway well over the speed limit.

“My God, how did you get here so fast?” Dad demanded as we pulled into the driveway at the end of one return trip. Mother had called to say we were on our way before we got into the car at the lake.

Mother with the Family. (L to R) Dad, Jim, Mary, Mom and Me. Circa 1948

“I  drove 55 miles an hour all the way, Daddy, except when we were on gravel.” In the 1940’s, it was common to have a stretch of gravel road somewhere on a route of any distance when driving in the Midwest. High speeds on gravel were not safe. The route we followed to Lake Okoboji had about a 35 miles stretch as soon as we crossed into Iowa.

Dad said nothing. He went into the house, sat down at the dining room table, and began writing. “OK,” he announced after a few minutes. “If you drove 55 miles an hour on the paved roads, then the way I figure it, you drove at least 223 miles per hour on the gravel road.”

Mother and I had a special connection. Her intuition was her genius. “That wasn’t careless driving,” she scolded when I scraped the side of the station wagon against the garage door. “That’s something a boy would do when he is thinking about the wrong things.”  I had just broken up with my steady girlfriend and wondered how Mother could possibly know.

I called her often after I moved away from home. “Hello, Sonny,” she would answer. She had no way of knowing that I was on the other end of the line.

“You’re not here to listen to all the times that it is not you,” Dad would grumble.


Elaine was Pregnant and the Rumors Began to Fly 1950’s Style.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Baby James M. Hohn with Elaine Finfrock Hohn, 1958

#teenageprgnancy  #1950s  #gossip

When the word was out that Elaine was pregnant, my family made a dreadful decision.  Somehow it was decided that our strategy would be to prove the rumor false, and Elaine and I went along with it. After all, Elaine was no longer pregnant. She was back in town and walking around in plain sight. Our son remained behind in the Norfolk hospital nursery until more permanent arrangements could be made for his care. Rather than hide from the gossips, we decided to get out and be seen. At least that would create doubt in the minds of many.

The junior-senior prom provided us with the first opportunity to make a public appearance. The dance was on the calendar just days away. Elaine and I were not going to attend as a couple dressed in formal attire, but we planned to walk in as spectators in the hope that everyone would see us, and we could exchange greetings.

We entered the high school auditorium once the dance was well under way and walked through the music up to the edge of the dance floor. No one greeted us. No one acknowledged our presence. Finally, my English teacher, Richard Bisbee, and his wife strolled over and greeted us warmly. Theirs was a kindness that I have remembered all of my life. After chatting with them for a few minutes, Elaine and I said good-bye and walked out without saying anything to anyone else. We had no way of knowing how much of an impact our visit had on others and what they believed. The fact that nobody other the Bisbee and his wife spoke to us was proof enough that our idea had failed. I took Elaine home. There was nothing to do but wait to see what the morning might bring.

The Evening Was Not Over

The evening, however, was not over for me. A friend had invited several guys over to his house for a poker game, guys who did not get dates for the prom. His parents were not at home and the liquor cabinet was open. Word reached us that everyone was going to get together after the prom on the Nebraska side of the Lewis and Clark Lake for a bonfire. All of us at the poker party decided we would attend, even though none of us had dates.

It was there, on the shore of the lake, unaccustomed as I was to the effects of strong alcoholic drink, that I decided to confront everyone about the rumor and deny it. In a matter of minutes, I undid the family strategy. My stuporous, angry denials came off as a convincing confession and the jig was up—completely. While everyone sang and chatted around a bonfire, I collapsed in the back seat of friend’s car, the same vehicle he used once the party ended to deliver me to the back door to my home.

“You could have told him.”

The next morning, I headed off for school still feeling the effects of the drinks from the night before. I went numbly from one class to next until the period after the lunch hour which I spent working with my classmates putting the yearbook together. Mr. Les Baughman, the city superintendent of schools, made a surprise appearance and dismissed everyone but me.

“Are these rumors that I am hearing about what went on at the lake last night true, John?” he asked quietly.

John J. Hohn, Age 18

“Yes,” I stammered, and then months of grief gushed out of me. “My dad, Mr. Baughman. My dad’s going to be so disappointed. So hurt. I don’t know what got into me, sir. I feel so ashamed. So awful.”

Baughman sat across on the opposite side of a long work table from me. “And this story about Elaine being pregnant. Is that also true?” he asked patiently.

“No! No. It’s not true, sir. It’s just not true.” Of course I was lying.

“You could have told him,” Dad admonished later that day when I reported my meeting with Mr. Baughman. “He would have understood.” But my understanding all along was to tell no one. Everyone had agreed. No exceptions. (more…)

Divorce Makes Christmas Holidays Challenging.

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

My Adult Children Joe, Rachel, Jim, Eric and Greg, 2005

#divorce  #christmas  #family

Divorce creates a crater in the continuity of life separating spouses from one another, and one or both from their children and the emotional security of being able to look back with detachment on all that transpired in their life as a family. Recently, I tried to review movie film of my young family that was taken 40 years ago.  There I was, younger, beaming as I held up a Christmas gift to the camera. The sequence revealed two things to be true.

I donned a new bathrobe to prove the fit and pose the shot, but my staging struck me as dishonest to a degree. I wanted my wife to know that I was pleased with her gift. The first recollection led to the second. My wife made the robe because she could not afford to buy one. My gift to her was also modest. The toys scattered about for our children inventoried the real cost of our holiday. For as much as we may have wanted things to appear differently, this was a slice of life at a time when happiness was not there like sunshine on a clear day. We were doing the only thing that we could at the time. We were making do.

People know the difference between making do and being really happy. Happy people fall to sleep untroubled about the amount of money in the bank or a critical boss. Happy people do not  question whether their life is the one they would live if they could change it, if they could  find a way to stop reacting to circumstances and shape a deliberate course toward the goals they wanted to achieve.

My mother and father married during the Great Depression in 1935. Dad graduated from the Creighton University Dental School in Omaha. He returned to his native state of South Dakota to practice. Getting established was daunting. He needed equipment, implements, x-ray, and operating room supplies. He borrowed the money to set up, but the Midwest was experiencing the drought of the century and the depression reduced nearly everyone to poverty. He moved three times, from one small town to another, before his practice took hold.

My mother was the youngest of five daughters. She had no memory of her mother who died in an explosion a few months after my mother was born. The household, however, was wealthy. My grandfather owned several grain elevators in South Dakota. His fortune was carried away in dust storms. Mother, however, remembered the comforts and privileges of wealth and felt deprived by circumstances.

To all accounts, my parents were not happy for the first 25 years or so of their marriage. But they made do. They muddled through. The phrase muddle through is defined by one source as “To push on to a favorable outcome in a disorganized way.” Thus muddling can be ennobling. A protagonist persists despite clear direction or knowledge to a fulfilling end.

John J. Hohn with Parents at College Graduation, 1961

They pushed on. Dad eventually prospered and rose to a position of prominence in the community as well as his profession. No one spoke of the terrible arguments that usually ended with him slamming the front door as he left the house and mother retreating to her bedroom (They did not share a bedroom for at least the last 35 years of their marriage.) Both maintained a sense of humor. Dad was particularly quick when he jibed with cronies at the drug store lunch counter. Mother would sit on his lap and giggle as they launched into their fifth decade together. The fighting stopped. They played golf together and enjoyed their friends. They could not have been to been thrilled with their offspring—enough said for now, but a favorable outcome, the ultimate goal, compromised repeatedly over the years, was finally achieved. (more…)