Posts Tagged ‘grief’

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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Coronary Bypass Surgery Commonplace and Life Extending for Many.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Coronary bypass surgery has been around for more than 50 years. Yet to the patient, most of whom experience the procedure only once, undergoing the operation can give rise to anxiety. The survival rate is actually very high. Less than 5 percent mortality in the first thirty days and less than 8 percent in the twelve months following. Survival rates increase slightly with age and depend in large part upon the general health of the patient going into the operation.

I can’t say that I was anxious at first. Astonished would be more to the point. I thought that with my diet and aerobic workouts, I was invulnerable. As reality settled in, my feelings changed. If I was anxious at all, I feared pain. I’ve never liked pain. I’ve avoided it all of my life. I hoped that the repairs to my ticker could be performed using the newer less invasive techniques. The thought of sawing through my sternum and spreading rib cage to access to the chest bordered on terrifying for me.

I had been on a been on a blood thinner (clopidogrel) since I had three stents inserted into my coronary arteries almost five years earlier. Consequently, I was hospitalized on a monitor (my left descending artery was 90% blocked) for four days before the operation. During that time, my blood was checked every four hours to see if the effects of the blood thinner had worn off and it was safe to operate. The frequent blood tests were a serious annoyance. My guess is even the janitor on the floor knew that it would take at least 48 hours for the effect of the blood thinner to wear off in a six-foot-two-inch male weighing 210 pounds. But no! Every hour hours, beginning right after admission. Forget what would be reasonable. It helps run up the lab bill, after all. The markup on lab procedures is probably several hundred times. But the wait gave me plenty of time to stew about my chances and my future.

When it came to not surviving, I knew only that I did not want to leave. That sounds a bit silly, but dying didn’t really bother me. I embraced my mortality years ago. Most writers do. It’s all but forced upon them. I didn’t want to leave my wife and children. I wanted to hang around and enjoy loving them and time with them. I didn’t want them to grieve. As a consolation to myself, I decided quite calmly that I had lived a good life. It was certainly exciting, perhaps more at times than I would have wished. But I was completely comfortable with the realization that I was not an evil man. A fool, yes! But evil, no. I never deliberated set out to hurt anyone or deprive anyone of anything he or she needed. I made a few mistakes. Some of them quite serious. (Don’t ask.) But mistakes are not as important as how one recovers from them. I felt, all in all, if I was on the threshold of departure from this life, I could make my good-byes with a degree of satisfaction that my life was a successful one, especially given then last 35 years, or roughly half.

Lights  out . . .

For a man who lives by his imagination, I had no idea what I was going to experience. My last hospitalization for surgery was minor when I had the stents implanted as I mention earlier. This time, I was rolled into the operating room, a huge, overwhelming gray and white space. Several humans were milling about in light green surgical suits. I had to scrunch a little to get onto the operating table.

Coronary Bypass Surgery  Illustration

Coronary Bypass Surgery Illustration

Then. blam! Lights out. I am guessing that the anesthesia for coronary bypass surgery takes the patient about as far under as one dare go. I jokingly said that the anesthesiologist has a “death meter” that must be watched as the needle hovers precariously above zero. After all, my heart was going to be stopped. A machine was going to breathe for me. So. I ceased to exist as I know myself. I would like to write that it was pleasant, but it wasn’t! It wasn’t anything. I continued to exist with no awareness of myself and life around me. If death is like that, I’m thinking it’s not to be feared.

Waking up, however, is another matter. My wife and stepson were at my bedside side with the anesthesiologist and a nurse. Apparently, I struggled and thrashed around for a couple of hours or more. I’d give thumbs up and nodded when asked, but I do not remember anything. At one point, in the darkness, I heard my wife’s dear voice, “John? Why are you here?”

“To know, to love and to serve God,” I responded with great pride that the answer felt so right and came to me so readily. (Never underestimate the power of early catechism lessons.) It was a response that I respect to this day and one that I still question because I really want the answer to be an honest one. As it stands, it may be something learned and recited by rote. On the other hand, I felt an innocence flow through me in making the reply. I felt like a babe being lifted dripping naked from the bath. My response was mumbled. Nobody understood what I tried to say. The borderline between consciousness and stupor bends and sways at this point in overcoming the anesthesia. Taking it seriously, I do love God. I intend to serve God in all that I do. (I can’t imagine deliberately undertaking to not serve God.) The heart of the matter for me is knowing or striving to know God. Lots of pretend, sometimes ludicrous knowledge clutters the path.

Suddenly, I am aware. Alive! The people in the room appear as silhouettes. “I love you guys,” I proclaimed in my joy at being awake. The fact that I only knew two people present concerned me not in the least. I was in a recovery room in the intensive care unit (ICU). I was comfortable but groggy, drifting in and out of consciousness, so much so that I remember very little of the day.

Extremely Depleting . . .

When the next day rolled around, I was more myself. I was immediately challenged to stand up which was a struggle. I began to realize how much the body gives up enduring major surgery. It is extremely depleting. The nurse was impressed with my leg strength, given my age. Why not? I had been working out regularly for 40 years, but I felt horribly weak. Later, when I was asked to walk,

Interveneous Insert = I Needed Two.

Intravenous Insert = I Needed Two.

every step required effort. I tired very quickly. The heck with my heart – what had been done to the rest of my body? Apparently, experience proves that patients who get back on their feet immediately, recover much faster, and thus the effort to get one out of bed and strolling about even if it requires assistance.

All of my systems were coming back onto line. I could not get to the bathroom on my own, but I had a bottle. I hacked up a lifetime-best slug of sputum from my lungs. “Oh good!” my nurse exclaimed when I told her about it. “Everything’s working.” My appetite returned. I had not eaten for two days. I ordered lunch, but before it arrived, I was told that I was doing so well that I was going to be moved out of ICU into a coronary care area. The lunch was directed to my new room The nurses in ICU, however, did not want me to be transferred until they had two working intravenous inserts (IV’s) established.

My arms looked like the no-man’s land of a World War I battlefield. Blood had been taken from the back of my hands up to my elbow on both arms. My fatty arms. I don’t have rope veins on the surface al a gym rats everywhere. They could not find a place to insert the new IV. I kept telling them to try above my elbow. But no, they’d rather not. Finally a doctor was called and she found a place using a sonogram locator. Guess where. Above my elbow. Lunch hour was long gone. It was 4:00 pm.

Locating the right place for the IV took so long that my lunch was returned to the kitchen. I was starving. I told the nurse on the floor to which I was transferred that I needed something eat. She insisted on completing a questionnaire on a monitor in the room that repeated all the questions I had been asked every day for six days. What good, I thought, was a system if it didn’t retain the answers from one day to the next? When the nurse left saying nothing about my lunch, I called my wife and asked her to bring me a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich from home. We live five minutes from the hospital. It seemed the only way.  I really did not, as I feared, experience much physical pain. The only pain I experienced during for my entire stay was hunger in the face of indifference toward it and multiple attempts at inserting an IV. But there is more to my story . . .

To be Continued . . .

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Losing a Pet — Every Owner’s Dread

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
John J Hohn and his dog Jessie

John J Hohn with young Jessie, Spring 2009

Losing a pet is painful. I had to give up my dog Jessie. She had lost control of her bowels. We never had any problems during the six years she lived with us as an inside dog. We did not know anything about her history, however, because she was a rescue. The veterinarian estimated her age at two years when we first brought her home, making her almost nine when the trouble developed — rather young given everything. After working with her for weeks and consulting the veterinarian, it became clear that Jessie’s best chance at  living out her natural life might mean moving her to another home.

The vet found nothing physically wrong with Jessie. Two changes had taken place in our home, however, that may have created difficulty. We changed residences. We live the winter months on the Atlantic coast and the summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jessie, as a younger dog, took the change in stride every year until the most recently. In March 2014, we brought a second dog home — Buddy, a 15 month old rambunctious Pappillon. The dogs took to one another right of the bat. They played together. We walked them together. For two-and-a-half months, at the coast and in the mountains, neither animal exhibited any health or behavioral problems  We left them loose in the home together for hours without any concern. Then the trouble began.

Behavioral or Physical . . .

At first we thought the problem was behavioral, that Jessie was protesting Buddy’s presence in the home. We ruled it out, however, realizing we would have seen trouble weeks earlier. Everything we read cautioned against interpreting Jessie’s behavior in human terms as if she was acting out resentment or protest. Buddy, meanwhile, following Jessie’s lead, regressed and began having problems also. We separated the two animals. Buddy retrained quickly. Jessie, however, did not. She defecated one time when I was carrying her. On another time, she was in mid stride on a leash. Her actions appeared involuntary. Losing a pet  Losing a pet. Losing a pet. Losing a pet.

Young Jessie with Saddle Bags. Catch the expression.

Young Jessie with Saddle Bags. Catch the expression.

Jessie has always been an inside dog. I tried for weeks to keep her on a leash, put her in her crate every time we left the house, and she still had accidents. I lavished affection on her in the hope that, if the origin of her trouble was behavioral, my attention would make it go away. Nothing changed. Even Jessie grew stressed

Friends suggesting giving up Buddy, but Buddy was not the problem. He was healthy. Jessie’s problems seemed to be physical, perhaps neurological, rather than behavioral. Given even a slight chance they were behavioral, our vet suggested a change in homes might be the remedy. If they were physical, a home that kept her as an outside pet would enable her to live out her days. The latter was impossible for us. We did not have a fenced yard at one address and were prohibited by the homeowners’ association from constructing one at the other. Losing a pet.

We decided to leave Jessie at a kennel that would advertize her availability. She was adopted by a a rural family who can let her run free. Knowing that she has a good shot at living out her normal life  is very gratifying. It did little, however, to ease the pain for parting with her.

A Craving . . .

Jessie, 2012 After Dumping the Kitchen Trash.

Jessie, 2012 After Dumping the Kitchen Trash. That’s remorse.

I  experienced the grief over parting with her as a deep emptiness. It felt lodged in my solar plexus, a gut like a craving. There was nothing with me wrong physically. My distress brought on the reminder that life does not always continue as we would like, as we found happy at one time.

Some resist grief because they fear of it. It’s a fear of being swallowed up and never seeing the end of anguish or the pain beyond enduring.  I surrendered to it. I figured the job of grieving is to empty the bucket. Dump it out. An end of sorrow would be reached in time. Jessie was not my first painful loss. Allowing myself to grieve would perhaps shorten the time it takes for the pain to abate. Like a brimming vessel, the sharper the angle at which it is tipped, the quicker it empties. I wanted to reach that state where I could enjoy my memories of her rather than feel a pang of loneliness and loss at the mere mention of her name.

Grief demands patience, however. It cannot be wished away. It reaches a crisis that approaches feeling unendurable, as if there is no bottom to it. Losing Jessie created a hole in my life. My spirit suffered from the withdrawal. I wanted relief from the horrible emptiness and the desperation of wishing I could turn the clock back.

I couldn’t expect everyone to be comfortable with my grief. Melinda and my good friend Joe Frisina were very consoling and great comfort. I knew, however, Jessie was mostly my loss. I wanted to grieve without imposing on others.   I composed a mantra to help me accept the finality of her departure. “Jessie is never coming back,” I said it over and over for days. I took a walk in the meadow Jessie and I strolled through every afternoon, visualizing what it was like to share the experience with her. There was heart ache in nearly every step. I dubbed the field “Jessie’s meadow.” It will be hers to the end of my days. (more…)

William H. Coles’ “Guardian of Deceit” — Reviewed by John J. Hohn

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

Lies often begin as simple secrets. In William H. Coles’ novel, Guardian of Deceit, most characters want to keep something about themselves secret from the rest of the world. Coles’ characters are  phenomena of the moment, to be taken as presented, often with little or no history to account for who they are or the way that they treat others. Coles is a master, however, at building character out of the stuff of circumstance.

Darwin Hastings is orphaned when his wealthy parents are killed in an automobile accident. An adolescent, his story begins with him well out of the throes of grief. The family member to take guardianship of Darwin until he becomes of age is a cousin who lives in Connecticut – super wealthy pro star quarterback Luther Pinnelli.

Luther has lots of secrets. He is a gambler who loves high stakes poker and owes the syndicate big bucks for all of his losses. He also abuses the women he dates, dates being nothing more than twenty minutes in a motel room. Luther ignores his supposed fiancee, the fabulously famous and beautiful pop singer Sweeney Pale. Sweeney professes desperate love for the abusive Luther.

Darwin meets Adrian Malverne, M. D., a famous orthopedic surgeon who lives in the same affluent neighborhood as Pinnelli. Malverne, saddled with an unfulfilling marriage and two spoiled daughters, seizes upon Darwin’s ambitions to become a doctor and begins guiding the young man toward a specialty that would put him in line to become a partner once his schooling is completed.

Morally Rudderless . . .

Malverne and his wife are clearly upper crust, Mrs. Malverne being the guardian of the social and cultural values of the home. Their daughters, Coral and Helen, readily take on the arrogant privileged attitudes of their home and launch into society morally rudderless.

William H. Coles, Author

William H. Coles, Author

Coles divides his book up into five segments and the thrust of the story changes somewhat as the reader moves from one section to the next. Most of the changes are in the focus on the characters, but each segment builds toward a conclusion. The book is a coming-of-age novel with a mystery thrown in toward the end. Bonita Thomas’ daughter, a minor character, goes missing, Bonita being Luther’s bookkeeper and accountant. Laszlo, Luther’s security guard with unexpressed feelings for Bonita, begins a search for the girl. The clues he uncovers implicate several and add to the suspense.

Darwin grows from an acquiescing youngster who accepts living in quarters unfit for the lowest paid member of the household staff to a forthright young man who risks his future when he insists that his wishes be respected in completing the guest list for his wedding.

Most of the people in Coles’ book are unhappy. Luther fails to find fulfillment in his wealth and fame. Sweeney becomes almost selfless in her fawning, adoring and unrequited love of Luther. Helen and Coral Malverne thrash about in their frustrated efforts to find a man before they find themselves.

In a Place for a Second Run . . .

The drama plays out for all of the major characters with many finding themselves at a place in the end where a second run at happiness is possible.

In Guardian of Deceit, Coles has lessons he wants reader to take away from his work. Darwin is frequently placed in circumstances where his silence is important, circumstances in which he must keep a secret. He never reports Luther’s abusive behavior. He accepts Malverne’s explanation as to why certain medical record charts were altered. He keeps Sweeney hopeful of marriage to Luther by withholding truthful reports of Luther’s feelings toward her.

Coles embeds commentary into the story and lets his characters speak of them. “I got caught up in the business of medicine. I made a lot of money, but I lost the satisfaction that good patient care can bring. I missed out.” Malverne says in a closing conversation with Darwin. Falsifying a medical record is explained as necessary for insurance purposes. Protesting for a cause, Darwin observes at one point, is ineffective and a waste of time.

Coles’ straightforward style keeps the story moving. Against a trend in the novel that stresses dialogue with a minimum of description and expository writing, the author shows that a contemporary story remains a joy to read if the narrator’s own voice enters vigorously into the mix.

There are a number of errors in the text that do not detract from the story. One incident, also, never gets folded back into the plot in a meaningful way. In this case, Sweeney and Darwin go for a day cruise in the Caribbean, and their vessel is attacked by a suicide cigarette boat driver. The captain of their craft is killed in the collision.

Guardian of Deceit is great tale with obvious moral implications. Happiness and fulfillment are possible when a person attends as integrity mandates to the needs of maintaining a healthy self. That care starts with being truthful. The payoff for deceit usually comes as relief and avoidance. The longer term consequences, however, are beyond measuring and can be life defeating.

This review was prepared for and initially published in Thanks for looking in on my web site. While you are here, I encourage you to glance through the other pages. The  Kindle version of my novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds is available at $1.99.


Barter Theater Stage II Presentation of “The Gin Game” — A Review

Friday, July 5th, 2013

John J. Hohn, Author

Perhaps a member of the audience needs to be at least 70 years old to realize that Director Eugene Wolfe missed the point of D. L. Coburn’s award winning play, “The Gin Game,” as it is currently being presented at The Barter Theater Stage II. Wolf  failed to grasp that he had three actors on stage, not two. The third actor, a presence really, is behind the door to the card room and is heard at times only in garbled gibberish, the way several voices all speaking at once sound at a distance.

The presence behind the door consists of the other residents of the elderly care home who are described as “glassy eyed” aged folks who babble meaninglessly and complain constantly about their health. The two principals in the play, Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey escape this tedious company by retreating to the card room—the room where nobody else ever goes. They do not want to be numbered among “intellectually and emotionally dead.”

A Virtuoso Performance

Mary Lucy Bivins delivers a virtuoso performance as Fonsia Dorsey, a 71 year old divorcee. Her portrayal is powerful, poignant and exquisitely nuanced. Too bad her director did not inspire the same level of artistry from her partner on stage, Richard Rose, who plays the aging and angry Weller Martin. Martin still seems eager to triumph somehow in life, even if it is in a game of cards. He is angry. In fact, that is about all the audience sees of Martin—anger, loud competitive anger. As an actor, surely Rose’s range is more expansive than what he projects. Anger can be expressed without yelling,after all, often in ways that are more terrifying.

Unlike Bivins, little in Rose’s portrayal shows that Martin is aware that his real antagonist lurks behind the door in the form of diminished capacity, pampers, and loss of identity. The blame for undershooting the role lies at the feet of Director Wolfe.

Martin and Dorsey are opponents at cards. Wolfe has them making the most predictable choices. They  fight each other for all the laughter it might produce. But the audience laughs at them, not with them. Weller and Martin, in turn, rant against the fate of their fellow residents, but never register a sympathetic note, nor dread, nor concern. They make it clear that they never want to be included among the other residents, but never give a hint of how threatened they may feel.

Failures as a Part of Us

Both Weller and Martin have regrets. Neither lived an apparently fulfilling life. Both are broke and on welfare. Both withhold the truth from the other in an effort to preserve their dignity. They confess their failures only when they recognize that by owning them they triumph for one more day over the ignominy of becoming non-persons in their dotage. Our failures are part of us, after all.

Martin induces Fonsia to play one more round of gin, ostensibly to give him a chance to eventually win. But the underlying reason in dealing the deck once more is to extend their unacknowledged conspiracy to push against the verdict in time when one or the other will be forced to join the unaware in the adjacent room. When Martin finally wins a hand, he accuses Fonsia of handing him the victory. She denies it, of course, but winning for Martin ends a quest. He abandons Fonsia, opens the door and  loses himself among the garbled voices beyond it. His departure leaves the audience guessing as to whether he departs because he is angry at Fonsia or because he knows that the victory he is being denied is winning at life.

Anger is a secondary emotion. Something always seethes beneath it. Perhaps in Martin’s case, it’s a storm of denial because sees the onset of his diminished competence which his losses at gin make obvious. Perhaps it’s fear because he knows he is losing control of himself. We never find out. In his bombast slams the door on any insight to what is really bothering him..

Dorsey’s final line, “Oh no.” is not that her partner has given up the card game in anger. Her dismay, rather, is as much for Martin as it is for herself because she knows that he has surrendered to his fate in joining the mindless souls in the room beyond, leaving her, cards or no cards, to fend for herself and alone. Bivins delivers the line perfectly. But her grief is lost on the audience because the her fear and Martin’s of the third presence is never brought to light under Wolfe’s direction. The audience, in fact, does not realize that the play ends with Dorsey’s anguished cry. It takes bringing up the house lights to let them know that the show is over.

The play is a must see if only to witness Bivin’s performance. Others may play Fonsia as well, but none will ever better her in the role.  She is memorable.

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My Dad Believed in the Manly Art of Self-Defense. No Boxing Gloves for Grampa

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

#selfdefense  #boxing  #grandfather  #grandchildren

May 28 is the anniversary of my father’s death. I wrote about the days leading up to his death in an earlier article for this web site.

John J. Hohn, Author

My dad died on May 28, 1980, after a debilitating series of small strokes that diminished him in degrees until he was barely there for any of us. We took turns at his bedside while he held on in a coma, struggling for his next breath. One day, when I was in his hospital room with him, a nun walked up behind me.

“It’s always so difficult,” she said in a tone of voice that let me know that she had been at the bedside with many like my dad.

“It’s so hard to see him this way,” I responded, “knowing that he can’t come back, yet he fights on and on.”

She placed her hand on my shoulder. “I know. I know.”

Anyone who knew my dad would know that he would put up a fight. Dad was not pugilistic, but he believed in the manly art of self-defense. He bought boxing gloves as big as hassock cushions for my brother and me so that we could learn to box. He would put on a pair himself, get down on his knees, and square off with us one at a time. Years later, I watched the home movies of these bouts. I would flail away at him and he’d block every one of my swings. Then tap. Tap. He’d strike with a pointed jab that would zip right through my guard and bop me on the nose, then the chin. My defenses were always in total disarray because my attacks on him were so wild with abandon. I wanted to hit him, I remember that, but my blows never landed and as fatigue overtook me, I would concede defeat.

“Never give up,” he would say taking off the gloves. “You can always get a lunch even if the other guy is getting a meal.” Or, “So you lose. Get a couple of punches in on him and the other guy will know enough not to mess with you again.”

Joseph M. Hohn, circa 1950

My dad, Joseph M. Hohn, DDS circa 1950

He put up a boxer’s punching bag in the basement and demonstrated how my brother and I should practice with it. Tappity, tappity, tappity, his bare fists turned the bag into a blurred pendulum as he stood up to it. The bag rebounded back into his next punch and whipped back in forth in a rhythmic frenzy.  Whop. I’d hit it once, and it would still be hanging like a large bloated pear. “Harder,” Dad would yell. Whop, once. Whop, again. “Well, work at it,” he’d say and go back up stairs.

I was not a fighter. The few times I did mix it up with any other kid, I lost. I hated fighting. I never felt angry enough to fight. All I ever felt was fear—fear of getting hurt. After a loss, my pride sustaining more bruises more than any part of my body, I’d retreat home downcast, sometimes even crying. One time Dad, in total disgust with me, took me by the back of my collar, hauled me back out into the front yard where my adversary was still gloating over his victory, and demanded that both of us resume combat. “Go ahead,” Dad shouted. “Stand up to him like a man.”

I couldn’t of course. I could hardly see my opponent for the humiliating tears in my eyes. For his part, my would-be foe looked back at me with more  sympathy than I thought him capable of feeling and then hit me squarely in the mouth, splitting lower my lip. That knock-out punch spelled defeat for Dad, also. He turned and walked without a word back to the house. Later that day, I heard him tell Mom, “That kid needs to learn how to stick up for himself. He can’t run home crying like that every time he gets into a scrap or they’ll run him right off the block.” A good thing for me that nobody ever tried. Somehow I reached maturity without without ever needing to prevail in a do-or-die scrap with anyone. Despite my dad efforts, I was a coward. Although I turned in respectable efforts as lineman on my high school championship football team, I have remained a devout chicken to this day.

I have told these stories to friends many times. “How awful,” some remarked. Yet, I do not think it so myself. He was my dad. He thought it was important for me to learn how to defend myself. Perhaps fighting was far more commonplace in the age when he was boy. His efforts were in vain because he never reckoned with my marrow-deep fear of pain and the conviction that I was going to lose anyway, no matter what I did. Besides, I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. It just wasn’t in me. To this day, I will go to considerable lengths to avoid the possibility of physical pain. Dad, on the other hand, accepted it as part of life.

“So it will hurt for a little while,” he would say.

Not me, I’d say to myself. Not me. No way.

My Dad with My Sons James and Joseph. No Boxing Gloves for Grampa

I loved my dad. I revere his memory. I am now within two years of his age at the time of his death. A child creates an image of his or her father. And like any impression we form of another, a child interacts and reacts to the image rather than the man himself who is, as we may eventually acknowledge, fallible and even weak at times. For their part, fathers often prefer to be the man behind the curtain and continue to project the image of the all powerful Dad* rather than risk vulnerability and reveal themselves. The real loss to both the child and the father is the failure on the part of one, if not both, to forsake the images and become available to one another—as a person of strengths and weaknesses, wise and foolish, vulnerable and sometimes unaware. Dad and I got very close to a man-to-man friendship before he died, and I will always be grateful that he had the courage to make himself available to me. He enabled me to reciprocate.

* The allusion here, of course is to The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to create a link for it but Amazon hogs all the Google searches.

This is the first in a series that I plan to write about my father. Please check back with my web site form time to time for my subsequent posts. Meanwhile, while you are here, please consider entering a comment below. I also invite you to thumb through the other pages of my web site. Thanks for dropping in.

Senators Favor NRA Approval Over the Chance at Saving A Child’s Life

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Here, never to be forgotten, is the list of the Senators who preferred to keep favor with the NRA rather than take one small step to protect our children. Listed below are the Senators who voted against extending background checks to include gun shows and other improvised markets.

1.            Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
2.            Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
3.            Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
4.            Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
5.            Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
6.            Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
7.            Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
8.            Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
9.            Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
10.          Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
11.          Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
12.          Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
13.          Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
14.          Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
15.          Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID)
16.          Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
17.          Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
18.          Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
19.          Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
20.          Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
21.          Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
22.          Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
23.          Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
24.          Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
25.          Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
26.          Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
27.          Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
28.          Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE)
29.          Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
30.          Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
31.          Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
32.          Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
33.          Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
34.          Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
35.          Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
36.          Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
37.          Sen. James Risch (R-ID)
38.          Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
39.          Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
40.          Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
41.          Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
42.          Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
43.          Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
44.          Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
45.          Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)

The NRA claims that background checks will not prevent another Sandy Hook. The real issue is whether extending background checks could potentially prevent one lunatic from acquiring a rapid fire* assault weapon. Doing so might save a child’s life. The horror is that a Sandy Hook is likely to happen again. There are too many guns unaccounted for among our citizens, thanks in no small part to the hysteria promoted by the NRA over the years on behalf of the gun manufacturers. But if one background check prevented one crazy gunman from killing one child, then it would be worth it.

People Use Guns to Kill People . . .

John J Hohn and his dog Jessie

John J Hohn and his dog Jessie

NRA members are quick to cite the fatuous and insulting argument that “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” Yes, people kill people. People use guns to kill other people. That’s the point. The truth is that if rapid fire semi-automatic assault rifles* stay on the market, the people who want to kill other people will be equipped to do so more efficiently.  Put a killer in a school with an semi-automatic assault weapon with a high capacity magazine  and more children will die. It’s that simple.

High capacity magazines assault rifles are not necessary for the defense of one’s home. At Sandy Hook, twenty-two children were murdered. Four teachers were  killed. Protecting a home does not require the firepower of a high capacity magazine in an assault rifle,  yet the fear is hyped by the NRA and ordinary people suspend good judgement and actually believe it.

The NRA discounts the call to pass rational gun control legislation by labeling it an emotional reaction to the recent tragedies. Of course it is. Kids were slaughtered at school. Teachers were murdered. Families grieved. Lives were changed permanently. If that doesn’t get an emotional response then we are in very serious trouble. The real shame is that we did not get an emotional response from our Senate who should have done everything possible to prevent another tragedy of such horrible proportions.  (more…)

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…)

Barter Theater Performance of “October, Before I Was Born” — Reviewed by John J. Hohn

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

John J. Hohn, Reviewer

The play October, Before I was Born, a gritty drama directed by Mary Lucy Blevins, takes place on October 4, 1960 with the explosion at the Aniline Building at the Tennessee Eastman Company complex. Conveniently, the television is disabled at Martha Matthews’ residence, which program notes tell the audience is a home supported by blue collar wages. The telephone, that marvel of the past century, is a holdover from the World War II era of party lines, which makes it impossible to place an emergency call. The audience gets it, quickly. This family, with the lives of loved ones at stake, has no way of knowing whether those closest to them have survived what the radio announcer, before he signed off, described as a holocaust.

Anne, portrayed by Ashley Compos, is seven months pregnant and was attending her baby shower when the shock waves from the explosion ended her party and wiped out half the town as well. She was rushed to her mother-in-law’s home which is also home to Houston, a convicted killer, who is on the lam sucking up whatever mom and dad can hand out, a position that fails somehow to restrain him from coming on to his brother’s wife in the midst of her distress. Martha, the mother-in-law, played by Tricia Matthews, is a durable country woman who holds her own in life because of the coping strategies she learned growing up as a coal miner’s daughter. She avoids. Her own husband may be a victim in the explosion, but she chooses instead to focus on Ann’s toe nail polish. “Strength and courage,” she proclaims, as the answer to Anne’s distress as well as her own in dealing with the long wait to find out whether their husbands are going to come home on both feet or in a box.

Here, the script fails. “Strength and courage!” Really? Think about it. Courage without strength is foolhardy. Strength without courage is a waste. Perhaps there is room somewhere in this redemptive formula for perspective beyond a fatalistic stoicism. “You can do this!” Martha encourages Anne as they head out the door for the delivery room. Anne is already in labor, and nobody doubts that she can see things through because, face it folks, she has no other choice.

Houston, the son, is played by Nicholas Piper who treats his role with a casualness that belies his character’s own history. The audience needs to be told that he is a killer and capable of spontaneous, uncontrollable rage. Nothing in Piper’s performance demonstrates this side of the man’s nature. The play takes place in the back country of Tennessee. Piper and the cast play it as if they were on the set to Happy Days, all scrubbed up and running errands for one another. Director Blevins missed the depravity of Houston’s attempt at seducing his brother’s wife. She missed the wife’s repugnance at his advance. Houston, his mother proclaims, failed to complete anything that he had attempted. Yet she treats him with an enabling tolerance that hardly seems in keeping with her awareness that getting from one day to the next requires toughness of spirit.

While Houston strolls about the set, fetching sodas and making sandwiches, the play is really about two women in the story. Anne should have been transformed from a whining narcissistic adolescent into a woman finally capable of facing life with the responsibilities that her mother-in-law sets in front of her. Martha, the mother, grimly aware from her childhood of how grief stalks her hard scrabble existence, should have shown her avoidance strategies collapsing into the terror of facing life without her husband. Both actors’ performances fell short of the mark. Anne’s insistence, “I can’t do this,” is treated as humor as it is obvious that, big as a house, she is going to have a baby. The challenge in the line was go beyond the humor to the desperation in the denial and the awakening in the character that none of us can have life as we want it.

Martha’s hopeful description of how life as usual will resume again when her husband returns home fails to convey how she, as the rest of us do, avoids thinking about the threats to our happiness by hiding in the mundane and predictable events of our daily lives. The challenge was to let the audience know that, regardless of how ordinary our lives are, every day is more special for never letting the awareness of that precariousness to drift completely out of mind.

This play skimmed the surface of what was, admittedly, a contrived script but it could have been powerful if the characters had realized the depths of the playwright’s intentions. For good reason, audiences are not often asked to sit through a 90 minute one-act play—that one act being all the longer for pauses that had the audience wondering if the professionals on stage had forgotten their lines. Regrettably, the gutsy script dissolved into sentimental slush under Director Blevins. It will probably be well attended and pass along in the history of The Barter Theater of one of its less notable productions.

Deadly Portfolio Holds Autobiographical Material. This In Memory of My Father.

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

John J. Hohn and dog Jessie

My father died on May 28, 1980. I was in Oak Ridge, TN at the time. I returned to my motel room after dinner and found the message light blinking on the telephone, as I tell the story in my novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds. In the book, the man taking the call is Alan McAllister who in no other way is an autobiographical figure. As McAllister finds, the message was from my wife also, and I immediately returned her call to be informed that my dad had died earlier that day at the hospital in Yankton, SD. Dad was a scant 6 weeks away from his 76th birthday.

I had visited him at the hospital only a few days earlier, wanting to see him again before it was too late. I flew to Yankton from my home in Winston-Salem, NC. When I arrived, I found that he was barely aware of what was going on around him. I wrote a poem about it.


Final Visit

In the dim brown room,
An old man labored.
There had been some mistake.
This was not my dad,
Who had danced in the corn silk sun.
He was one the air would forget
If he failed just once
To pull life back in.

I called to him,
Summoned him to cross the fields
And crouch with me to watch
The canvasback circling in.

He raised himself
Out of the rubble of the sheets
And looked toward me
Like a man blinded in the morning glare.

He once would have straddled barbed wire
And picked his way across the crumbling furrows,
The harvest flattened stalks,
To where I stood,
But weariness overtook his rotten flesh,
And he slumped back
Into the murmurs
Of his bed.

I stroked his fine worn wisps of hair,
His fine round head.
He called my name.

He had fallen into a coma, every breath sounding as if it would be his last. I stayed at my brother’s home for three days, taking time each day to sit for a few hours at Dad’s bedside in the hospital. When it became apparent that nobody could predict when the end would come, I reluctantly decided to return home and my work.

After I left, Dad survived for several days after my departure. “And all this time,” Mother said, “we were worried about his heart. It was never the problem. His heart was strong right up until the last.”

Mother was right. Dad worried about angina and high blood pressure the last 30 years of his life. He died, however, from a series of small strokes that robbed him half a measure at a time of his ability to deal with life. “He just hung on and hung on,” Mother sobbed., “because his heart wouldn’t let him go.” It was painful for her to see him linger, even though she dreaded the onset of grief that she knew would follow hard after his passing.

As McAllister’s brother took care of everything in Deadly Portfolio, so too my brother, James (Jim) C. Hohn, took care of all the hospital affairs and funeral arrangements.

Jim and Mother knew that Dad was losing ground slowly. Months before his death, his behavior became benignly erratic. He was somewhat more forgetful than usual. He obsessed over trivial matters. But he made it through each day otherwise without difficulty for himself or those around him. (more…)