Monday, December 23, 2013

Little Old Me Getting Inspired About The Phantom of the Opera Yet Again.

672 Posts and years later, only four of you are left following my blog.  So... perhaps all of my old readers who hated the person I was have all left, and I'm all by my lonesome again to write a real journal without worrying who is watching every word I say.

I am feeling a bit saddened tonight.  I found a "Pianist HD" program on my tablet a few nights ago, and I decided to support the developers for making a good product, and I bought the entire program.  The program in one sentence converts the MIDI music files into a "Guitar Hero" format for the piano.  So, I loaded up the Phantom of the Opera medley, and I followed along with my real piano [which I have not touched in around seven years] playing the tunes and hitting the chords just as the program was signing the vocal portions of the various songs at the same time.

First, since playing Phantom of the Opera was my musical to play on the piano, I knew the words to the songs and the chords I was terribly hammering out.  Yet, as I was playing, I noticed that my fingers began to remember what notes to play next.  It was a bit eerie.

I stopped the program, and played many of the jazz and blues tunes I mastered as a younger child.  It was a bit eerie to me that I no longer remembered many of the tunes, but my fingers remembered how to play them.  So I played through a classical piece I spent years working on, then got the bumble-bee something tune playing with metronome precision (I remember how hard I used to work to get the left hand to play the same time as the right hand).  Then, as I was playing a Phantom song, my heart opened up and I ran to my wife to call her over so she can hear me play the phantom song -- something I once could do, but until now, I forgot how to play.  She didn't seem that interested -- she patted me on the shoulder, and got back to researching more important things for us.

I continued to play now with the door closed, but I was saddened.  This playing brought out such emotion in me, and all of a sudden, I felt distant from my wife because the feelings that were being evoked were past feelings of hope, dreams, excitement, and pain -- the many emotional experiences both terribly rewarding and many painful that I went through before and during college.  I was a young boy with hopes and dreams to live the life of theater, and all of that died when I decided to do what was "right," and so I went to college to become a doctor.  Oh well, who knew.

All my years I always was bewitched by the story in the Phantom of the Opera.  I identified with the Phantom, but I had the voice of Christine.  I was pulled in to the story -- the love, the romance, the rejection the Phantom experienced daily, and the excitement of teaching a young talent as a maestro to be great.  Why?  Because the phantom, as deformed as he was behind his mask, he was great.  He was idealistic, he was educated, he was talented, and he was very skilled... yet he was an outcast as I often felt that I was.  I identified deeply with his sadness because it was in spite of his sadness that he reached out to help someone to greatness while he sank deeper and deeper into his shadows.

Anyway, I didn't feel like doing the ordinary thing and watching Netflix, or playing a video game -- tonight after experiencing what I did, I wanted to WRITE.  I also wanted to sing, but I have no audience, no current training, and no desire to leave my law practice so that I can pursue my dreams of broadway and stardom.  I also have a family which is the most important thing to me.  I wouldn't ever give them up, even if the dream materialized and the gates to broadway, movies, singing, acting, and superstar opened up for me.  It is just a reality that I live with -- knowing that I can, but dropping the skill on the side of a road with a thump, ditching the G-d-given-skill as if it was a lump of coal never to be heated or used for oil or heat.  Rather, it is a stained, dirty rock that has no use to me.

Anyway, life is a mess, the world is a mess, the governments are a mess, the economy is a mess, and my dreams are dead, and I am doing what my grandfather and his grandfather did before him.  I am raising a Jewish family, working to provide comfort and security to my family so that we can raise our children in a chassidishe environment so that they can grow with the moral and spiritual foundations and the security that I was not given as a child.  I do what my rabbi does -- I live life one day at a time.  I work on little goals, accomplish one thing at a time, and I remain small and invisible to the world.  I am just one more "hat" in the crowd.  I am just one more father with five kids, all young and very close in age.  I never ended up fixing my faults in yiddishkeit (as in not showing up for minyanim or socializing with the CH community), but I am quiet and people see me and say hello.  But I will never be famous, and I will never amount to anything big.  I will never have the Phantom of the Opera story happen to me from any perspective, but then again, I will never be seduced by a deranged maniac for my abilities, nor will I be hunted by those around me.  I live a boring, simple, perhaps meaningful life.  I am a mildly successful, but very small lawyer with clients and a very small practice.  I support my family, pay the bills, have enough for tzedakka, yeshiva education, the occasional new gadget, and regular vacations for my family and kids.  I work hard, I play hard (with my kids), I contribute both emotionally and physically to be the father my wife and my family needs me to be, I play video games, I watch Netflix, I learn lots of Torah, I mess with operating systems and accidentally open and disassemble external hard drives and break them while trying to fix them, and I try to get by life without expending too much energy because in my life, that is the one thing I squander by not being organized.

This is little old me.  Getting pepper streaks in my hair, not nearly as healthy as I would have wanted myself to be at this point in my life, but I am happy.  I like my life, I love my kids, I love my wife, and I love the person I have become.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow, nor do I know what direction I will take my now-stable-but-formerly-dying-law-firm, but I trust in G-d and hope that he'll direct me because it is no longer only my own life that I am taking care of, but now I have many lives that are dependent on me, so I do what I need to do to get by.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts about Kashrus and Community Standards (after many years of living in a Chabad community).

It feels as if it has been many years since my last post.  The reason I am writing this post is because ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, I have done searches online for innocuous questions, such as whether a "V hechure" is kosher, and my own twisted articles on Triangle-K popped up (back from when I was figuring things out as far as frumkeit and yiddishkeit).  For this reason, I am writing this article.

I guess all I want to say is that there were many (many) posts in my past where I gave messed up and twisted viewpoints as far as frumkeit, yiddishkeit, halachas, and specifically Chabad and Lubavich, and all I can say is that I was certainly NOT a halachic source because I was just becoming frum myself trying to understand everything.

Like the hataras nedarim ("annulment of vows") that we say before each Rosh Hashanna, I do not "rue" the things I have said or done, especially because each blog posting was done in good faith with the intention of investigating and understanding each issue that an orthodox jew faces.  There were many times that I came to the wrong conclusion, or that I had a twisted argument or conclusion.  Now many years later, I am still growing in my frumkeit, and for many things, I am not sure whether I have understood everything, or whether I have simply taken the halacha for what it is.  As a general rule, I follow both halacha (Jewish Law) and the community stringencies simply because 1) I am a Jew, 2) I am part of a jewish community.  I no longer question as much as I did years ago because 1) I have no time, and 2) I trust that the rabbis from previous generations had their heads on "way more straight" than our self-destructing society does.  So, relying on halacha becomes that much more convenient rather than figuring things out with my limited intellect.

In hindsight, my first introduction to the Lubavich yeshiva world was a boot-camp-like school for baalei teshuva bochurim (jewish men who are returning to orthodox judiasm after many years of not practicing the faith), where we were pressured by our peers and our Rabbis, and we were indoctrinated with rules and halachas, many times without explanations.  The yeshiva I went to simply wanted me to understand the laws and know "this is what we do, and this is what we do not do," rather than "this is the halacha, and this is where we are more stringent and here is the reason for our stringency."  The fault I experienced in my yeshiva was that the "rule" often came WITHOUT an explanation.  This frustrated me, especially since I had my step father whispering into my ear things that are patently FALSE, such as "if you go to the so-and-so [not kosher] meat plant, you'll find chassidic orthodox jews working there; thus, you can certainly eat their meat without a hechure."  Chos v'sholom! Not true.

Now I obviously have no intention of slurring a company or a hechure, and I have not seen this particular "we answer to a higher power" hot dog brand in many, many years.  That being said, you obviously need a reliable hechure on the food, and if a company doesn't have it, you simply do not eat that food.  Same deal with triangle-K, and many other so-called kosher certifications -- if you are careful about only putting kosher food into your body, you eat only kosher foods with good hecherim.

Now obviously there are many hecherim -- some better and more preferential than others -- and if you have a choice, you make a judgement call whether you want to eat the OU or the star-K.  Both are probably fine.  But, if you keep cholov yisroel, then things change, because even the OU certifies foods which are kosher, dairy, but not cholov yisroel.

Last, but not least, while even now years later I hold the assumption that there is probably corruption in the various kosher certification organizations, meaning that business tactics, high prices, and possibly bullying and misinformation about other hecherim are used, I still rely on the majority of orthodox rabbis who hold that certain hecherim are good, and others are simply not.

What I like, however, is that a number of kosher certification companies put out list of other certifications which are reliable.  For example, cRc puts out a list of kosher certification that we can rely on. That way, when you're in the store and you do not recognize a hecure, you can just look it up with your smartphone.

Anyway, in sum, the rule in jewish law for most things is that "you go with the majority."  So if most of the jewish world believes a certain hechure is good, you can rely that it is kosher.  If not, then it is probably NOT okay, but 1) question the hechure yourself by calling them up, 2) ask a rav, 3) find out what those in your community do, and then 4) make your own decision.  Keep in mind that on the strict side, many people keep stringencies such as "cholov yisroel," "pas yisroel," "bishul yisroel," and many people eat certain brands of meat (e.g., various "chassidishe hechures"), so what is "kosher" does not always mean that it is "kosher for us," a distinction I often teach my children while going through the isles in a Costco.

Also, now that we have been in a community for many years, in order to "fit" with the community (e.g., to have parents have their kids over our home without ANY questions of kashrut, etc.), there are also "community standards" that various communities adopt.  For example, when the Starbucks kashrus article came out a year or so ago, many communities (including mine) were drinking regular coffee from Starbucks without realizing that it might be considered dairy (a problem for us who keep cholov yisroel).  Now, because we know more about their practices of what-hot-water-goes-into-what-shot-glass, etc., many of us now order a cafe Americano (an espresso shot poured DIRECTLY into the cup, WITH NO SHOT GLASS). 

In sum, as you'll learn when you get married, have children, and become part of a community, you not only follow halacha, but you also adopt the stringencies of your local community.  And, you keep it BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE HOUSE.  I know this personally because I myself have made mental notes to myself that "so-and-so does not keep cholov yisroel," and "so-and-so eats XYZ meat sold at Costco," etc.  I love all these people and consider them to be my friends, but when my kids go to play at their house, I'll tell the parents not to feed them or to go out to get a pizza.

One more thing I have observed -- there are a lot of bad feelings when it comes to kashrut, specifically from people who do are more lenient, or from people who do not understand or follow the stricter stringencies of halacha and kashrut.  If you are more lax, I won't fault you -- I just won't eat at your house.  If you are stricter than me (e.g., schmaltz on Pesach), I admire you, but I wouldn't want to be you.  For me, I keep all the yisroels -- cholov yisroel, pas yisroel, bishul yisroel, and I only eat meat from Chassidishe hechures.  I wasn't always at this level, but I credit my wife for this, who has been the rock that forms the basis for the kashrut in our home.  It is very easy to keep all the stringencies when your wife is the one that does all the shopping.  She is my aishes chayil, and I adore and appreciate her for the hard work she has done over the years, and with G-d's assistance, more many, many more years to come.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Financial Tzniut & the Ayin Hara

Wow, I must be boring.

We are in my SEVENTH MONTH of our law firm bleeding money.  I have fired all of my workers and it is just me left in our empty office.  I sit here each day looking around the blogs and the news articles for my next area of practice.  Where are defendants being hurt the most?  Who is hurting people in a way that they would decide to call a lawyer?  And, what area are ordinary people being affected where they would go to a small-town-lawyer-with-a-laptop and an internet connection (an attorney like me) whereas the big corporations would hire the big name law firms.

I've courted the concepts of returning to black-and-white patent work.  The problem is that I talked about it a lot, but when it came down to clients retaining me, there wasn't that much going on.  "I could hit it in a big way," I think, but then it would be a decision to commit to going "Gung Ho" in this area to the exclusion of everything else.  Doing anything "gung ho" scares me because if I fail, then that's it.

In short, I have cut out all expenses and have dedicated myself these past few weeks to only doing research into new areas of law.  I have a few treatises on patent drafting, patent litigation, patent licensing, copyright law, and federal practice.  I am reading through these with a fury trying to get competent in the areas so that I can come up with ideas on what to do and what to practice and how to do it.  The problem with all of these is that I wonder whether a small time lawyer can do something as big as defending or fighting a patent battle. I also wonder how someone like me can attract new clients.  It's all so overwhelming.

Anyway, my personal life is no doubt suffering by my career stresses as well.  I come home cheerful, but my wife knows I am stressed.  I spend my evenings doing work, researching the blogs, and maybe having some time for a show on Hulu.com.  When I am not doing this, sometimes I isolate myself emotionally and just focus for hours of time on a video game.  I know this is not good for my marriage, but I'm having a difficult time coping with all this.

The issue which I keep cycling back to is G-d.  Obviously I need to make my own "vessel" for blessings to flow through them, and the way to create this vessel is by studying Torah, doing mitzvos, and davening to Hashem.  I've been working on this more than ever, but I feel that when everything breaks down, well, my Torah study falters, I isolate myself from my community, and I really don't want to daven to Hashem because I'm a bit bitter about everything that is going on.

In sum, when everything was good, I was showing up to minyanim (as much as I could), I was learning Torah each day (sometimes even with a schedule and with multiple chevrusas), and holy smokes -- if you knew the amount of tzedakka I gave last year and the year before, you'd be floored.  Part of me wishes we kept some of that for our savings fund and then things wouldn't be so bad now.

Now that things are dismal, I am really hurting and as childish as this sounds (and as wrong as it is on an intellectual level), I'm quite upset at Hashem for taking away my Parnossa.  We were so good.  We did so much to help people, our community, and our friends as far as giving of our time and our money.  We worked hard, and we did good work.  How is it that everything can be taken from us so quickly?

I've gone over my deeds 100 times, and my wife and I are pretty sure we understand that it must have been our lack of financial modesty (tzniut, or more commonly known as an "Ayin Hara") that has caused such a drastic change in our financial circumstances.  The economy has been so terrible to our family and our friends, and we have been overly happy and thankful for the huge amounts of berachas we have been given both in children, in health, and most of all, parnossa.  We purchased a house (well, we actually only moved into one and are paying rent to my in-laws), we bought a nice (but used) minivan, and we purchased season tickets to Six Flags and various water parks and museums.  We went on vacations visiting family and friends in other states across the U.S., often staying at hotels and eating out in nice restaurants (happily paying for our family who often joined us).  On some occasions, if we couldn't fly, we would sometimes buy tickets for members of our family to visit us, whether it was for a holiday or to allow my wife to visit her family in Israel for a few days.  We went from poverty (not kidding, we were applying for food stamps and low-income health insurance at one point) to riches and wealth literally over the course of months, and everybody around us saw the changes.  And then for almost two years, the money kept flowing in.  We openly attributed everything to Hashem and openly thanked Hashem for everything.

What I think we missed was what my grandmother was always SO CAREFUL about.  Ayin Hara.  Be careful about how you express yourself and your berachas to others, especially those less fortunate than you.  Be careful because unintentionally, one "evil glance," even an unintentional one can cause such a prosecution from above that you can lose everything.  They say that 99 out of 100 people die from an Ayin Hara (or something like that).

Anyway, I think now we need to do some soul searching.  We have already resolved to keep our finances private, even from family.  Publicly, if and when things turn around for our firm, we will keep it quiet.  Success is not something to be touted or screamed from the rooftops because nobody wants to hear how successful you are, or how great you are at some topic.  Rather, keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, and thank G-d for everything you have.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I live the life of a regular father. B'H.

I'm guessing that since I just wrote that dismal post about work, I figured I would share how I am doing at home.

In short, my relationship with my wife and my kids is very good.  My wife and I have been trying very hard to implement the tools we have learned from the therapist, and I apologize up front for not keeping up with the teachings.

Essentially, the main thing that we have learned is that every reaction from your partner deserves to be taken seriously, even when they are illogical, when they make no sense or are blown out of proportion, or even when the accusations, anger, frustration falsely accuse you of saying, doing, or thinking something you didn't, and even when your partner is flat out wrong and out of line.  No matter what the circumstances, if they are angry or edgy, deal with it and accept them for who they are.  This obviously goes both ways because quite frankly, if I were the woman here, I wouldn't deal with the piece of sh*t I am with all my flaws.

Anyway, I find that often our fights have turned into something like this:

ME: "I'm upset about so-and-so topic."
HER: "You're wrong.  It happened this way."
ME: "I don't care if I am making this up entirely! I am feeling this way bottom line, and you are supposed to accept it as being true because you are supposed to validate my feelings and I am feeling vulnerable and I need your support."
HER: "Well you have just triggered me too, so our conversation is over."
ME: "Okay, sorry for getting you upset.  We'll continue this fight later, but I'm still angry about it."

I find that many of our fights are just the result of moments of vulnerabilities where one or both of us are overwhelmed, tired, sad, or angry about something, and the other one of us is not there emotionally to help the other.  No matter what we fight about, usually after the initial anger or hurt passes, the feelings pass as well and it becomes very easy to talk about it once the emotion associated with the event has passed.

Anyway, as far as our kids go, all is okay as well.  My wife and I are good parents, and we pride ourselves on the hard work we do for our childrens' benefit.  Obviously we could certainly be better at almost every facet of our parenting skills, but notwithstanding our broken pasts (mine from abandonment and abuse, and my wife's from emotional neglect), we do pretty darn good.

As far as religion goes, we're also pretty good.  The focus of many of our conversations is halacha (Jewish Law), and how it relates to a particular situation we are dealing with.  I am strong in my Torah learning (I could be so much better, but objectively I am strong), and I have a good head on my shoulders.  I study gemara (Talmud) every day according to the Daf Yomi schedule, and I enjoy learning every day.

In the evenings, I sit down in front of the computer and I either watch some show online or play a video game.  I know this is a complete waste of time and brain power, but I enjoy it and so does my wife.  We obviously spend a considerable amount of time talking before the nightly Netflix, and so the night is my favorite time of the day.

Exercise has been horrible for me.  I can't get myself out of bed (I actually wake up between 5am-6am every day), and when I do force myself to fling myself out of bed, I fight with myself whether I should go to minyan, learn some Gemara, or go to the gym.  Having a coffee and learning some Gemara usually wins out, except when I make the mistake and check my work e-mail.  Then my day is destroyed because that's all I do.

I work hard out of the home in my office (I used to work in the home and it annoyed my wife), and I come home between 6pm-7pm every day.  I play with the kids, eat something, and then put them to bed.

This is pretty much my life.  I live the life of a regular father.  B'H.

My heart is not into it this time around.

It has been many months since my last post, and no surprise.  I write when things get tough, and then when things get better, there is not much to talk about.

I had to let my employees go from the law firm.  It was sad, but it was many months in the coming.  I was working on a very narrow set of cases knowing that once we won, our firm's income would be cut to zero.  I saw the signs of success for my clients a few months ago, but it wasn't until recently that the cases were coming to an end.  

Now there is a bit of tying up to do, but we've been on a negative cashflow since July, but the hope was that by the time the firm ran out of money, we would have found a new stream of income.  The problem was that I was spending all my time working on the cases because our clients paid us up front knowing that it would be many months before the case would be over, and I wasn't exactly in the mood to nickel-and-dime my clients to death like most lawyers who charge by the hour do.  Plus, we were contractually bound for me to represent them for this set fee until their matter was complete, so we've essentially been running on fumes (everything took much longer than I expected it to), time has run out, and our firm is out of cash.

So it is only me again here in the firm.  It's so lonely, and my motivation has dropped to zero.  It is so disheartening to know that my "wave" is over, and to catch the next one will take months, maybe years of work.  I am having such a difficult time calling current clients about new matters and following up with new inquiries, not because I don't have the time, but because I don't have the emotional energy or strength to stand up and start again.  I'm burned out from the marathon our firm just ran these last few years, and I can't stomach starting again...but that is where we are.

I started the firm having six months of basic expenses to keep the family running, and I hit the ground running with enthusiasm.  It was my dream to own my own firm and to work for myself.  Now two years later, I still have six months of salary, but we are no longer on scholarships from the school, the school loans are no longer on deferment, taxes are through the roof from all the legal fees the firm made earlier in the year, and we now have FOUR children in yeshiva, and we are paying full tuition for each child.  Our baseline of expenses is so large now, I break into sweats every time I think of the "minimum" amount of money I will need to pull in each week/each month just to keep afloat.

So with all this, I'm paralyzed emotionally -- I cannot work, and I cannot move.  Even though we succeeded in what we accomplished to do knowing that it will kill our business if we succeeded, our business died as a result of our clients' success, and now it is back to the drawing board for our firm.  It's not completely over, but no new clients are coming in because they are "standing on the shoulders" of the work we did for our older clients.  We purposefully killed the market which fed our families because it was the right thing to do.  I just can't pick up a pen now without wanting to cry, so I distract myself just so I can get the day to pass so I can go home, put the kids to bed, and then go to bed myself only to participate in this cycle again tomorrow (until I gather the strength to stand up and start again).

To add to this -- my wife is compassionate for my circumstances, but I don't think she really understands the huge amount of stress I am feeling from our firm running out of steam.  I think she wonders why can't I just stand up and do this again.  Why can't I just hit the ground running once more?  Why can't I find a new niche and run with it, while still looking back and servicing clients who have already paid me from my old niche?

The problem is that my heart is not into it this time.  I've been successful, and it took much more energy to be successful than it does to be poor.  Life is not that much more exciting when you're rolling in the dough, because everything becomes more expensive.  I was pleading with everyone around me to continue living small because this wave of success the law firm was experiencing could not go on forever.  I wanted to save for today, and today is here.  I'm jaded that we are back where we started, and now I am older, and I have more expenses, and my family has become accustomed to living bigger.  Now it hurts to tighten our belts, and with a maid that comes to clean almost every day, expensive health insurance which just keeps getting more expensive, and everybody always wanting more money, it's a spiral and I don't know how to get out from underneath it.

How do I justify telling my wife that she can no longer have the maid, and that we need to drop our health insurance and stop buying as much food just to survive?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Software solutions for privacy, specifically regarding hiding your IP address.


I am writing this tech-oriented article to address the issue of privacy, especially in blogs such as this one.  Hiding your IP address is probably one of the most important steps an internet users can take to properly protect him or herself on the web.

As most of you know, one of my hobbies is network security.  For that reason, I have been researching various ways to prevent an ISP or a target website from knowing which IP address one is coming from.

Recently, OpenDNS has come up with a product which encrypts your DNS address lookups over the web.  This is an exciting innovation in website security, but quite frankly, it does not do the job of stopping a predatory website from snatching your IP address from the web and compiling it with a list of other IP addresses to be used in some kind of piracy lawsuit.  I've seen them very frequently recently, and it's scary.

As a result, I have often suggested the use of VPN services to protect one's privacy when browsing.  There are many types of VPN services, many free, the better ones are "paid" services.  The problem with those services is that they tunnel ALL of your traffic through their servers.  While this makes you anonymous, it still takes a serious toll on your speed.  Plus, if you are paying to surf the web anonymously and you are viewing video streams or doing any kind of bandwidth intense activitities, forget about it.  You'll blow through your account in no time (and it will cost you a lot of money).

Come a piece of software called "Hide IP Easy."  (Website Link: http://www.easy-hideip.com) Hide IP Easy changes your IP address so that the websites (and services) that your computer is connecting to thinks that someone else is connecting to them.  Now there are obviously legal issues with spoofing ("hiding") your IP address, but for those who want to attempt to protect their privacy, this might be an answer.

I've tested the software on Steve Gibson's GRC ShildsUP! website (http://www.grc.com), and it does work to mask the IP address.  The problem is that your REAL IP ADDRESS STILL SHOWS UP (under the "X-FORWARDED-FOR" field).  It continues to state how the address was changed (in my case, via something called 1.1 dg1t (squid/3.2.0.19).  In my opinion this is a security weakness that needs to be addresses by the "Hide IP Easy" software developers, but for the time being, it seems to be a good solution.

I will continue to analyze the various ways of protecting one's privacy over the internet in coming posts.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Marriage Counselor Meeting #6 - Power Struggles

My wife and I differ what this term means -- a "power struggle" -- but that was the subject of our most recent marriage counseling session.

After I got back from my trip last week, my wife was virtually in tears when we went into the counseling session.  She couldn't speak about topics, and instead wanted to divert the attention to something that has been bothering her -- why I do not see that she is in pain and that she needs my help.

First of all, aside from feeling like an ass when writing this (because obviously she is going through a difficult time -- anyone would having four kids), I was immediately upset and frustrated when she complained about this to the therapist because it is simply not true -- I HELP OUT MORE THAN SHE CAN IMAGINE, AND MORE THAN SHE SEES OR ACKNOWLEDGES.

However, the topic quickly narrowed on why I don't change diapers, and this is an older fight that has come up over the years.

In short, when my first son was born, I changed diapers all day long.  I never complained about it, and I wasn't bothered by the smell or anything (it was actually a funny part of being a father).  I would occasionally joke with my wife that you can identify a father on the street from the occasional smell of baby poo, butt cream, or on a good day, only diapers.  Then our daughter was born and everything changed.

I remember changing her diaper while she was an infant until the one day that poo got in her vagina.  Not knowing whether to dig it out, or what to do with it, I remember speaking with my wife about it that I was uncomfortable with the situation and that I didn't want to do anything that would accidentally hurt her virginity or anything.  It was a horrific experience, and my wife laughed at me, told me I was an idiot, and that I was wrong for even having this concern.

Then a fight broke out about it -- remember, this was our second year of marriage, back in 2007 -- and for whatever reason we fought, I resolved that I was uncomfortable changing diapers moving forward.  I didn't make the distinction of boys' diapers or girls' diapers, because my wife and I made our first deal -- she would change all diapers moving forward if I agreed to iron my own shirts (at that time she was ironing my shirts for work when she did laundry [something I never asked her to do, but was happy she did]).

Then over the next six years, whenever she wanted me to do something, whether it was doing the dishes, or going on a vacation, or buying clothing or a car, or more often than not my wife wanting me to take over YET ANOTHER HOUSEHOLD CHORE that was something that she should be taking care of (since at the time I worked many hours at the job I had at the time), she would say, "I want you to do XYZ unless you want to start changing diapers again."

Quite frankly, I got upset at her many times for "changing the deal."  However, as soon as I agreed to her deal that she no longer do the ironing (I actually stopped ironing and just threw the shirts in the dryer which she thought was unfair), or as soon as I gave in to one request, there was always another around the corner.  As far as I was concerned, I couldn't trust her so-called "deals" because I knew there would always be one more behind it.

Then one day a year or so ago, we went to my Rabbi's house.  Trying to embarrass me in front of my Rabbi's wife, my wife blurted out, "my husband doesn't change diapers," something I spoke to them about many times already.  My Rabbi's wife looked at her and said, "my brother doesn't change diapers either, and in return, he pays for a maid to take care of the cleaning to make up for it."  My wife thought this was the most brilliant answer, and so the following week, we got a maid.  It wasn't a full-time maid, but at the time, it was one we could afford.  And, over the past year or so, it went from just a few hours one day each week to now pretty much every day for four or five hours each day.

So here we were last week -- I just returned from my trip, and it was the middle of the night.  We resolved that our kids would no longer sleep in our room and thus at 3am, I took my daughter upstairs to her room and I laid down next to her for her to fall asleep.  However, I immediately noticed the smell of poo in her diaper, and thought to myself, "SHOOT!  I usually send my kids to my wife to change diapers, even if she's asleep, but here I'm trying to be nice to her because she was just ill these past few days AND taking care of the kids while I was away on my seminar trip."  So I changed her shitty diaper and as I was doing so, I remembered our fight from so many years ago.

Now just so everyone doesn't think I'm an ass for not changing diapers -- I change them all the time, and I always have.  However, the only diapers I change are pee-pee diapers, and shitty diapers are my wife's territory I didn't feel bad about this because quite frankly, I paid for this so many times over with one agreement after the other, none of which I have EVER broken.  So poo diapers are my wife's territory, and that was that.

So going back to my evening experience, I was very excited that I changed my daughter's diaper, and that I remembered why I didn't change diapers in the first place.  I forgot about this and thought it was merely the smell, or something I contracted away many times over.  Yet when I told my wife about it in the morning (and that in theory I have nothing wrong with changing "boy" diapers moving forward), expecting my wife to be so proud of me and to be so excited for me that I was finding new ways to help out, she jumped all over me with disdain and I was actually hurt that she wasn't so excited by my offer to start helping out with diapers.

Now back to the counselor session... I couldn't believe she brought up that I don't change diapers, especially after my realization and my first poo diaper changed that evening!

When I explained my side of the story (her side was that if I cared about her and saw that she was frustrated from changing so many diapers, a caring husband who loves his wife would have jumped in and started changing diapers), I told the marriage counselor that I felt slighted because the whole thing came up because I expressed that I was WILLING to change diapers, but quite frankly, I don't like that I am being pressured to change them now as if it is my DUTY AS A FATHER because I contracted away that duty so many times over, and she keeps changing the deal!  I felt that if I was to start changing diapers, I kind of want some kind of REWARD or at least some kind of EXTRA APPRECIATION, especially considering what I gave up in order to NOT change diapers.  In addition, I felt that if I started changing diapers now and if I disregarded all those contracts and agreements that I held to but that she broke, then she would have won YET AGAIN, and it is not justified that she has held the "you will do X unless you start changing diapers" ultimatum over me all these years.  She doesn't get to make deals and then break them.  She needs to stick to what she agreed with.

At this point, the marriage counselor pointed out that what I was experiencing was a perfect example of a power struggle -- one that will break up a marriage and will pull us into countless fights in countless contexts.  My wife feels as if I don't see her plight (because I do not do things such as see her struggling and offer to help with, for example, diapers), and thus there is a struggle on her end, and on my end, I am upset with her not sticking to the deals she makes with me and thus there is a power struggle on my end.

I haven't wrapped my head around this yet and I don't yet understand the implications, but this is what I understand so far (I think).

The fact that we have made so many deals and the fact that she has violated and broken so many of our agreements hurt my trust in her many times.  In the context of diapers, I am hurt that she has broken so many agreements, and so I don't help out with the diapers.  On the other side, the fact that I see her struggling with diapers yet I don't lend a hand to help out violated her trust and has caused her much pain, and so she acts out to "one-up" me and get back at me for the wrongs I have done to her.

There's also probably a "you don't appreciate me," "no, you don't appreciate me" dynamic going on, but in short, there is certainly a power struggle between us, and I don't know how to break the pattern or to even recognize it yet.

Colorado Batman Massacre -- Thoughts

Okay, so everyone is upset about the Batman shooter not so far from where I grew up in Denver.  My wife was actually upset at me for my opinions here -- no doubt, it's disgusting, terrible, sick, horrible, etc.  However, my thought about the shooting is... why are you surprised this happened?

Have you seen the Batman movies?  Have you seen ANY of the good films lately?  Usually the villian is some ubersmart genius who is misunderstood or who was abused as a child, or someone who went bad for a real valid reason.  But, what happens on the screen -- as much as we love a good villian -- stays on the screen.

There are thousands of sickos out there.  You can usually spot them out of a crowd, but I would suspect that there are thousands more who look just like you and me.  In my opinion, the badder the sicko, the more normal he looks, and the better he functions in public.  Take the Batman character himself -- some rich guy who leads a secret life as a rodent who flies around hurting bad guys?? Why is THAT normal?

The problem comes in where the sicko in our world does not know how to separate reality from fantasy. 

Obviously when I go to the theater, I identify with characters good and bad.  I even probably identified with and cheered for the Joker character as well.  But, I'm not going to go out, rig my apartment with bombs, go to a movie theater and shoot up people -- that is where the line is drawn.  I might even walk around pretending in my head that I am a particular character.  I might even pretend that bad things are happening around me as if I am in a particular movie (e.g., the Matrix).

Yet, there is A CLEAR SEPARATION between what is real and what is not.  It's fun to pretend once in a while -- kids do it all the time -- adults do it too, in their more adult minds.  But there is always an understanding that WHAT IS REAL IS REAL, AND WHAT IS FANTASY OR IMAGINED IS FAKE.  This is where the sickos differ.

"Okay then," you think.  "Let's lock up all the sickos, or at least tag them and watch what they do," you might think.  Or, "let's monitor purchases of handguns, etc."  But seriously.  I'm a level-headed guy.  If I buy a gun, or some bullet-proof equipment (well, moreso for the gun), do I want men in black contacting me and asking me why I purchased it?  "None of your business," I might answer if asked.

Then, I don't think guns is the problem.  My opinion is that if society were as such where people carried weapons, no way would this guy consider doing what he did -- or, at least he would think twice.  Imagine -- a guy stands up and starts shooting up a theater.  For all he knows, one or more people there have guns and can shoot him in the face.  Would he think twice?  Probably not, but he would have a bullet hole in his head.  That must be a real consideration.  If people carried guns, then chances are someone would have taken this guy out, or at least he might have been deterred from acting on his sinister plot in the first place.  Assault rifles?  Yes.  Guns? No.  Shotguns?  I'll leave the line to be drawn to the politicians and the NRA, and I'll let them battle it out.

Last, but not least, the only thing that could be done to prevent this in the future is simple vigilance.  Employees in public places need to be trained to spot weird looking individuals and to keep an eye on them.  And, when one such as this one falls through the cracks, you call the authorities (as they did) as fast as possible and leave it in the hands of G-d.  There's not much else that we could do, because even creating security checkpoints or metal detectors at every gate is likely not going to happen, and is that really a solution?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life sucks when you're the only one in your marriage.

It's not so frequent that I write a blog entry in hot anger, but perhaps tonight is an exception.

I don't know how a woman can withhold sex from a man thinking that this will inspire him to rethink past arguments or fights. 

A few weeks ago, my wife urged me to go to a seminar relevant to my law practice.  We agreed that if I left the day before the seminar, I could take some time to get settled, and I could arrange to be at the seminar the following morning without worrying about missed flights

The day before I left was Shabbos.  Our son for the past few days was ill with fever and diarrhea.  Not so ill, but sicky.  On Saturday afternoon, my wife started to feel ill as well.  She was tired, lacked energy, and she had diarrhea as well.  We thought it might be stomach flu, and I was concerned for her well being, especially since I would be leaving for the next few days.

She slept through most of Shabbos, and I took care of all family duties (e.g., watching the four kids, etc.) and let her sleep knowing that these next few days would be difficult for her.  She came out a few times, but overall, she looked tired.

When the evening came, concerned for her, I asked her if I should cancel the trip.  She said "no," and I told her that I was willing to cancel it if she wanted me to.  Then in the morning when I woke at 5am to head to the airport, I again wondered if I should cancel the trip.  ...Because I couldn't figure out if I was more concerned about her well being or my own insecurities that she would give me hell for leaving her ill (when for all I knew, she could have been feeling better), I decided to continue on with the trip.

All through the trip, my only question for her was whether she was feeling okay, and how she was doing with the kids.  I knew that we arranged to have them stay after-hours at their school, so the time she would spend with them was minimized, and for those extra hours where she would be with them, her parents promised to chip in and help out.  In addition, we had a new maid come in each day I was gone, so I knew "help" with the household activities and chores was covered.  Now when I asked her how she was doing, I knew the answer was that she was having a difficult time, but I still wanted to make sure she was okay, so I asked her about how she was doing many times and in many ways.

The trip went fine.  I woke up every morning at 5am, drove to a 6am minyan an hour away from where I was staying, purchased food and lunch for the day at 7am, then I took the 7:15am train over to my seminar, arriving an hour later (8:15am).  I was at the seminar from 9am - 5pm (texting my wife throughout the day to make sure she was okay), and then I took the train back, had dinner with my family one night, and my Rabbi who I was staying with and his family the other night, and then I went to sleep to repeat the experience the next day.

The seminar was grueling, and the effort required to make the schedule work was equally grueling.  But still, I attended the seminar so that I can learn an important aspect of my field so that I can properly support my family.

In the airport returning home on Wednesday, I saw a beautiful set of earrings.  My wife in the past has complained why I do not look at a piece of jewelry and say, "Wow, I think you would look WONDERFUL in this," and then buy it for her.  Looking at these earrings, I knew my wife would have looked wonderful in them, and so even though they were expensive, I bought them for her.  I had them cleaned, and nicely packaged, and I was excited that I got her a nice gift to give her when I come home (usually I show up empty handed).  Plus, she just went through a few days of feeling ill, and I thought she would appreciate the gift.

I came home, and my wife was, well, I don't know how to describe it other than reserved.  She was friendly, but not that friendly.  In fact, a good way to describe her was distant and closed off.  I gave her the earrings, and she said thank you, but she didn't seem to be that excited by them (despite the stunningness of them).  That night, I went to bed alone because she said that she was getting over feeling ill and was tired.

Then came Thursday -- I pretty much took a huge chunk of the law firm day off to spend time with her.  We went to the marriage counseling meeting, spent some time together, and then I went back to work.  I don't know how else to explain this, but because I just spent so much time away from my law firm, I was behind on EVERYTHING and pretty much every client was in EMERGENCY MODE, and everything was going wrong.  I was swamped, exhausted, and quite frustrated, but because I got confused about the time, I accidentally came home an hour early (maybe G-dly intervention, who knows).  Once I realized my mistake, instead of going back to work for that extra hour in our home office (even though G-d knows I really needed to), instead, I let my wife go to bed early while I took care of the kids until late in the night, doing NOTHING ELSE.  I did no work, and I got nothing done that evening, and once again, I went to sleep alone.  This is a common occurrence in my marriage, as it sometimes feels as if we are two people sharing a common household and raising the same kids, but the connection between us is non-existent.

Then it was Friday.  Instead of doing my planned morning routine, knowing that my wife expressed on a number of occasions how difficult the few days I was away were, I spent most of the early morning hours helping out with the kids.  My morning started at 5am when I jumped out of bed hearing that my wife was awake and was giving the kids food.  I was excited to spend time with her (and I didn't want her to be alone), so I jumped out of bed and joined them.  As soon as I got up, however, my wife went back to bed; "tag, you're 'it'."  That game in my opinion sucks, and I hate it when she does that, but this seems to be her modus operandi.  Knowing, however, that she had a tough few days, I spent the morning with the kids.  However, I did explicitly confirm my wife that come 8am, I could not take them to camp (as I knew she would want me to), because I needed to get to the office.  I asked her if she would be willing to take them (since usually when I help out in the mornings, I also take them to camp -- but today I could not).  She agreed.

Apparently she did not realize that I was home with the sole intention of being helpful because around 7:30am, she complained to me why I was still home and why I had not yet gone to work (completely oblivious of the fact that the whole morning was focused on helping her and the kids so that she could take it easy).  Obviously she was still preparing the clothes and food for camp, and I did sit down at one point and have coffee, but still -- the morning was focused on spending time with the kids and keeping them occupied and away from my wife who needed the space.

I came home Friday being wiped out.  I was half asleep, but I pushed myself so that I could give my wife some slack so that she could "recover" from my trip (by the way, not once [until now that I am writing this] did I ask myself, "shouldn't *I* be the one that needs to recover from what was a very stressful and work intensive experience?").  I watched the kids and helped out around the house ignoring my own needs, and I forced myself to keep my eyes open and to stay alert and cheerful, knowing what should come after Shabbos dinner.  I even drank coffee right before Shabbos so that I would be awake.  I put the kids to bed, and then when it came time for Kiddush, thinking that it would just be myself and my wife, there was a knock at the door.  My wife invited her dad over for Shabbos dinner without telling me -- this was a complete surprise to me, and while I love having him over, this evening I would have rather been alone with my wife.

The dinner lasted for literally hours.  He kept talking about medusot (jellyfish) in Israel, how his nuts were on fire, and story after story.  Fighting myself not to fall asleep, I stayed awake throughout the whole long dinner (note, our Shabbos dinners when we are alone are 15-20 minutes, tops).  I involuntarily nodded off against the back of my chair for a few seconds at least three or four times -- that is how uncontrollably tired I was.  However, I wanted to stay awake so that I can be there for my wife.  [Religious people could figure out what I am referring to.]

After I bentched, I sat down on the couch [purposefully not the bed, to communicate that I had no intention of sleeping for more than a few minutes], and I closed my eyes as my wife walked her dad out the door.  I was closing my eyes and gathering my strength so that I can be present for my wife.  I could have easily gone to sleep on the bed if I wanted to sleep, but the previous week, we explicitly discussed that there was nothing wrong with waking me up if I was asleep on the couch after a miscommunication over me laying down and falling asleep on the couch the erev Shabbos beforehand.  After all my efforts these past few days, and considering that it was literally a week or so since the last time we were together in private, I was SURE we would be spending some time together catching up after her father left.

...I woke up at 12am on the couch, surprised and disappointed once again.  My wife had gone to sleep without waking me up.  I was a bit confused and a bit disappointed, but then I thought my wife might be waiting for me (obviously not lying awake, but knowing that I would come say hello eventually), and that perhaps she was giving me some time to recuperate.  I went in to cuddle with her, and she was upset that I woke her up.  I then rolled over and went to sleep next to her in her bed thinking that maybe she'd come find me at some point.  I would have stripped off my clothes to make my message quite obvious, but the last time I did that many months beforehand, I woke up with the kids jumping on me, and no action.

No surprise, I woke up alone [yet again].  I joined the family, and I spent the entire Shabbos day being present and involved in my family.  I didn't go to shul -- my own fault because of timing and my issues with showing up late -- but I did change three diapers, something that made my wife very happy.

The entire day I spent talking with my wife, and sharing with her and speaking with her about many things that comprised our common interests.  We discussed how she wanted to go back to work, and we discussed our marriage counselor, things that were discussed, and how advice we were given paralleled John Grey's "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" book, Chapter 13. 

Shabbos ended, we put the kids to bed, and after all this week (especially since nothing happened the night before, or even the week before or the week before that), I thought for sure we would share a few moments together in private.  I said Havdallah, put the kids to bed, and then when I came out, she was sitting in the dark.  I started talking to, holding hands, and kissing my wife.  We moved to the bedroom because she wanted to brush her teeth (hinting probably that my breath was not fresh); I brushed as well.  Then I suggested that we shower off since we were probably grimy from Shabbos.  After I was finished, I joined her in her shower, but immediately upon closing the lights, she yelled and complained that it was dark, and then when I turned the lights back on and joined her, she shut the water.  "Okay, awkward timing, I thought."  Then she told me that she was still upset at me for not caring about her being sick when I returned from the trip, and that she was not interested in being physical.

...WHAT!?!  After ALL THAT WORK!?!  After all that time spent on her to make her comfortable and to feel taken care of?!?  Are you KIDDING ME?

Holding back my own anger and desire to explode from what felt to me like a coquettish manipulation followed by an overt rejection, I said that I understood, and that I would be in the living room if she wanted to speak about it.  Yet inside my heart, my blood was boiling and I was quite hurt.  I sat down on the living room couch, I opened up my laptop and I started to type this blog entry.  She sat down next to me and without speaking to me, she started watching her Netflix TV shows, completely ignoring me.  After a while, a bit upset, I stood up with my laptop, and moved over to the dining room with a bit of a huff.  I couldn't be around her.

She came into the dining room roughly an hour later and told me that she didn't mean to hurt my feelings, but she felt that I didn't do anything to show her that I cared about her, or to show that I cared that she was sick when I was gone and that she had a very difficult time.  I sat there and listened wondering whether we were in the same house for the past few days and how is it physically possible that she completely overlooked EVERYTHING I did... specifically to help her rest and to show her that I loved her.  She then proceeded to tell me that I never asked her about how she was feeling, etc., where at this point, I lost it.  I couldn't listen to her bullshit anymore because I asked her roughly a hundred times and she sometimes gave me one-worded answers, and other times, she said a sentence or so, but I did ask so many times about how she was doing... and now she is saying that this never happened?!?  Are you KIDDING me?

So I lost it.  I raised my voice and I started listing the times I asked about her and her well being, and how it was her that never opened up or shared anything.  I told her that I thought she lived in a "poor me" reality where she keeps replaying words like "he doesn't care about me; he doesn't listen to me, etc." in her head completely ignoring what is going on in reality.  I was pissed.  She didn't want to hear it and walked out.  I followed her into the living room and I told her she was fucking nuts (obviously a misstep; whenever I chase my wife into another room to continue an argument I usually say the wrong thing), and as I write this article, I am quite upset, hurt, and I am feeling quite alone.

Later, she came to the doorway and told me that she didn't mean to hurt me.  I told her I understood, and I said "okay," still visibly hurt.  As far as I'm concerned, what she said was lip service and it meant nothing to me.  I'm not okay with someone doing something, apologizing, then doing it again.  We have obviously been down this road before, and I'm not okay with the way things are.  I think the intimacy level between us sucks, and I think I would have more of a connection with a stranger I meet on the street than I have with my own wife.  It's pitiful.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Marriage Counselor Meeting #5 - Listening to the Little Hints

Coincidentally, I had a difficult time remembering what was discussed in our last meeting (the topic eluded me), probably because it was so mundane... but probably also so important.

Okay, short recap.  We got engaged (and married shortly afterwards) after dating something like 12 times back in 2006.  I was a critical S.O.B. and I couldn't stop being critical.  My wife, who entered the marriage with optimism and an open mind clashed with me confused why we we weren't taking on the roles married husbands and wives are supposed to.  My wife didn't act like the typical chassidishe woman I expected her to be -- instead, she was her own person with her own strengths and her own weaknesses on a path of being the best she could be -- like me.  Not seeing this, my comments the first year of our marriage caused her to close off emotionally and not trust me, and now almost SIX years later and FOUR kids later, we are seeing a marriage counselor to figure out why there is little intimacy and closeness (meaning in our daily interactions as husband and wife) between us.

So there are these walls.  My complaint is that my wife does not appreciate or recognize the work that I do on our family's behalf, and that my efforts go unnoticed.  Her complaint is that I do not appreciate or recognize the tireless work that she does in running our family and our household, raising our family, cooking the meals, etc. etc.  In other words, there is this cycle or pattern of fighting which is the same fight we have over and over again -- it is tempting to engage in, and once we get sucked into it, it is so difficult to back away from because the hurt has already been done.  This was the recap of our last session, and the advice of the therapist was 1) recognize when "the pattern" beseeches us and temps us into a fight, and 2) recognize that the fight is simply re-enacting the patterned behavior, and 3) if possible, try to step away from the pattern fight.

Once again, so there are these walls from our first year of marriage.  After that, I pretty much learned to accept her for who she was (or at least to stop expecting her to be what I expected her to be when we entered the marriage), and to appreciate her for who she is.  The problem is that now years later, she is still emotionally guarded and closed to me, and she doesn't trust me that I won't hurt her if she opens up.

The therapist initially stated the point that she doesn't think the source of our patterned fight was each other, but perhaps it has its source in our childhood or our respective upbringings.  Perhaps my mamma or my tatta (I never called them that, BTW) didn't appreciate me or acknowledge my efforts, etc. etc.  I was sure she was barking up the wrong tree, and I cut her off.  I don't think looking into the past to give excuses for the present is an acceptable method of helping us to grow and change.  Speaking to my wife later, I see that we both probably have sources for our fight, but I still think this is irrelevant.

Then came the CRUX of our session.  My wife felt that even when she opens up, I don't engage her in exploratory conversation.  It turns out that she'll say something -- a hint, a comment, or something, and I don't recognize that she is opening up. I take what she says at face value, obviously listening and paying attention to her, but this doesn't make her feel heard, loved, or cared for because I do not engage her in exploratory questions about the subject.  The therapist agreed that I am not a mind reader, and there is no way to know when she is just speaking, or when she is opening up about a topic that is important to her.  AND, moving forward, my wife needs to help me understand when something she discusses is important to her and she wants me to explore deeper and ask her questions about it.  We tried it a few times, and my wife seems to be satisfied with the result.

My experience is that she tells me something is important, I ask a few questions, get some non-descriptive answers which don't give me any depth, and then she's not interested in answering my questions or in giving me anything that I can use to learn more about her on a deeper level.  Well, not really -- I've picked up a few items -- things I've known about her already on some shallow level, but now I know that these items or issues are more on her mind than they are background piece of information I categorized these items or issues as.  In other words, there is more going on between her and her mother as far as a mother-daughter relationship then she has let on in the past, and I never recognized the issues she shared with me.  In short, I expect that this will get us somewhere, one increment at a time.  My feeling about it is that it is a lot of effort to put in to get one drop of water at a time, and I'd rather look for the ocean, the river, or the dam and break it open and see what flows out.  The obvious problem (something I'll deal with) is that it's not going to be that easy.

On an unrelated note, what I like about this therapist is that not only is she willing to take me head on and address a wrong act or a bad way of me seeing something, but I like that my wife trusts her and is borderline in tears with a shaky voice when she speaks to her.  In other words, she is not shutting out the therapist like I feel that she usually shuts me out, so it is good to see the inner workings of my wife's mind, and to be reminded of the many emotions she has brewing just beneath the cool and calm surface.  I also like seeing her vulnerable, because she doesn't let me get her to that state, but it is nice to be reminded that she is able to get to that state -- it gives me something to reach for.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marriage Counselor -- Meeting #4

I know I am doing this out of order, but on Monday, we had our fourth meeting with the marriage counselor.

We went into the meeting feeling good about stuff in general, and we really didn't have anything that we planned to discuss with her.  Warning -- this is probably where the worst things come out.

My wife holds the door for me as we walk in, and we're cheerfully discussing a business idea the two of us came up with -- a business idea my wife will never follow through on, and so if we want to do it, it will be on my shoulders -- but snide comments aside, we were cheerful.

After sitting down with the marriage counselor, the conversation floated to our vacation, and specifically, the first few days [which I blogged about here].  We didn't even get to the part of the story where my wife demanded that we turn around, end our vacation before even reaching our destination, and go home.  The therapist honed in on the fact that our communication gets messed up (like misinterpreted text messages), and that we immediately assume that the other is our enemy and we imply and inject feeling of malice from the other that may or may not be there.

In short, the therapist didn't like me assuming that my wife was pissed at me based on "the look" she gave me when she came back into the hotel and found me working there.  Similarly, she did not like the fact that my wife assumed that I didn't empathize with her because I did not give her the specific signals that she needed to feel as if I was empathizing with her (noting that she ignored every other signal of empathy that I showed her).  There's not much space or patience on my part to go into the whole ordeal, but 1) my issue was that she didn't show any appreciation for the work I do to keep us afloat and to pay for all the expensive lifestyle choices she has urged us to make.  And, 2) her issue was that I do not show empathy for the tough lifestyle that she lives (which is total bullshit).

I wrote that it was bullshit not because I disagree with her that her life is difficult -- believe me, I appreciate her more than anything for the unbelievable job she does EACH AND EVERY DAY with running our household, raising the kids, and keeping the family afloat with all of her efforts.  However, as I explained to the counselor, whenever I notice that she is having a hard time and I acknowledge this to her -- whether it is by buying flowers as a thank you for all the hard work, giving her a hug as a thank you, telling her I appreciate everything she does, or even telling her, "I am sorry you are having a difficult time," when things go wrong -- I get the equivalent of a "FUCK YOU" as a response. 

My wife responded that she doesn't feel that my way(S) of showing her empathy are "real," and that she feels as if they are not authentic.  This pisses me off more than anything because I cannot explain how many different ways I have tried to show her empathy and appreciation, because no matter what I do (even when it is done naturally according to my style), she doesn't feel that it is authentic.  Quite frankly, I have tried so many ways of doing this, that I feel as if the problem is with her on this one (as some psychological issue she needs to work out) and not something I need to do or an approach I need to change.

Her opinion is that if I see she is having a hard time, instead of me expressing my empathy, I should instead ROLL UP MY SLEEVES AND HELP.  When she told this to the therapist, I got upset because 1) she NEVER does the same thing for when I need something, and 2) I feel that unlike many husbands, I *DO* help out significantly around the house.  Aside from the fact that I pay for a maid which comes pretty much every day for a few hours, I also help out with laundry, various cleaning tasks around the home (whatever is needed at the time), I come home early and promptly from work every day to put the kids to bed, and I take care of many of the household maintenance repairs and chores (e.g., mowing the lawn, taking care of the garden that she planted and decided she doesn't want to water, etc.) that she has nothing to do with.  This brings us to the final issue we discussed in our session -- PATTERN FIGHTING.

I told the therapist that the reason I did not help out and jump in there when my wife was having a hard time (this is no longer relevant since I've been kicked out of my home office and now I am never home during the day) was probably because at that moment, my hands were tied up with actual work I was doing at the time for the law firm.  I felt that she should have acknowledged that I was working too at that moment and if I could have picked up and helped out, I would have (as I used to when I was working there; when I couldn't help out because I was working, I didn't help out, but rather, I called out from the office that I know she is having a difficult time and that I felt for her).

Well, at this point my wife and I got into an argument in front of the therapist that she doesn't acknowledge the fact that I work for a living, and that everything that she benefits from is based on my toil and sweat which she takes for granted.  She turned around and started fighting about her taking care of the kids and that I never help out with them, etc. etc. etc.  --- The counselor picked up on this and explained to us the concept of PATTERN FIGHTING.

In short, PATTERN FIGHTING is where we habitually return to an old fight which we repeat over and over again, regardless of the context.  

For us, the context used to be 1) [when we got married] me studying all day and night for the patent bar exam vs. her working a job and paying the bills, or 2) me working from home all day and night at a low paying job vs. her leaving her job and raising our newborn son while being pregnant with our second, or 3) me working hard at a real corporate job vs. her home running the family of two kids without any help, or 4) me starting and running the law firm in our 6x6 closet vs. her running the family of three kids on a tight budget with no help, or now, 5) me running a successful law firm outside the home in my office space vs. her running our entire family (4 kids).  It is all the same fight, but the contexts have evolved.

We both have worked hard to bring us where we are today, and me bringing in over a quarter of a million dollars a year just on my work and sweat alone and buying her everything she needs (including a house, remodeling the kitchen, paying for a maid, paying for yeshiva tuition and camp for three of our four kids, going on vacations, paying for her to bust through and explode any budget we ever set for ourselves, just to name a few [and not mentioning the overly expensive decisions which I have disagreed with, such as hundreds of dollars for each curtain, an expensive bunk bed, a remodeled kitchen [okay, I'm mentioning it again], etc.]), and her raising our family and successfully running our home with our four children (including driving them every day, preparing lunches, clothes and bathing them every day, babysitting our youngest and then all of our kids after school, cooking dinners, cleaning up spills, changing diapers, shopping for food, shopping for everything we need (diapers, etc.), doing some laundry, and cooking and managing every Shabbos and every holiday), etc. etc. etc. -- we both work crazy hard, and we both are quite exhausted. 


Anyway, apparently we have this ongoing fight where 1) I do not feel appreciated for the work I do or for my contributions to our lifestyle or the benefits she enjoys every day, and 2) she does not feel as if I empathize with the difficult life she lives and toils with every day.


While our hour with the marriage counselor ended before we resolved anything, in short, she told us that we must 1) acknowledge that we have this pattern of fighting that we fall into, and that it acts as a magnet and draws us into the same fight each time we are pulled into it, and 2) we need to recognize what "triggers" the pattern, and then step back and break the pattern before we jump into the fight yet again.

Obviously she triggered the fight on the way home, and I wasn't so good at stepping back.  Similarly, we have triggered the fight multiple times almost every day since, and neither she nor I break away from it.  The problem is that once the trigger happens, the wound has already happened as well -- so it is difficult to step back when she hurts me, and probably vice versa.

[Personal Note: Not necessarily for you [the reader], but more for my own diary and recollection, what I want by having my work acknowledged is that I want my wife to appreciate and be grateful for the work I do for her and OUR mutual benefit.  There are so many things I can do that are far more selfish (I don't have to work all day; I can slack off; I can say, "okay, we've made $75K, $100K, $150K -- let's take the rest of the year off," and yet I devote myself to her and our family, and I feel that I should receive some kind of "reward" or "thanks" or gratitude for all the work I do that is BEYOND the duty of a husband merely providing for the needs of his family.  Yes, of course it is my DUTY to work based on the decisions I have made in my life, but still, if I do all this (when I could have easily done far less, or, for example, just taken some job as an employee and made some meager salary), I want to be appreciated and rewarded for the extra strenuous work that I have taken on for our family's own betterment.  More than this, I want to be CARED FOR, and I want to feel loved.  I want her to know that I contribute my fair share and then some and that my wife is lucky to have me.  And I don't want all the work I do to benefit us in the dark.  I want my wife to know what I do for her, and I feel that unless I mention it (probably incessantly over and over ad nauseum), she won't know what I do.  That sounds stupid and illogical, but it is how I feel.  I feel used and taken advantage of.  I also feel neglected, and I feel that I am ignored because somehow everything I do is expected of me without thanks or appreciation.


On the flip side, going back over that paragraph above, flipping what I said around, I feel that I have fulfilled my obligation as a provider.  I feel as if the work I do is not appreciated, and that I do not get any benefit or reward from my wife for continuing to toil even though I technically can take the rest of the year off if I wanted to because I have made more than most people in the community make, and they get by fine, why shouldn't we get by on less?  I don't feel that I benefit from making the extra income for our family, and there is certainly little reward, because no matter how much I make, it is never enough.  I don't feel cared for.  I don't feel loved by my wife.  I don't think my wife thinks I contribute equally to the family.  I don't think my wife is in love with me.  I don't think my wife is happy that she married me versus someone else.  I don't feel special, I don't feel important in her eyes.  I feel as if the work I do goes unnoticed.  I don't think my wife knows or acknowledges the work I have done for us.  Wow, sucky life.]

Reflection on the vacation.

So almost one week has passed since we returned home from our crazy vacation.  My memories of it are that parts of it were rewarding -- taking each one of my kids individually into the waves of the beach, and jumping over them -- teaching my daughter how to "breathe" under water (essentially, holding her breathe and opening her eyes under water; this was important to her because before this, she was afraid of putting her head into the water out of fear that she'll drown) -- but the rest of it was so much damn work (and in my opinion, not so rewarding).  We didn't do anything except go to restaurants, schlep the kids all over the place from one "activity" to another [this wasn't a vacation for us, but for them -- but quite frankly, they would have had just as good a time spending it at the parks and on Long Island], and as far as I am concerned, it was flat out EXHAUSTING.  I won't even mention expensive.

We drove all the way home in one shot, my wife and I taking turns driving (pretty much me driving the whole way, and my wife driving a total of three or four hours, but who was counting), and overcaffination via energy drinks (too many at the same time) got us home.  I was WIPED OUT.

Shabbos came and went, and on Sunday, silly us, we drove to a water park on Long Island for the day.  It was grueling hot, and it was pretty much non-stop holding the kids, playing with them, and carrying them.  I forgot my sunscreen long-sleeved jacket, so I was shirtless, and even with lots of sunscreen, I got burned all over.  My whole body is pretty much aching, and I'm exhausted from the whole ordeal.

I was showering this morning, and part of me felt a bit sad.  Since we started our trip (and even before, since we started seeing a marriage counselor), I've been a bit sad.  Parts of me in the past that have hurt regarding wounds in our marriage -- well, I've put those away pretending they weren't there (or just dealing with the fact that they won't be dealt with), but now that we're seeing someone, I don't know why, but I've been filled with a bit of sadness.  I don't feel a connection from my wife, and quite frankly, I'm not really interested in being the one to light the spark each time.  I really am just tired out physically, and drained emotionally.  I am overwhelmed by the kids, and I have little patience for them.  I am hurt by my wife for forcing me to get an office outside the home, because now I have no relaxation or rest, and I'm suffering on many levels alone in a room which is now my prison.

Friday, June 22, 2012

RECAP - The Rest of Our Vacation

The result of the vacation from last month was in my opinion nothing short of less-than-exciting.  After two days of me trying to balance work and play, my wife decided that this is no vacation and that we should turn around and go home.

This would be okay with me, but where we were (26 hours away from our home) wasn't the destination, but was 4 hours away from my mother and the beach (the ultimate destination of what was to be a two-week trip).  [To recap in one sentence, my wife did not want to spend the two weeks that our four (4) kids had home from school sitting in the house, so we agreed that even though I still had to run my law firm remotely (we are still a one-man-show), at least she could have "bubby" (my mom) taking care of the kids and helping out while she and my wife went to the beach each day with them.]

Yet, even so close to our destination, my wife essentially threw an attitude that she has no interest in watching the kids at a destination outside the home, and that she wants to go home.  Now.  She had no interest in continuing the trip to our ultimate destination (mom, beach), and she blamed the whole thing on that she cannot stand me working on our vacation.  Mind you, all I needed was 2-3 hours in the early morning, and an hour in the evening.

So instead of fighting her on it, I let her make the decision that we should turn around and go home, and even though we purchased the resort hotel room ($225+/night) for that night as well, she wanted us to immediately drop everything, check out early, and leave immediately home.

So we're in the car for roughly 2.5 hours driving home, and I wasn't arguing with her on the decision.  I was obviously pissed (this was my vacation also, AND I rearranged the whole law firm and our schedules to allow this vacation to happen), but I went along with it.  2.5 hours into the trip, she decided that maybe it wasn't so bad for us to go to Bubby and the beach, and so we turned around.  A total of 5 hours later (2.5 hours each way) and now late at night, we arrived again at where our hotel was, but because we already checked out, we lost our room (and they did not have any other rooms available).

So we (I) continued driving to our ultimate destination.  5 more hours later (we were driving at this point for a total of 10 hours), we arrived in my mom's city, and my wife wanted us to find a hotel.  Knowing that my wife has a fetish for big named hotels (and that she won't stay at anything less than a 4-star hotel), I looked on my smartphone on the Hotels.com app and found a Marriott (or Sheraton), who knows.  It was a big named 4-star hotel.  Exhausted, I drove over there, and checked in.  I think the smell of smoke and 1980's wallpaper should have tipped me off that this wasn't going to be a good idea, but it was 3am, and we were all exhausted.

We get to the room, and it smells like smoke too.  In fact, the beds were made, but there were crumbs in between the bed sheets.  "SCABIES!" my wife screams.  "We're going to get SCABIES!" "Sleep with your clothes on!"  We slept there for four (4) hours [what a waste of money], woke up already dressed, didn't let the kids touch anything, and we went into the car and checked out.  Funny enough, later on in the trip, my wife broke out with a heat rash, and she was convinced that she was infected from the shitty hotel that "I" chose.  It went away a day or so later, but still, I couldn't help but to find the humor that with all of her precautions against getting scabies, that she was the one that got infected.  She didn't, but we still had a fight over the fact that I couldn't help but chuckle when I heard that she got infected.

In sum, the vacation was fine.  We stayed at an overly lavish (meaning expensive) apartment overlooking the water, where we could leave the apartment, walk outside, walk past the beautiful pool, and we were on the beach.  My mom came over almost every day to help with the kids, I did my work, and we all spent quality time together.  At nights, my mom babysat, and my wife and I went out to do who knows what.  We met up with her friends; we went out to dinners, spent an evening at an arab hookah bar, and I even caught a 3D movie ("Prometheus") with my mom's husband while my wife had a girl's night out with her friends who live near my mom.

As for the cost of the vacation -- well, I didn't look at the cost until we returned home, and it wasn't pretty.  Every meal was anywhere between $65-$120 (simply put, where we were, EVERYTHING was very expensive, and kosher restaurants were obscenely expensive -- in one place, $70 for a crappy sandwich for two adults), but quite frankly, I wasn't phased because 1) I knew based on where we were going that everything would be overpriced, and 2) we budged for it and already had money for the vacation fund set aside.

As for me, quite frankly, I was wiped out.  Normally I work every day and spend time with the kids in the mornings and shortly before bedtime during the week, on Shabbos, and on Sundays.  Ugh, Sundays is like 24 hours with them, and they require so much energy I am wiped out by it.  Well, on this vacation, pretty much EVERY DAY WAS A SUNDAY (and on top of that, I still had to run my firm for a few hours in the morning before everyone got started on their day).  My wife, however, was happy, and she thought we had a very successful vacation and is now planning our next trip (as if this one wasn't big enough)... Israel.