Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Summer Vacation – A Learning Experience

As a kid, who did not love Summer vacation?  But as an adult, I love it so much more.  I have always been the type of person who enjoys watching others’ happiness, more than my own.  And now that I get to witness things as a father, through my daughters’ eyes, yes, I love every chance I get to spend with my daughters.

My daughters love the reality television show, Big Brother.  By default, that means when they visit me during the Summer, I am stuck watching the show with them.  It is unavoidable because I live in a one-room apartment.  A similar situation if you will to the living arrangements on Big Brother, more than a dozen people, trapped in a contained studio house, for over 90 days, with someone being kicked out of the house every week.  Every move is watched.  Every word is heard.  Trapped.

Ok, so our situation is not identical per se, but, the three of us are staying in the same room, for 49 days, but no one is being evicted.  Ok, we get to leave the apartment and do things.  Ok, there is no backstabbing and lying to get favors.  But there is one thing that our situations do have in common, learning about each other.

I have spent most of my cancer survivorship, proving to everyone, that I will be fine.  At the same time, I have spent all of my time, convincing everyone that the many issues I face as a result of my treatments thirty years ago, are very real.  They are not once and done episodes, but a progression of situations, monitored, waiting to have no choice but to be dealt with some day, hopefully before it is too late (read “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable and you will see what I mean).

My daughters were 3 and 5 when my body let me know, that while I may have beaten cancer, it came at a price.  And there would be several more episodes in the upcoming years.  But I have always been of the mindset, to let my kids be kids, let them deal with childish things.  And as I realized how much happier off they were just to know “Daddy was okay,” I used this mentality when it came to family, friends, and co-workers.  By doing so, I did myself a disservice, as well as perhaps other cancer survivors as well.  I figured, if I could keep all the issues hidden that I have to deal with, then I would not have to worry about anyone worrying about me.  The unrealistic part of that is, anytime a crisis would come up, there would be worry.  But then that would be followed up with “get over it already, you are better”, or worse, “just faking it.”

It is ten years now since my daughters saw me hooked up to all kinds of machines, recovering from open heart surgery, and having witnessed many of the other events.  Already during this visit, questions are beginning to come up.  Because of the warmer climate here, many of my scars are exposed, and these lead to questions.  Both daughters were never there when I went through my cancer, though are very proud of me for having made it all these years.  But as they grasp that the fact that many of the things that I deal with health-wise are because of my treatments, they now understand, my body will never get better, only worse.

They know that I have good days, and they have certainly seen my bad days.  They know the issues that I deal with are very real.  But that is not what are visits are about.  Yes, they are learning about me, and I am learning about them.  And I have so much more to teach them.  I take them to visit preserves, complete computer courses that may benefit them in their future, and another first, helped my oldest apply for her first job.  And we still do workbook exercises to prepare them for the new school year, though I have now pared the work down to a specific course that either may have struggled with in school (they each had one).

But there is still so much more for us to do together.  And I cherish every moment I have with them.  And I know that they are enjoying the time with me.  I know that they care about me.  They want to do what they can to keep me around a lot longer, whether it be a better diet, or exercise (we have a nightly walk routine after just 3 days).

They know that in just a few years, our roles may change with each other as I will have to give them responsibilities, as far as things they definitely need to know, and perhaps, prepare for.  They will become my legal guardians and our roles will switch.  If I am faced with the difficult situation of being incapacitated as I have with past events, they will be the ones that will need to carry out my wishes should decisions need to be made.

In the meantime, like I said, I want to let my kids, be kids.  But at least they know, just because I do not show it, does not mean that I am not dealing with some serious health issues.

And just as my children are learning, just because you see this, but do not see something obvious with the person getting out of the vehicle, does not mean that they do not have a health issue that they are dealing with.  But if you feel that you are justified in criticizing anyone anyway?  Feel right on free to trade places with us.


Tag… You’re It

One of my lighter posts today.

Social media takes a lot of knocks, often deservedly so, from stirring the pot of politics, religion, race, etc.  You name an issue, and someone certainly will not be hesitant to launch a grenade onto a social media page to get everyone fired up.  And of course, having an even bigger impact on our lives, having a personal information used by the owners of the particular social media sites.

But I digress.  There is one thing that I do appreciate about social media, Facebook in particular.  No, it is not the cute puppy videos, or travel photos, or flashbacks of days rather forgotten.  But social media has given us an opportunity to reconnect with those in our past like never possible before.  Seriously, you can now live anywhere in the world, and be able to get back in touch with, and stay in contact with anyone.

How far back do you go?  How far would you want to go back?  And why?

Face it, being an adult has its drawbacks.  Responsibility and simply lacking the ability to give a shit does not make being an adult fun (though being a parent is definitely the best feeling in the world).  Look at everything we deal with as adults, politics, war, inflation, crazy weather… we never cared about that as kids.  We could care less.  Playing a game of ball, riding bikes, or just hanging out in an arcade, life was good.

So it would make perfect sense then, to use social media as a way to go back to our childhood.  No, we cannot do it physically, but the memories of a time when our lives may have been simpler, can often be just what we need at a current moment to help us get through a difficult period.

I know on my Facebook, I have several “neighborhood” and school friends that go back more than 45 years, reconnecting in spite of there being over a thousand miles from us.  Every now and then, a photo pops up of us in our younger years, and we can remember everything, every detail of the location, and we cannot help but smile.  Yeah, those were good times.  I remain friends with a kid who lived across the street from me.  I have several friends from elementary school, junior high school, high school, and college.  The levels of friendship vary from casual to remaining the best of friends.  And for the most part, most of these reconnections have survived the controversies blasted on social media.  Instead, the majority of us share stories of our past, support each other as some deal with health issues or other stressful events, and even some, make new travel plans to reconnect in person.

In the movie “Tag” (based on a true story), grown men, 30 years after their childhood, continue a tradition of one game of tag that has continued seemingly forever.  The players get together once a year, for a month, to continue playing.  They have rules that they play by, and pretty much there is no level they will go to, to tag someone.  The thing is, these guys grew up with each other, and continued that friendship 30 years into their adulthood.  I found this very cool.  Why?  Because I still keep in touch with some of my friends when I was a child.  No, we do not play tag or anything, but we do still offer support, share happiness and sorrows.  The friendships are still there, just as in the movie.  And yes, this was based on a true story as the end of the movie shows the actual players involved over the various years, some scenes played out in the movie, others not.  And during the closing credits, and who knew, Jeremy Renner can sing, but you have to stick around for that.

I get the concept behind “Tag”.  In childhood, we did not have to worry about the big issues.  And for most in adulthood, we do not take the time to put those big issues aside, unless we plan it that way.  I say, if you have a chance to get back on that ball field, or hang out in the old basement, do it.  We may change over time, or as some call it, grow up, but the memories are always going to be there, and always available to give us a much needed distraction when needed, to a time when things were simpler.


The Perspective Of Trauma

Recently, we have seen so many photos like this one.  We have heard the videos and audio samples of wailing children separated from loved ones as the families were confronted by US Border Patrol.  I want to make one thing perfectly clear, as I will limit comments strictly to the children, this post is not about the fact that the acts that led to this situation were illegal entry into the United States.  No one can deny that.  This post however, is about the horrific treatment of the children.

Now take a look at these two photos.  Just as the photo above, the children are being subjected to a forced separation.  But there is one major difference.


While both of my daughters, who are adopted from China, were “abandoned,” which at some point my daughters will most likely have to reconcile that time in their lives, for a brief time in their lives, they were in the care of someone who truly meant everything to them, and in an instant, they were gone, and the children were placed in the arms of a stranger.  It made no difference that I had made the commitment to love and care for each of my daughters for the rest of our lives.  Even as infants, I was taking them from the only people they knew, and relied on.

In the time that followed, there would be occasional issues of stress from the memories of the trauma, something called a “night terror.”  Any parent who has ever witnessed this type of episode, best described as worse than an actual nightmare, the child experiencing the night terror exhibits intense fear, shrieking screams, flailing arms and legs, just to describe some of the actions.

But make no mistake, these often are the result of some sort of trauma.  And for small children, whose brains are in no way developed to deal with this intense stress, the lingering and late effects of this trauma, can have a profound impact that can and most likely will affect the child for the rest of their lives.

The other major difference however, is how the children are dealt with following that initial trauma.  Is there constant nurturing following the separation?  Is there an opportunity for the child to establish and build a new bond of trust before the trauma becomes overwhelming?

While I cannot speak for other adoptions, speaking for my daughters, the answers are “yes”.  I was able to respond to their cries of fear and sadness.  I was able to comfort them and hold them.  I spent the next six months after their adoption bonding with them every moment I could, one on one.  They learned through consistency that I was someone who they could trust, someone who was not going to hurt them, someone who would protect them.  While our family unit structure has changed in recent years, my daughters continue to grow with a loving father, showing no signs or issues from the traumatic events that they experienced over a decade ago.

But when it comes to the more than 2000 children who have been separated from their actual family members, it is going to be a much different story.  Federal workers are not allowed to comfort or console the children.  Instead of a cozy home, the children are kept in cages (there is no other way to describe the enclosures).  There is no one on one comforting or nurturing.  If they are lucky, perhaps another child may give the hug and comfort that is desperately needed.  The emotional trauma and the lack of consolation is going to impact these children for the rest of their lives.

I get why the parents of these migrant children wanted to come to the United States.  Both of my daughters came from similar environments, a mother hoping for better for her children.  People often comment how “lucky” my children are.  No, they are not lucky.  They were taken from everything they knew.  They did not volunteer.  But where I am lucky, is that they do not harbor any resentment for adopting them.  Where I am lucky, is that I am a proud father of two beautiful and well adjusted children.  Where I am lucky, we are family.

Our government has realized, and perhaps too late for some, their actions of splitting up the children from the families after crossing the border was a mistake, a huge mistake.  The children were pawns in an attempt at immigration reform, and the price came at the children’s expense.  And there are no doubts this will have a negative impact on most of the children, if not all.  At least, the separations have stopped, but what happens next is just as upsetting, and really, disgraceful.  If you study history, look up “Japanese Internment Camps” and you will see that this will most likely be the next step in dealing with the illegal immigration situation and not splitting up families.  And if by some chance this does not happen, the most immediate and daunting, if not impossible task, is reuniting the children with their loved ones.  It is encouraging that it is reported that of the 2300 separated children, 500 have been reunited.  But for others, the odds are not good because of lack of documentation and communication.

As I mentioned, as part of the adoption process, my daughters had to officially been declared “abandoned.”  And China had a process for proving such a horrific status.  And once deemed official, the adoption could commence.  But with “abandoning” a child being illegal in China, locating either parent is next to impossible as the parent would likely be arrested if they ever came forward.  That does not mean that I have not taken steps to make it possible one day, if my daughters so choose, to try to locate their biological parents.  In the movie “Somewhere Between” (which my oldest daughter makes a cameo appearance), one of the children in the movie actually locates her birth parents (sorry for the spoiler alert), so I know that it can be done, difficult, but not impossible.

But with the nightmare unfolding with these migrant children, it has been discovered that for many, even most, there is no documentation or information of what children belong to what family, how to reunite the children with their family, and worse, having no idea where the children have even been sent to.  Government agencies and the companies operating the detention centers offer no transparency, clearly because they have royally f*cked up!  And clearly, they have no idea how to undo what they have done.  Shit!  The governor of New York was not even aware, that he has over 700 of these separated children in the New York foster system, because HHS has issued a gag order on the foster system.  Clearly, this is wrong and our government knows it.

Again, the argument is not about what is legal immigration and what is not.  We know the difference.  But having been to a country where things are not good, and as a man who has some religious faith, I have no right to judge another, especially one who wants nothing more than a better life for their children, and the risks they are willing to be exposed to, to have that better life.  Their only fault, was thinking what we have always believed, that the United States were a compassionate people, protector of human rights, especially children.

But here is what I will say, and if it is considered judgment, so be it.  If you listen to the audio of the children’s cries, stare at the photos of the children in cages, and all you can say is, “it was the parent’s fault” or “they crossed illegally and knew the risks”, and not be a voice to speak up for the children, I feel sorry for you being so heartless.  And unlike Tucker Carlson who said, and I am paraphrasing, “if you don’t have kids, you don’t have to feel sorry for these children,” we are a better country than this, especially if you are going to hide behind biblical scripture.

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