Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Capturing the Friedmans

If you want to get a sense of the devastation that an accusation of child abuse can bring to a family, watch the DVD of the documentary Capturing the Friedmans.

This apparently respectable, middle-class family was torn apart in the 1980s when the father, Arnold Friedman, was found to be importing child pornography magazines from The Netherlands.

Police then charged both him and his son Jesse with the abuse of children attending computer classes in their home.

The movie, released in 2003 and directed by Andrew Jarecki, leaves you, at the end, with a sense of confusion and with nowhere to go.

One the one hand, Arnold Friedman, who committed suicide in prison, was a paedophile. On the other hand, the police investigation was flawed in ways that would be unlikely to be tolerated today.

Jesse Friedman, who served 13 years in prison, continues to try to prove his innocence.

A remarkable documentary, all the more remarkable for its refusal to neatly tie up the answers for us.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bringing up teens - a tough call for separated Dads

Photo by .Tatiana. (Flickr)

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 22nd January, 2008:

Adolescence, to put it mildly, is a time when teenagers separate out from their parents.

Consider, then, the difficulties which non-resident fathers have in maintaining relationships with their teenage children.

Not only have the teens reached the stage where Dad is no longer perfect but Dad isn't there to give them the attention they want.

It is, of course, very easy to criticise fathers in this situation for not spending enough time with their teens.

But Dad probably has a job to do, complete with commuting and may have another household to go home to as well.

On top of this the teenagers themselves have to fit in study, drama, football, dancing and time out with their friends.

So co-ordinating the contact is not easy and takes an effort. It is especially difficult to do if the teens' mother and father are not on speaking terms.

A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family gives some idea of how the sense of closeness between teenagers and a divorced father suffers in this situation.

I am assuming here that it is the mother who has custody of the children.

The research was derived from a national, long-term study of adolescents in the United States.

Young people were interviewed at the beginning and end of a five year period. Their parents were together at the start of the five years but, by the end, some had divorced.

At the start, 57 per cent of the young people said they were very close to their fathers.

By the end, this had fallen to 48 per cent where the parents were still together and to 25 per cent where they were divorced. Closeness to the mother was unaffected by the divorce.

Three things strike me as important about these figures.

The first is that closeness between father and teenagers suffered whether the parents were divorced or together - though to a greater extent, of course, where there had been a divorce. This, I expect, is part of the usual war of independence that goes on between adolescents and the old folks.

The second striking point is that, given the way the study was done, all the divorces had occurred relatively recently when the teenagers were interviewed the second time. At this stage emotions would still be very raw and the father's 'rating' could, perhaps, be expected to suffer as he is the absent parent.

The third point is that we do not know how long this absence of closeness might last. The storms of adolescence die down and are generally followed by a greater closeness between parents and 'children'.

There is no reason why this should not also occur where the parents are divorced.

Nevertheless, the findings underline the fact that separated fathers have to make a special effort to keep involved with teenage children.

For this they need to be able to cooperate with the mother. That is easier said than done. Parents who are still together often fight over how to handle their teenagers. Such fights, I suspect, are just as likely to occur when the parents are apart.

But unless they are able and willing to cooperate, the scene is set for major conflict.

Other research suggests that once teenagers become fairly independent, they may shuttle between parent and parent to get what they want.

If Mammy is being a pain in the neck, then a few days with Daddy seems like a good idea. If one parent won't shell out for tickets for Oxegen, then maybe the other one - alright, Daddy again - will.

This again points up the necessity for separated parents to talk to one another about these issues and to try to reach some sort of accommodation about them.

Parents living apart, whether married or unmarried, can get help with with reaching such an accommodation from the Family Mediation Service which is part of the Family Support Agency and has centres around the country.

Its website is at and the telephone number is (01) 611 4100. They're worth a call if you're living apart and fighting over the teens.

See also: Staying close to teens is harder for separated Dads.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Eighty per cent of Irish teenagers meet the guidelines for normal weight

Photo byTodd Ehler (Flickr)

I sometimes wonder if the obesity debate is getting out of hand. When doctors are busy alarming us about an "obesity epidemic" are they counting in people who are simply overweight? And are they, and the media, taking account of those who are naturally heavy?

Research reported in the Irish Independent suggests that 19 per cent of teenage boys have weight problems or are obese. The figure for girls is 17 per cent.

But the actual rate of obesity is eight per cent for teenage boys and six per cent for girls, the report says. And four out of five teenagers are within normal weight guidelines, according to Prof Michael Gibney from the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin.

So we're not all obese and the country is not sinking under our weight.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Scientists clone men - step aside girls!

Photo by darkpatator (Flickr)

I've often heard joking, or even half-joking, references to the notion that sperm banks mean women don't need men - or at least not relationships with men - if they want to have children. It all raised the spectre of a science fiction future in which men are culled with a few guys maybe being kept in a labyrinth somewhere to produce the necessary for the sperm bank. Escapees, I suppose, could live in a forest and grow beards. Well, guess what? Scientists have now succeeded in cloning men, at least at an embryonic level, according to this BBC report. Now who doesn't need who, girls?

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Running away money" - when couples marry should their money stay apart?

Photo by emdot (Flickr)

Women in certain parts of Dublin used to have - and maybe still have - what was known as "running away money." This was a little stash of cash that the husband knew nothing about. It was meant to fund the wife's escape if life with himself should become intolerable.

In practice, I suppose, it got dipped into for various expenses and treats. If "running away money" exists today it probably vanishes on shopping trips to New York.

I thought about "running away money" when I read that couples in the UK have become a more secretive with each other about how much money they really have. One symptom of this is that fewer couples have joint bank accounts.

In the first flush of romance, the joint bank account may be seen as an expression of undying love. But in the divorce era, when love is far from undying, it appears that couples getting married now doubt if it is wise for their bank accounts to marry as well.

The issue of joint control over money also raised its head last week when the Liveline on RTE Radio 1 addressed the question of child benefit or the children’s allowance as it used to be called. Listeners heard stories of bad behaviour by both genders. On one side, there was the man who kept his wife and children on a subsistence allowance because money had to be prioritised for his drinking. On the other, there was the woman who left her husband and children and went to live in England a couple of decades ago. The husband was told he could not get the children's allowance; so whenever the wife came home to Ireland from England she popped into the post office, collected her children's allowance and used the money to help to fund her new lifestyle.

Even in the absence of such extremes, it is not all that unusual for each partner in a long-term relationship to have a different attitude to money. Perhaps one is cautious and the other is of the Spend! Spend! Spend! mentality, for instance. If they could talk about money matters in a rational way, they could avoid a great many problems. But how many of us are capable of talking to our partner in a rational way about money? Suppose you divide a page into two columns and note on one side the times you have had a rational, logical conversation about money with your nearest and dearest and on the other side the times you fought over money. Which column would be the longest? Unless you’re living with Eddie Hobbs, I suspect it would be the second one.

The emotions and, sometimes, bad behaviour that accompany money are, needless to say, carried into relationship breakdown. Separating partners have an interest in hiding from each other their true financial status. Money may be removed from bank accounts, for instance. If one partner gets a pay rise it may be kept very quiet. In mediation between separating couples, the point at which the mediator puts up on a flipchart the expense of running two households can be an early breaking point.

In a discussion on the topic on BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour last week, Jonathan Self (author of The Teenager's Guide to Money) suggested that attitudes to money should be discussed with anybody you are thinking of having a relationship with. He even suggested that the topic is sufficiently important for a first date.

That’s fine if your first date happens to be an accountant, a revenue official or a banker. For the rest of us, though, it strikes me as a bridge too far, too soon – the sound of first dates running very fast in the opposite direction could become a familiar one. Best confine yourself to trying for a kiss and park the money issue until the next time.

And if the relationship flourishes and you end up together until death or irreconcilable differences do you part, I hope each of you will be wise enough to have your own little stash of "running away money" hidden in the post office.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Internet pornography now the main form of sex addiction, counsellors say

The obsessive use of internet pornography has become the most common form of sex addiction, according to a survey of therapists by the Newsbeat programme on BBC Radio 1.

Forty three therapists responded to a questionnaire and 80 per cent said sex addiction was a problem.

In extreme cases men spend eight hours a day looking at pornography and, as a result, their relationships and their jobs can be at risk.

Relate, the relationship counselling organisation, says there has been a huge increase in the number of people presenting because of excessive use of internet pornography and compulsive sexual behaviour.

Relate counsellors also wonder how the ability of teenagers to have normal sexual relationships as they grow up will be affected by the easy availability of pornographic images.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Love and maintenance

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 8th January 2008:

A poem by the late Detroit poet Robert Hayden brings home the importance of recognising a sort of love that that has little to do with romance but which deserves to be acknowledged and praised nevertheless. Called Those Winter Sundays it begins:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labour in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

The image of the father who gets up in bitter cold to light the fires for the family before they, too, arise is probably somewhat dated in the central heating era but the principle remains: that such acts can be, in their own way, acts of love.

They are also, very often, unacknowledged. Hayden talks of getting up in the now warm house and

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Note: Click here for the full poem.

A few weeks ago, on Sarah Carey's GUBU blog, I came across a poem by the British poet UA Fanthorpe which expresses the same idea. It begins:

"There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget the milkman, which remembers to plant bulbs;"

Note: Click here for the full poem.

(WD40, if you don't know, is a type of oil good for rust prevention and other purposes.)

And it's not all sweetness and light. Hayden was raised by foster parents who had a very troubled marriage and the effects stayed with him throughout his life. Indeed, in the poem mentioned above he talks about "the chronic angers of that house." Nevertheless, he recognised in later life the value of the practical things done for him by the foster father whom he often had reason to fear.

It seems to me that for people who have had a harsh upbringing there can sometimes be a kind of healing in this realisation. A parent might be unexpressive about love but might nevertheless build his or her life around the needs of the child or the other parent.

This realisation is also part of the Japanese Naikan meditation which I have mentioned before in this column. To do Naikan, you call to mind someone who was or is important to you even if - perhaps especially if - you have a big resentment against that person. You then ask yourself three questions and reflect on each in turn: What has this person given me, what have I given this person and what troubles have I caused this person?

You are encouraged to be very specific in your answers. Maybe all you can think of is that this person put food on the table, ironed your clothes and saw to it that you went to school. You may be full of justifiable anger towards them but there are, nevertheless, these things that they did for you. And there are, after all, parents who don't do even these things for their children.

All of this is a million miles removed from romantic love which involves doing things for the other person simply because they are romantic and without much regard to whether they are useful. A bouquet of roses hasn't got a lot of utility to it but it can get a guy out of trouble because it appeals to the romantic side of love. So if you want a flourishing relationship with your significant other, don't rely on the "love called maintenance" but throw a little romance into the mix as well.

But never underestimate the importance of the "love called maintenance" either. In some people it can simply be a sour expression of a resented duty. But in others, it can be as true an expression of love as the roses and the box of chocolates and the diamond ring, or maybe even truer. That it so often goes unappreciated and unacknowledged -as by Robert Hayden as a child - does nothing to alter this fact.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Staying close to teens is harder for separated Dads

While fathers are often criticised for having insufficient contact with their children following a separation, it seems to me that the logistics of holding down and job and living elsewhere can make it tough for separated fathers to keep the level of contact they - or most of them - would like. Both the children and the (usually) mother they are living with have their own routines around work, school and extra-curricular activities and navigating around these is difficult especially if the relationship between the parents is one of hostility.

Now a piece of research reported on Psych Central News shows that there is a particular danger of separated Dads finding themselves distanced from their teenage children unless they are able to make an extra effort to keep up contact. The US research, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that 48 per cent of teenagers questioned said they had a consistently close relationship with their father where the parents were still together. But if the parents were divorced that percentage fell to 25 per cent. Divorce did not significantly affect the relationship with the mother.

This suggests that separated men need to work extra hard on their relationship with their teenage children. As I mentioned above, that can be a very tall order indeed and it requires the cooperation of all concerned.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Rural suicide figures suggest urban life not as unhealthy as we assume

We often think of life in cities and towns as unpleasant, hurried, stressful and therefore unhealthy - but the latest suicide figures from Co Clare suggest we may be wrong.

Last year, according to Gordon Deegan's story (premium content) in The Irish Times, 17 people (16 male) took their own lives in the county. This exceeds the number of deaths (12) from road accidents.

Of the 17 suicides, 11 took place in rural areas and 10 during the summer months. This is puzzling because we also expect a stronger sense of community in rural areas than in cities and towns - and community protects against depression.

Does anyone have an explanation?

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hillary Clinton - emotional in New Hampshire or just an act?

Hillary Clinton at the Café Espresso, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Who says big boys don't cry? And who says girls are crybabies? When Bill Clinton turns on the tears everybody's impressed but when Hillary gets emotional, the first thought in the minds of viewers is - Is she faking it? As she faced defeat in the New Hampshire primary, did she feel a softer, gentler Hillary was in order? And if people reckon she was putting it on, won't that damage her image among voters who think she ought to be more weepy? What a dilemma - it's enough to drive you to tears.

Ps (Next day) And she won! Time for tears from Obama? And in the next Irish election should Enda and Master Gilmore get out the Kleenex?

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Men are missing from doctors' surgeries - and from health policy

I suspect many men would say women go to the doctor at the drop of a hat. They seem to regard the doctor as a friend whom they mean to see quite often. We men, on the other hand, see the doctor's surgery as a place to be avoided at all costs - no need to present yourself there until you've had a distressing disease for at least a couple of years. Even then shure what's the hurry? Well, it's just possible - maybe more than possible - that their willingness to go to the doctor is a key factor in helpling women to live longer than men. This article on the website of the Men's Health Forum England & Wales suggests that many more men could live longer if we saw our doctors more often and if health policy aimed to take our needs into account. In Britain it is now law that the health service take the needs of the differing genders into account but it's a new law and we don't know yet how effective it is going to be. But at least they're trying.....

(This is the complete post. Ignore 'Continue reading' link below.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Those Winter Mornings: Seeing the love in ordinary duties

Robert Hayden

Those Winter Sundays
by Detroit poet Robert Hayden celebrates the many things done by fathers and, indeed, mothers, even in the most troubled marriages and which we fail to count as love until, perhaps, it is too late:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sometimes togetherness is just too much!

Photo by papalars (Flickr)

Togetherness between men and women is to be encouraged - but sometimes it goes too far. I first came to this conclusion in Captain America's in Grafton Street when I observed a couple who not only wore the same pullovers but ordered the same dish. Fair enough, you may say, but this pair ordered their burgers and chips on the same plate with two sets of knives and forks and continued to tuck in, totally together, totally sharing. Well, at least they ordered separate knives and forks.

A couple of years ago in Lanzarote I saw another example of togetherness. We discovered to our amazement that the apartment complex we were in allowed residents to eat all they could at its restaurant for the whole week at no extra cost. This deal had attracted loads of obese people. Obese couples and, indeed, entire obese families, moved back and forth from food counter to tables with an odd, floating motion as if they were in an aquarium. It was remarkable to see Mum, Dad, sons, daughters, all going around like large dolphins - togetherness indeed.

In both these examples - I could come up with others but you get the idea - I reckon togetherness can be tyrannical. If loving hubby or loving wifey had decided they wanted to have their own goddam burger on their own goddam plate mightn't they have been spending the rest of the day, and night, in the doghouse? And what of the families in Lanzarote? Imagine being the one who wants to slim down, run ten miles a day, get slim and muscular? FREAK!

Now, I'm a chap who likes his space. I get twitchy at a crowded dinner table. At parties, I get bored around midnight. So I'm never going to be into the levels of togetherness I've described above - but would you?

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gout - an under-rated and exceptionally painful man's disease

Image from

Gout tends to be treated as a bit of a joke, seen as a well-deserved affliction of lords and kings. Of course, the majority of men who have gout are in neither category. This Guardian article by Martin Kettle graphically explains the awfulness of this male disease - and the comments to the article are informative too.

For a more technical article on gout, follow this link to

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Our self-catering bungalow in County Leitrim

Leave it all behind! Chill out at Lakefield, a modern bungalow refurbished to a high standard overlooking Carrickport Lake in Co Leitrim available for weekly holiday rentals. Click here to go to the website.

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)
And here is the rest of it.

My training workshops

I present workshops on workplace bullying, stress management, time management and other topics. Clients for whom I have presented workshops or addressed seminars (various topics) include:

* Health Service Executive
* Institute for Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy
* Irish Congress of Trade Unions
* Irish Dental Association
* Irish Medical Organisation
* Irish Nurses' Organisation
* Irish Vocational Education Association
* Law Society
* National Union of Journalists (Dublin & London)
* Order of Malta
* Technical Engineering and Electrical Union
* William Glasser Institute European Convention

My email address: (change "at" to "@") My telephone number (voicemail) is: ++ 353 1 4404140

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)
And here is the rest of it.