Category Archives: Fatherhood

Parents key to reducing youth violence


sad young person

Telling children not to feel what they feel can lead youngsters to stop confiding in trusted adults, giving more energy to bottled up feelings that can become destructive.

Why are they so angry?,” columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez asked rhetorically in a recent Miami Herald (“Senseless rage sparks inexplicable tragedy,”  4/2/10), listing five tragic examples of teen-on-teen violence that have received national attention this year.

While each story is unique, the issue of young people’s feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and frustration turning deadly is not. For each example, there are dozens more that have not been featured by the local or national media. The murders of three teens in nearby Liberty City during the first three weeks of March alone went almost unnoticed by the press.

This month marks the 11th anniversary of the horrific killings at Columbine. More than a decade later, many schools have implemented valuable lessons. Yet millions of families and communities across the country are tragically missing in action when it comes to taking actions to make America safer for all our children. While school administrators, counselors, and educators struggle to assure the safety of children on their campuses, they cannot succeed without active community support that begins in each of our homes and neighborhoods.

Rarely is violence against children as premeditated as the attack that left 15 dead and 24 injured in Littleton, Colorado. More typically, it’s a result of young people without constructive, healthy outlets for upsetting feelings either unleashing stored up emotions inward or outward. Parental messages that urge children not to feel what they feel (“Don’t be angry,” “Don’t be sad,” Don’t be scared.”) often lead youngsters to stop confiding in trusted adults, giving more energy to bottled up feelings that can become destructive.

Emotions turned inward show up as sadness, depression, and at the extreme, suicide. For those who release their feelings outwardly, they can be unleashed as anger, rage, and at another extreme, violence.

parents fighting in front of daughter

Many young people do have much to be upset about. The financial stresses that are impacting millions of families touch their lives too, both as they witness increasing conflict and uncertainty within their families and become innocent victims of marital and family breakdown.

Many young people do have much to be upset about. The financial stresses that are impacting millions of families touch their lives too, both as they witness increasing conflict and uncertainty within their families and become innocent victims of marital and family breakdown. For others approaching the end of high school or college, educational and career aspirations may feel unobtainable as traditional paths to independence become increasingly elusive. Pressures to fit in, achieve academic success, and beat an uncertain path to a successful future lead many young people to despairingly surrender their dreams altogether.

Those who do stay the course often have assets in their lives – human assets – that support, encourage, and urge them forward:

  • Parents who model healthy conflict resolution skills within their families; ·
  • Parents whose actions regularly show children they are valued and loved; ·
  • Parents in whom they can safely, consistently confide and seek comfort.

Communities in which children are regularly deprived of these vital family resources are far more likely to produce angry adolescents who are a threat to themselves and others.

Programs that encourage caring, responsible adults to spend hours each month mentoring youngsters have proven themselves invaluable when children aren’t able to seek support from their own parents.

While some parents may not naturally have the skills to model healthy conflict resolution within their homes and create relationships in which it’s safe for children to seek counsel and comfort, educational programs that teach relationship skills to adults have been shown to make a difference.

Assuring more children grow up with two parents who are actively engaged in their lives within neighborhoods where caring adults are regularly a positive influence is the most important contribution we can make to a future that’s safer for all of our sons and daughters.

Hurt People Hurt People


Impact of bullying

“Hurt people hurt people,” a youngster shared in a recent conversation about bullying at a local elementary school.

Hurt people hurt people,” a youngster shared in a recent conversation about bullying at a local elementary school.

In an instant, I too was back in elementary school, present to 38 years of feelings about the kid who bullied me in fifth grade; remembering my mother’s boyfriend, Joe Griffis – a retired marine colonel she’d fallen in love with after his return from Vietnam – urging, insisting, almost requiring that I stand up to the bully. My adult gut still twisted in knots as I recalled the fear I felt as I realized at the age of ten that I had no choice.

I searched my mind for evidence that the boy who so hurt me with his taunts, threats, shoves and constant belittlement may have been hurting too. After nearly four decades, I couldn’t find his face, name or any other memory to identify the boy, just the feelings of shame, fear, anger, and sadness I felt and the horror that overcame me during those days as I arrived at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School on the bus from our home in nearby Lake Barcroft.

Hurt people hurt people?

Brothers who bully, David Eisenberg, center.

Eisenberg Family, circa 1963. From left, Milton Eisenberg, Lori Eisenberg (now Lori Gordon), Beth Eisenberg (now Beth Redwood), Jonathan Eisenberg; in father's lap, Seth Eisenberg; Front and center, David Eisenberg.

I thought of my older brother – seven years my senior — and his bullying that became my daily life from the time our oldest brother graduated high school and left for college. Had he been hurt, I wondered? What was he so angry or sad about that led to the physical and emotional violence he subjected me to when he thought he could get away with it?

With few exceptions, I felt very much alone during those years, withdrawing into myself or hidden behind my camera from threatening people and events.

Today I realize how much I wasn’t alone; that my experiences are repeated daily in classrooms, playgrounds, neighborhoods and increasingly in homes, retailers, offices, and courtrooms too. Story after story in newspapers, magazines, journals, television, and blogs reveal children and adults leaking bottled up feelings of anger, fear, sadness, guilt, jealousy, and frustration by bullying others.

Some seventy years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest scientists, said:

“The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing …”

Einstein was referring to a different kind of bully; bullies who capture the reins of political, economic, and military power and turn their sites on innocents. In either case, witnesses to intolerance, abuse, and the fanaticism that can be borne from both are not innocent bystanders – the very essence and meaning of their lives emerges from the decisions they make to act, speak or, tragically, look away.

Having survived my childhood, raised two sons through their own elementary, middle and high school years, and spent hundreds of hours in their classrooms and many others teaching skills for healthy relationships, here are some suggestions for people living, learning, playing, or working with a bully.

  1. Know that a bully’s actions are about the bully, not the target. When people bottle up emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and guilt, those feelings have energy that doesn’t just disappear. For some, feelings leak out through bullying, threatening, sarcasm, taunting and other dirty fighting tactics until eventually either imploding, which looks like sadness, depression and at the extreme suicide, or exploding, which comes out as anger, rage, and at another extreme, physical violence. Either way, the actions reflect what’s happening inside the person bottling up their feelings. Those who are closest to them – at home, work, schools, and neighborhoods – are rarely the cause of the intense emotions, although they are often the targets.

  2. Share your feelings about being bullied with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Feelings have energy. Negative energy can be toxic, like poison. Holding in negative emotions, especially for long periods of time, is like keeping poison inside. Before long, it spreads and infects others. Finding positive ways to release negative emotional energy is vitally important to both emotional and physical health. Some enjoy nurturing conversations, meditation and physical activities; others have found benefit from PAIRS Emptying the Emotional Jug, Heart Math, Steven Stosny’s H.E.A.L.S., and similar exercises.

  3. Create boundaries that define unacceptable behavior. Differences are a natural part of any close relationship; in fact, every single human being is unique. What are the boundaries – some call them belt lines – appropriate for you in your closest relationships? It’s important to know your boundaries and clearly communicate them to others, whether at home, school, or work. Some may not be bothered by a raised voice or certain language while others might take great offense and consider those actions “below the belt.” In some cultures, people naturally touch each other; other people might consider any physical contact inappropriate. Know your boundaries and speak up to let others know what is, and isn’t, okay for you.

  4. Encourage compassionate support both for victims and bullies. When someone you know has been bullied, reach out with compassion and respect. Ask how you can help. Listen with empathy and understanding to their experience. Support the person in seeking and getting assistance needed to get through the situation. Actively help create an environment in which future threats of bullying are eliminated. At the same time, recognize that people who bully may be crying out for attention. At school, support zero tolerance for bullying by insisting that people who bully be counseled, including involving a parent, and separated from others who have been the target of their actions until they recognize their behaviors are unacceptable, accept the consequences, and apologize to those they’ve wronged.

  5. Never keep it a secret; call attention to bullying. While some think they will boost their popularity and low self-esteem by taunting, threatening and abusing others publicly, many bully only when they think they won’t be seen, caught, or prevented from lying about their abusive behaviors. Don’t let them succeed! Whether you’re the target or witness, call attention to bullying and help create a world in which others don’t have to fear emotional or physical abuse at home, school, work or anyplace else. People who are abusive to others need attention so their actions don’t escalate. People who are victims need active, compassionate support within a culture that collectively protects every human being’s right to live, learn, play and work without being bullied.

Impact of PAIRS in Reducing Bullying Behaviors

“The skills have helped me better control my anger.”

~ Kevin, 18

“The information has taught me how to show and control my emotions.”

~ Robin, 17

“PAIRS has give me so many new and positive ways to express my anger.”

~ Jessica, 16

“My experience in PAIRS allowed me to relieve so much stress and pain.”

~ Danyell, 17

“PAIRS has made me aware and of ways in which I have been dirty fighting, I now have the tools to positively release my negative feelings.”

~ Melodie, 33

“The emotional jug allowed me to release so many negative emotions.”

~ Jennifer, 31

Additional Resources:

Answering the Call


Sleeping on Maybelle's Lap

Sleeping on Maybelle's Lap, 1965.

I’ve often wondered if my life would really be different if someone had answered my mother’s phone call in the early sixties when she reached out for a therapist to help save her marriage to my father. The story I’ve heard recounted many times since is that it was the end of summer, a last desperate attempt to rescue a 17-year marriage, but since no one was available to help, the chance for reconciliation passed. Their union, and the last hope for our intact family, dissolved forever.

By four, Maybelle, a young widow who had arrived in the Washington, D.C. area from South Carolina seeking respite from the poverty and discrimination of the time that faced many African Americans in the south, became my primary caretaker.  Her devotion, love and joyful spirit remains my fondest childhood memory.

The youngest of four, by my twelfth birthday, I became the only child regularly living in our comfortable suburban home. For the most part, it was Maybelle and me, as my mother’s constant routine included busying herself to emotional and physical exhaustion week after week, year after year, serving her therapy patients and a father lawyering himself tirelessly for elite corporate clients and the new family he quickly created, with little time, patience or apparent desire to stay engaged in the life of a son he barely knew.

Throughout it all, Maybelle and I always found reason to laugh.

I don’t remember anyone ever asking if I’d done my homework, how I’d done on a test, what was happening at school, with friends, or talks about drugs, alcohol, sex or much of anything else important. I do remember my father’s rage when he had to take time from his busy law practice to go to court with me as a young teenager after I got in trouble for being delinquent. I can still see his angry face and feel his words as he told me how ashamed he was and that he’d never forgive me for embarrassing him.

The lessons I learned came mostly from friends I found whose parents were nearly entirely absent from their lives too. Many others emerged from the promises I vowed to myself during those years to one day give my own children a different childhood. When I found myself in a painful, destructive marriage with their mother, it took years to finally surrender to the realization that I could not save them from the legacy of divorce. Although I knew that what was in my hands was the ability to stay actively involved in their lives through shared custody, coaching their sports teams, volunteering in their schools, and choosing career and life decisions that allowed me to make being their father my top priority throughout their childhood years. Together, we could learn as much as possible about breaking the cycle of divorce to help our family and others.

Nearly half a century after the phone call that wasn’t answered for my parents and the marriage that wasn’t saved, I regularly find myself seeking out the young children of couples who attend marriage education classes I now help organize and teach to thousands of couples in South Florida and elsewhere, silently pledging to each of them that I will always do my best to competently answer their parents’ calls.

Last week, I had a chance to review and report on research looking at the impact our brief workshops are having on their parents. The results brought statistical, scientific evidence to support the testimonials and grateful appreciations that have become almost commonplace at the conclusion of our 12-hour classes. I was particularly eager to see the results from the fathers of these children, hoping to finally find an answer to the question I’d asked myself about my own parents’ relationship for much of my life.

In our six-month follow-up with nearly 500 men, we found:

  • 95% reported improvement in communication with their partner;
  • 93% reported improvement in regularly sharing appreciations;
  • 92% reported improvement in their ability to resolve conflicts constructively;
  • 84% reported improvement in their physical intimacy;
  • 89% reported improvement in their ability to confide emotions;
  • 94% reported improvement in their overall relationship.

[For a copy of the full report, see fatherhood.pairs.com.]

Would that have been enough to save my parents’ marriage, I wondered? Had my parents attended our class, would it have changed the course of my own life? While I’ll never really know the answer to that question, I do know that for these children, they’ll have a better shot at keeping the childhood, support, encouragement, and resources that are lost by millions of youngsters when their parents breakup, the childhood I lost too.

From her home in heaven, I hear Maybelle’s laughter, feel her warm embrace, and find comfort in the idea that perhaps that’s the grand scheme of it all.

January’s Announcements Reveal December’s Reflections


Resignations, retirements, chapters closing, new beginnings. January’s announcements reveal December’s reflections.

Jackie and Chris Dodd

After three decades in the U.S. Senate, Chris Dodd announces he won't seek re-election.

America awoke this week to news that one of the most influential members of the United States Senate, Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a former Presidential candidate, was joining North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter in announcing he will not seek re-election.

Politicians are not the only ones calling it quits this month. In divorce filings nationwide, an estimated 100,000 American couples will throw in the towel on their marriages in January. While those decisions will not receive the attention of this week’s political announcements, for their children especially, the lifelong impact will be far more significant.

The tragedy for the far majority of these couples is that not only can their marriages be saved, they can become the foundation for lives overflowing with love, pleasure, happiness and fulfillment.

Marriage Education Prevents Divorce

Nearly eighty percent of couples on the verge of divorce transformed their relationships by participating in PAIRS marriage education classes.

More often than not, what’s missing isn’t the right partner, but knowledge and skills that decades of research has proven transform even the most challenged relationships when two people have good will and are open to learning. With so much at stake for children who count on their parents to have the maturity, wisdom, love and determination to provide security and stability to their own lives, it’s tragic that couples more quickly call a lawyer than a qualified marriage educator when love hits the rocks.

Two recent studies published by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation offer vital information for couples considering joining the legions of men and women beating a path to divorce lawyers or websites promoting quick dissolutions.

The first study looked specifically at couples who enrolled in PAIRS brief (9 – 12 hours) marriage education classes at the lowest levels of marital cohesion, meaning, for most, they were on the verge of separation or divorce. Six months after participating in three to four three-hour classes, nearly eighty percent of these couples had transformed their relationships.

Another study looked at the specific areas of lasting improvement in a highly diverse pool of nearly 1,000 participants in PAIRS relationship skills training. Again, the far majority had significant improvements in their ability to confide, share appreciations, physical intimacy, and other areas that are key to creating and sustaining thriving love relationships.

“…Finally, preliminary research shows that marriage education workshops can make a real difference in helping married couples stay together and in encouraging unmarried couples who are living together to form a more lasting bond. Expanding access to such services to low income couples, perhaps in concert with job training and placement, medical coverage, and other services already available, should be something everybody can agree on…”

Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope

This research doesn’t mean every marriage can or should be saved, but it should provide ample reason for couples to pause before filing for divorce and consider if evidence-based relationship skills training could be the difference between a child growing up with the security, stability, safety and example of seeing parents work through the natural challenges of life and love or paying the lifelong price that comes with marital and family breakdown.

The equivalent of less than a day in a proven marriage education class should be the first suggestion any attorney, friend or family member offers a distressed husband or wife seeking to dissolve a marriage, especially when children are involved.

###

PAIRS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is one of the nation’s oldest and leading providers of relationship skills training and marriage education classes for couples and singles in all stages of relationship. Learn more at www.pairs.com, e-mail info@pairs.com, or call 877-PAIRS-4U (724 7748).

“How are you? I’m fine.”


Mother Teresa: "Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start."

It’s a script repeated daily by millions.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. You?”

“Fine, thank you.”

For many, the words, “I’m fine,” are just as often a sign of surrender, resignation, and withdrawal than an authentic reflection of what someone is truly feeling.

Why?

Perhaps we’ve surrendered our wishes, hopes, dreams and passions. Perhaps we’ve become resigned to the pain and sadness in our gut that once cried out for connection and possibilities. Perhaps we no longer have energy for uninvited advice and “guess what happened to so-and-so” stories repeated with the best of intentions by friends and family alike. Perhaps we’ve just given up.

In homes, neighborhoods, schools, offices, grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, highways, even in churches and synagogues, we see daily reminders that many of those closest to us are not fine; not because anything is broken or defective, but because they’re not getting needs met that are too often forgotten.

Sometimes we see the truth through the sadness in their eyes or a slump in their shoulders; often through reactions to others or the world at large. Some leak tears, confusion, and sadness; others may flood angry outbursts, sarcasm, and tantrums.

Whether the expressions are active or passive, they signal something fundamental may be missing. In western society, for those who have food, shelter, health and sustenance, most often it’s a cry for bonding.

“In the West, there is loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways it is worse than our poor in Calcutta. The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted. It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

~ Mother Teresa

From the moment of his first breath just five weeks ago, our newborn son knew he had a need for bonding. Practically every awake moment since has included either an urging for nourishment or a plea for comforting human connection. As parents, my wife and I have become 24/7 detectives, studying the nuances of each sound, movement, and expression to interpret our baby’s communications and doing our best to meet his needs.

Newborn son naturally reaches out for bonding.

Our newborn son naturally reaches out for bonding.

The needs he’s so comfortable expressing as a newborn will continue throughout his life, yet the reactions he experiences from others – especially his parents — during his earliest months and years will powerfully influence how he seeks to get those needs met and impact the very fabric of his life.

Consider for a moment:

What messages did you get from your earliest cries for connection? How did you interpret (and eventually internalize) the reactions of others about your own feelings and needs? What did your interpretations lead you to decide about yourself that may have had little, if anything, to do with you? What did you decide about getting your needs for bonding met?

Bonding is the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another person.

Understanding the importance of bonding particularly — defined as the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another human being — has led to a paradigm shift that has powerfully influenced our understanding of human development and behavior. The results have included significant changes in birthing practices, physical and mental health treatments, recovery and wellness programs, care for seniors, parenting, fatherhood and marriage education, immigrant absorption, and even rehabilitation and re-entry of convicts. In fact, the more we understand about the human need for bonding and the symptoms of deprivation, the more we’re discovering about its connection to many of society’s most urgent challenges.

Too often, we become distracted by the symptoms of bonding deprivation that we miss the most important signs. Many interventions – from pharmaceuticals to counseling, therapy, psychology and psychiatry – have become multi-billion dollar industries with treatments that do little more than mask the symptoms of deprivation, leading countless millions to survive in lives of quiet desperation, knowing deep inside that something profound is missing, yet resigned to the habits, behaviors, and rituals we’ve mastered to disguise our ultimate surrender.

Thousands of times over, I’ve had a front row seat to the miracles and possibilities that unfold in relationships between couples, parents and their children, and entire families as participants in PAIRS classes realize the price they’ve paid in their lives for not getting their needs for bonding met and not meeting the bonding needs of those to whom they’re closest. For young couples beginning their lives together, understanding the centrality of bonding provides layers of protection, security and resiliency to their most treasured dreams and potential — far beyond the most well-intentioned advice, counsel, or treatment.

Relationship Road Map

Many of the symptoms of unhappiness that result from not getting our needs for bonding met are prevalent in homes, neighborhoods, schools, offices, houses of worship, shopping malls, and elsewhere. (PAIRS Foundation, Dr. Daniel Casriel)

From the depth of that understanding emerges a road map to relationships that don’t merely survive, but lasting opportunities to thrive through the natural chapters, challenges, transitions, and obstacles masterfully built into every human experience.

As we pause to enter the second decade of a new millennium, contemplate what it would mean for your life – and for those most closely connected to your life – to know daily that your actions create an environment in which you and your loved ones can be emotionally open and physically close to one another. In the quiet of your mind, imagine how it looks and feels to be someone in whom others can confide, be vulnerable, and reveal the wonder and uniqueness of their individuality without judgment, criticism, or ears that listen, but a heart and mind that doesn’t hear. What does it look and feel like for you to have the strength and courage to confide in others, to be fully human, including embracing the parts of yourself that are learning, growing, works in progress? And what does it look like to be someone with whom those closest to you can be physically close — affectionate – where it’s safe and natural to embrace one another in love and comfort? What does it look and feel like for you to be someone who can reach out for the affection you need to thrive within your most cherished relationships?

Stephanie and Seth Eisenberg reflect silently in a moment of prayer.

It’s the answers to those questions that participants discover during their training in PAIRS classes — practical, usable skills for deepening communication; expanding empathy and compassion; understanding emotions in ourselves and others; reexamining decisions made as a result of past experiences, hurts and disappointments; and processes for addressing differences. Those tools, such as Daily Temperature Readings, Talking Tips, Caring Behaviors, Emptying the Emotional Jug, Fair Fight for Change, Powergram, Untangling Love Knots, and Transforming Emotional Allergies become their tools – often called a “treasure chest” — for nurturing, sustaining, and vitalizing love.

As the clock approaches midnight this Thursday, many will resolve to be better fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters in the new year. Again in the words of Mother Teresa, “Prayer without action is no prayer at all.”

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


Viviana and Francisco Robledo

Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy.

The Lifeblood of Intimacy

Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy, yet many  – including loved ones – stop confiding because of the reactions and responses of others. As a result, we can lose the potential of our interactions with those who matter most in our lives.

For many, the most meaningful gift we can offer during this holiday season and throughout the year is the gift of listening with empathy, with our heart. Learning to listen with empathy to those closest to us is a gift that offers a lifetime of rewards.

Consider how often you really listen to another person; not just to their words, waiting for a chance to insert your own thoughts, experiences, and perspective, but to the rhythm, meaning and intention beneath the words?

Michael and Lauren DelGandio

Listening with empathy begins with being fully present to each other.

Listening with empathy begins with being fully present to another person, surrendering – at least momentarily — your own ego, including the temptation to interject, judge and give advice that isn’t invited. It’s also about separating ourselves from distractions – not just television, iPods, cell phones, text messaging, laptops and the like, but also from the wanderings of your own thoughts and prejudices that can get in the way of truly hearing another person. It’s a commitment to listen to understand another person’s feelings and experiences.

Especially during times of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, there are few gifts we can offer that are more enduring and meaningful than listening with empathy.

Emptying the Emotional Jug

Emptying the Emotional Jug is one of the most powerful exercises taught in PAIRS relationship skills classes. Both in workshops with adults and youngsters, we regularly witness a depth of connection and sharing as a result of the exercise, far beyond what most couples, parents and families typically experience.

The exercise begins with being fully present to each other and agreeing that the Listener will simply listen with empathy, promising not to judge, comment, or react to anything the Speaker shares beyond showing empathy and validation for the experience of the Speaker.

If, afterwards, the Speaker wants to have a conversation about anything shared, the Speaker can choose to talk about anything they’ve confided in more detail, or not to. The Listener agrees from the outset to respect the Speaker’s freedom to choose whether or not to have a further discussion.

The Speaker should recognize that this is not an opportunity to attack or blame the Listener. PAIRS classes offer other tools and exercises for confiding and releasing emotional energy when two people want to address issues within their relationship with each other. This exercise is for confiding about issues that aren’t about the Listener.

Ideally, when this exercise is done in person, the Speaker and Listener should sit together facing each other in a Leveling Position (where you can have natural eye, knee and hand contact). It’s best to do this privately so that neither the Speaker nor Listener will be influenced by other people during the exercise. When appropriate, PAIRS encourages participants to hold hands during the exercise.

If doing this exercise with a child, the adult should be the Listener, not the Speaker.

The exercise has a beginning and an end. Once begun, it’s important to complete the exercise. Generally, this takes 15 to 30 minutes, although it can be shorter or much longer. If there are time constraints, establish those before beginning.

What are you MAD about?

When you’re ready to begin and in a Leveling position with each other, the Listener starts by asking the Speaker:

What are you MAD about?

This is an invitation for the Speaker to look deep inside to see and feel what’s in their gut that’s connected to feelings of ANGER and to express those feelings in words. It’s not a speech, lecture or conversation, but a chance to connect with the feelings that are inside and express them in words.

As the Speaker shares, the Listener should stay focused on the Speaker’s eyes and words, listening much more with the heart than the mind.

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you MAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asking what else?

“Thank you. What else are you MAD about?” [Depending on time constraints and the depth of confiding, the Listener can continue to ask or can move on to the next step.]

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re mad about [or you’ve used about a quarter of the time you’ve agreed upon], the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were MAD about anything else, what would it be?”

This step is very important, as often the deepest feelings come out last.

What are you SAD about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks:

What are you SAD about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you SAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing [by saying “thank you” or through a gesture such as an embrace] and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you SAD about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re SAD about, the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were SAD about anything else, what would it be?”

What are you SCARED about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks:

What are you SCARED about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you SCARED about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you SCARED about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re SCARED about, the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were SCARED about anything else, what would it be?”

What are you GLAD about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks, “What are you GLAD about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you GLAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you GLAD about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve sufficiently expressed what they’re GLAD about, the Listener says,

“Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to share that you’re GLAD about?”

Appreciation for Sharing and Listening

The exercise ends with a tangible sign of appreciation for sharing and listening, which is often a hug.

Learn More

You can learn much more about this exercise and other skills taught in PAIRS classes by participating in a complimentary webinar with a PAIRS national trainer. For information on upcoming events, visit PAIRS online, e-mail info@pairs.com, or call 877 PAIRS 4U (724 7748).

Twenty Eight Days of Fatherhood


Zachary's first breath

Zachary takes his first breath, 11/25/09.

Zachary and I met 28 days ago today.

He appeared fully present at the moment of his birth; squinting briefly from the blinding, white lights of the operating suite before cautiously opening his newborn eyes to scan the nearby faces of each of the doctors; searching carefully, I imagined, for clues to interpret the momentary trauma that lifted him in an instant from the warm, comforting, solitary embrace of his mother’s then familiar womb into the strangeness of a cold, sterile delivery room crowded with menacing figures hidden behind hefty blue surgical gowns, oversized masks, and white latex gloves.

A minute later, I was accompanying a young nurse and my infant son to a room several yards away where he was gently cleaned, weighed, measured, and foot printed before his tender, fragile, innocent body and spirit was placed into my arms and protection with the responsibility to love, nurture, guide, and support for the rest of our lives.

For the third time in my 48 years, two decades after the birth of my first son, Alex, and seventeen years after my second, Michael, I had become a father; my first child born into a 21st century, borderless, digital world wired with widely accessible technologies for communicating, creating, contributing, and inspiring barely imagined the last time I welcomed a son into the world.

Father and Son's first moments together

Dad, eyes bloodshot from fatigue and tears, first holds his newborn son.

Eyes bloodshot with fatigue and tears — heart pounding with gratitude, soul singing in joyous celebration — I reached out as the nurse tenderly transferred Zachary to arms that prayed, wished and awaited his arrival long before his intentional conception 37 weeks earlier. Together, we briefly returned to the operating suite for Stephanie, now a mother, to meet our newborn son before she was wheeled to recovery and Zachary was taken to the hospital nursery for further tests and observations.

At those moments, neither Stephanie nor I yet knew that her beloved paternal grandmother, Berta Berman, had taken the final breath of her 104 years just miles away and hours before precious Zachary – her only great grandchild who could continue her family’s legacy — would take his first.

Berta Berman

Berta Berman

Less than two years earlier, in my very first conversation with Stephanie, now my wife – the moments when my heart, mind, and soul immediately knew I’d found my bashert – she shared meaningful words about her deep love, respect and admiration for her great-grandmother. She spoke of Berta’s constant presence in her life, how she’d always delighted over visits together and the chocolate chip pancakes she regularly ordered for the Sunday lunches when the family gathered at a Miami Beach eatery each week. We speculated over the source of her longevity, joy and the bright spirit that always surrounded her, wishing our lives could be so blessed.

Zachary reaches out for mother's hand

Zachary's tender, tiny fingers reach out for connection.

I had hoped to see the moment when Stephanie’s newborn child first peered into the eyes of his most senior, living ancestor and grasped her hand within his own for the very first time. When Stephanie’s mother, Regina, whispered news of Berta’s passing as Alex, Michael and I intently watched Zachary through the glass window into the nursery, I understood that her body had completed the mission begun a world away more than a century prior and that her spirit was with us now, and likely always would be with Zachary.

In the hands of the Mohel, Zachary prepares to enter his Covenant with the Jewish People.

Eight days later, as family, friends, and loved ones joined together at Miami’s Temple Menorah to welcome Zachary Berman Eisenberg into the Covenant of Israel, I imagined her there – watching, smiling, cheering. Zachary was given the Hebrew name of Abraham, the first of our Patriarchs, in honor of Stephanie’s cherished maternal grandfather, as his Jewish life began with rituals and traditions dictated by G-d himself as recorded in our holy Torah’s Book of Genesis and honored from time immemorial.

Today, Stephanie and I awoke to our 28th day with Zachary. He slept peacefully through most of the night after our close attention to updated nursing instructions and ointment prescribed by our pediatrician at yesterday afternoon’s appointment.

Brothers Alex, left, and Michael, right, comfort Zachary after his Brit Mila.

His brothers – 17 and 20 years his senior – have welcomed Zachary with love, patience, and curiosity, embracing him regularly with tenderness and warmth as we adjust to life with our newborn miracle, learning daily to interpret his cries, movements, and rhythm.

New brothers getting to know each other.

Many times over these recent 28 days I searched my mind for vivid memories of Alex and Michael’s earliest days. While it’s easy to recall the profound love that instantly expanded within my heart upon the birth of each son, the void of detailed recollections is a reminder of how much I’ve grown, learned and discovered through the curriculum of my own life over the two decades since I first became a father.

Many have said our children raise us as much as we raise them. More than ever, I realize the significance of the healing, wisdom, perspective, and lessons fatherhood brought to my life.

The morning of Zachary's 28th day, sleeping peacefully.

I recalled how I felt as a youngster and later when I perceived my own father much more involved in the life of the son he brought to the world with the woman he married shortly after his divorce from my mother; the confusing emotions I suffered long into adulthood when my half-brother, Justin, shared meaningful stories of our mutual father’s positive, consistent, loving guidance and involvement in his life; the senseless anger and resentment I felt towards him because he’d had our dad’s active involvement, guidance, and support in his life for the years I’d often grieved his nearly complete absence from my own; surely misplacing blame for events that look and feel almost entirely different with the perspective of my own life experiences. Zachary’s arrival brought a depth of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness for my own false assumptions — and towards others as well — that would have been unlikely even from a year with the most skilled of analysts.

In 28 days, I’ve already learned much from Zachary; some lessons emerging from seeds long ago planted, others freshly inspired.

Stephanie and Zachary.

Each call for attention urges a renewed sense of patience, peace, purpose and appreciation for the nuances of movement and sound.

Each precious smile compels acceptance and profound appreciation for the light, love, joy and potential born within each human being.

Each quiet moment of rest – weary eyes heavy yet still locked in awe at the angelic face of G-d’s child — renews my own spirit and faith in the seemingly invisible miracles that dance around us all, carefully hidden from the five senses, yet fully present.

Each new discovery, witnessed through the eyes and expressions of our newborn son, summons deeper compassion, empathy, respect and connection to life near and far.

Twenty eight days of fatherhood; each moment priceless beyond measure, each experience a world within itself.

A son born into the digital, wired, 21st century world that witnesses daily technological breakthroughs has reminded me that nothing is more powerful than the grip of a baby’s tender grasp, quiet breathe, or gentle smile.

Twenty eight days of fatherhood’s blessings and miracles.