I thought of adding “With Others” to the title of this section, as obviously my relationship with myself comes out of, and is formed by, my relationship with others. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the main thrust of life. It took me a while to figure that one out. I’m still working on it, and expect to do so for the duration.
1. Parental Relationships
The Reader who has read the previous chapters in order, and particularly the Childhood one, will no doubt anticipate the difficulty I had with relationships in my life. Since I’m not a mental health professional, I will leave it to them to analyze the impact some of those events and situations had on my later relationships.
Of course, as with almost everyone, my first and primary relationship was with my mother, Ethel, and that is covered in Chapter 8, Childhood, and Chapter 14, Escape.
There is one person other than my mother who probably had more to do with my later success, and from whom I experienced total non-judgmental love and affection, and that was Josephine McKee. I never permitted myself to call her Josephine, always Miss McKee, until very late in her life when I called her Jo, her preferred name among her friends. I shall henceforth call her Jo in this work. I regret that I do not have a photo of her to share, but I will never forget her face, one of love, caring, intelligence, curiosity, all within the demeanor of a school principal and a stern taskmaster.
She was the principal at my elementary school (Isaac Shelby) in Louisville, Kentucky, and as she liked to tell it, she fell in love with me at first sight, and I with her. Although I was only about six years old, I experienced non-judgmental support, encouragement, and acceptance from her almost immediately, and she always advised me to study hard, to strive for excellence, to be respectful of everyone, and to always encourage and support others. She was all of that, and more.
She had an excellent reputation in the educational establishment in Louisville, which likewise had a very good reputation throughout the South as having very good teachers, outstanding principals (and principles), and intense support from the community. Jo followed my progress as I moved through the grades, kept in touch with my parents, and told them to expect great things from me. I always loved being around her, as she spoke to me (and to others in her charge) about excelling, studying hard, and to be the best we could be. She was never condescending or judgmental. She was very inspirational and was highly regarded by all.
When my parents died, she offered to become my legal guardian until I turned 18, since a minor in Kentucky had to have a person legally responsible for him or her. She made all the arrangements, and it greatly helped in getting ready to attend the University of Louisville only two months later.
As I moved into college life, we stayed in touch, and I would have a Christmas lunch with her each year at the Brown Suburban Hotel, which was a very big deal in those days. We talked about what I was doing, and she always encouraged me, asked how I was doing, and was quite supportive. She also seemed to know almost everyone is the educational establishment in Louisville.
As with many educators in those days, she never married, and devoted her whole life to educating and encouraging her children, as she called them.
Later on, as I progressed in my career, I would always visit her on my trips back to Louisville, and she was always the same: complimenting me, congratulating me, and saying she was proud of me. We developed as close to a mother-son relationship as was possible.
She later moved into a retirement home, which was in the same neighborhood where I grew up, and I would visit her on my trips back to Louisville, have lunch with her in the dining room there, and she would always introduce me to the others as “her boy.” It did not matter that there was not a blood relationship, as what we had was far greater than that.
During one of my times back there, her friends called me aside and told me I had to convince her to give up driving, as they were very concerned about her waning skills, and they were sure that she would only listen to me. I believe she might have been close to 80 years old at the time, and was one of the few of her age group still driving. So we had “the conversation” with great difficulty, she finally realized I was right, and I made the arrangements to sell the car and give her the proceeds. I could easily see that she that although she had willingly given up her last bit of independence, it greatly pained her, but she did see that it was the right thing to do
One morning a few years later I called her from California upon learning she was in the nursing care portion of the facility. I reached the nursing desk by phone, was told to hold a minute, and a supervisor came on the line and told me she had died overnight. It was one of the most difficult and sad experiences I have ever had.
I promptly decided to come back, immediately called her lawyer and others, and made all the necessary arrangements for burial and a headstone (as was the traditional custom then, although she used to say she did not want one), and I supervised the wrapping up of her affairs. I also arranged for a memorial luncheon gathering of her friends and acquaintances, including her attorney, along with many others who had known her, at the retirement home in which she had lived. It was quite a large number, and I gave a talk to the group about her, her life and what it had meant to so many people, and what she meant to me. A number of others spontaneously did the same, and then it was all over. It was one of the most moving experience of my life.
Afterwards, her attorney invited me to his downtown office (he was a well-connected mover and shaker, knew most prominent people in the community, and was very courtly and gentlemanly). He lay some papers in front of me and asked me to read them.
I almost fell out of my chair. She had bequeathed to me all of her estate, which was an astounding sum to me now, as well as at that time. I had no idea of her net worth. She had always mentioned that she would remember me in her will, but I brushed it aside and said all I wanted was the memories of her support of me and our times together over those many years.
In addition to being overwhelmed by this turn of events, it made a huge difference to me financially, in that since leaving Silicon Valley, I had made some financial mistakes, and was not doing very well. My second wife Mary and I were living in a small home in Davis, California, I was looking for work, and we were facing some difficult decisions. What Jo had done gave us the ability to move to the foothills of California, where I found meaningful work, and the “dot com” era followed, and my life completely turned around, in a totally unexpected way.
To this day, I have no idea how she was able to invest her savings over the years and amass that amount of money on her small salary. She was very conservative, but consistent, which is a lesson for all of us, and for me in particular.
I had arranged for her internment several miles from where both my parents were buried many years earlier, and they all now rest in peace, with my profound and everlasting thanks to all of them for launching me into my somewhat chaotic but very exciting and rewarding life. I privately revisit those sites each time I return to Louisville.
2. Female Relationships
The astute Reader will likely guess the character of most of my other relationships, and I will not dwell on them, except to admit to a seeming inability to create and maintain lasting relationships that were mutually satisfying.
I exhibited many of the characteristics of never being able to commit for a significant period of time, with some prominent exceptions. This has been called the Peter Pan Syndrome. Peter Pan was a whimsical child. I did not do the whimsical part very well.
I would chase, catch, and release, sometimes unconsciously sabotaging the relationship and then wondering what had happened. Although this was pointed out to me often by others, I brushed that aside, and of course always had a good reason to end things, sometimes honorably, often otherwise, and at other times finding a way to allow my companion to find out about some dastardly thing I had done so that she had no choice but to end it, saving me from confronting my intolerable behavior.
This went on for some years, in and out of relationships, always seeking the next validation of my self-worth, which of course never happened for any length of time. Years later, I began to see what I had been doing all along, felt quite ashamed and horrified, but never really came to grips with it. I had significant input from others, mostly from women and other friends who suggested I might have some kind of problem that might require addressing by a mental health professional; but of course I was not ready to hear this.
Occasionally the discussions were what one might call “high energy” discussions. You catch the drift.
I had two marriages before Liz, my current and final wife, and they both were very fulfilling, until – of course - I saw that there might be something missing that I could find elsewhere. My first marriage came at age 38 (Peter Pan Syndrome, I believe it is called), to Carol, a very intelligent and adventurous nurse, who opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about, but which I quickly embraced.
At that time the counterculture in the San Francisco Bay area was booming, and we sampled much of it, while each of us had very responsible day jobs. We moved around and lived in Berkeley, San Francisco, Foster City, and San Mateo. Ultimately things fell apart due to my misbehavior, she quit nursing and became a prominent member of Werner Erhard’s “est” staff, and became well known for her contributions to the quality of life of all with whom she came in contact. We remained best friends until her untimely death years later. I credit her with, among other things, opening my eyes to the beauty, majesty, and possibility of living a caring, loving, and responsible life. Although my eyes were opened, I nevertheless needed some practice in implementing those ideas, to put it mildly.
I later met and married another woman (whom I had met in a seminar given by the very same organization for which Carol had worked), and Mary was unwilling to put up with my shenanigans. We were together over a dozen years. One morning, I awakened after a night out on the town with my visiting hell-raising male cousin from Alabama, to an ultimatum from Mary: You have one hour to choose to quit drinking, or I am divorcing you.
It so happened that we were going to leave that very morning to sign a contract for construction of a house in California’s foothills, about four hours away from the Bay Area where we were living at the time, and to which we would relocate.
I can think of a number of phrases to describe the next hour, as I lay in bed with a massive hangover, watching my life pass before my semiconscious eyes. I took a cold hard look at life in general, my life in particular, and grudgingly but completely made the choice: I gave up drinking on the spot. We left several hours later, signed the contract later that day, and life changed forever. It was seemingly the most difficult day of my life – so far.
We thrived, Mary was happy, I became a seemingly different person, I built yet another house later in a remote forest – one of the most rewarding, difficult, and satisfying experiences of my life – and about ten years later we moved back to the Bay Area, where I again went to work for the same company as before.
I started drinking again after about twelve years of abstinence, and yet was faithful all during the marriage, which which ultimately ended in divorce after about a total of 14 years. All the discussions and negotiations were friendly and cordial. We split assets equally, and when I asked Mary - the last time I saw her the day of the closing of sale of our house sale - if I could stay in touch with her, she had one word to say before she turned and walked away: “No.” That was the last time we spoke.
With two marriages ending in divorce at my own beckoning, I thought that perhaps I might take a good look at myself, once again. Since looking inside at the source of my problems was the last thing on my mind (what I had left of it), I proceeded to live, work, crashed, burned, and thought: “Next time will be different.” I had caused lots of pain and emotional damage, a lot of money changed hands, I grew older and weary of the game, considered suicide (after of course one last fling), moved around to other locations and states, and generally buried my problems in the dark and distant place that was my conscience.
After moving to southern Oregon to “start over,” I started to repeat my past, until one evening at my favorite watering hole, and I definitely not looking for companionship, I struck up a light casual conversation with Liz, who had just moved to that area from Idaho after an ended marriage. We became friends, hiked and did outdoor activities together, and got to slowly know, like, and respect one another.
After sufficient due diligence on both sides, she moved in with me, where we lived, loved, fought, argued, discussed, and very openly communicated about everything. We did some couples therapy at her request (why do I need that, I recall saying), it worked despite my difficulty with previous patterns, which thankfully were only thoughts and not actions this time.
We thrived, adopted a dog and cat who were the absolute best animals in the whole wide world, I became almost human again, and eventually we got married around ten years after that - in our back yard - surrounded by our friends. We sold the house in Oregon in record time, moved to Santa Fe and bought a fixer-upper on acreage near Liz’s family, and lived happily ever after. We communicate our truths to one another often and openly, little is left unsaid, and we are thriving.
When we have disagreements, and they come easily and frequently, we sit down, talk about it, I swallow my male pride, she listens to my side of it, and we of course do it her way, most of the time. I'm much smarter than I used to be.
I’ve learned that last lesson the hard way, and am continuing to learn it daily. Liz makes it easy by usually being right. She is my soul-mate, and although we are different in many ways, we are partners each committed to the relationship. We are laughing, loving, living, and life is good. It’s quite a package, and a long time coming. All it took was my becoming a responsible adult and lots of tolerance and love from Liz.
3. Male Relationships
My model for male relationships came - as is usually the case - from my father, until his death when I was sixteen. What I unconsciously learned was to be stoic, a bit grim, not to trust fully, and be silent, aloof, and above the fray. I did very well with that pattern (or I thought so at the time) until I met Carol, my first wife, in San Francisco in my late twenties, and my life blossomed after that, in very unpredictable ways.
I met some people through Carol who were adventurous in the areas of personal growth and fulfillment, very open and loving, and fun to be with, and who had great life-changing impact on others . One of those was a psychologist named Leo, who was in his fifties, small in physical stature with a giant intellect, highly compassionate, quite witty with a twinkle in his eye, and very devoted to helping people overcome their inner obstacles and see life with a broader view. He was an acknowledged master in his field, and very humble. He was exactly the type of person I would never have met on my own, but meet him I did through Carol, and as a result my life (once again) changed forever.
He was the best man at my wedding with Carol, and performed the ceremony at my wedding with Mary years later, likely the last wedding at which he was the officiant . After that second ceremony, he took the two of us aside, and said that his advice and gift for us was this: “I hope you both learn how to fight.”
I wondered at the time what exactly that meant. I now know. He was absolutely right, and it has taken me a long time to learn the truth in that, and how to do it effectively. This thing called ego kept getting in my way, and still does. I also later realized that it was very good general advice to any one in any situation. He was a very wise man, full of humor and wisdom, very open and loving, and could be quite stern and difficult if the situation warranted it (don’t ask how I know). He was perhaps the most influential person in my life in terms of my ability to navigate human relationships, and has remained so even after his death years ago. I miss him very much.
There is a book about Leo Zeff and his important work in this arena that is available from Amazon.com and is entitled "The Secret Chief." It is also likely available elsewhere. I have just finished reading the book for the the fourth time in a printed form, and it might be available on Kindle. I highly recommend this as an outstanding and very informative source for information for anyone seeking more detailed information.
Another good friend was Noel, about my age, whom I have acknowledged at the beginning of this book. He has been a friend and confidante for as many years, and was always there for me, and continues to be a very good friend. I have shared this work you are now reading with him at every stage, seeking comments and perhaps approval, with his response usually being something like “keep on writing” along with other words of support and encouragement. I rarely see him, and occasionally talk to him by phone, but he is always with me.
I was also fortunate to have made close friends during college, all of them engineers and most of them naval officers, and in the fifty-five years since then a small group of us has maintained contact and gotten together when possible, every few years. We all support one another in that particular mid-century male way, in that we argue incessantly, point out each other’s alleged defects, support one another when needed (although not always perceived as support at the time), and love and trust each other completely. We are on all sides of the various political fences, tell it like it is (in our opinion), and do not get angry with one another, a rarity nowadays. We are all grown-ups, and then some.
It gets no better than that.