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Steve Jobs’s Biological Father…and the Reunion That Wasn’t

October 10, 2011

I’m writing to share a comment I posted today to the Wall Street Journal on a sad but fascinating glimpse into Mr. Jobs’s family of origin. Most likely many of us feel we grew up with and our lives were enriched by Mr. Jobs’s genius. It’s intriguing to speculate on the nature/nurture argument, especially when you learn that Mr. Jobs was adopted. Did he struggle with this dual reality, multiple loyalties, as many adopted kids do? Would he have accomplished the same? How would he have been different? Perhaps we’ll find clues to those questions in his upcoming authorized biography. What we do know is that there was never a reunion with his biological father, although he did have a relationships with both his biological mother and sister.

Mr. Jandali’s estrangement from his famous biological children may reflect the sad reality of many unwed or divorced fathers of the 1950’s and ’60’s. It’s easy to judge those fathers’ “choices,”  without understanding their context. My Family psychology practice and research in the area provides this context: Open adoption was unheard of before the 1980’s, and in the case of divorce, prior to 1980, the mother was routinely awarded sole custody of young children, unless she was severely disturbed or agreed to another arrangement. With the nuclear family at its zenith, biological fathers were often asked to relinquish their rights in what was then considered the best interests of the child. These facts aren’t intended to relieve Mr. Jandali of whatever true choice he had, but to remind us, “It’s complicated.”

The Beatles and Football Fairness

September 24, 2011

The Beatles got it right. “Try to see it my way…we can work it out …” Perspective taking is the first step on the way to working out your differences.  This week I interrupted a contentious argument a couple was having in my office,  by throwing the husband a foam football. “You’re getting nowhere, so let’s play a game,” I directed. “Here are the rules: When you’re in possession of  the football, it’s your turn to speak. Make your point briefly. Then pass the football to your wife, who will tell you what she understood. If she didn’t quite “get”  it, you can restate your side. Then it’s her turn to speak, and you’ll repeat the process. This won’t necessarily solve your argument, but it will stop the competitive and adversarial play to win, where neither of you feels loved enough to be understood.”

First and ten: He restated his point. I stopped him at sentence four, and told him to pass the football (Rule #1: Be Brief).

Second & ten: She began to interpret what he said. I stopped her and reminded her that Rule #2 : Simply Restate…don’t add your own spin.

Third & ten: She paraphrased him, and he told her that she’d gotten it. First Down.

Great…Now repeat the process. He threw the football a little too hard and long, she fumbled, and I threw a flag on the play. “Play nice,” I admonished him.

They were getting the hang of it. He surprised his wife after she stated her side, by sincerely saying, ” I understand your context now. I didn’t understand before. I get it.” First Down!

The rules of Football Fairness:

1. Briefly state your point (then pass the ball).

2. Paraphrase to indicate you’ve understood. Pass back.

3. If you got it right, now it’s your turn to say your side.

After you get the hang of the basics of taking turns with perspective taking, add these nuances:

4. Acknowledge and imagine your partner’s perspective.

5. Give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Negative expectations lead to bad feelings and bad outcomes.

6. Own up to your share of the problem, because the score is rarely 100-0.

7. Make a commitment to the action steps you will make to rebuild trust.

It’s football season–make the most of improving your game. For more fairness tips, turn to an excerpt from my book, Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage.

Free at Last: Marital Declarations on July the Fourth

July 2, 2011

This weekend we celebrate the American revolution, founded on the principles of  justice for all, freedom from tyranny, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today we find ourselves polarized with the French, our earlier allies in the revolution, with the house release of Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF. Prosecutors for the sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn regret the changed circumstances that forced them to drop the felony charge against him. The maid, who still maintains her account of forcible sexual assault resulting in oral sex, is no longer a credible witness. She’s lied about many things, and who’s to say a jury will find for a liar?

The French allege that the brutal American justice system set-up Strauss-Kahn; that we are puritans of the worst order; that we’ve cost Strauss his IMF job and his potential presidential run against Sarkozy, all because he admits to consensual sex with a maid. Lost in the debate is the irrefutable forensic evidence that the alleged consensual sex resulted in the maid’s bruised shoulder, torn ligament, torn panty hose, semen on the hotel room carpet and wall. Just because the maid lied in the past doesn’t mean he’s not guilty, but it just may mean he’s free.

Strauss-Kahn emerged smiling from the courtroom, his arm wrapped around his wife Anne Sinclair. I guess she bought into this relationship deal a long time ago, since during their marriage,  Strauss-Kahn has previously acknowledged other affairs, and was well known as a predatory womanizer. Anne stands by her man.

I’m marriage-friendly and  treat many couples whose marriages survive infidelity. Yet I find no reason to celebrate the recent turn of events in the Strauss-Kahn case, founded on the realities that power trumps fairness to the victim or loyalty to the marriage. I do celebrate Maria Shriver who timed her declaration of divorce from Arnold Schwarzenegger for  the Independence Day weekend. Maria is free at last.  Happy Fourth, Maria.

The Psyches of Schwarzenegger & IMF Chief

May 20, 2011

This week on NBC , I gave an interview on the first dogs of summer: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. What is it about these alpha males that leads to their infidelities?  As I said on air, these guys get a lot of practice.  Practice at abuse of power, practice at abuse of trust. Their brand of infidelity is more spectacularly outrageous than the anguished kind I see in my office.  There are affairs, and then there are predators.  How do you get to be a predator on the prowl?

Let’s begin with the notion of practice. Absurd as it sounds, the more you practice what was once a high-risk behavior, the less risky it feels. No doubt you’ve had this experience when you first learned to ride a bike. At first it was terrifying. You were afraid to fall; you needed the guiding hand of a parent  to balance you. Finally, you felt the exhilaration of flying down the road under your own power. Then you tried no hands. Then you tried tricks. See how it goes?

So these alpha dogs practice the slippery slope leading to betrayals of trust; then get used to it; minimize, rationalize and justify it. The combination of practice, based on countless opportunities, many dependents, no one to hold you accountable, and a cadre of followers invested in protecting you, leads you to believe that the rules are just guidelines, to borrow a phrase from Pirates of the Caribbean.  Mix in the psychological factors that have driven you to seek a high public profile:  narcissism, a sense of your own specialness, a lack of empathy for others, a risk-seeking personality, and voila you have an ethics scandal.

The universal poll in my office this week was 100% disgusted by Schwarzenegger, but a split vote on the IMF chief. The split? American vs. European sentiment. Europeans commonly regard us as Puritanical, and have prided themselves on their open attitudes towards sexuality. The  typical European translation is: no rules for the guys. I believe that’s changing, as women gain more economic power, as the case in the U.S.  Another sign?  The French also have a word for these guys: chaud lapin. Translation: hot rabbit. Now we get to see how fast they can hop.

Coping with Job Loss (You Are Not Your Title)

May 4, 2011

Tonight on Fox News, I’ll be talking about how to cope with job loss. The past couple of years reflect an historically high level of job loss and unemployment. With any loss, there are stages of grief and recovery. The first stage of job loss involves managing your feelings.  Following a job loss, it’s normal to feel demoralized, rejected and even angry. Don’t angrily jump ahead to a job search, because that’s not going to help you or your search.

1. To cope with loss of self-esteem, anger  or rejection…DEPERSONALIZE the job loss.  Fight the loser stigma. Remind yourself, you’re not alone in the boat, this has been an historically difficult economic time, and many competent, well-qualified people have lost their jobs.
2. Remember: You Are Not Your Title. You’re a human being, not just a human doing. We get so focused on achievements, from grade school on, that we forget to emphasize our signature personal strengths. What are the qualities you like about yourself, and what activities are your passion, are meaningful, or are enjoyable to you?  Turn those strengths into your “elevator pitch,” when looking for another job.  Are you a good team player? Are you a hard-worker, good at getting along with people, good at taking initiative?  What kinds of skills will translate into other jobs or even changing careers?
3. Involve your family and friends. Don’t shoulder it alone. Keep your friends and family in the loop. Let them know your plans. Reassure children, so they don’t imagine the worst. Make time for family fun.
4. Keep Healthy (and keep your spirits up). Get plenty of sleep. Exercise. Regular exercise reduces the risk of depression or lethagy. Practice relaxation and slow breathing when you feel stressed. Resist the comfort of junk food–it’s a feels good, bad for you temptation.
1. Develop a routine…Remember that looking for a job is a job.  It’s helpful to map out your day with a schedule for job search, personal breaks, and a schedule to stay connected.
2. Stay connected–don’t isolate yourself. Jobs convey crucial social connection in addition to their financial importance . Now that you’re not in day-to day-contact with fellow workers, stay connected.  Network with your co-workers, meet for lunch, meet on linkedin or other social media sites.  Visit job sites (, the public library, newspaper listings) to search the listing of job titles that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Your next job could be a job that’s new, since many jobs are no longer for life. Broaden your horizons. Write down your specific skills, then your general skills that could translate into another job or career.
3. Create a monthly newsletter about a topic you know well, and send it to potential employers. Putting your name in front of people repeatedly helps you stand out.  Put your links below your signature in emails.
4. If your next job is a lateral move or less money, don’t catastrophize–remind yourself–this is temporary. Nothing lasts forever–not even this economy.
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What Tiger-Mother Forgot: The Child You Didn’t Expect

April 29, 2011

There’s a faulty premise underlying the Tiger-Mother. For those seeking relief from Amy Chua‘s rant about the amazing results that controlling, driven parenting yields (über achievers), now there’s  Bryan Caplan  to offer relief. The latest author,  dubbed the Anti-Tiger Mother (forget the gender–it’s the gist that counts)is refreshingly research-based; albeit research that’s a rehash of the 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption.  This equally faulty premise suggests that parenting doesn’t matter. If you’re interested in things like your child’s later achievement, her healthy living, educational success, fear not.  Nope, with a cursory nod to nurture, those highfalutin’ goals are best met by genetics.

Here’s my gripe with all of the Tigers. First, the ideas are obvious (though flawed), and the discussion has gone on ad nauseam. But more importantly, these books miss the entire category of children for whom attentive (rather than neurotically driven) parenting is an absolute necessity. Those are kids who didn’t get such a good deal of the genetic deck. One out of 5 boys has an attention deficit disorder (proportionately fewer girls). Currently about 1 in 100 children is diagnosed with a pervasive developmental delay and/or on the autism spectrum. Other kids  inherit a vulnerability that shows up  later, in their teens, with mood disorders, others with addiction problems. These kids need great parenting. These kids teach you what it means to be a parent.  But no one expects this bad deal of the cards for their kid.

For a glimpse of what it means to have a child you didn’t expect, I highly recommend Priscilla Gilman‘s new book, The Anti-Romantic Child. Ms. Gilman, a former professor of English at Vassar, writes poignantly, heartbreakingly, yet hopefully about what a diagnosis for your child means.  Benj, her first son, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at age three. What follows is a lesson for all parents in the humility and ego-loss when no matter how hard you try, you can’t control your child’s achievement. Instead, you become a parent, in the truest sense of the word.  A parent whose joy comes not from bragging rights, but from the dedication of seeing a child overcome adversity. Amy Chua and Bryan Caplan should read this book. You should too.

Parents: To Test or Not to Test–Home Drug Kits

March 29, 2011

Wednesday (3/30/11) on the 10 p.m.  TV29-FOXNEWS channel, I’ll be a discussant on the pros and cons of at-home drug testing. Parents can now buy at-home drug testing kits, from around $15-$30. Here’s the pitch to worried (or suspicious) parents of teens:  “I really care about you, and by buying this kit, you now have an excuse with your friends to avoid drug use, because you’ll get caught. ” What’s wrong with this pitch?

Buying a drug-testing kit as an insurance policy is a bad first move. You can put lipstick on a pig, and say it’s out of love, but what that drug kit really says, is “I don’t trust you.”  Have a calm talk instead. Expect to have ongoing conversations. If you suspect substance use due to behavioral or academic changes, talk about that. If you want your kid to open up to you, you have to demonstrate your ability to deal with stressful topics in a calm manner. Expect your teen to initially deny and minimize any use. If your suspicions lead  you to decide to test your teen, go to the pros.

Why the pros instead of at-home?

1) Think about the relationship—do you really want to play cops and robbers with your child? Parents try to control what they can’t trust, but with power you get rebellion.

2) Do you really want to supervise a urine collection, by standing in the same room while your adolescent pees in a cup ?

3) Because if your child wants to con you, they’ll go to google and type in how to con a drug test and 900,000 results pop up in 1 minute. I’ve treated substance abusers and there are very clever ways to get around an at-home test.

4) Plus there are false positives (Ibuprofen can come up as marijuana use); Nasal decongestants can come up as amphetamine use.

5) Learn as much as you can. Go to, or call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information (1-800-788-2800).

6) Take your own personal inventory about substance use. What’s your family’s history of problem alcohol or drug use? Are you within the AMA guidelines for either men and women for alcohol use?

7) Set clear rules in your family about drug and alcohol use, and let your kids know that you’ll enforce those rules.

Just say no doesn’t work. Tune in on Wednesday to hear more about this important topic. And please add your comments.