Something not to do when in Amsterdam. (Unless you are intro dressing up like a cheesy underworld figure from a bad video game.)
Last year on our big family vacation I mentioned that my wife likes very structured and planned activities and I didn’t. I even said, sarcastically, that sometimes our trips feel less like a vacation and more like a program for continuing education credits.
But after it is all over I usually am glad for all the planning my wife does. Without it, I might just stay in the room and watch TV (if I can find an English speaking TV station). But that is not to say that all of her planned activities are winners. Last night we moved into record territory for worst planned family activity ever.
Rebecca did a wonderful job of finding fun and interesting activities for us during the day but last night she purchased four tickets at 10 Euros a piece to something called an “Ice Bar.” Granted, on the surface, it sounded like a promising activity. It seemed like it would be a tour of some sort of underground ice cave and we would see, we imagined, ice carvings or some creative use of ice that is common in the Netherlands.
Instead we arrived and were told to put on giant blue ponchos and gloves that were provided for each patron and to enter the “Ice Bar.” We did and found ourselves, literally, in a small ice covered alcove that was, well, a bar. With music and alcohol. And about a dozen silly looking people who, like us, had each paid 10 Euro to stand in sub-zero temperatures in a bar for an hour. We got a very good laugh out of it all and made the most of it by staying as long as we could keep laughing. And then calling it quits. About 53 minutes early.
Mornings in Amsterdam
I was never an R.A. (Resident Advisor) in college. They always seemed like overly responsible, non-partying, uncool types who weren’t fun to hamg out with but who I would readily ask for class notes if i missed a class. And despite being slightly amnoying apple polishers they really did have it much more together than other students on the dorm floor.
Mornings in Amsterdam are solemn and sobering. The sun is coming up but the sky is overcast and there is a heaviness in the air like a bad hangover. As you walk the morning streets you smell coffee and baked goods and try to dodge places on the street spattered with vomit from last night’s excesses. It is peaceful and pleasant but the kind of peaceful and pleasant you feel if you live next to a fraternity house and it is Saturday morning and everyone in the fraternity is still asleep or achy and quiet.
And for the first time in your life you feel like at R.A. And you realize that R.A.’s on Saturday mornings probably surveyed their dorm floor and were reminded why they were willing to give up to be an R.A. type and were proud of their decision. And this morning, walking the streets of Amsterdam stone cold sober and sitting at a cafe drinking my coffee, which sits next to a Heineken beer bottle someone left from the night before, I feel proud to be an R.A.
At various times today, my son and I discussed Burkean Conservatism, immigration policy, polling trends for the national Democratic and Republican parties and different dipping sauces that went well with french fries.
Here we are discussing the pros and cons of mayonnaise, ketchup, chipotle, and truffle dipping sauce, and the need for a spicier option for the American demographic.
Being in Amsterdam makes you ponder all sorts of philosophical and personal questions that have never occurred to you before.
Questions like, If you got a sex change and decided it wasn’t a good choice and then decided to get another sex change to reverse the previous sex change would others see you the way they had in the past (before the first sex change) or would both sexes look at you with suspicion about your current choice of gender —and at the very least consider you a person prone to being indecisive? And if all of this happened in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and pervasively used, would anyone even notice?
There is nothing noble about how Phillip Seymour Hoffman died. Nothing courageous; nothing thoughtful; nothing exemplifying caring for those who relied on him. And there was plenty to suggest deep pain, deceit, secrecy, …and recklessness—all flowing effortlessly from a piercing drug addiction.
Professionally, Hoffman left an extraordinary legacy of achievement. But in his personal life, his legacy to his children was cut brutally and inexplicably short. Yet his will, leaving direction but limited resources to his three children showed, in my opinion, that he loved his children devotedly and cared deeply and thoughtfully about their well-being.
And proved again that love is better measured in time and thoughtfulness than dollars and cents.
One can hope, ironically, that this legacy Phillip Seymour Hoffman left to his children in death, may help in some important way to protect the children he loved from meeting the same tragic end that Hoffman himself did.
The life of a comedian is rarely a funny matter.
The deep source of humor for the professional comic almost always seems to be a survival mechanism that just happens to work better than all the other survival mechanisms tried before it that came up wanting.
Sometimes that defense mechanism —that life antidote— stops working, too. And there may be no back-up fortification for when a joke doesn’t work anymore. And that deep source of humor can cruelly transform itself into an all-encompassing darkness that envelops and even suffocates, figuratively or literally, the same person it served so well.
And for a brief moment, like today upon the news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, the world gets a glimpse of that over-sized and heavy heart and sees that you weren’t just a silly boy looking for the next pratfall and a few more well-earned laughs. But that you were working always on something far more complicated, serious and sorrowful than your comedy repertoire ever belied.
How ironic that the man who brought more laughs and lightness to the world over the past four decades —more than probably any single person on our planet—today leaves that same world so deeply saddened and distressed. Then again, the genius of so many great comics is that the flip side of their humor –pain and emptiness–is never too far away from their punch lines. And probably much closer than the audience realizes.
As prodigiously hilarious and zany as he always seemed to be, I believe Robin Williams was, first and last, a very serious and sensitive man. Who we never got to know all that well. But will certainly miss terribly.
My son just went skydiving…And didn’t tell me until after the fact.
“My son?!” I exclaimed when my wife and daughter told me. “I cannot believe my son—my flesh and blood–could muster the nerve to jump out of an airplane! I could never do that!”
To which my daughter Maggie wryly replied, “At least he’s not doing the kinda things you did when you were his age!”
Game, set, match to Maggie.
A good and loyal sister –and best family comeback of the year.
And, yeah, super proud of my boy!!
It seems oddly fitting that the words “caregiving” and “caretaking” mean precisely the same thing. Perhaps that linguistic oddity reflects the salient characteristic of care itself: a tension between our desire to receive it and our countervailing feeling of obligation to provide it. Human relations, generally, can be summarized as an on-going battle between those who provide care and those on the receiving end.
As a human child, you started out your life as the ultimate care-collection machine. Children are designed to make you want to provide them with care – and you’re designed, as an adult, to feel a profound impulse to provide children with care, especially your own children. It’s no coincidence that anything you identify as “cute” – i.e., feel an impulse to care for – will have child-like features, such as large eyes in proportion to its face and a large head in proportion to its body. These are all evolutionary triggers designed to make us feel like providing care.
The human instinct to care for youngsters transfers over to other young animals as well, and explains, at least in part, your relationship with “man’s best friend.” Everyone loves puppies – baby dogs. But with canines, the phenomenon extends further than that. Adult dogs retain many juvenile features – a phenomenon called “neoteny” – because by continuing to appear puppy-like up to and through adulthood, they can convince humans to keep wanting to offer them care. Dogs literally evolved to look young and cute just so you would care for them – and it’s worked! Unlike most species, the dog’s trick to evolutionary success wasn’t to display aggression, like a wolf. As evidenced by the wolf’s current struggle to survive in a human-dominated habitat, ferocity only gets you so far. For the dog, docility, rather than aggression, was the answer. By appearing cute – a bit like our own young – they mastered a strategy of symbiosis with another species, humans, with a strong instinct to provide care to their own young. The result is humans calling their dog “baby” and bragging to their friends that he’s “just like a member of the family.” In many respects, Fido actually is just like another child. Dogs are a bit like cuckoos in that respect – enlisting another species to do the work of raising their young – but in this case, by remaining young-looking throughout their adulthood, they lead another species to treat them like its own children for the duration of their lives.
Human children are also master care-harvesters – they have to be, because they remain dependent on adult care for survival for much longer than other species. Adult humans possess large brains, which could never fit through the human birth canal. Our children are thus, of necessity, born with a relatively tiny, undeveloped brain, leaving them utterly helpless and dependent on the care of others for many years. Humans thus possess a strong instinct to summon care as a child, but also a corresponding (and conflicting) instinct to provide care for helpless young humans. Awww…it’s a cute little baby. I want to take care of it.
Thus do we perpetuate our species. But this evolutionary arrangement sets up an internal battle between the child within you who’s hungry for care and the adult who feels obligated to provide it.
Some humans work pretty hard to be treated like children – and receive care – for their entire lives. One trick is to keep acting helpless and wait for someone to come and care for you. One of my clients was complaining about her parents recently in this regard. She grew up knowing she would have to care for them – they steadily broadcast helplessness, “parentifying” my client from her earliest years, leaving her in the position, even as a child, to tackle most of the care-providing. This year, as always, my client took her mother out for her birthday, then fumed silently as Mom ordered the most expensive items on the menu. Christmas will be the same thing – her mother will insist on exchanging gifts, with the understanding that the daughter will be expected to lay out big bucks – and the mother will buy tokens in return. In any case, this client’s parents were living on her handouts – they’d overspent for years, digging themselves into a deep financial hole.
In my client’s case, her parents are demanding care – behaving, in fact, like children. But if it’s unpleasant having an adult demand constant care – why should it be any different with a child? Why introduce someone into your life who is expected to rely on you for care? This raises the question of why people have children. And indeed, some parents seem to misunderstand the roles of parent and child, seeing the child as the provider of endless love and care instead of the receiver of it. Ask one of these folks why they’re having a child, and they might even say so outright: I want someone in my life who will love me completely.
The idea seems to be that endless care will produce endless gratitude – to put it bluntly, a payoff. You do absolutely everything for the child – attend to his bottomless need for love and care…and then he looks at you with those big eyes and says “Mommy, I love you”…and it’s all worth it. And maybe, sometimes, it is.
A more purely mercenary perspective argues that at some point the tables inevitably turn anyway, and the children – now adults – are supposed to take care of you, the parent. This switching of roles is played down in Western culture, but in Asia, it’s taken for granted. Many of my Asian friends simply shrug and write a check to their parents every month because that’s what’s expected of them.
I’ll never forget a television ad I saw once on a flight to Hong Kong. Western Christmas advertising is all about the children – the iconic image is delighted little ones hungrily tearing open gifts under a tree, with the worn-out but adoring parents thrilled that the heap of capitalist loot they’ve provided has once again managed to please the appetites of the youngsters. But this Hong Kongese ad, framed around the Chinese New Year, presented precisely the opposite scenario – a shock to my Western sensibilities. In the advert, a humble, slightly intimidated-looking young couple arrive at the entrance to a house and ring the doorbell. The door opens, and grandma and grandpa loom in the threshold. The young couple bow humbly, mumble ritual pleasantries and present gifts. Behind the young couple, barely visible, stand two young children, heads bowed in reverence.
The scale can tilt either way – toward the elders or towards the children, but it all still boils down to who gives care – and who receives it.
One big step forward comes with learning to ask for care directly – not acting out your need silently by collapsing and going victim or martyr, or going co-dependent and expressing your need by providing the care you yourself crave to others (seethis post for more on that pattern.)
A second big step – the one that counts the most – is realizing that you contain both a helpless child within you and a parent who is more than capable of providing all the care that child needs.
There is a loss, giving up the fantasy of a perfect other providing all the care you need. Some people cling to religion to avoid this loss, and construct an imaginary provider of care – a god or saint or the like.
But there is also a gain that comes from letting go of the fantasy. In separating from your parents, and the dream of perfect care, you transform into an adult, and gain a new strength that comes with self-sufficiency. You can no longer be abandoned, because you always have yourself, a capable adult, by your side. You no longer have to experience solitude as abandonment.
This doesn’t mean adulthood equals solitude. You can gather friends, and your family, around you, and ask them directly for care – and they might even provide it, and you might chose to provide them with care, too, out of love and gratitude for their friendship or just because your own cupboard is full and you wish to celebrate your abundance by sharing care with others.
But you are no longer the infant, abandoned in the cradle, who screams and cries because his life depends upon someone else coming to his rescue.
You can come to your own rescue.
My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.
Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist
My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)
Early intervention for children who may have a developmental issue is important and can be extremely helpful.
But, in my opinion, too often the teachers or counselors are too quick to pounce on a diagnosis and to “treat” something as a problem that isn’t a problem at all and will work itself out in time.
We are all on our own individual timetables and much of childhood development can’t –and shouldn’t–be forced. Vigilence is constructive as long as it doesn’t become hyper-vigilance and over-diagnosis.
One of my favorite stories that led me to this attitude involved my son Johnny who while in Kindergarten had awful handwriting (which he got honest from his mom and me).
A meddlesome counselor spent 30 min “assessing” Johnny when he was in class and playing with toy dinosaurs. She asked Johnny a bunch of personal questions while pretending to talk to him about dinosaurs.
Johnny came home that day and told us about the conversation and said he was concerned about the counselor because she “Didn’t seem very smart” and “didn’t know much of anything about dinosaurs or history.”
Johnny’s penmanship is now only slightly better than his mom’s and mine. And that’s fine. He made all A’s last semester in college. But I bet that counselor still hasn’t learned a thing about dinosaurs or history since Johnny assessed her.
I tried. I really did try to take a break from all the design and innovation buzz while on vacation last week in Spain. It didn’t work. Throughout an incredible ten-day sojourn across northern Spain design and innovation reminders were everywhere. It wasn’t premeditated. I am sure the lens through which I view the world has a lot to do with it but I also credit Spain, which has a clear case of the design and innovation bug. Then again maybe my perspective was colored by all of the great Rioja wine. Here are the design highlights from this innovation junkie’s summer vacation.
We started our Iberian adventure in the great city of Barcelona. On our first day we set out to see Casa Battlo and La Sagrada Familia designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Both were on our must do list and unanimous recommendations from many Twitter friends who had been to Barcelona. Goodbye jet lag. Wow. I wasn’t familiar with Gaudi before our trip but will never forget his work after seeing it. Gaudi was ahead of his time. He was more modern than the Modernist Art Nouveau period in the late 19th early 20th century he lived and designed in. Throughout Gaudi’s life, he studied nature’s angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs. His works are iconic and seem to flow directly from nature. Gaudi said, “The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of nature”. Amen.
Casa Battlo, or as the locals refer to it Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones), has a skeletal, visceral, natural feel throughout. I don’t think there is a straight line in the entire house. The way Gaudi used color and light to draw you in is amazing. He devoted the end of his life, unfortunately cut short in 1926 by a tram accident, to the monumental church La Sagrada Familia. He completed the amazing design but barely saw the work started. The work continues on today and the iconic church spires define the Barcelona skyline. There aren’t enough times in your life when design takes your breath away. Visiting Barcelona and seeing Gaudi’s work took my breath away.
From Barcelona we drove into Rioja wine country for some rural relaxation and leisurely wine tasting. Surely my obsession with design and innovation could take a rest there. No such luck! The concierge at our beautiful Relais & Chateau advised us to visit a couple of wineries in the small village of La Guardia. As GPS guided us toward the Marques de Riscal winery there was no mistaking the iconic design of Frank Gehry as we pulled in. I had no idea that Gehry did Rioja. But there they were, those signature metallic ribbons that remind me of the ribbon candy that we ate and got stuck in our teeth when we were kids. I knew we were going to see his famous work in Bilbao later in our trip but wasn’t expecting to see it in Rioja country.
As we visited the winery it began to make sense. Marques de Riscal is attempting to create a new positioning for the winery and its wines to blend tradition with innovation. What better way to execute a transformational positioning strategy targeted at employees, visitors, and customers than to hire the iconic architect Frank Gehry. I would like to think that wine is about grapes and fermentation but the business is all about brand, customer experience, marketing, and price point. It makes great sense to differentiate brand and customer experience through the power of design. As a bonus the Rioja was pretty darn good.
After several days in wine country the last leg of our journey took us north into the Basque region. We headed for San Sebastian and took a side trip to Bilbao. This time it was by design that we visited the Guggenheim Museum to see Gehry’s iconic work and its great collection of modern art. It was wonderful to visit and I couldn’t help but think about the power that iconic design can have on a community. Bilbao is an old industrial port city that has been transformed in part by the iconic Guggenheim into a design and innovation center in northern Spain.
I will spare you the details of every tapas bar, pintxos crawl, great restaurant, and winery we visited. Trust me when I say that a good time was had. Batteries are recharged and inspiration to advance the mantle of purposeful design and innovation is renewed. Gracias Espana. El gusto es mio.
When I was 14 and staying with my father for the summer, I was in a hurry one day about something and knocked hard on the aging condo door and hit a spot of deteriorated wood and immediately got about a half dozen splinters in two of my fingers.
Thee door was flung open by my father’s lady friend who informed me my father wasn’t back yet and then noticing me holding my fingers while trying to hold back tears asked me what was wrong. I explained about knocking into some dead wood on the door and getting splinters to which she paused momentarily and then mustered the response, “If I were you, I wouldn’t have done that.”
I looked up at her in disbelief that she really said something so completely unhelpful. I decided she just really didn’t care that much and it was probably a hassle for her to come up even with that lame response.
They didn’t date for very long but ever since then when I find myself in a situation that catches me off guard and I have no desire to help with or feign concern about another person’s misfortune, I think to myself (and sometimes even say out loud, “If I were you, I wouldn’t have done that.”
So last week when the car dealer where we recently bought a car called me to check up on how we liked our car so far I told him we were very pleased. But when he then explained the salesperson had forgotten to charge sales tax on our car and I was going to need to pay them an extra $1300, I paused dumbly and then had a ready answer for him.
It’s never too late to pick up a gift for your pops (or to make pointed suggestions to your loved ones). From token to total splurge, below are 6 Rath-approved gifts for you to choose from.
Black and Tan Beer Utensil $10 – There’s nothing like a good black and tan, and with this, your dad doesn’t need bartender skills to make one.
Leather Key Fob $35 – A nice key chain is a small pleasure he might not actually purchase for himself. I love the rugged leather combined with brass hardware.
Luxury Toys Volume 2 $41 – He can dream big as he flips through this gorgeous coffee table book reading about underwater motorcycles and personal spaceships.
Garmin Approach S1 GPS Watch $140 – Pro or no, if your dad’s a golfer, he’ll love this watch, which will allow him to measure individual shot distances and track how far he walks on the course.
Hartmann Garment Bag $445 – With travel, it’s key to keep your clothes neat so you don’t create extra work for yourself (or the hotel laundry) when you arrive at your destination. A bag like this is a frequent traveler’s best friend, as it keeps your hanging clothes in tact, and has pockets for shoes and toiletrees. It also fits nicely in an overhead airplane compartment.
Hermes Croc Clock (call for price) – For the Dad who has everything: an Art Deco crocodile clock by Paul Dupré-Lafon for Hermès, circa 1930.
And for the new dad, here are my tips on keeping stylish while keeping your cool.
If you are simple and from the South one day you will grow up. Maybe you are 51, like me, when it happens. Maybe younger; maybe older.
But one day you come to realize that life really isn’t like a box chocolates.
It’s a painful realization at first. But you will just have to deal with it.
Even Forrest Gump, at age 51, would probably say life is really more like eating a piece of Peanut Brittle with sensitive teeth.
Don’t get me wrong. Life is still good. But we have to learn, even here in the South, life is more complicated than we thought—and that we can’t chew if we want to enjoy life and have it last a long time. Especially with sensitive teeth.
Thought for the day
Today I will go slower to go farther.
And if I get too far ahead of myself, I will speed up.