Dad Apologizes

One evening I invited my teen-age son, David, out for breakfast next morning.  That next morning he was ready on time and I was not. David said, “Let’s do it tomorrow; I don’t want to be late for school today.” I said I would hurry, so he waited. At the restaurant, we didn’t have the usual good time that we had on other breakfast dates. Dave kept nervously asking me what time it was. I finally dropped him off at school just before the bell rang. I said offhandedly to him, “Sorry I was late, Son.” David stepped out the passenger door, looked back in at me and said, “Dad, you do it all the time.” Continue reading

Clean from cancer

When I was living with cancer, I elected to undergo chemotherapy. I remember the one-year anniversary with great clarity for the oddest of reasons. You see, exactly one year earlier, the first drops of Cytoxan entered my bloodstream, as I began chemotherapy for mantle cell lymphoma.

That same week I had my car’s oil changed. During the ten-minute process, I sat outside in the sunshine of a lovely early summer day. I cherished this day’s freedom compared with the dark days of a deadly cancer flourishing in my abdomen one year earlier. Continue reading


Our comical son Scott sets a good example of laughing matters for us by his ability to poke fun at himself. He told about an earthquake that rumbled his neighborhood in California. Following emergency orders, he stood in a doorway as the quake spent itself over the land. Curious, he stepped outside his second floor apartment wondering, “Is this the big one?” After about 30 seconds the trees and buildings stopped swaying and things settled down. Neighbors looked at each other and shrugged, meaning, “I guess it’s done.” Scott turned back into his apartment to survey the damage. As he put it, “Things were scattered all over the floor. Every surface was covered with debris. Papers here, dishes there…these were no  laughing matters. Then I realized that this was not from the earthquake … this is the way I live!” What a kind way to put loved ones at ease thousands of miles away. How refreshing to minimize terror with laughing matters.

Handling Unjust Criticism

When you find yourself handling unjust criticism from a senior such as, “You never spend enough time with me,” examine it and profit from any hidden grains of truth. Often, because an older person forgets what happened only moments ago, caregivers label complaints as unwar­ranted attacks and feel like striking back. Fortunately, there are some ways to respond with a soft answer. Shift your mental gears from trying to win a power struggle. The energy you spend in that futile effort can be diverted to ignoring the barb and directing the conversation to more pleasant topics. Often a big smile and a hug will set the stage for a happier visit.

You can use the following statements as tools for responding to verbal abuse, even if you consider it unfair. (Later, you can try to decipher the reasoning behind the attack. Perhaps your actions have been misunderstood in the past. If so, you may be able to improve the message YOU are sending.)

To criticisms (like, “The only person you ever care about is yourself”):

1. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

2. “Thank you for telling me.”

3. “I’ll have to think about that.”

4. “You may be right.”

5. “Oh.” This can be said with so many tones of voice that it can convey any of the following:

(a) “I see what you mean”

(b) “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

(c) “I register that you have spoken to me.”

(d) “I understand. Go on.”

(e) “Wow! That’s interesting. Please tell me more.” Continue reading

Shifting Gears

We all had a wonderful time the year Ruth and I shared Christmas break in Florida with our college‑aged sons. Then we said a heartfelt goodbye to the boys at the Fort Lauderdale airport and began to wait a few hours before our plane left for Chicago. Little did we know that we were about to learn more about marital conflict resolution.

I soon began noticing little mannerisms about Ruth that somehow jarred my preference for neatness and precision. For example, she handed me the envelope containing our airline tickets, and I noticed that she had the tickets in there upside down. I noticed that she had set our carry‑on luggage on the “wrong” side of our seat in the waiting area – the left instead of the right! When I commented on these “infractions,” Ruth apologized. Somehow I felt that she did not mean her apology, so I confronted her on that as still another error. Tension crackled between us. Continue reading

Diving into Life

In his mid‑teens, our oldest son, Steve, read of a place in Ohio that trains people in sport‑parachuting and sky‑diving. He decided he wanted to go. I had never thought of such a thing but quickly supported the idea, seeing myself as the champion of Steve’s emancipation. Ruth opposed the idea, viewing it as insane teenage risk taking to die by jumping from a plane. I sided with Steve and told Ruth we had to let go of the apron strings. Our little baby was growing up and we both needed to face the fact.

We spent some days debating and gathering information on parachuting and skydiving. Ruth called a nearby rural airport that offered such training and asked how safe it was. The person on the other end of the phone assured Ruth that it was very safe and popular and enjoyable. Ruth asked, “Well, have you had any fatalities?” The answer, after a pause, was “Well, no serious fatalities.” We decided not to train at that place!

Finally, as we talked out this issue, Ruth had a brainstorm. She said, “Okay, Dennis, I know that you have good judgment. I know you love Steve and do not want to see him hurt. So I want you to go along with Steve and evaluate the training. In fact, go through the training with him. Decide when Steve is completely prepared to jump safely. Then go up in the plane with him – and you jump first!” Continue reading

Building On Strengths

In a phone call to one of our sons, I found occasion to use a counseling technique described in my book Vitality Therapy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989). This book features dozens of practical techniques that nonprofessional counselors can use to make maximum use of brief counseling opportunities. In that phone call I helped David transfer a skill from one area of his life to another area in which he was experiencing difficulty.

Knowing that this conscientious son had just begun a new job over which he fretted, I asked, “When you worry over your work, how would you describe the worry and the pressure you feel?” Dave answered, ” I look at all the things I have to do and think to myself, “It’s too big for me.”

Since I already knew that he excelled at his favorite recreation – technical rock climbing – I asked, “Dave, when you’re out rock climbing, do you ever stand at the foot of a sheer cliff hundreds of feet high, look up at it, and say to yourself, “It’s too big for me?”  I thought he would answer,  “Yes.” Then I would ask him how he managed to enjoy the sport anyway, implying that he could use the same kind of attitude toward on‑the‑job chores. However, to my surprise, David answered quickly and confidently, “Never!”  I commented, “Wow, that’s amazing! How do you work up the confidence for such a demanding task? Continue reading

Three Men Climb

Three men with the middle name, “Lee,” climbed up the mountain forming the south edge of Cottonwood Pass, west of Buena Vista, Colorado.  They were Dennis Gibson, his son David Gibson, and David’s son, Hunter Gibson, age 4.

Halfway up, Dennis in the lead stopped for breath, and called out, “How many men are climbing this mountain?” He himself immediately started the count by shouting, “One!” David quickly followed with, “Two!” Hunter caught the idea and joined in with a lusty shout of, “Three!” – and an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

Dennis and David remarked, “Wow, three men climbing a mountain together!” They thus affirmed Hunter’s inclusion with them, his manly participation in a difficult venture, and his brotherhood in the fraternity of Men. They literally made sure that he counted, because they accepted his numeral, “Three!”

Adults do well to create dozens of “bar mitzvah’s” like this for kids throughout their growing up. Affirming your child like this is what it is to bless, to include, to esteem, to build the inner sense of identity and acceptance within a child’s concept of self and society.

Broken Bones Get Stronger

During the years of high school sports, one of our sons broke a leg. The physician showed us an x-ray at the time of the break. Eight weeks later he let us compare a new x-ray with the old one. We saw from the x-rays that the healed bone actually had a greater thickness at the point where it broke then did the neighboring bone tissue. They were told that if the leg ever broke again, it would break anywhere but the place where he had previously broken.

When spouses in a rubber marriage hurt each other and then thoroughly talk through the hurt and reconcile over it, they create a learning experience by erasing the negative effects of the hurt. It makes them less likely to repeat that hurt than before. In the written Chinese language, the picture for “crisis” consists of two other words combined: “danger” and “opportunity”. To keep marriages healthy, couples can turn every crisis of hurt and disappointment to an opportunity to learn, grow, improve, and draw still closer to each other.

Rubber Marriages

All marriages need to have the qualities of rubber. First of all, rubber is resilient and elastic. It bounces back when stress bends it out of shape, and it expands to fit irregular surfaces. Spouses need to do that with each other. Sometimes our partner seems to be strangely inconsiderate and irrational. We need to bounce back from the hurts and disappointments inevitable in any close relationship, realizing that neither of us is perfect. The love that underlies a marital commitment can stretch around bumps in the road. Continue reading