Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Authentic Care

That love implies care is most evident in a mother’s love for her child. No assurance of her love would strike us as sincere if we saw her lacking in care for the infant, if she neglected to feed it, to bathe it, to give it physical comfort; and we are impressed by her love if we see her caring for the child. It is not different even with the love for animals or flowers. If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her “love” for flowers. Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love.
Excerpt From: Fromm, Erich. “The Art of Loving.” iBooks.
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As a child, I regularly visited with and spent Saturday’s at my Grandparents house.

One of my fondest memories from that time period is the enjoyment of taking a bath in my Nana's tub near the end of an exhausting day of running and ripping with both my cousins and the local neighborhood kids.

First, there was the whistling sound of the water filling the tub like a grand curtain call.

The fuller that it became the more powerfully it summoned you to its celebration of the day’s closing hour.

Slowly, ever so carefully you stuck your big toe into the steam and warmth as the causing message being sent to your brain registered that this is the place where you belong.

Wow! It is hot, but not hot enough to prevent you from continuing to slip in deeper and deeper.

The biggest moment came when you found yourself finally seated in the liquid fusion while taking in the familiar smell of Ivory soap.

I can still hear those last few drops from the faucet echoing as though applauding my willingness to surrender.

At last I am rewarded by the rich surround sound of ethereal grace and contentment.

Yes, I remember well the feeling of my body, mind, and spirit all at once blissfully and yet silently saying ahhh.

Please don’t let this splendid moment ever end!!!

But wait, following this stillness there is more to come: Cookies, ice cream, and a tall refreshing glass of milk before the night-light goes out.

These wonderful sensory experiences remain bundled together in a moment in time making it so effortless for you to recount the bedside call to prayer along with the loving kiss goodnight that Nana saved up just for you.

And to think she’s now become one hundred and two.

Every time I slipped beneath the soapy water, I felt safely watched over by the Almighty from way up on high as I lie there beneath the warm and soothing water of my dear ’Nana’s tub’.

Word Up! - A book of poems,
Nana's tub
Jonathan Dunnemann

One of the worst habits that I picked up during my childhood, was the tendency to take things that did not belong to me. A Psychologist's might very well refer to this as poor impulse control.

Let me be blunt, I was a thief. On one occasion, my grandfather told a family whose house we were visiting for the evening that "if you have anything valuable laying around like money or jewelry then you had better put it up because my grandson is a thief and given the chance he will take it!"

Was I embarrassed by this statement? Yes I was. Nevertheless, what my Grandfather said was true. I imagine that he also felt that publicly announcing a detailed and cautionary message about my dishonest, selfish and untrustworthy behavior was still an important duty and responsibility that he clearly had to others.

Looking back, I realize that this behavior all started with something as seemingly innocent as sneaking cookies out of my Grandmother's cookie jar kept in the kitchen. This feat took plenty of repeated practice for me to actually perfect without detection.

In time, I moved on to taking money from the purses and wallets of immediate family until everyone finally stopped leaving their valuable things lying around within my line of sight.

These actions culminated with my shoplifting of just about anything and everything (i.e., candy, food, clothing, comic books, jewelry, and small electronic items) prior to becoming a teenager.

Between age 10 to 12 years old I had been caught stealing a number of times, sternly warned or asked not to return to certain places of business by store owners but it had not as yet resulted in any direct or serious consequences. Right now, you may be wondering, how in the world could this have been the case?

Well one afternoon, when I was in the eighth grade and living with my grandparents, I finally got caught in a supermarket by the store detective as I was trying to remove a record album from beneath my coat so that I could place it on a shelf in the store. I decided to risk taking this action because I thought that I may very well have been seen when I was first attempting to steal the item.

Yes indeed, I was "busted" and as a result, I got marched straight to the business office where the store detective subsequently contacted the police department and notified them of my actions.

Then, for the very first time, upon hearing the store detective state that he was going to drive me to the police station, I became very scared over the consequences of my actions. By now, I assumed that I would be arrested and ultimately locked up.

Once we arrived at the police station, the police contacted my Grandfather informing him that while the supermarket had gone ahead and decided not to press charges because I was a minor, my Grandpa would still be required to come over to the police station, sign some papers, pick me up and then take me home.

Well guess what? My Grandpa refused to come and get me. That's right. He said, "you can keep my grandson there over night!"  "Maybe it will do him some good."

Subsequently, I had to be driven back to my grandparents house in broad daylight for all the neighbors to see me getting out of a police car with my Grandpa then looking none to pleased as he stood there peering out of the front storm door of his house.

Let me share a bit about my grandfather. My Grandpa, was a professional barber with his own business located in Montclair, New Jersey. He was a very dignified, proud, and well respected person in the community where he worked as well as the one in which he lived. Most people I believe found him to be a man of very few words.

My Grandpa never really had to say much because he was the kind of person that you could generally tell what he was thinking or whether he approved or disapproved of your actions just by taking a good look at his face. On that particular day, it seemed to say it all.

Later that same evening, we had dinner together as if nothing had happened. When our meal finished, Grandpa said in a very matter of fact manner, “the police have never been to this house before for any reason until today Jonathan, and today you brought shame upon our home by having them bring you home in a police car for shoplifting which is a crime, and stealing is something that you have repeatedly been told not to do.”

He followed up his proceeding comments with, “I want you to have your bags packed by first thing tomorrow morning because you are going to have to go back home to live with your Mother.” “You simply cannot stay here in this house any longer.”

That was the end of what he had to say.

That night, I didn’t sleep at all. The seriousness of the situation made it impossible for me to get the slightest bit of rest. The only thing that kept running through my mind over and over again was, "what have I done?"

The next morning, while we were in route to Montclair from Caldwell, my Grandpa hadn’t said a single word and his prolonged silence for me was like being slowly tortured. I was truly in agony.

When he finally did speak, it was to say “Jon you are 12 years old now and very soon you’re going to become a teenager. I think that it is about time for you to start thinking seriously about exactly what kind of man you want to become in life.” Frankly, I don't think that I had even started giving this concept very much thought. Grandpa said, “The choices that you are making right now are bad ones and if you go on making choices like the one that you made yesterday then they are going to lead you right into a reformatory school or even worse straight to jail. I know that you’re not a stupid kid.” "So, let me ask you this, is that what you really want for yourself?"

“Because you don’t have a good relationship with your Mother and your father has not been present in your life, both Nana and I decided to offer to let you stay here with us. But now, because of what you’ve done you are going to have to deal with the consequences of your actions and figure out for yourself how to make the most of a situation that you have gone and made worse.”

Grandpa mentioned to me how disappointed he was with my decision making. But, and this proved to be very big factor for me, he still believed that I could take this completely poor conduct and actually learn from my mistake if I really spent the right amount of time thinking about what I wanted, what I needed to do differently, and if I could learn to focus more attention on making better choices going forward. If these three things would help me to restore the good graces with my Grandpa then I decided there was no question about it, that is exactly what I was going to do.  Because it didn't take me very long to be able to see for myself that absent his love and support, my life was about to get much harder than I could possibly imagine.

As I grew older and came to recognize how worried Grandpa was for me, I also learned to more fully appreciate how hard it must have been for him to respond to my situation in the way that he did. It was one of the most loving things that he could have done for me and it proved to be the real difference maker in my preadolescent life.

According to Nana, at no time did he ever let go of his great hope for me. I thank you so much Grandpa for that.

For the first time in my young life, not only did a feel like an idiot but it also felt awful to me seeing how badly I had destroyed the trust and lost the very special support of my grandfather. I will always remember that seemingly long car ride back to my Mother’s home the next morning and even as a write this story I can still hear Grandpa’s lingering words as if they were just being spoken to me today.

When I walked back into my Mother's house that day and discovered that my Mother had always expected me to fail and that once again I had to accept what seemed to me at the time to be her extremely harsh disciplinary practices and punishments, well I knew right then and there that I just couldn’t live under her roof anymore. I had been out from under her reign for nearly one year and God bless her but she had lost me to the world outside. I do not blame my Mother for my behavior, character flaws or any of the decisions that I made that may have contributed to the specific failures in my life. What I gradually and eventually learned is that what really matters most in life is to hold yourself accountable for your actions. No one else.

That day though, I decided to run away for the thirteenth and final time never to return home to my Mother again. I was not afraid simply because I did not as yet know what to be afraid of.

For the remainder of that year, I on occasion lived in a tree house, a dog house, on local golf course benches and when possible alternated between friends homes for several days and weeks at a time.  All of this took place right within Caldwell, New Jersey.

During that period, I wore my friends clothes and I was financially supported by their parents. I was very fortunate not to have experienced any harm or to have succumbed to doing further damage to myself or others. All that I can tell you is that more than anything else I wanted to survive and become good even if for the time being I had no idea just how I was going to accomplish that. In many ways, I was still largely surrounded by goodness and you can bet that I was clinging on to it for my dear life.

When I finally ran out of good will, I ended up becoming a ward of the State of New Jersey under the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and was eventually placed in a Children’s Shelter located in Bellville, New Jersey for the remainder of that school year.  Then in the summer of 1968, under the National Fresh Air Fund Program I was sent away to what turned out to be a poorly attended summer camp located in Mountaindale, New York for the better part of that summer.

With plenty of time on my hands and not enough to do I was fortunate to have been given a part-time job working in a Jewish bakery (i.e., Friedman’s) where I learned how to make bagels and Halla Bread as a paid Baker’s Assistant.

In the afternoons and evenings, I played basketball with the two older young men working at the bakery; Barry who attended Niagara University in New York and his younger brother, who was attending St Bonaventure University in New York. Nearly every day we played against other talented college basketball players whose families were vacationing in the Sullivan County area of upstate New York.

Yes, I was learning on my feet how to make the most of my opportunities while also managing to stay out of trouble as well as possible. I was introduced to alcohol, drugs and sex at that time. None of these came to dominate my life because when I was removed from those surroundings I always seemed to return to my safe haven in Caldwell, New Jersey. That is not to say that these things could not be found there as well. However, the difference was that the friends and families that I was most familiar with were far more protective over what their kids did, where they went, and who they spent time with. As a result, I benefit from there care and concern as well.  For the most part, my friends and I were typically to busy to really get into too much trouble.  We weren't angels by any means but we were seriously afraid of really screwing things up for ourselves or anyone else for that matter.

Years later, during one of the many Sunday afternoon’s that I spent having dinner at my Grandparents house I took the opportunity to tell my Grandpa how much I loved him and how thankful I was for all that he had done for me throughout my childhood. Moreover, I let him know too, that if he had not shown me the tough love that he did when I needed it the most that I might not have been so driven later in adolescence to get into college or to see my studies through to completion with the hope of one day making him feel very proud of me.

My grandparents proudly attended my high school graduation from Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange, NJ back in 1973 and I continued to have a close and loving relationship with them throughout my years at college including my travels to England, France, Italy, Germany and Austria during the summer going into my senior year at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Runaway - A biography of a runaway youth,
Chapter 3  A turning point
Jonathan Dunnemann