Keeping a Broken Promise: Part the Second

Living Powerfully – Part II:
The Landmark Forum

A year ago this August, I completed my own Landmark Forum. I went into it still feeling skeptical, but open to the idea that I might get something good out of it. Thanks to the conversation with my mom, I even had an idea for what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to get some closure with my dad. I had been stuck for a long time feeling like I never got a chance to say goodbye to him. I had grieved, but I did not truly feel like I had any kind of closure related to his death, even after the man who killed my father had been tried and sentenced.

A Breakdown and a Breakthrough

One of the exercises that we were to complete as homework after the second day of the forum was to write a letter. It could be to anyone (living or dead), but it needed to be powerful and authentic. I figured this was my big chance to finally say some of the things to my father that I hadn’t had the chance to before he died. I got home from the forum around midnight, sat down at my computer and started typing. I had trouble finding the words (just as I had ever since he had been killed.) I figured I just needed some sleep, so I went to bed with the intention of finishing my letter the next morning before I left for the forum.

Have you ever been stuck on a problem, gone to bed thinking about it, and awoken the next morning with a new insight, able to see a solution with remarkable clarity? At some point during the night, my subconscious let the rest of my mind in on a little secret: I hadn’t really ever accepted my father’s death because I was still pissed off at the bastard who took his life, Jonathan Beiderbeck. (The exact circumstances of my father’s death can be found in my blog entries from July, 2003.)

When I woke up, I had a breakthrough: It wasn’t my father that I needed to write to for this assignment, it was my father’s killer. Armed with this new-found clarity, I sat down again at my computer, wiped out my failed attempts of the night before, and started again. Instead of the frustration of not even being able to get started, the words flowed from my fingers onto the screen. It was almost easy the way what I wanted to say poured onto the screen, but at the same time, this was one of the most difficult things I had ever tried to do.

This is the letter I wrote:

Dear Jonathan,

I came to the Landmark Forum to complete my relationship with my father. What I have come to realize is that in order to do that I need to come to terms with how what you did affected me.

I blame you for my father’s death, you are the person that murdered him, but I also blame you for taking him away from me. I blame you for not letting me have the chance to tell him all the things I never told him. The truth is that I had 26 years worth of chances to do that, and I never took them, at least not completely. I left many things unsaid, and that had nothing to do with you. Yes, you killed my father, but I am the one who took him away. I am the one who never gave me the chance to say what I needed to say to him. I thought that I had come to terms with what you did, but that was not enough because I have spent the last 2 and a half years hating you for taking my dad away from me. I have been unable to truly forgive you for that, because it is not you I need to forgive. It is myself.

The possibility I have invented for myself and my life is the possibility of being expressive and honest. Today, I am committed to stop blaming you for my own inability to communicate with my father.

I sobbed as I wrote it, and again as I shared it with my wife before I printed it up and left for the forum. I almost didn’t take it with me because I did not intend to share it with the group of 150 other forum participants. In the end, I’m glad I did, because I got the chance to share it with my mother and stepfather during our lunch break. (They were there to help people register for the 10 week seminar that is included as part of the tuition for the Forum.) As I read it to them, I cried again. As I finished, I looked up at my mom, and she had this odd mixture of love, sadness, and pride on her face.

“How did you know?” I asked, sobbing just a little. “How did you know that this is what I needed to come here for?”

She smiled at me and said, “I’m your mother.” I gave her a hug as she asked “Are you going to share this with the group?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure I want to. I’m not sure I can.” But I already knew I WAS going to share my letter, that I NEEDED to share it. Not just with the person sitting next to me, I was going to raise my hand when the forum leader asked if there was anyone who wanted to come up to the microphone to share their letter with the entire forum group.

When the time came, I did raise my hand, and the forum leader called on me along with a few others. When my turn at the microphone came, I was nervous – I babbled a little bit setting up the situation. I said something along the lines of: “The letter I’m reading is not the one I sat down to write at first, but it is what I ended up with.” I then briefly explained how my father died, and how this was a letter to the man that killed him.

I got choked up a bit, but got through my letter without sobbing again. After a bit of coaching from the leader, I added this to the end of my letter:

I am also committed to stop blaming myself for the way things turned out with my father. Our relationship was what it was, and it was not what it was not. In many ways, it was not perfect, but no relationship ever is. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Apparently, my letter spoke to a lot of the people in the room. They were floored that I could stand up and share something like that without totally losing it. (They hadn’t seen me when I’d read it to my wife, or to my mom and step-dad.) Throughout the rest of the weekend, I had people coming up to tell me that they were truly and deeply moved by my letter. A few of them even asked if it would be all right to share my story (or bits of it) with others outside of the Forum. (We had all made an agreement not to talk about the stories people shared outside of the Forum without their permission. It is part of what makes the Forum a safe place to work through some powerful (and in some cases, powerfully disturbing) issues.) I told anyone that asked, that they had my permission to talk about the letter I had written, because I was planning to post it online as part of a series of blog posts.

(Incedently, this is that series of posts. I had originally intended to post these last August, but as I’ve already mentioned, I got stuck as I was writing Part III. You’ll understand why after I post it.)

Keeping a Broken Promise: Part the First

(I started writing this in August of 2005. I even wrote a couple of blog entries that make mention of this little project. I got stuck writing Part III and put it aside for a long time, (too long.) The anniversary of my father’s death got me thinking about it again, and I want to finish it. So here is Part I of a three part series. Parts II and III will be posted at a later date.)

Living Powerfully – Part I:
An Introduction

Two years ago, my mom participated in a 3 and a half day seminar, called “The Landmark Forum.” On the last night of the forum, she invited me to an Introduction. An Introduction is like a 2 hour mini seminar that is designed to give people an idea of what participating in the forum would be like.

It seemed interesting, but I got bit of a “pushy salesman” vibe off of my Introduction leader. That, among other things left me resistant to the whole idea. My mom seemed a little gung-ho about it, but couldn’t explain what it was all about. I do not mean that she was forbidden to speak of it or anything, just that the experience was powerful, and so different from day-to-day life that to try to explain how it worked just doesn’t work.

I could see a difference in her. After my stepfather did this seminar, I saw a difference in him, and in their relationship.

My mom did some more work with Landmark, and invited me to a second introduction. Justin had just been born, and I was spent most of the time pacing the back of the room with him to keep him settled. (He was, and is still, a little trooper.) Again, my mom invited me to sign up, but I was still resistant, besides we had just had a baby – I didn’t feel like I had the extra time or money at that point.

Another course completed for my mom, and another introduction invitation. I went, stayed for the beginning, but had to leave early, so I didn’t stay for another introduction. Besides, I had seen it twice already. It was interesting, but I just didn’t see what I could get out of it, and I still had misgivings about the whole process. (Why was my mom so insistent about the Forum?)

So I asked her. Point blank: What is it that you think I’ll get out of doing the Landmark Forum? She told me that she thought there might be something around my father’s death that was still unresolved for me. I mulled that over for a while – it hadn’t really occurred to me before, but the more I looked at things, the more I saw that she might be right. I gave it some more thought, and then registered to take the Landmark Forum myself.

Packages from Texas

My uncle Billy has always been fond of sending me “interesting” items in the mail. Many of them were of questionable legality in the state of California. For my 18th birthday, he sent me a sword, (along with a scroll with a quirky short story he wrote.) As a graduation present, I received a crossbow. Some of the other items he sent me over the years were a throwing star, padded nun chucks, and a sling-shot (with fore-arm brace). I’m sure you can see a re-occurring theme here.

He didn’t just send me weapons. He also sent what could be described as trinkets which he crafted himself, or strange odds and ends. A copper tea service as a wedding gift, A hand carved piece of wood he referred to as a “toad poker”, a trick pen that zapped you when you pressed the button on the back to extend the writing tip, a wooden fish with a clothespin glued to it, (for holding mail, or recipe cards, or something similar – at least that’s what I did with it.)

I could always tell when a Package from Texas arrived. The scent of tobacco permeated everything inside, and seeped out of the package and into the air. I can walk into my mom’s house a few days before Christmas and be able to say “You got a package from Texas, didn’t you?” just from the smell. I still have things out in our storage area from him which still carry the faint essence of tobacco even now, years later.

I find that I have a fondness for those Packages from Texas, even if I can’t find a place in our home for the items he’s sent. I’ve gotten rid of the weapons (except for the sword, which is peace-bound) and many of the trinkets as well. The items I have kept, I may never find a use for – other than to serve as a reminder to me of the unique individual my uncle was. I’m glad that I’ve kept these, since I doubt that I will ever receive another Package from Texas.

My uncle has not been in the best of health for a long time. He neglected his own health while caring for my grandfather, who’s battle with Alzheimer’s took a heavy toll on my uncle. I think he took it the hardest when my grandfather passed away.

My knowledge of the details are sketchy at the moment, but as I understand it, uncle Billy was scheduled for surgery yesterday. There were complications brought on by pneumonia, and he stopped breathing some time this morning. He is currently on life support, but there appears to be no higher brain function. (I believe the term is “Persistent Vegetative State”) The decision about whether or not he is taken off life support rests with my aunt. And I will support her decision in either case.

Uncle Billy was an amazing man. We have always had a connection that was hard to explain. When he came to California to visit, my sister and I would play hooky from school and spend the day with him at the Academy of Sciences, or the Oakland museum, or Lawrence Hall of Science. When I was freaked out about starting high-school, he knew. He called me a couple of weeks before classes started to remind me that I had nothing to worry about. He showed up for my wedding after initially declining, and I was not the least bit surprised when did. I was so certain he’d show up that I kept him on the seating chart even after we got his R.S.V.P. He was the first extended family member that I called to announce my son’s birth, and Justin shares his middle name.

I love you Unca’ Billy, and I’m going to miss you.

cute phone call

I’m at work.

My cell phone rings with the “family” ringtone.

The caller ID says its my wife.

I push the accept call button. “Hello?”

“Baaaa beee buuu shaaaee dak?”

I smile. “Hi, little guy.”

“Sooommm mek gaaab doo daaa pbbbth.”

“Oh yea?”

“Deeee baad sshuuug maag gep. ”

I expect my wife to take the phone back, since I thought she called and was letting Justin do the greeting. “Where’s Mommy? Justin, can I talk to Mommy?”

“Booo bo baaak meeg shaal ek!”

“Justin, does Mommy know you have her phone?’

Theres a sound like he’s slobbering on the phone, then in the background I hear my wifes voice: “Wha..” and then the call ends.

I wait a couple of seconds, grinning, then call back. My wife answers the phone.

“Hi, I just got a phonecall from our son.”

“Yeah the little turkey had it when I came out of the bathroom. I thought he was just playng with it at first, but then I realized he was actually talking to someone.”

“Well, i just wanted to make sure you knew he had your phone, and that it was me he called.”


“At least he didn’t call Germany or something.”

She laughs, “Yeah.”

“I love you, I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Love you too, see you tonight.”

The call ends. I’m still grinning, and I think about how much more fun a call like that will be when I can actually understand what he’s trying to tell me.

And then there were three

The kittens moved to Petaluma last night. We have been unable to correct Briarwood’s behavioral issues, and letting him continue to eliminate in the window sill, and mark the furniture was NOT an option. Nor was removing the catalyst for his stress. (That would be Justin.) So we had to find him a new home.

My mother-in-law agreed to take him in with the understanding that he would be living in the garage with access to the outside, but no access to the rest of the house. While not ideal, it’s certainly better than giving him to a shelter. Jenny and I talked a great deal about it, and we also decided to keep Briar and Pantha together. We didn’t want to add separation anxiety on top of the stress of moving for Briar, and we didn’t want to risk the possibility of Pantha acting up once her brother was gone.

So last night after I got home from work, we packed all the cat stuff up. Wrestled the kittens into their carriers, wrestled Justin into his car seat, and headed north. We spent a bit of time visiting with Jenny’s mom, (and fixing her computer) and getting the cats settled before heading back to the bay area.

So – we are now living in a cat-free house. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to.

This breaks my heart, but I have to do it.

Anyone in the SF Bay area want a cat?

He’s a 6 year old domestic short-hair (tabby), neutered, and tends to be skittish at times but very affectionate. He’s just not dealing with the stress of having a toddler around, and is currently experiencing behavioral problems which can probably be corrected with a change of environment and a small amount of training. (Specifically he needs to re-learn what a litter-box is and how to use it.)

An ideal environment would be one where he would be primarily in-doors with no other pets or small children, as he is currently not dealing well with his litter-mate (fighting, hissing, growling.) Once he has mellowed out and adjusted to his new environment, the introduction of another cat may be possible.

I don’t want to have to give him up, but there is nothing else I can do at this point. If we had space to designate a “safe-room” for him, I could probably re-train and re-introduce him into our household, but the only room I would have been able to use for that is now a nursery.

I am looking into other options (friends/family/no-kill shelters) but I thought I’d post this here as well.

Edited on Sep 24th 2005, 01:35 by Hooloovoo

His Auntie would be so proud.

I haven’t been posting much about Justin’s growth and development here lately. (I’m also woefully behind with the whole picture posting thing.)

frostedlexicharm has been posting lots about eil and boy wonder, and I don’t want our blogs to turn into an “oh yeah well my baby does…” battle. I know they probably wouldn’t, but hey- better safe than sorry.

Anyway, he’s doing well. If anyone want’s more details I might summarize recent events in a comment, or something.

Now to address the title of this entry. Spinach and Justin do not get along well. His aunt (my sister) would be so proud. Maybe. You see, he seems to like it just fine, (unlike his aunt.) The problem is that his face and arms break out in a mild rash when we feed it to him. So we’ll back off on spinach for now and try again at a later time.

i wonder what we should introduce next.

Today I am 27

I’ve had a pretty good, yet mellow birthday.

Justin was cooperative enough to let Jenny and I sleep in a bit. Then his grandparents (Jenny’s mom and dad) came down to play with him while Jenny and I went to see a movie.

We were going to see “Finding Neverland”, but I got the showtimes mixed up and by the time we got to the theatre, we’d missed the first 20 minutes. So we decided to see “The Incedibles” instead. That also gave us enough time to space around the Bay Street shopping center a bit. We were in the Apple Store and I came very close to spending the money my grandfather sent me on an iPod Mini. My current plan is to put it towards the purchase of a new computer, but damn, the iPod is a sexy MP3 player.

The movie was really good, I enjoyed it a lot. Not going to go into much here, but the story is really well written in addition to some great animation. I think it’s my favorite Pixar film yet.

After the movie, Jenny and I went home and then out to dinner with my parents. I don’t remember if I’ve said this before, but Vo’s Restaraunt in San Leandro is terrrific. I’ve yet to have something there that wasn’t excellent.

Now we are home. Jenny has gone to bed, (she started getting a migraine while we were at dinner,) so I think Justin and I are gong to watch LXG which came in the mail via Netflix yesterday.

Edited on Dec 6th 2004, 15:50 by Hooloovoo