Thursday, May 26, 2016
The non-fairytale truth about stepparents
I think this is an important story. Media representations of step-parents tend to be negative stereotypes. I had it easier than most as a step-parent. When I first met my three step-children (aged 5, 5 and 7) the first thing I did was to sit down and talk to them in my usual jocular way for a couple of hours. I got them to tell me about what they thought about all sorts of things. And from that time on all was sunny. The kids went home to their father and his new lady that night and announced, "John was great!" -- getting a not entirely enthusiastic though civil response. They are all now adults with children of their own but we still get on well -- JR
Stories of children who have experienced awful parenting under the “protection” of a stepparent have become all too familiar.
Google “stepparents”. You’ll read all about the dos and don’ts of managing “blended families” and can even download your own self-help guide that facilitates the rules and regulations for making the love of two people a comfortable experience for all kids involved.
Hit the news tab and you’ll read about the people who didn’t read this step-by-step guide on how to be a prize stepparent and the salacious headlines that accompany some of their awful offences.
The word stepparent itself, in my view, does have an ugly kind of ring to it. Did your parents read Cinderella to you as a kid? Not the remake, or the politically correct version — the ugly and at times quite tragic 1950s original. Mine did.
I’ll share with you another side of the stepparent story, or enigma as it is. One that doesn’t fit the all too common stereotype.
The story of Cinderella painted a less than rosy picture of any “step” family member . (Pic: Supplied)
Enter Norman — otherwise known as Normie, Normie G, Norm, or, when he’s in trouble, NORMAN. Norm is my stepdad, although I hate referring to him as that because I feel as though I’m doing him a great disservice.
Perhaps it was the Cinderella book, perhaps it was the bad experiences shared with me by friends, or maybe it’s just that the “step” really doesn’t define him and his extraordinary qualities adequately.
My mum and dad divorced when my twin-sister, Lauren, and I were four years old. We were a “broken family” as it was referenced in the 90s. We were five when Mum met Norm and we were six when we pranced down the red carpet, spraying our confetti everywhere as they followed us down together and wed.
Norman’s first year with us was the worst. Lauren and I were spoiled. My mum was trying to juggle her happiness and the happiness she envisaged for us with the guilt that came with introducing an unwanted party to the household and taking a risk that could have ended really badly.
Our mum and dad’s marriage (prior to Norm) had taught us standards of living that alone, my mum couldn’t maintain. When she packed us up in her car, tears flowing on all of our cheeks, wand said goodbye to my dad (who is also a brilliant man), she did so knowing we’d all get a pretty big reality check when we left the city and returned to destination country town, a place she once called home.
At five, the hand holding between them was probably the most painful thing to witness. “You’re not our dad,” and “Don’t touch my mum” were remarks he endured pretty consistently for his first few months from Lauren and I. What a romantic honeymoon period in your relationship, right?
He didn’t retort, he didn’t call us out on our ill-informed behaviour, he just smiled at us and let go of Mum’s embrace and would make room either side of her for us to take over.
I don’t know what the tipping point was — we made his life very difficult and refused him like the plague. I remember him setting up our first fish tank that was like a state-of-the-art aquarium in our house — perhaps that’s what got him over the line. Whatever it was, in a short time and at a very young age, Lauren and I grew to love him and we loved the way he made our mum laugh, love and be happy.
When you grow up hearing only stories of evil stepparents, it can be confronting when you get a blended family of your own. (Pic: Disney’s live-action feature film Cinderella).
Growing up, Norm was my everything — my ultimate. He was hard on us, set very high standards and today, and for every day in between, I am so grateful.
Norm taught me how to read, write and how to drive. He taught me how to be disciplined enough to learn at school and the importance of knowledge and a good education when I would come home sheepishly with a report card that read: “Very intelligent and high potential, but can be easily distracted.”
He always listened and thankfully, he taught me how to be patient and silent enough to listen to him as well. He is philosophical, nonsensical sometimes, has a wicked sense of humour and his emotional and intellectual capacity is unprecedented.
He was an electrician, which was a stark contrast to Dad’s career as a PR executive. His knowledge was endless and never declared sacred. No question was off-limits. I would race home from school beaming with pride after my exams to show him what his teachings had done for my understanding of the World Wars, political afflictions and my grades.
When I seek to explain Normie’s brilliance to others, two memories stick:
Starting that “time of the month”
When I got my lady business at the age of 12 and my mum sent him down to the local shop to buy supplies as she sat down with me and talked through my reproductive cycle on a calendar (I was 12!!!), Norm returned home with a vast array of cotton surfboards in hand (he covered all brands and bases) without a paper bag in sight to disguise his mission from the locals. He was not embarrassed.
Building a boat
When he built his own boat with his own two hands. (Smart move — he needed a sanctuary after sharing a living space with three very open and over-sharing women for more than 15 years). He sat for months sketching designs on gridded pages until he was happy enough, knowing he got it right.
Whenever I go home to visit, he invites me on board the boat and we sit on the deck, share some wine and look at the stars while talking about life.
I could rattle off thousands of instances where Norman really has broken the stepparent mould and my perception of it — he’s done far more than was ever expected to show my sister and I a solid, caring and unconditional upbringing.
Simply put, Norman was a blessing. He is a father, a mentor, soulmate and friend. He is irreplaceable and our lives would have been so different had he not entered them.
That is what he did for me and my sister, in the years that we most needed it. He is part of the foundation of who we have become and I hope like hell every day that we’ve done him proud.
Not all stepparents are to be feared or resented — Norm took on the role of dad, without me ever having to ask him.
What’s all this talk about resilience?
HAVE YOU NOTICED how all of a sudden, everything is “resilient”? I was listening to a not uninteresting public radio broadcast on urban moss, when I learned that several stations have merged “resilience reporting” desks — to keep us abreast of hardy lichens, I guess.
I saw in the paper that University of Arizona professor Dr. Andrew Shatte was lecturing in the area on “Why Some People Are Resilient, and Others Are Not.” Shatte arrived early to the resilience party, as co-author of the 2003 book, “The Resilience Factor: Seven Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles.”
The promotional materials for Shatte’s Boston appearance promised that “in the final moments of the workshop, he’ll even reveal the biggest secret to a life of resilience!”
Boston recently appointed a “Chief Resilience Officer,” Dr. Atyia Martin, whose mission “will be to help the city cope with stress,” the Globe reported. For the time being, the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation, not the taxpayers, pays Martin’s salary.
Rockefeller is all in on resilience, with a Global Resilience Partnership, the National Disaster Resilience Competition, and the 100 Resilient Cities program, in which Boston is participating. Among the resilience officers’ duties, the foundation’s website explains, is “ensuring that the city applies a resilience lens so that resources are leveraged holistically and projects planned for synergy.”
A spokesman told me that Rockefeller started investing in resilience projects about 10 years ago, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The foundation has spent about half a billion dollars on resilience programs, including public radio’s lichenological investigations.
I think we attained Peak Resilience last month, when President Obama invoked the r-word during a public appearance at the CIA. “I want to remind Americans again … how to be strong, how to be resilient,” he said. “We have to refuse to give in to fear. We have to stay true to our values of liberty and diversity and openness.”
Resilience means the ability to bounce back after adversity. There’s a cottage industry in Boston devoted to congratulating ourselves on our post-Marathon bombing resilience. You want to see some resilience? Visit Dresden, or Hiroshima, or Warsaw, or any of the many Russian cities vaporized 70 years ago during World War II.
To be fair, I spent some time talking to Martin, Boston’s resilience officer, and the subject of the Marathon bombings never came up. She cheerfully admitted that most people don’t exactly get what she does. “There’s lot of speculation,” she said. “People hear my title, and they say, ‘That’s interesting — what does it mean?’”
Martin sees her brief as primarily promoting racial equity in the city. “When you have an emergency, it disproportionately burdens people of color,” she said. “The goal is closing the gap between people of different communities so everyone can have the kind of healthy community they would like to live in.”
Resilience talk is just a little too glib, a little too modish, a little too nonsensical for my tastes. Americans seem to me like the least resilient people on earth, obsessing over bathroom access and Twitter wars while one-tenth of the planet starves to death. Starbucks ran out of one percent milk? I’m calling my congressman!
Can resilience be taught, or implemented, through government programs and foundation grants? Perhaps. To me, resilience is a quality that Americans lost years ago: The ability to take a punch and get back off the mat.
Now the instinct is to stay down on the mat, and find someone to blame for your problems — the Mexicans, the Muslims, the welfare cheats. Someone could run for president on that platform. Indeed, someone is.
Black Iowa Student Starts Fight, Loses, Makes Up Hate Crime, Gets Caught
A savage hate crime at the University of Iowa that sent shockwaves across campus turned out to be just another hoax, police said Tuesday.
The case of Marcus Owens caused a deluge of outrage when it first emerged in early May. Owens claimed on the night of April 30 he was attacked, out of nowhere and without provocation, by three white college-age men, who beat him bloody while screaming racial slurs and landed him in the hospital.
Activist students claimed the attack showed a climate of racial hatred in Iowa City, and they also denounced the university for taking until May 4 to issue a statement about the matter.
“How many black students must be a victim of a hate crime before an alert is sent out,” one student complained online at the time.
But after a two-week investigation, Iowa City police have concluded, after interviewing witnesses and viewing surveillance footage, that no hate crime occurred at all, and that Owens’ account of his injuries was almost completely false.
In Owens’ account, he arrived at the Eden Lounge, an Iowa City bar, around 9 p.m., stepped out for a phone call around 10 p.m., and was then attacked.
But footage, which was released by police, shows a very different series of events. The footage shows Owens entered the bar close to midnight, and then getting involved in a massive bar melee around 1:35 a.m. He was kicked out of the bar, and then proceeded to get in two additional fights within the next 10 minutes. In all of the fights Owens is acting aggressively and throwing punches, and police say he appears to have been the instigator in at least one of the fights.
While at least one participant in the fighting does seem to have yelled a racial slur, that’s not enough to justify a hate crime charge, police said.
Owens initially walked off his injuries, but later went to the hospital to have them treated. On Monday night, he created his story of an unprovoked racial attack.
Owens and his family have issued an apology, blaming his actions on a mixture of alcohol and embarrassment.
“Marcus now knows that his account of events was inconsistent with police findings, in part due to alcohol being involved, his embarrassment at his behavior, as well as the injuries he sustained,” the family’s statement says. “In light of this, it was concluded that this incident was not a hate crime as originally believed, but rather a case of excessive underage drinking and extremely poor judgment on the part of many people, Marcus included.”
Police say that thanks to the apology, they will not file a false reporting charge, even though the evidence supports one.
Owens isn’t the first college student in 2016 to try spinning a run-of-the-mill fight as a violent hate crime. Three University at Albany students claimed they were attacked by a white mob on a bus in January, only to have police conclude they were the actual aggressors. Those students have been kicked out of school and hit with an array of criminal charges.
Events in Europe vindicate Australian immigration policy
The spectre of political disruption in Europe moved another step closer to reality on Monday when Norbert Hofer, the anti-immigration candidate for Austrian president, lost by a hair’s breadth.
The rise of Hofer, leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, to claim 49.7 per cent of votes is Europe’s Trump moment. For the first time since Austrian voters were given the right to choose their president in 1951, neither mainstream party will fill that role. Disillusioned with the political establishment and its inability to handle the migration crisis, voters cleaved to the far left and the far right and the win by former Greens and now independent Alexander Van der Bellen by 2,254,484 votes to Hofer’s 2,223,458 votes will do little to bridge Austria’s deep divisions. The lessons for Australia are clear. Those who foolishly demonised Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week fail to understand that social and political cohesion depends on public confidence in an immigration system.
Snooty Europeans have had a tendency to look aghast at the rise of populist Donald Trump in the US. They turn up their noses at Trump’s rise as an “only-in-America” phenomenon where angry, mainstream Americans have snubbed the establishment for reasons relevant only to America. Yet, European elites now face their own nightmare on main street.
The driving force behind Hofer’s rise is deep community anxiety about the ramifications of uncontrolled immigration. In a small country that has taken in 90,000 asylum-seekers last year — more than 1 per cent of its population — almost half of Austria’s voters looked to a leader, even a symbolic presidential one — to send a blunt message to Austria’s political establishment: the political, social and economic consequences of uncontrolled immi-gration from the Middle East cannot be ignored any more.
The fault lines for Monday’s result were laid last year when Angela Merkel opened Germany’s door to every asylum-seeker fleeing Syria. Merkel’s welcome mat is a stark reminder that good intentions can lead to devastating outcomes — such as the rapes in Cologne on New Year’s Eve where one police report recorded a perpetrator saying: “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.” As Milton Friedman said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” European elites ruminating over Monday’s election should see Hofer’s rise as the direct result of Merkel’s policy.
Moreover, the Austrian vote is not an outlier event. Far from Hofer being Europe’s solitary Trump, a glance across the continent reveals the political centre has shattered, as people look elsewhere for a voice. Far-right politicians are engaging with voters on issues long ignored by elites: economic insecurity, EU elitism, open borders, national identity, social and cultural cohesion.
Start in France where far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her National Front party may cause shock waves in next year’s presidential and legislative elections. In Germany anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany has emerged as a force in state elections. In The Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and beyond, outrage over immigration has put populists into parliament. It’s the same northwards where Scandinavian countries famous for their social welfare models have also felt the backlash against uncontrolled immigration policies.
In Norway, there’s Sylvi Listhaug from the populist Progress Party. The Finns Party (formerly True Finns) is in government in Finland. In Sweden, which has accepted the highest number of refugees per capita than any other country in the world, far-right nationalists, Sweden Democrats, is the country’s third largest party. In January, the Swedish government decided to deport 80,000 asylum-seekers.
In Denmark too, Merkel’s migrant-crisis fault lines have elevated Thulesen Dahl, the leader of the Danish People’s Party, to represent the second-largest party in parliament.
In fact, the unfolding immigration debate in Denmark offers an insight into all that is wrong with the unthinking rush of many on the Left to condemn Europeans as xenophobic if they raise questions about the arrival of more than one million asylum-seekers this year alone.
In Foreign Policy, James Kirchick explores how Denmark’s response to Europe’s migration crisis “is now looking like the better part of wisdom”. Media elites derided new Danish laws that allow the state to confiscate property from migrants seeking welfare as reminiscent of the Third Reich.
Writes Kirchick, “these reduction ad Hitlerum arguments are facile” given the same laws apply to native-born Danes. Equally shallow is the way the media has lionised Merkel as a selfless humanitarian given her policy has fuelled the rise of anti-immigration sentiments across Europe.
The self-evident truth that immigration policy needs support from the people is too often ignored by media and political elites. Danes are keen to buttress their social welfare compact, where a largely homogenous country understood a generous welfare system is the quid pro quo for paying high taxes. Hence they have backed the confiscation law along with stricter measures around asylum-seeker family reunification.
Denmark is confronting the progressive dilemma of imposing diversity and expecting solidarity. Writing more than a decade ago in Prospect magazine, David Goodhart challenged his left-leaning audience to understand the contradiction at the heart of their misty-eyed idealism.
He recalled what British conservative politician David Willetts said at a welfare forum: “The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves could face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask: ‘Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn’t do?’
“This is America versus Sweden. You can have a Swedish welfare state provided that you are a homogeneous society with intensely shared values. In the United States you have a very diverse, individualistic society where people feel fewer obligations to fellow citizens. Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests.”
The Austrian result is a timely cue to put our own immigration debate in a global context. The rush to revile Dutton for speaking about the challenges of increased immigration couldn’t be more misplaced. If we are genuinely committed to social, political and economic cohesion, we should thank Dutton for the straight-talking that mainstream European politicians have cowered from.
Our immigration response is far more measured and compassionate than many European anti-immigrant politicians, whose popularity represents a public backlash against the porous borders advocated by the muddle-headed moralisers in the Greens and Labor. It’s far better that immigration policy is settled in parliament than on the streets.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.