“FAMOUS FATHER GIRL” – By ELLIN CURLEY

I just read a memoir by Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s oldest child and I absolutely loved the book!

The central characters are fascinating and complex as well as endlessly entertaining and the circle of friends is mostly famous people who are colorful and fun to read about.

Bernstein with the very young Jamie

Friends of my mother’s, the Coopers, lived in the same Park Avenue building in New York City as the Bernsteins for over a decade and became friends with the Bernstein family.

The oldest Cooper child, still a friend of mine today, was Jamie’s age and played with her for many years. I grew up hearing stories about the Bernstein family through the Coopers, so I feel a connection to them, however tenuous.

Helen Cooper in 1979

One of the stories I heard had to do with an incident at the Bernstein pool in Fairfield, CT. The middle Cooper child heard the word ‘gay’ from one of the adults and went up to another adult and asked him what gay meant. Leonard Bernstein was gay but lived a straight, family life for decades before coming out of the closet. That was necessary during the forties and fifties, and even the sixties, if you wanted to have a significant career. This story takes place during the closeted years.

The adult who the child approached thought it would be funny to tell the curious little girl to go ask Leonard what ‘gay’ was, so she did. Apparently, she got a paean about what wonderful, creative people gay men were and how glorious it was to be gay.

I’m sure this elicited lots of laughter around the pool that day.

The Bernstein’s Fairfield pool patio

Getting back to the book, the main reason it resonated so much with me is that Jamie and my childhoods had a lot in common. I’m only three years older than Jamie and we both grew up Jewish in New York City at the same time. Jamie was only half Jewish, but the Jewish half, Leonard, was strongly Jewish, at least culturally.

We both lived on Park Avenue in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and went to prominent private schools in the city. We both spent summers and some weekends at our second home in Fairfield County, Connecticut – Jamie in the town of Fairfield and me in nearby Easton. Our mothers were both beautiful and fashionable former actresses who entertained often and impeccably.

Jamie at a Bernstein rehearsal

However, the major experience that I shared with Jamie, was living in the shadow of a famous father. The title of Jamie’s memoir is “Famous Father Girl,” a nickname given to her by someone in her grade school class.

My father was not as universally well-known, but in our social circles and in the social science fields, he was a celebrity. Kids at my school knew that my father was an intellectual giant and he was spoken of with respect and awe by their parents, many of whom were psychiatrists, like my father.

My father

Jamie’s mother used to excuse Leonard’s excesses and eccentricities by telling her kids that this is what comes with ‘genius’, and my mother did the same thing. We had to forgive a lot of character flaws and social missteps because my father was a genius.

I can understand why superstars are surrounded by apologists and enablers because I grew up with that dynamic. In fact, my father was absolved of almost all paternal obligations and responsibilities, including talking to his child on a regular basis. At least Leonard Bernstein interacted with his kids, played with them and talked to them all the time when he was around.

Both of our fathers spent a lot of time teaching their children about their fields of expertise. Jamie learned about all styles of music at an early age and I knew about psychology, sociology, anthropology, as well as history and archeology (a favorite topic of my father’s) while still in elementary school. Both of our fathers were also hard acts to follow and we spent our young lives trying not to disappoint our larger than life parents.

Jamie tried to write and sing music for many years and I felt the need to excel academically, at least through college. I got a life, finally, in law school and stopped trying to be at the top of the class, which was a great relief. I’m sure Jamie shared my lifelong feeling of not measuring up in some significant way.

Bernstein’s famous TV series

Ironically, both Jamie and I found our voice and our passion in our thirties by becoming mothers. Years later Jamie found a true career running educational music programs based on her father’s Young People’s Concerts. I found myself in my father’s adjunct career – writer.

He published seven books over the years and numerous professional articles, which I helped my mother edit from the time I was fifteen. I publish blog posts and have the scripts I write with my husband performed by our audio theater group.

Jamie and her book cover

So Jamie and I each took something from our mothers and something from our fathers and later in life, came up with our own mix, creating satisfying lives for ourselves.

PARENTING TRAINING SHOULD BE REQUIRED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

To get a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass two tests, one written and one practical. To be a teacher, you need a master’s degree and years of specialized training, academic and on-the-job. To do the hardest, most important job on the planet — parenting — there are no requirements. None. Zip. No required preparation of any kind. No training. No test. You’re on your own. The first time I ever held a baby, I was six months pregnant with my first child.

Last year I spent time with family in a house with a young mom, Jennifer, her eight-year-old daughter Jayda, and her two-year-old son Jase. I saw firsthand the tremendous advantage of training for parenthood. Jennifer had been a grade school teacher, trained in early childhood behavior and education. She is now a principal in an elementary school.

She was the best parent I’ve ever seen. She had mad skills!

jen-and-kids

Jennifer had clearly studied child development and the best ways to handle young kids. She stayed mellow whatever was going on, so she was able to use her knowledge. In nearly three days, I never saw her lose her temper — or even her cool.

She was amazingly consistent with both children. Consistency is critical and was something I could never achieve. Every time Jase did something he wasn’t supposed to, like throwing something, he got a matter of fact, short time out. No drama, no anger. When told he needed a time out, he said “Yes, Mama” and went quietly.

jase

Jennifer knew how to distract and redirect a hyper-active and sometimes antsy toddler. Jase never reached the point of meltdown and neither did anyone else. He went down for naps and to bed without fuss because Mom was gentle but firm. She made it clear that there was no negotiation possible.

She also managed to spend time with Jayda. She got the two kids to interact peacefully. There was no sibling rivalry or fights for Mom’s attention. Peace reigned for more than 48 straight hours with only a few short bouts of toddler tears. In defense of all other mothers reading this, this child was an angel with a wonderful, happy disposition. He also had other relatives around to help entertain him.

But I could see in Jennifer’s actions textbook child-rearing techniques I’d read about. I believe those techniques and knowledge let Jennifer feel confident and in control. This, in turn, allowed her to stay calm and handle situations rationally and intelligently. She spread the calm to her kids. It was awesome. Humbling to watch.

all-4

I was a good parent but I had an ideal in my head to which I was never able to attain. Jennifer embodied that ideal. I’m sure she has the innate temperament to be a wonderful mother. But I’m also sure she was helped by the practical tools her training gave her. They made it possible for her to reach the goal of most parents: to be the best parent we can be.

We can all use all the help we can get!

MOTHERHOOD WITH BENEFITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My English friend’s daughter, Katie, just had her first baby. She is 37 and has an established career she loves. Because she lives in England, having her baby will not affect her position at work. She gets nine-months of maternity leave and is guaranteed her job back when her leave is over.

For an American, that whole concept is amazing. Women in America are afraid to take the full legal six-weeks maternity leave for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

I’ve recently read that many women in America are choosing not to have children because motherhood would adversely affect their careers.

Women have to fight harder to establish themselves professionally and prove they are as good as the men they work with. Therefore, they don’t want to give up the gains they fought for make by having kids. They shouldn’t have to, but apparently, mothers are routinely treated with prejudice throughout corporate America.

Mothers are not viewed or treated like childless female workers or even male workers with kids. Mothers’ loyalty and commitment to their professions are always questioned.

Corporate life leaves no room for a family life. At least not for women. Mothers in the workforce have a terrible time balancing work and home life. They’re afraid to give any priority to their families, which creates tremendous stress. And hurts families.

There are other benefits Kate has as a new mother in England which American moms don’t have.

The English National Health Service, though stretched to the limit, still offers invaluable services to mothers of newborns. Kate can call an experienced midwife whenever she needs advice. When Kate was worried about nursing, a midwife with an expertise in lactation issues came to Kate’s house. She sat with Kate while she fed her daughter and offered advice and support. This would have been invaluable to me but is unheard of in America. I would have to find my own expert and pay for her services.

In addition, the midwives, as well as the GP’s in England, pay close attention to the new mother’s mental health. They are on guard for any signs of postpartum depression. This is considered a major part of postnatal care in England. Not in the U.S.

The National Health Service also offers something called the Lullaby Café, a place for new mothers to meet each other under the guidance of a trained midwife. The professional is there to answer questions, offer advice and comfort, as the voice of experience. I would have loved to have something like this when I had my first child. Mommy And Me ‘classes’ were just playgroups, not healthcare.

The new moms in my group had to compare notes and figure things out on our own. Truly the blind leading the blind. We also had to pay for our group activities, until we could form our own groups and meet in each other’s homes.

For Kate, her group experience is both free and educational.

So if you’re going to have a baby, especially if you also want a career, you’re better off if you’re British than American. Given our broken and morally corrupt healthcare system, that’s hardly a big surprise!

 

STAY AT HOME KIDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a friend who has three daughters, including a set of twins. They are now in their late twenties and early thirties. And they are all back living at home now. I was shocked to hear this.

All three girls have four-year college degrees. All three have full-time jobs. But none can earn enough to live on their own. One of the girls has a one and a half-year-old baby. The mom is no longer with the father, though he is still in the baby’s life. He also works but doesn’t earn enough to contribute to his daughter’s support.

What is going on here? What a tragedy, that middle class, educated working, young people can’t afford to live on their own without their parents’ support. It can’t be good for twenty and thirty-somethings to be living with their parents. It’s infantilizing and demoralizing. There also doesn’t seem to be any prospect for them to move out in the near future. This set up is not necessarily great for the parents either, especially if they want to retire at some point.

Starting wages today don’t seem to be high enough to pay for a home and even minimal living expenses. At least in New England, where I live. And this is even true with a college degree. Part of the problem may be that kids leave college with heavy debts that contribute to their financial dependence on their parents. So, it’s a vicious cycle.

And if you have a baby, the financial situation becomes exponentially worse!

My friend’s daughters are lucky that their parents can afford to support them. And that they didn’t already downsize their home. The kids contribute to the household, but not significantly. What will happen when my friend and her husband want to retire? They probably won’t be able to.

My friend is also lucky that she can work part-time from home. So, with the help of the other girls, they don’t have to pay for daycare or other childcare. This makes a big difference, financially. I know young people who pay a large percentage of their annual income on childcare – just so they can continue to work. This is also a travesty.

I don’t have any earth-shattering insights or solutions to any of these problems. I just got to see first hand what this economy and this society can do to young adults and their retirement age parents.

I’ve read about this phenomenon, but things affect you differently when people you know are involved. I can now put a face on this problem. It’s no longer an abstract issue, but a personal story. I’m shocked, appalled and depressed.

What will happen to whole generations? What will happen to our society? This is our future. And it looks pretty bleak.

TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY

Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world.  Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.

Happy Flag Day, America

Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917.  Mom’s father,  my grandfather,  was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.

Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.

Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager.  “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935.  My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.

I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside,  the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942.  A star was born —  at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.

Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.

We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.

Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind.  I always lost those confrontations.

Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write.  She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.

We weren’t big on outward displays of affection,  something that I would have to deal with in later years. However,  Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies.  We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week.  I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.

They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper,  Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood.  Mom said she named me after her favorite star,  Gary Cooper.  There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.

There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.

I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice.  She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister.  She agreed I talked well.  What she really said was,  “Garry,  you have a big mouth!”  I’d smirk when she said that.  The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.

I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often.  The look of love.

Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away.  Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton,  my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston.  Family get-togethers were difficult.

In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me,  My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”

I’m still trying Mom.  I’m not there yet.

In the meantime,  Happy, Happy Birthday.  Mom.  You’re the best!

AHEAD OF HIS TIMES – ELLIN CURLEY

Most of us believe that our current beliefs have been our beliefs forever. Of course we know that germs cause disease and that the earth is round. But people didn’t always know these concepts as “facts”. We once thought the earth was flat and had no idea what caused disease. Someone had to propose these “new” and “revolutionary ideas. And someone just as assuredly had to argue against them and give the proponent of the new ideas a hard time.

Father-4-Edited

My father was a brilliant, innovative thinker in the fields of psychiatry and the social sciences. All he got initially was a lot of grief and aggravation. Even today, only a few academics have heard of him.

His name was Abram Kardiner. He had a long and varied career in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychiatry from the 1920’s to his death in 1981. He deserves at least part of the credit for three major contributions: the idea of interdisciplinary studies, the concept of early, “pre-school” education, and acceptance and understanding of PTSD.

Father-2-edited

Everyone knows that interdepartmental studies are the best way to thoroughly understand at least history and cultures. Didn’t we always apply the tools of sociology, economics, political history, art history and other cultural history to the study of history? The answer is no. In fact, the concept was anathema until the 1960’s.

When I went to Barnard College in 1967 (the sister school to Columbia University), I was one of the first classes to be able to take an interdisciplinary major. At the time, I was old enough to understand that my father’s struggles at Columbia University in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s had cleared the path for me to be an American Studies major in the 60’s.

My father studied with Sigmund Freud in 1921 and came back to New York to help establish psychoanalysis as an accepted and respected “new” field of science. But he was also interested in sociology and thought that using psychiatry to better understand the individuals in a society would help understand the society as a whole. So he decided to study more primitive cultures (anthropology) to further establish the interrelationships between the individual (psychiatry) and the society (sociology).

Father-3A-edted

Unfortunately at the time, each academic field was considered a totally separate entity. No one was allowed to stray into another academic’s carefully guarded territory.

For more than 30 years, my father was bounced back and forth between the psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology departments. No one wanted to claim him. He was “tainted” with methodology and ideas from a different discipline. This sounds ridiculous today. But even now, the only department at Columbia that recognizes his accomplishments is the Department of Psychiatry, the department he helped found.

When I had my first child, I enrolled him in play groups and I planned to send him to preschool when he turned three. My father, once again, had been on the front-lines years before, espousing the importance of the first three years of life. He believed that early childhood intellectual and social stimulation was necessary to foster a child’s ability to learn and to adjust socially throughout it’s life. His writings became the basis for Head Start, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s program which provided pre-kindergarten for all kids. Dad also focused attention on the optimal environments for preschoolers to develop well intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

Father-3-edited

Reading to your children, playing counting games, and talking to them — these concepts, now so familiar, became part of the standard of early child care, in part, because of my father. He helped prove, scientifically, how important these activities are both for children and for the society.

When a member of our family was ten, he had a tonsillectomy — and awoke during surgery. This resulted in PTSD as well as a myriad of other issues. Guess who was one of the first people to study PTSD and recognize it as a psychiatric syndrome?

You guessed it. My dad! He studied World War 1 veterans and built on Freud’s concept of psychiatric trauma. He published a book called “The Traumatic Neuroses of War” in 1941. But it wasn’t until the Vietnam War, in the 1970’s, that PTSD became a hot topic. Luckily, by 1991, further advancements in this field, building on my father’s work, helped our family cope with the aftermath of childhood trauma.

So, thanks Dad! You cleared the way for me to have the college major of my dreams, a well-educated toddler, and a family member with doctors who could understand and help him. I wish I could tell you your name is now known throughout the world for your amazing contributions.

But I understand and appreciate what you have contributed to society and now, maybe some blog readers will know, too.

FREUD AND MY FATHER, PART 2 – ELLIN CURLEY

All quotes are from my father’s book, “My Analysis With Freud, Reminiscences”  – A. Kardiner, M.D.

In 1921 my father went to Vienna to be trained by Sigmund Freud in the new scientific field of psychoanalysis. My previous blog talked about some of my father’s experiences with Freud as a teacher and as a world-renowned scientist. But Freud liked my father and in their six months together my Dad was lucky enough to get to know Freud fairly well. So I can share with you some of my Dad’s favorite stories about Freud that will shed some light on his personality behind the spotlight.

Freud with signature-editedMy father was very fond of Freud. He described him as “likeable” and “dear”, “charming” and “full of wit and erudition.” My Dad said that Freud was so natural and unassuming in their encounters that you would never have known that you were dealing with a world-famous scientific giant. My father often said to Freud that he couldn’t reconcile the image he got of Freud in their private sessions, with that of the man who wrote all those great books. Freud laughed and said that “This is where familiarity breeds contempt.”

Freud was a devoted family man and talked about his family often. My father once commented to Freud that at times he seemed depressed. Freud admitted that he was having a hard time dealing with the death of his daughter, Mathilda, earlier in the year. He confessed that he could not get over it, which is testament to the fact that he was a decent and caring man.

Freud also had concerns about his surviving daughter, Anna, who was following his footsteps into the new profession of psychiatry. Anna’s inability to choose a husband was the subject of heated debate among Freud’s students. Freud once asked my father if he had a theory about Anna’s indecisiveness. I find it funny that the father of “Daddy Issues” would ask that question. My father’s answer was totally on point. He said, “Well, look at her father. This is an ideal that very few men could live up to and it would surely be a comedown for her to attach herself to a lesser man.” Student teaching the teacher.

Kardiner Family Pics group-edit- 1My favorite personal story about Freud involves his views on marriage. My father was a bachelor and was concerned that he would never marry. He had suffered many childhood traumas, including the death of his mother when he was three. Because of this Freud suggested that my Dad had “issues” with women. But Freud didn’t feel that this doomed my father to permanent bachelorhood. He told my father that in fact he hoped that my father would someday be “lucky enough” to make a good marriage. (Spoiler alert: He did, but not until the age of 59!) My father was puzzled about this comment and asked Freud if he thought luck was involved since as a professional, he knew so much about people. Freud said that luck was always involved with good marriages. He felt you could only know so much about a person without living with them and that you could only really get to know someone after living with them for many years! And in his day, living together before marriage was just not done.

Freud could be humble about his own ideas. He was discussing a minor theory with my father one day and said, “Oh, don’t take that too seriously! That’s something I dreamed up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” On the other hand, the people around Freud got into serious trouble if they didn’t take all of Freud’s ideas seriously and show total loyalty. My father found this aspect of Freud’s personality confusing and difficult to manage.

Freud could also have a sense of humor about psychoanalysis. My father was talking to him about two Viennese analysts who had committed suicide and Freud’s comment was “ Well, the day will soon come when psychoanalysis will be considered a legitimate cause of death!”

As expected, Freud worried about the future of psychoanalysis. In particular, he was afraid that it would be labeled as “the Jewish science” since most of the people drawn to it in it’s early days were Jewish. The real problem that would plague the movement through the years was the fact that Freud insisted on maintaining tight, hands on control over everything. Everything had to go through him – who did what, who had what jobs, who had which patients, even in America. Most important, he controlled the purse strings. This caused lots of rivalry, infighting and politicking among his followers. In the end, this did more damage to the burgeoning profession than the “Jewish” label Freud so feared.

Kardiner Family Pics-1

One of the most interesting and revealing exchanges my father had with Freud dealt with Freud’s analysis of himself as an analyst. Freud admitted that he had no real interest in individual therapeutic problems. He also felt that he had several handicaps that prevented him from being a great analyst. One was that his real interest was with theoretical problems. That is where he devoted most of his energy. Another was that Freud admitted to tiring of people quickly and said he had no interest in keeping them on as patients for an extended time. He also felt that it was important to “spread his influence”, so he treated/taught many people but only for short periods of time. Fortunately that did not catch on as the standard of treatment in the general public.

Overall, my father enjoyed his time studying with and getting to know Freud. He greatly liked and admired the man and was in awe of his professional accomplishments and innovations. However my father was never a fundamentalist type Freudian, as many were. He believed that Freud meant the field he created to grow and expand with the times. He believed that Freud would have wanted new scientific data and theories to influence the practice of psychoanalysis and would have welcomed new ideas and new techniques into the field.

My father dedicated the rest of his life to expanding the horizons of psychoanalysis and incorporating psychiatry into the already existing fields of anthropology and sociology. My father believed that the only way to thoroughly understand any society and it’s people, was through an interdisciplinary approach. He wrote several books outlining his interdisciplinary methodology. He continued to write articles and lectures on this, and other topics in psychoanalysis, until a few years before his death at almost 90, in 1981.