In Memory of My Big Brother Mike

R.I.P. April 5, 2015

My older brother Mike died 5 years ago today. He lived a very full life and enjoyed much of his 57 years on earth. He was the second of six children born in rapid succession to my mother and father after immigrating to Canada following world war two. Had Mike not succumbed to his declining health related to Hep C and prolonged methadone use, he would have been 62 years old this December.

Family 1970’s Toronto – Mike is holding up his Peace Sign. I’m all smiles in pink on the bottom right.

Mike was an active and smart student excelling in his elementary school years. He attended a local high school where he dropped out of school in grade 10. Mike later disclosed that he began to skip school when his gym teacher mandated swimming in the nude. He opted to hang out at the local park instead. Like any good mother, our mom supported Mike skipping gym as he felt self-conscious in the nude. What she did not see coming was Mike meeting up with other teenagers who had less interest in schooling.

In an all too common story, it was during these formative years that Mike began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In the ’70’s, it was common for young people to be hired for full-time employment and Mike landed himself a job as a grocer at a local store owned by Weston Foods called Loblaw. He stayed working as a grocer until moving to work as a Landscaper with the City of Toronto in 1982. Mike worked with the City, and then Metro for 28 years.

Mike’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol did, in fact, become the gateway to a lifelong addiction to alcohol, gambling, and street drugs. Our mother stood beside Mike, and tried to support his personal battles with addiction and gambling. Mike was always a happy drunk who never quite learned to identify when he had enough. Mike was an addict who could not keep money in his pocket. Like many people who suffer with addictions, Mike’s drinking was his emotional burden he carried for most of his adult life.

His addiction to street drugs was mediated with an extensive treatment program provided by a team of specialists at CAMH and his inclusion in the methadone harm reduction program. This methadone program saved Mike‘s life. Similar to the effect of alcohol, Mike was happiest when he was high. It was only when the alcohol and drugs tapered off that his overwhelming sense of sadness and depression would rise up.

Mike was deeply remorseful about the negative impacts of his addictions on our Mother, family, love-interests, colleagues, and his own health. In his lowest points, he felt such intense shame about his personal vices. Mike did engage in counselling treatment and did his best to change his unhealthy ways. He failed more times than not, but never gave up. Mike stayed close to family and we hung in there for him.

As the youngest in the family, Mike was always my Big Brother. In my eyes, he was strong, fearless, and protective. I learned to be confident and brave in part, because I always knew that Mike would be there to protect me. He relied on me quite a bit. He knew that I would never give him money or alcohol. But I always had an ear and meal whenever he felt lonely and sad. Mike would drop in often, and did take interest in all our children. He was like our family guard dog always watchful that our children were safe and well.

As his health declined, Mike told me that he would rather die than lose his legs. One of his greatest fears was to be an amputee, like many of his chronic alcoholic friends who lived in a local rehab hospital.

When Mike died, all of us were with him. He died peacefully surrounded by all of his siblings and their partners at our local hospital. In truth, everyone loved Mike. He always had a funny thing to say and he would say it when it was least expected – making everyone laugh. Mike was a sincere and loyal friend. He enjoyed comedy and music. He protected the weak and stood up for people he believed were mistreated.

The family was prepared to meet up at the cemetery today to reminisce about Mike’s life, but was prevented by COVID 19 physical distancing restrictions. Mike will forever be in our hearts. He has shaped my work in harm reduction and addictions care. He taught me about co-dependence, healthy limit-setting, and the importance of humanity in care providing roles with all people.

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellness #healthy #family #addiction #concurrent disorders #codependence #harmreduction

Happy Father’s Day in Modern Times

Happy Father’s Day

Squarely claimed as a post-gender era, the very notion of fatherhood is collaterally affected by the active social reconstruction of terms that embed gender heteronormativity. In plain language, what does it mean to be a father in a time when roles ascribed to being a dad transcend the sex of an individual? Traditionally, the male sex is inherent to the term father or dad. In a similar way, the female sex is inherent to the term mother or mom.  Certainly, human biology privileges traditional understandings of mother and father.

In this way, father and mother are heteronormative constructions of the family, that is based on the view that the parenting system is constituted by a man and woman.  Bio-normative psycho-social constructions of the family, embed the female-male binary in conception, birth, identity formation, and subsequently in parenting. In a bio-normative psycho-social construction of family, biological sex and identity are equally relevant, and parenting roles performed are fluid and mixed.

In modern families, dads and moms share more of the direct parenting roles with newborns and young babies than previous generations.  Modern dads are incredibly involved as active parents and at times, may perform most caregiving roles with children. This is a relatively new and wonderful evolution of parenting in modern times that younger parents may in fact take for granted or forget. Merely, one century ago, fathers were exempt from post-work caregiving roles with their children as wives and mothers were clearly relegated to a domestic sphere that usually involved raising several children on a full-time basis.

Many of us must only trace back two generations to our great-grandparents to remember the number of children parents bore together and the ways women shouldered most of this work in the home. Today of course, much has changed both legally and socially. Your adult children may choose:

  • to be single
  • to be married
  • to be married and childless
  • to be married with children
  • to be in a co-parenting partnership with several adults as stepparents
  • to be a single parent
  • to be in a same-sex marriage and childless
  • to be in a same-sex marriage with children
  • to be in same-sex co-parenting arrangement as stepparents
  • to be adoptive parents
  • to be foster parents

In Ontario, Family Laws recognize that children can have more than two parents. The legal language allows the birth parent to list the first and last names of the child, co-parents, and the terms mother or father. Modern legal language aims to protect the legal rights of children to financial support of biological parents who may or may not be listed as parents on birth certificates. Despite this legal evolution, Social Workers can attest to ongoing child-support payment woes of birth parents by individuals who neglect, abandon, or disregard their financial responsibility.  

What are your plans for this upcoming Father’s Day? How will you treat your dad to thank him for the gift of life, unconditional love, guidance, and support in your life? To reduce your personal experiences of fathering to a legal arena of financial responsibility is a sad, yet, persistent test to the parameters of parental accountability in modern times.

Of course, your dad is far more than a person who helped to pay his share for your upkeep and wellbeing. Your dad is so much more, and you deserve at least one day to spend some time together to remind yourselves about the love, respect, and honour you share for one another. Your great grandfather, and perhaps even your grandfather may not have uttered the words, “I love you”, and perhaps even failed to show it! If your dad struggles to say these words, then perhaps you can take a brave new step to tell him first. 

From a therapeutic perspective, love is expressed and felt in ways that far surpass human language and words.  Fathering is an honourable role that unfolds on a daily basis. It is the tender response to the first cries of an infant and then, all of the many tender moments that follow when your daddy was there for you – the steady presence of security that never wavered or failed – the rock upon which healthy families grow despite the obstacles.

Take the occasion of this Father’s Day to reflect upon the ways your own father set the foundation for your sense of stability, security, strength, and care. The bio-psycho-social importance of the Paternal Imago is as critical to your overall sense of wellbeing as your maternal imago. A realm of psychodynamic exploration for years, your relationship with both parents is each fundamental to your psychological health and mental wellbeing. Dive deeply into your personal feelings about your dad, and when you feel ready, let him know verbally or nonverbally.

Accepting the imperfections and failures of your parents is perhaps the main psychological task of psychotherapy. Accepting the imperfections and failures of your own parenting is perhaps the second. Happy Father’s Day Dads – most of your truly deserve a good day!!!!

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine, Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer

#wellness #healthy #familytherapy #psychotherapy #Father’sDay

Is Relational Commitment Relevant? A Post-Modern Perspective.

The Comfort of Intimacy

One of the kindest compliments I ever received was when someone playfully referred to my surname and said, “Lisa, you put roman into romantic”. Known as a longtime admirer of epic love tales, I am truly, a romantic at heart. I do confess that I cry at weddings, movies, war museums, and commercials that “catch” the special magic of love, just so. The many forgotten stories of committed War Brides whose fallen husbands never returned home continue to inspire a post-modern heart. The idea that the flame of love once lit can burn brightly for a lifetime.

It remains uncertain if the concept and practice of “monogamy” will survive post-modernism. Some couples continue to try. Without judgment, the modern clinician bravely enters the intimate emotional space of marriage, partnership, civil union, and sexual relationship to help some couples manage deeply personal aspects of their relationship.

The vast majority of couple’s counsellors enjoy the unique features of marital therapy. Of course, it is possible to engage in Couple’s Counselling even where there is no formal marriage certificate or legal civil union. Traditionally, Marital Therapy involved two individuals committed in a loving relationship with one another exclusively. Polygamy and polyamory complicate the traditional parameters of marital therapy.

Often used in post-affair work, Marital Therapy is designed to support couples to review their initial commitment to live life with one another, and in most situations to grow a family together. It builds on communication and role theories that centralize strength-based notions of equity, fairness, respect, joy, and pleasure in psychotherapy with couples. Integrating key components of change theory and principles of CBT, couples reclaim and develop old and new problem solving strategies together.

Everyone has a right to personal happiness. Everyone deserves to feel loved and to be loved. Often portrayed as boring and weird in pop culture & Hollywood movies, committed marriages are mostly taken for granted by society at large.

In truth, most people enjoy long-term, committed and happy marriages. Confusing Canadian Statistics reveal that 38% of marriages end in divorce, mostly between the 10-24th year of marriage. The rest of us continue in committed long-term relationships until “death due us part.” Studies also reveal that friends who befriend other married couples tend to enjoy healthier relationships. There is a community of “silent” married couples who support one another when life gets troubled or difficult in one form or other.

Covid19 self-isolation has likely stressed even the healthiest couples!!! Take some “real” alone time as life returns back to normal, and laugh at the ways you stepped on eachother’s toes over the past several weeks. Take some time to reflect on the ways the two of you spent your time, adjusted to the pandemic together, and how you simply enjoyed each other.

Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer PhD, RSW Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellness #marriage #commitment #pleasure #epiclove #forevermine #IsolatedTogether