Watching Galactica

I enjoy spending time with my family, and they enjoy spending time with me. With that said, as of late beyond the dinner meal and vacations it is more common that my connections with them are one-to-one instead of en masse.

This modular way of relating has been increasing as my kids have aged from children to teens. They have their own lives to live, and at any given time one or more of them may be hanging out with their chums. I know that this evolution is reasonable, but I still long for the time when we spent most of our hours together.

On Thursday evenings I cook dinner with my two youngest. We laugh, joke, and review our day with each other. It is a great time that we look forward to. However, “Making Dinner With Dad Thursday,” only includes three of the four remaining in-house Kunas. Thankfully, there is one event where we all participate, that event is watching “Battlestar Galactica.”

Battlestar Galactica is a TV series that ran for four seasons, starting in 2004. The storyline is science fiction and involves a humanoid race fleeing from their robotic enemies as they try to find a mythical earth. This summary may not sound very compelling. However, the storyline is just a canvas to explore other questions. Questions of prejudice, questions of religious intolerance, questions of duty, to name a few.

After she read good reviews about the series, my wife suggested that we watch the show, which is streamable on Amazon Prime. None of us viewed the show when it initially aired, so we thought we would give it a try as a family activity.

Since this is a family watch, strict policies and procedures quickly evolved. It is unclear who developed said policies, but all participants vigorously enforce them.

Here are a few examples:

1. We can only watch an episode when the entire group is present.
2. We try not to read the Amazon Prime plot summaries beforehand.
3. It is encouraged to loudly express feelings about characters and situations while the show is playing. It is not uncommon for one or more of us to loudly gasp or shout a condemnation to an on-screen actor.
4. All lights have to be off when we are watching the show to allow full immersion.
5. If a viewer gets up for a snack, it is acceptable to beg, bully, or shame them into getting refreshments for the rest of the watchers.
5. Wild speculation about a character or the plotline is encouraged. 6. Debate over such speculation is expected and should be as raucous as needed to make a point.

We typically watch one or two episodes at a time, as that is the amount of TV that I can tolerate, and it may be a week or more until we gather again. Because of these restrictions, we have been watching episodes for months, and we still have a few left before the series end.

It is a fun time that draws us together. Many of the shows deal with philosophical questions which serve as fuel for our family discussions and debates.

Like “Cooking With Dad Thursday” it is something that allows us to gather as a family. When we finally finish the Battlestar series, we will find another activity that will “force” us to spend time together.

It is essential for us to remember that we are a family. It is vital for us to remember that we are there for each other. It is crucial for us to remember that we love each other. Activities like this serve these purposes.

Dear reader, I would like to ask you to find your own “Battlestar” activity for your family. Perhaps it will be a family dinner, maybe a board game night, possibly something else. It doesn’t matter, it just needs to be something that is shared with each other and (on some level) allows interaction and communication.

Children become teenagers, teens become young adults, young adults become adults. The time that we have with each other is precious and limited. You will never get to experience today, again. The same can be said of this month and this year. Don’t waste the gift of your family.

On Kindness

Five PM on Friday before my birthday party finds me seated in my car departing Rockford, Illinois. I turn right on South Alpine, then left on US 20, then right on Interstate 39.  I’m now locked in for my 90-minute drive back to Naperville, back to home.

My iPhone automatically connects to the car’s Bluetooth audio system.  I hit the quick dial button on my Flex and dial up my sister, Carol. I often talk to Carol on my long drive home from Rockford.  

Carol has favorite subjects that typically center on politics and food plans.  However, in a 90-minute drive, there is always time for other topics. On this Friday we talk about kids, various weekend plans, and my upcoming 65th birthday party.  Curiously, she brings up a memory from 60 years ago. What makes this memory unique is that it doesn’t represent a milestone or major event. Instead, it is a simple memory that generally would be lost to time.  Making this recollection even more surprising is the fact that it is also a memory that I distinctly remember. It is the memory of my sister’s slumber party.

I travel back to the late 1950s.  Back to my Southwest Side Chicago home.  The old bungalow desperately in need of repair, the one with broken furniture and worn carpeting. My sister is having a slumber party with several of her girlfriends from college.  The house is cleaned to the best of its ability; snacks are at the ready, clean sheets are on the beds. I am there as a five-year-old boy, and I serve as a diversion for the 20-year-old guests.  We are playing hide-and-seek in the house. I laugh with one of them as she finds me hiding behind a shirt in a tiny closet. The next day I hear my sister recounting the get-together to my mother.  She tells her how this guest commented on what a kind little boy I was. I find the description of me upsetting. Even at the age of 5, I know that my family prizes intelligence above all. In my child’s mind, I wished that Carol’s friend reported that I was smart, not kind.

Kindness didn’t seem like much of a prized quality; it was just who I was.  Why wouldn’t I be kind? Everyone can be kind; this attribute didn’t make me unique at all.  Being smart, that would make me special. Being smart would make my father more interested in me.  Kindness felt like a weakness. A person who could be taken advantage. Someone who was not tough. Another one of my defects. I couldn’t imagine my father putting his arm around my shoulders as he announced to our neighbors, “I’m so proud of Michael, he is so kind.”  

Fast forward to late 2017 and my impending retirement from private practice.  My office staff had contacted my referral sources and my patients and asked them to write a memory about me.  My referral sources commented about my diagnostic skills and the quality of care that I delivered. Their overall theme was that I was smart.

However, my patients saw me in an entirely different light.  Almost universally they commented on the fact that I listened to them, didn’t judge them, and was kind to them.  Clearly, the most important qualities that I possessed for them. These were patients who I brought back from suicidal depression, severe psychosis, and life-disabling anxiety.  Their comments were not about my expertise in psychopharmacology. This seemed irrelevant or at least expected. What was most important to them was that I was kind to them. A quality that was lacking in other relationships in their lives.  

Fast forward to last week and to the gift that my wife gave me.  She had also “commissioned” a memory book. This one created from my friends and relatives letters.

I am now back home from the party, and she presents me with my memory book.  The first letter is from her. She recounts memories from the past. Our marriage, the birth of our kids, other events.  Woven into her recollections is a theme. She notes how kind I am. I start to read the letters from my kids, and a similar tone is indicated.  That theme carries through the other letters and cards in my memory book. The memories are different, but the description of kindness remains the same. As I read, I reflect on my kids. They are all brilliant, but they are also very kind. I am so proud that they are kind.  I tear up and I fill with emotion.

Dear reader, I am fortunate to travel in circles of smart people.  Smart people are interesting, they are quick thinking, and fun to talk to.  I like intelligent people, and I enjoy being around them.

Some smart people do great things with their intelligence; some do nothing with their intelligence.  Some smart people use their intelligence to help others; some use their intelligence to take advantage of others.  Some intelligent people are kind, some intelligent people are mean and spiteful.

We can all strive to learn and grow, but you either have an innate intelligence, or you don’t. Kindness is universally accessible to all. It is entirely free and takes little effort.  Being kind makes you feel good. Being kind makes others feel good. In a kind world everyone benefits. So why is it that people choose to be unkind? Why is it that we prize “reality” TV shows where we enjoy seeing others being humiliated or shamed? Why is it that we love to brag to others that we have more than they do when their envy contributes zero to our lives?  Why is it that we choose to hurt when it would be just as easy to be caring and supportive?

For whatever reason, the people around me think I’m a kind person.  Now at 65, I have come to understand the importance of what my sister’s friend told her 60 years earlier.  Kindness does matter, its importance equals or exceeds intelligence. What would you prefer, a kind and loving parent/spouse/friend, or a brilliant but mean and spiteful one?

Dear reader, I would like to challenge you today to make an active effort to be kind to those you encounter. Kindness matters.

My Birthday Party And Other Stuff

Sunday was the day; I was not only excited, but I was also very anxious.

Julie, my wife, had been planning my birthday party for months. Although a competent person, she feels insecure when it comes to planning big events, and so she also had the jitters.

Luckily, the morning started with a fun distraction. My friend Tom came over and we “sailed” the “Mary Ann” 5 miles down the DuPage River. It was the maiden voyage for my $80 estate sale canoe. The adventure was great fun, but it also demanded a second shower for the day as I was soaked in river water.

By mid-morning my daughter Anne and her family arrived. My grandkids, Sebbie and Diana, were the perfect distraction.

Two hours before the event Julie and my two youngest kids left me to set up the party. Julie had secured a room for the event that was big enough to accommodate everyone. However, there was still much work to do.

My introvert anxiety now on the rise, I started to pace. As the party time approached, I asked Anne and her family to go to the event so I could have a little time alone.

Twenty minutes later my daughter Grace was at the door, acting as my chauffeur. I was instructed to lap-carry my sugar-free birthday cake, as Julie was afraid that it would have melted if she had brought it earlier. We entered the parking lot to find Julie standing there. “You can’t walk into the party carrying your birthday cake. There are already people here waiting for your arrival!” I handed her the cake, took a deep breath, and entered the building.

Now inside I could see others coming through the window. I marched up the stairs and into the room where my party was being held. Julie and the kids had signs, balloons, and other symbols of celebration. Trays of food were set on tables; smiles were set on faces.

Friends and family had put themselves out for me. They were there to wish me well. Several hours later my party was over. I felt great but exhausted. However, the best gift was yet to come.

Now home, Julie handed me a scrapbook with a cover made by my son William. I opened it to pages of memories. Weeks earlier she had asked the invitees to write her with memories of me. The first pages contained letters from her and the kids. I was overwhelmed. Then other messages and notes. There seemed to be a general theme, which I will likely write about in a future post. There was so much love in the letters that I was barely able to get through a single one without tearing up. It was the best gift that I could have ever received.

We all live busy lives. It would have been easy for my guests to have sent their regrets. It would have been simple for them to claim to be too rushed to sit down and write a paragraph or two about me. It is a “what about me” world where everyone is more concerned about themselves than others.

There are times when someone has to decide to either give of themself or to withhold of themself. In this situation, people gave their time to come to my party. They gave their creativity to write down their memories of me. Did they do these things because I’m so awesome? No, they did these things because THEY are so awesome.

I once read that integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking. They could have done nothing. They could have justified their actions because they were too busy with their own lives. They didn’t say, “What has Mike done for me lately?” They didn’t calculate the cost of their actions vs. the gain that they would receive. They didn’t ruminate over petty slights that I may have caused them in the past. They just did what they did because it was the right thing to do, and they did it with joy and kindness in their hearts. This is what I felt when I attended my 65th birthday party, and this is what I felt when I read my book of memories.

There is no greater gift than to allow the people in your life to love you and to love them in return. Thank you party guests, thank you memory book writers. Your actions say so much more about you than they do about me. With that said, your actions touched me deeply, made me feel closer to you, and allowed me to see how truly wonderful you are.

Wonderful folks
Sugar-free cake!
tearing up with emotion

Let Me Write Your Story

Dear reader, I need your help. If you help me, your actions will also help you.

I want to document the lives of people.  This process would involve writing their story and taking some photos of them.  I’m interested in telling the story of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences. Extraordinary is a confusing modifier, so let me explain.  I would like to write about stories that changed the direction of someone’s life, either for good or for bad.

Most of us would say that having a child causes a monumental change in a person’s life. But what about the person who had to deal with a child’s serious illness, or perhaps the person who had a severe illness as a child? Did these experiences significantly change the trajectory of their life?  

How about someone who fell into a career path, only to find out that it was their life’s calling?  How about the person whose career path almost destroyed them?

Do you have a passionate interest that has impacted your life? Are you driven to change the world, no matter how small? Have you changed your ways (good or bad), and how did that impact you?  Did you make a significant career change that was surprising to those around you? Did some random event transform your life? YOUR LIFE MATTERS. YOU HAVE A STORY TO TELL.

I would want to explore one storyline with you, which would likely take several hours of your time.  Also, I would spend some time with you to take some photos.

I would write up your story and post it on my blog along with some of the photos that I shot. I’m doing this as a proof-of-concept for a possible book, which could include your story.

Who will know who you were 100 years from now?  I look at old photos of relatives, and I don’t even know their names, let alone their story. What would it be like to personally touch a future relative?  What would it be like for them to know just a little about who you were? What would it be like to have someone distill a pivotal part of your life into a cohesive narrative?  What would it be like to have high-quality photos attached to that story? Images that would transform written words into a real person to the reader. Not just random cell phone snapshots, but pictures that were taken with the expressed purpose of making your story real.

I am a professional interviewer.  I am a writer. I shoot photos professionally.  There are folks with lesser skills who would charge you to do what I’m offering to do.  Your story is worth telling.

If you are interested, here are some more details:

My initial effort will be limited to 5 stories (5 individuals). If you have an interest in me doing this for you, please don’t wait or hesitate.

I will decide whose stories that I document.

For this round, I will travel up to two hours (by car) from my Chicago area home.

Naturally, you will need to allow me to post/publish your story and photos. (I know, obvious)

I will make my written narrative and select photos available to you for your archives.    

Email me at SPAMmike_kuna@hotmail.com (remove the word “SPAM” in the email address). In a paragraph or two tell me about your story. Don’t let yourself or your story disappear with the passing of time.   

Let me know if you are interested.

Dr. Mike

PS If you are further than 2 hours away from Chicago, write me anyway.  Although my initial efforts are limited geographically, I absolutely will consider expanding the scope of this project in the future if there is enough interest.

Your story is important.
Photos make your story alive.

Concerning My Birthday Party

The offer to me came earlier this year, and to Julie’s shock, I accepted it.  The offer? Julie asked me if I wanted a birthday party to celebrate my 65th birthday.  She has queried such options in the past, and I have always said no. But, dear reader, it is time for a change, and I am changing. With this said, my simple “Yes” was anything but easy for me to utter.

Why would it be so difficult for me to allow someone to celebrate such a special day? The answers go beyond the obvious, but many of these reasons will be familiar to those of you who have been reading my blog.

First, the obvious.  I am an introvert and being the center of attention can be an exhausting experience.  

Second, the more significant reason.  My life has been a life of service, both professionally and personally.  I have formed many of my relationships under the umbrella of things that I have done, or could do, for others.  I think that this reality is not accidental. In part, I feel if you can help someone, you should. In part, providing a service to someone justifies the relationship. “Be my friend, and I will help you.”  In part, it allows me to have a certain amount of control over the connection. Like most people, I am complex, as are my motivations to do things. Those motivations are neither good nor bad, they are.

Back to my birthday party…

My real fear of asking someone to do something for me is that they won’t do it.  This is based on my childhood where that was my experience. I learned very early on that I had to rely on myself.  I could not expect others to do things for me. Having to rely on myself made me angry, and I turned that anger into the fuel that drove me forward.  As I have said in previous posts, “Take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage.”

I became robust, resilient, and self-reliant.  However, there is a flipside to this coin. There is a part of me that wants to be loved, cared for, nurtured, and celebrated for who I am, not what I do.  This aspect of me is buried deep in my psyche and highly protected. However, part of my current efforts to grow beyond past limitations is to confront these needs and acknowledge them.  Hence, “Sure throw me a party.”

My past strategy had been to never expect anything from anyone, but to fantasize that people in my life would be there, “If I needed them.”  As a psychiatrist, I know the folly of such a fantasy. I have worked with many caregiving patients (often women) who have devoted themselves to others in selfless ways.  They have selected individuals who were more than happy to be cared for. Sadly, when these caregiving individuals needed help in return, their relationship was nowhere to be found.  Their connections signed up to receive full service, not to deliver a service. Naturally, this makes sense. However, even psychiatrists use psychological ploys to get through the daily experience that we call life.

Although my actual birthday was earlier this year, my celebration is scheduled for this weekend.  I am stressed as this event draws a clear line defining my worth to those around me. My old tapes are playing.  Instead of thinking that the people who care about me will be happy to celebrate with me, I think that they will be resentful and act out their feelings in one way or another.  I have heard stories of people traveling to another state to celebrate a milestone with an old neighbor or a casual friend. This seems entirely normal for others, but not for me. Are my close connections willing to put themselves out a bit to celebrate with me?  My rational self says yes, my inner child says, no. I guess I will know the truth in a few days.

To add to this drama, Julie has asked people to write a little note or letter to me which she will bind into a scrapbook.  I want such records to pass onto my children and grandchildren. I don’t want to become an unknown image on an old photograph.  I want to be a real person to my future lineage. I don’t think that this is grandiosity, I believe that it is based on my sense of mortality.  Who are we if no one remembers that we ever existed? Here again, I fear that I’m burdening others. This reality will also be soon known.

Dear reader, thank you for following my story.  We are all imperfect. My goal in life has always been to make a difference in the world, however small.  I want to leave the earth a bit better, rather than a bit worse. Otherwise, why should I exist?

To move forward with my life, I have decided to be fearlessly honest with myself and those around me, including you.  I may be 65, but I still am growing and evolving. I am traveling forward to a destination not yet apparent in the fog that is my future.  However, I am starting to see vague shapes ahead, and my writing is one of the things that is allowing this clarity to happen.

Next Sunday is my birthday party; the day will come and go.  It will be replaced by Monday. Will it justify my childhood fears? Will it support my objective reality?  I guess I will have to wait and see. Either way, I will grow. Peace.