midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “father”

Facing the Music

As my daughter Rebecca and I were discussing her sociology class on adolescence, she tangentially announced, “You and mom did a good job raising me.”

Surprised by an out-of-the-blue compliment, I asked, “What makes you say that?”

Rebecca explained that she does not view herself as materialistic, implying instead that she values experiences and relationships above things. We provided for her needs and many wants, but we didn’t overindulge, and didn’t replace our caring, attention and adam-reb_foyeweddingpresence with materials, she was saying.

As a 21-year-old sociology major graduating from the University of Maryland in four days, she has learned about inequality, justice, race, poverty, privilege, human development and other similar topics, helping her become more insightful and introspective about her own life, and more astute about distinctions among individuals and communities.

I was happy to hear Rebecca praise our parenting, since her mom and I broke up when she was 9. My biggest fear about our divorce was that it would cause emotional and psychological problems for Rebecca and younger brother Daniel.

“So we did a lot of things right,” I said, fishing for more praise.

“Yeah, but not everything,” she said, adding the inevitable disclaimer.

“What didn’t we do so well?”

“There were things I haven’t talked to you about.”

We were headed to an Easter celebration, so there wasn’t time, and it wasn’t the right time, to get below the surface. But I kept the conversation in my memory, committed to return to it.

I did that last weekend, inviting Rebecca to have an open discussion with me as a young adult, reflecting on her experiences as a pre-teen and teenager, the positive and the negative, the gratifying and the disappointing, the supportive and the hurtful.

That conversation, I recognize, will require certain things of me, to be constructive rather than destructive or dismissive: I’ll want to approach it as a listener, not a talker, and with an open-minded, non-judgmental, non-defensive attitude. Because I know my temptation, like any parent told in retrospect they weren’t as magnificent as they believed, will be to explain or justify or rationalize or correct the record, which would only serve to shut down Rebecca, diminish openness, trust and honesty and invalidate her experiences and feelings. My current training in counseling should help me control such urges.

I would like to give Rebecca the chance to have an open forum with me without fear of reprisal or disengagement. I believe it’s important to transition into our adult relationship with everything in the open, past issues revealed and understood, nothing left unsaid, as the foundation for our future interactions and communications. It’s the key to an emotionally healthy, genuine father-daughter relationship.

I don’t know what she will say to me. I don’t know if I’ll be surprised. I don’t know what emotions it will trigger. But I want to hear it. I know I had good intentions throughout her childhood, and did my best as a father. But I also know I made mistakes. And I know the fact of divorce created situations and triggered emotions that were difficult, or perhaps impossible, to manage without having an impact on the kids.

Facing the music about my role and impact as a divorced (and remarried) father in my daughter’s life will increase my awareness and, I hope, strengthen my ability to relate to Rebecca. It’s worth whatever discomfort or ego deflation it may cause me.

Midlife Men and Divorce: Risky Business

For the capstone class – the 22nd! – of my 5 ½-year master’s degree program in clinical mental health counseling, I had to choose a narrow “clinical population” for a research project. Somewhat shamelessly, self-servingly and unimaginatively, I essentially chose myself: a midlife man who has experienced divorce.

The findings were not pretty for the divorced midlife’s male’s future, though I acknowledge I intentionally selected research that highlighted why this population would be candidates for mental health treatment.DivorceHeartPhoto

Research has come to varying and sometimes contrasting conclusions on divorce and midlife men (roughly age 35 to 60), and mitigating factors are difficult to account for. However, numerous studies have shown that midlife men who have experienced marital breakdown have had greater propensity to become depressed, anxious or develop other psychiatric disorders; abuse alcohol or drugs; suffer from higher rates of illness, earlier death and suicide; harbor anger; live with loneliness and social phobia; qualify for work disability; and experience lower levels of physical health, mental and emotional well-being, and happiness and self-esteem.

And the majority of time, men aren’t the ones pulling the trigger on divorce, which studies show is one of the most psychologically distressing events in life. Research indicates that wives frustrated by an inability to improve their troubled marriages may be more likely to end them, with one study concluding that husbands initiate only a quarter to a third of marital separations.

These are research-based outcomes of divorce that pose challenges for the midlife man:

  • Recently divorced men were more likely than other groups to receive psychiatric treatment and be prescribed medication for mental health disorders. One study concluded that major depression was nine times higher among men who had been separated or divorced compared to stably married and single men.
  • Remarriage in midlife brings with it a whole new set of complications and negotiations that cause stress, indicating that marriage alone does not prevent mental and physical problems. One study found that remarriage was associated with an increased risk of depression compared with men who remained divorced.
  • Men often rely on their wives for their social lives and support for their health and emotional well-being, as women generally have stronger social support networks. Without their marriage, men can become prone to social isolation and loneliness.
  • A common dynamic of divorce is “non-acceptance” of marital dissolution. The ongoing feelings of attachment are associated with depression. The reality for some divorced fathers is continuing angry disagreements with and hostility toward their former wife a decade or more after breakup.
  • Once divorced, men’s physical health can decline, as wives often assume a role for monitoring and influencing their partner’s health behaviors.
  • While women experiencing divorce were at higher risk for mood and anxiety disorders, men were at higher risk for new substance abuse disorders. One study indicated that divorced 46-year-old men comprised a disproportionately higher share of binge and heavy drinkers compared to other groups of the same age.
  • The mortality risk for inconsistently married men (those who had divorced and remarried) was more than 40 percent greater than for consistently married men, and men who were currently separated or divorced had a mortality risk 2.5 times greater than consistently married men.
  • Men who had been divorced had a higher prevalence of work disability many years after the initial divorce.

As for me, I was the prototype of the midlife divorced male: separated at 42 and divorced at 45 in an action initiated by my ex-wife, with two pre-adolescent kids. I also have remarried, and while my wife Amy has been a wonderful social and emotional support, as the research indicated about wives, the second union has inevitably come with some stress due to new family dynamics and inter-relationships, financial complications and psychological adjustments.

I have avoided many of the pitfalls of the midlife divorced male, such as substance abuse or physical health decline, but did not escape divorce unscathed. When first threatened with divorce and teetering on the brink, I suffered from depression that affected my appetite, sleep, energy level and concentration. I struggled with non-acceptance when the reality of pending divorce flooded me like an unstoppable tidal wave. I lost a big chunk of my social connections and outlets. Worst of all, it was hard not to feel like a failure at something so important, and as a letdown to my kids.

Researchers have come to different conclusions over whether such a thing as a “midlife crisis” really exists, or whether it is a pop culture phenomenon, especially for men. But there’s no doubt that midlife is the time men walk through the landmines of marital upheaval, and when they are most prone to its potentially harmful and long-lasting mental health effects.

 

The Art of the (Fundraising) Deal

dad-rebturkeytrotHow hard could it be to get your friends, family members, work colleagues and acquaintances to contribute $10 or $20 to a worthwhile cause?

Plenty hard.

It’s something my daughter Rebecca is discovering through her prior work at a University of Maryland alumni fundraising call center, fundraising campaigns in which she has engaged for her sorority, and now, promoting her current individual fundraising effort to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through her participation in the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in June 2017.

I learned similar lessons. Fundraising was much more my downfall than my forte during my two campaigns for public office. I lagged woefully behind my competition in the drive for dollars, and ultimately all but threw in the towel in the money race, as I described in my political memoir about the exhilaration, disillusion and corruption of campaign politics, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics.

People in the fundraiser’s sphere of influence may have the best of intentions to contribute. But fundraising is no different than the old advertising adage: You have to hit up targets at least three times to make an impression or encourage action. If I learned anything about fundraising during my campaign, it was the need to go back to the same wells again and again if necessary, with no shame or fear of rejection.

I’m a case in point, I’m embarrassed to say. I first saw Rebecca’s fundraising ask on Facebook about a month ago, but didn’t take action. The next time she posted a request for contributions, I responded that I would make a donation by the end of the weekend, which came and went Feb. 3 with no contribution from me forthcoming. We talked again yesterday about her rather slow fundraising progress, and I assured her again that I would contribute. Three times. No money yet. (Here’s where you can pelt the Author/Laggard Dad with boos.)

I’ve written before about how proud I am of Rebecca’s running exploits, advancing from an eighth-grader who had difficulty finishing two miles to a leader on her high school cross country team to a marathoner. Now I’m proud that she’s using her passion to help a cause that is meaningful to her and vital to kids with serious illnesses.

So I’m using this blog space to plug her effort and ask readers to donate an amount of your choosing on Rebecca’s St. Jude Fundraising Page.

Go here to donate: http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR/Heroes/Heroes?px=4374955&pg=personal&fr_id=61921

(Not) A Chip off the Old Block

Academically, my son Daniel doesn’t take after me – except for the fact that we have each attended college. And in today’s increasingly specialized and technological economy and job market, I’d say that’s good for him.

As a freshman computer science major and bioinformatics minor, Daniel is taking a heavy dose of computer programming, biology, statistics and math. I predict he will separate DanAdam2_PotomacHallhimself from the masses who hold college degrees, which no longer guarantee entry into the professional world, by going the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) route and will find himself in demand in the job market. No post-college Parental Unit Domicile (PUD) basement-dwelling likely or necessary for him!

I, on the other hand, took an occasional math or science course three decades ago at my liberal arts college – only enough to meet the requirements to graduate – and overdosed on philosophy, history, political science, economics and English courses, emerging with a smorgasbord-style International Relations degree that led to nothing in particular.

But in that era, being a generalist with a broad liberal arts education could still work as a professional launching pad for many occupations. It’s not that it can’t work today, but it just appears harder.

Industries can be more selective in hiring graduates who more closely fit the profile for their jobs based on their degrees, internship experiences and technical and industry-specific knowledge. Those without more targeted, specialized and immediately marketable degrees will flood the “generalist” markets, like education, communications, sales, fundraising and social services, creating the immense competition that has left many college graduates on the sidelines.

While teaching tennis at an beach resort last summer in the midst of my career transition to counseling, I talked with a doctor at Minnesota’s renowned Mayo Clinic after a tennis clinic. His wife also was a physician. He had two kids in college, and explained his parenting philosophy about his kids’ college education. He did not take a laissez faire approach, like many parents who allow their kids to “find themselves” – or not – by experimenting and dabbling with a variety of subjects with no clear idea of where they were heading. Guessing and floundering, and possibly wasting time and money, was not acceptable, he emphasized. If his kids were going to attend college, he demanded that they have “skin in the game” and demonstrate a well-thought out plan outlining what they would study, and how their field of study would lead to a career path and jobs immediately after college, based on real-world economic and occupational data. Otherwise, the parental money pipeline would be disconnected.

It made sense to me. And immediately after my discussion with the doctor, I was struck by pangs of guilt: My daughter Rebecca was about to enter her senior year of college as a liberal arts major – sociology and French minor – and I had never really had that practical conversation with her about the real-world application of her college pursuits. I was the laissez faire parent!

That’s not necessarily a bad approach. There’s value in allowing your kids to make their own decisions, find their interests and passions on their own, and take responsibility for the outcomes. Parents foisting their own interests, desires and fears upon their kids to either force or influence them to take a certain path rarely works – at least not over the long haul – and typically ends in resentment. But I still felt remiss about possibly leaving Rebecca unprepared for a world that can be callous and crush souls.

So I called Rebecca that August day, knowing that merely mentioning the idea of developing a plan for her post-college life early in her senior year could ratchet up her stress level. She assured me that she was considering various ideas and researching careers, and that she wasn’t approaching her pending graduation flippantly.

That was enough for me. I could check off the Parental Duty box next to “Advise Child of Importance of College Choices.” I’ve never been a hard-ass parent. I have confidence Rebecca will find her way, just like I do with Daniel. And even though their career paths will be different, I’m glad both will be making their decisions based on what they want to do, not based on my ideas of what they should do or on pursuing a path based on fear that they won’t succeed. Because they will succeed if they have the desire and interest.

There are no strings attached to my investment in their college educations. I’ll guide where I can and when and if I’m asked. Otherwise, they’re on their own, and I know that’s the way they want it.

Learning the Value of Work, Intrinsic Motivation

I put on a jacket I hadn’t worn in nine months, stuck my hand in the pocket and pulled out a forgotten, folded paper. It was a job application form that hadn’t been filled out for Grotto Pizza, a popular chain in Delaware beach towns that recently expanded into our Maryland suburb. My find triggered the memory of a conversation my wife Amy and I had with our son Daniel in the car on our way to dinner at the pizza chain where I had picked up the application.

The gist of the conversation that March 2016 evening was that we expected Daniel to work after he graduated high school later that spring. I advised that the new pizza restaurant was looking for employees and recommended he fill out an application. Daniel expressed resistance to working – or perhaps just to me suggesting where he should work or what he should do – advocating for a last summer before college of doing whatever he wanted.danielshophouse

It got a little tense before we got to the restaurant, Amy and I frustrated at Daniel’s nonchalant attitude toward working and earning money for himself. We were concerned about him adopting an attitude of privilege. For a couple of years, I had recommended to Daniel that he get certified as a lifeguard because we live in a community with 23 pools, or that he work at a summer camp. But he didn’t take up my suggestions. Lifeguarding would be boring, and he didn’t want to deal with younger kids, he said.

So imagine my surprise when a month after our frustrating conversation, Daniel announced that he had found a job opening on his own and had an interview scheduled at Shophouse, the Asian equivalent of Chipotle Mexican Grill, also owned by Chipotle. He had two interviews, including a group interview with the whole staff to evaluate whether he would fit in, and got the job.

A second surprise came at the end of summer 2016. Daniel easily could have decided it was nice having his first work experience, but he was done with that chapter and on his way to college. Instead, he decided he would keep his job while going to school.

He has been like a utility infielder at Shophouse, working the grill, preparing food, explaining the menu and serving food on the line to customers, and operating as cashier. He is working his way to a promotion to kitchen manager. I dropped in one night recently for dinner, where he made me a chicken with peanut sauce bowl. I watched him serve customers, thinking he had come a long way in working with adults and learning about the responsibilities of a job.

He is developing a good work ethic, always arriving to work on time, doing whatever he is asked to do and embracing the team concept of his employer. He also is learning about saving and the value of money, spending on things that are important to him but saving most of what he earns for the future. He earned straight A’s during his first semester of college while holding down his job.

I am proud of the way Daniel has embraced his job and the pride he shows in his work and earning his own way, while juggling a rigorous academic load. I am cheered that he is learning about the concepts of individual responsibility, quality of work, working as part of a team and his ability to direct his life with his choices, work ethic and attitude. He already has started applying for summer internship jobs in computer science, his chosen field. His self-motivation has blossomed.

Several times with my kids, they have gone on to do things I had wanted and encouraged them to do, but they did it on their own and in their own way and time, not in direct response to or because of my nudging or urging, or so it has seemed, though maybe my fatherly advice and wisdom had an influence. I’ve always told my kids that it is preferable when they do things out of intrinsic motivation – based on their own desires and interests – rather than out of extrinsic motivation, such as pleasing their parents and getting the old fogies off their backs. I’m glad they are learning this lifelong lesson, as Daniel’s employment endeavor indicates.

Overcoming Perils of Divorce

I’m a child of divorce who has wound up raising two children of divorce of my own.

Children of divorce face many more challenges in their development as kids and in adjustments to adult life and adult relationships than children from intact families, as found in Judith Wallerstein’s landmark 25-year study, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.familyatthanksgiving2016

But so far, at least from what I can observe on the surface and by traditional markers of success, my kids Rebecca and Daniel are showing strong signs of overcoming the perils of divorce.

[Disclaimer: Father’s unabashed bragging on kids to follow.] Rebecca, 21, is set to graduate from the University of Maryland in May, with a 3.7 GPA and multiple honor roll appearances. She’s run marathons. She’s ventured into the world, spending a semester in France and traveling extensively throughout Europe. She has loads of friends, and has formed and maintained an intimate relationship, dating a solid young man for four years. She has an internship with the French Embassy and is planning to teach English in France after graduation.

Daniel, 18, earned straight As in his first semester at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), taking advanced courses in computer science, biology and math that would have pummeled me as a freshman. He earned multiple Advanced Placement (AP) college credits while in high school, setting him up to graduate college within three years. He has maintained and thrived in a job while attending college and just celebrated six months in a relationship with a lovely girlfriend.

Psychological, social or emotional problems connected to growing up in a divorced family could surface as they advance into young adulthood, progress deeper into their own relationships and reflect more on their childhood experiences. But to this point, I’m thrilled and grateful for their demonstrated resilience and ability to adapt, thrive and make good decisions.

I will also take some credit for their positive adjustments, and give a good deal to their mother Theresa (not the Mother Theresa), for making a commitment to positive, caring and mutually respectful and cooperative parenting, despite the challenges we each faced due to the dissolution of our marriage. Both step-parents, Amy and Bernard, also deserve credit for being consistent, stable and positive influences, in roles often fraught with conflict that can become destructive and divisive.

For half or more of their childhoods, the kids split their time – week on and week off – with each parent. There was unavoidable upheaval – my ex-wife and I each moved twice and sold the kids’ primary childhood home. But we never lived more than 10 minutes apart (until last year when Theresa moved to Texas), and the kids were able to continue attending school in their same district without disruption.

As parents, we cooperated in financial matters, and though we were weaker financially as separate entities, the kids weren’t deprived of things they wanted to do and didn’t suffer materially. We were each committed to continue saving for the kids’ college educations despite the split, and now that is paying off big-time.

I’m sure I said things I shouldn’t have and made mistakes, especially early in the breakup. Challenges arose throughout our co-parenting in relation to family gatherings, which became emotional and tense. We weathered them, though it may have left a mark on the kids. Overall, however, I strived to be respectful and positive about Theresa, and not pollute the kids’ minds or attempt to influence them negatively or turn them against their mother with whatever hard feelings I might have had. And for good reason, because I knew Theresa was a good mother, and the kids knew the same, and anything I did to tear her down would reflect badly upon me and prompt the kids to resent me. To my knowledge, Theresa behaved the same toward me, and I’m grateful for that.

I believe these efforts, which had to be conscious, thoughtful, consistent and enduring, have helped ameliorate the effects of divorce for Rebecca and Daniel. And those potential effects, according to Wallerstein’s 25-year study, are considerable and lasting:

  • A harder, unhappier and diminished childhood, including adjustments in contact with each parent, relocations, losses of friendships and activities, decreased influence of parenting, higher anxiety, and worry about one or both parents
  • More acting out and less protection during adolescence, a result largely of inconsistent and unenforced rules and standards, and assuming greater responsibilities for themselves
  • Higher chances of sexual promiscuity among female adolescents
  • A belief that personal relationships are unreliable, and even the closest family relationships can’t be expected to last
  • Observations of second parental marriages that typically proved less stable and enduring than the first
  • Feelings of loneliness, bewilderment and anger at parents
  • Scarring memories of witnessing violence during the breakup and aftermath, and repercussions of abandonment
  • Less planning for and lower chances of college enrollment, and inadequate financial support from parents once enrolled
  • Diminished capacity to love and to be loved within a lasting, committed relationship in adulthood, a fear of failure and feelings of pessimism based on their childhood experiences, and a desire to avoid the emotional pain

Though impacts are inevitable, I am hopeful that my kids will avoid or minimize these impacts through their own strengths and abilities to deal with their childhood divorce experience in healthy ways, and through the knowledge that their parents – all four of us now – care about them greatly and always will be there to support them. So far, it looks like that’s the track they are traveling, and I am confident that they have the tools and fortitude to stay that course. Hopefully, they will break the familial pattern both my ex-wife and I experienced as kids, and bestowed on our own.

Daddy-Daughter Day

adam-reb_foyeweddingWhat are the odds that a father and a daughter would graduate from different universities on the same day?

Infinitesimal. But that is what’s destined to take place for me and my daughter Rebecca on May 20, 2017, barring unforeseen circumstances.

We’re each about to start our final semesters. I’ll be graduating from the clinical mental health counseling master’s program at Loyola University-Maryland after a five-and-a-half-year marathon, while Rebecca will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland.

It will be a proud day for the Sachs family. Unfortunately, though, I’ll have to make a choice, because the graduation ceremonies conflict. The choice is really no choice at all. As much as I would like to participate in my graduation to savor my accomplishment and sacrifice – and it really has been that, involving a career change, job loss, precipitous drop in income, scrambling to patch together part-time, temporary and seasonal employment, large tuition bills, attending evening classes after work, securing and working at two internships that have tested me, and a long-term commitment to finish rather than quit when feeling overwhelmed – the obvious choice is to attend my daughter’s graduation.

It’s not that I’m selfless. I’m not. I think a lot about myself. I’m all about me, a lot of the time. I’m not a huge giver. I might not give you the shirt off my back. But May 20 will be Rebecca’s time. It will be enough for me to know what I accomplished and that I persevered through obstacles, as much as I would like to share that moment with grad school colleagues who have done the same.

It will be more important to me that Rebecca knows and remembers that I was there, and to celebrate her achievement. I have tried to do that throughout her 21 years. There’s a quote you might know, often attributed to director Woody Allen, that “90 percent of life is showing up.” But apparently what Allen really said was, “80 percent of success is showing up.” So if I multiply a .90 show-up rate by a .80 success rate, I have a 72 percent chance of success by showing up at Rebecca’s graduation. I’ll take those odds.

Showing up always been a high priority for me as a parent, and a college graduation is no time to slack off. That simple feat – being present — was made more challenging over the years since I separated from Rebecca’s mother when she was only 9, but it was never an excuse.

We had hoped our graduations would be on different days on the same weekend. How cool would it be to attend each other’s graduations on successive days? I would like Rebecca to see a palpable example that learning, growth, striving and change can happen throughout a lifetime, by observing me graduate. But it wasn’t to be.

So I will do what I know in my gut is right and what all good parents should do – no awards or kudos needed – and put my child first.

Father Knows Best: A Tale of Political Nepotism & Campaign Finance Chicanery

My first-person account of my run for public office — the narrative nonfiction book Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics — is replete with examples of corruption, malfeasance, deception, power plays, lust, shenanigans, shell games and other mechanisms that help office holders keep their buckets full and padlock the iron gates against intruders.

Here’s another political power tale that didn’t make the cut for the book from Sirenian Publishing, but includes some of the elements and may be added:

[NOTE: Names have been changed. Facts haven’t]

Shenanigans Galore

For a campaign story that contains multiple political shenanigans rolled into one endeavor — nepotism, cronyism, money shell games, political dynasties and bosses, powerful slates created to enrich one candidate, muddled, misdirected or deceptive fundraising requests, fatherknowsbestcoyness about poorly concealed political intentions – look no further than the Orlovski family from Dundalk, a blue-collar community neighboring Baltimore known for its brick row houses and supplying labor to the once-thriving, now defunct Bethlehem Steel plant and shipbuilding yard. Dundalk’s population decreased 27 percent over a 30-year period, tracking the decline of its lifeblood industries.

Dundalk is the type of place known for spawning old-style, pro-labor Chicago-like political bosses who dominate the landscape, strangle power like a World Wrestling Entertainment chokehold and determine who will rise to join the elite club, one that apparently commonly includes members with the “Jr.” suffix. After a half-century of rule, octogenarian Maryland Senator Marvin Rockledge, Jr. of Dundalk announced in 2013 it was time to leave the state legislature after 52 years and 13 consecutive terms. A media report said Rockledge rose to power after joining a local Democratic political club and getting a request (or a non-negotiable order?) from a club political boss known as “Iron Mike” to run for state delegate.

Family Dynasty

Rockledge didn’t leave the legislature empty-handed; he descended from the throne holding hands with Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., throwing his support to his hoped-for successor at Orlovski’s fundraiser and Senate announcement event the day after Rockledge made his retirement intentions known.

Orlovski, Jr. had a valuable political boss in his corner: his father, Jimmy Orlovski, Sr., a four-term Baltimore County Council member. Certainly, the senior Orlovski’s status as the east-side’s leader in the 800,000-population county surrounding Baltimore had something to do with Jimmy Orlovski, Jr. being appointed in 2006 to fill a vacated Maryland delegate seat at the tender age of 23, a year after starting a teaching career.

Later that year, young Jimmy won election to the Maryland House in his own right, and was re-elected in 2010. As it became clear that the aging Rockledge was on his last legs as Eastern Baltimore County’s state senator, the money shell game involving new political slates with altruistic-sounding monikers and influential, well-heeled politicians began.

Money Shell Game

First, Baltimore County Executive and rumored 2018 Maryland governor candidate David Denison transferred more than $100,000 from his campaign account to A Better Baltimore County Slate in early 2013. Members of that slate included Denison, Jimmy Orlovski, Sr. and two other local politicians.

Around the same time, another similar-sounding slate – Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate – was established. That slate was comprised of the Orlovski father-son duo and three other local candidates.

Then, in early 2014, A Better Baltimore County Slate transferred $90,000 to the campaign account of Orlovski, Sr., even though he had announced he was retiring from the Baltimore County Council. So, in essence, Denison had given Orlovski, Sr., who had previously campaigned for Denison, a huge pot with which to play kingmaker by redistributing to other preferred candidates on his way out of office.

For some reason, Orlovski, Sr. held on to that $90,000 gift, which, when combined with his existing campaign fund, armed him with nearly $200,000 heading into an election in which he was not running. He gave sparingly to several Baltimore County Leadership Fund candidates during the 2014 election cycle, keeping his own account stout.

Perhaps that was because son Jimmy Orlovski, Jr. already was flush with cash and was running against a pauper Republican candidate that the political news outlet Center Maryland called a “non-entity” in a Democrat-dominated district that had elected the same Democrat to the state Senate since the 1960s.

Perhaps it was overconfidence – or a case of political hubris. But there must have seemed no way Billy Roy Townley, a former steel worker for more than 30 years with no political experience whose bio said only “attended” – not graduated – high school could defeat the two-term delegate Orlovski, Jr., an educator pursuing his doctorate in public policy who had already risen to chairman of Baltimore County’s House Delegation in the Maryland legislature and whose father was the widely-known, influential politician at the county level.

Money No Match for Anger

Jimmy Jr. outspent Townley by 20 to 1 in the election year — $242,000 to $12,000 – and, stunningly, lost, apparently the victim of the region’s shrinking Democratic labor vote and the trend of struggling, angry white working class voters bucking The Establishment and changing allegiances, the kind of surge that two years later powered Republican Donald Trump to the presidency.

Orlovski, Jr. “ran into a buzz saw of discontent in Dundalk, where voters were apparently sick of the three Os: the Orlovskis, [Maryland Governor Martin] O’Malley and Obama,” the Baltimore Sun analyzed.

Jimmy Jr., an acknowledged rising star among Democrats with all the insider connections, was unceremoniously tossed out, replaced by a political nobody, an outsider whose only listed credentials included membership in United Steel Workers of America and the Dundalk Moose Lodge, and service as a deacon and choir singer at the local Baptist church.

I can only imagine the Orlovskis incredulity at the family dinner table. The burgeoning family political dynasty upended by a career lunch-bucket steelworker who might not even have held his high school General Equivalency Diploma (GED)? Perhaps Pops should have slid Sonny an extra $100,000 through a slate financing scheme before the election so Jimmy Jr. could have enjoyed a 30 to 1 spending advantage. But in politics, as in baseball, there’s always next year.

Follow the Bouncing Dollar Bill

It didn’t take long for the Orlovskis to jump-start a revival for Jimmy Jr.’s now-moribund political career. A month after the November 2014 election fiasco, the Orlovski duo began fueling the family’s political rebirth. Just follow the bouncing dollar bill:

Jimmy Sr. transferred $130,000 from his own campaign account to the Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate, whose five-candidate membership included both Orlovskis.

Two days after that transfer, the Baltimore County Leadership Fund Slate wrote a $130,000 check to Friends of Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., easily avoiding the law that limits transfers between candidates’ campaign accounts to $6,000 in an election cycle. Maryland slates are permitted to transfer unlimited amounts to the campaign accounts of individual members of the slate.

So, let’s review, diagram and simplify. Essentially, County Executive Denison gave a boatload of his cash to a slate comprised of a handful of candidates with the philanthropic-sounding goal of improving the community, A Better Baltimore County.

That slate gave $90,000 of the county executive’s cash to a politician who was retiring, thus had no need for campaign money, Orlovski, Sr. Senior funneled the county executive’s money, plus some of his own, through a second slate, the Leadership Fund, to which he belonged.

The cash sat in the Leadership Fund just long enough for the check to clear before that second slate dumped the whole lump sum of $130,000 into Orlovski, Jr.’s coffers.

Within nine months, the Leadership Fund Slate was shuttered, its apparent primary purpose of enriching and regenerating the Orlovskis political endeavors having been served.

Convoluted Political Resurrection

Like many ousted politicians, Orlovski, Jr. promptly signed up for a $90,000 lobbying gig with Baltimore City’s transportation department in 2015, where he could take advantage of fresh ties to influence former legislative colleagues.

Soon after, Orlovski, Jr. launched his political resuscitation, in convoluted fashion. In 2016, Orlovski, Jr. formed something called “Better Baltimore County,” not to be confused with A Better Baltimore County Slate, which was closed in January 2016. The website for Better Baltimore County described it as an organization created to “tell the stories of…unsung heroes and to inspire creative new partnerships.”

The Better Baltimore County website also included an authority line (Authority: Friends of Jimmy Orlovski, Jr., Ken Brandt, Treasurer) indicating it was tied to Orlovski, Jr.’s ongoing political campaign committee, designating the website as political marketing material. The same authority line appeared on Orlovski, Jr.’s personal website, which did little more in 2016 than promote Orlovski, Jr.’s Better Baltimore County and his career and personal background without announcing any particular political aim or office.

Orlovski, Jr. sponsored a fundraiser in August 2016 that the Dundalk Eagle said fueled speculation that he was considering a campaign for public office. Center Maryland reported earlier in the year that Orlovski, Jr. was one of three Democrats mobilizing to replace County Executive Denison, whose term would expire in 2018.

But Orlovski, Jr. remained coy, according to the Eagle, claiming that the money raised would fund his new creation, Better Baltimore County, giving only a vague nod that he was “keeping an open mind about 2018.”

The fundraiser was advertised on Orlovski, Jr.’s personal website, which makes no mention of Orlovski, Jr. being a candidate for any political office. So, what was the money contributed really for, Orlovski, Jr. the politician or some nebulous conception to promote people, businesses and organizations of Orlovski, Jr.’s choice through Better Baltimore County, honorees who, of course, could return the favor and assist Orlovski, Jr. in the event of a future Orlovski, Jr. candidacy?

Which begs the question: Was the benevolent, business-oriented Better Baltimore County and Orlovski, Jr.’s political quest one and the same, just an extension of an ambitious man’s ambiguous political campaign, as intertwined as the two entities were?

Nowhere on the Better Baltimore County website did it indicate that the group was registered as an official nonprofit organization or that it had any director, staff or supervisory board. In other words, it appeared accountable only to Orlovski, Jr. Apparently, Better Baltimore County was Orlovski, Jr. and Orlovski, Jr. was Better Baltimore County.

Was the organizational creation with the noble-sounding name, Better Baltimore County, just an ornamental tool used as a smokescreen to generate money for the real purpose: to help Orlovski, Jr. return to public office?

Orlovski, Jr.’s intention to highlight positive community works and foster collaboration may have been pure. But as an outsider looking in, Better Baltimore County and Orlovski, Jr., the overthrown politician, seem so enmeshed that I can’t help but think there is something concealed going on, if not downright disingenuous.

But it is not surprising, nor unusual. It is just part of the tangled web of politics that is best and most readily, expediently and successfully spun by insiders, for their advantage, to feed what often grows to an insatiable desire to wield influence, attract followers, bask in the limelight and gratify ego – and for many, Orlovski, Jr. certainly possibly included, to also advocate for their notion of the public good in the process.

Going, Going, Gone!

A week ago I lugged my son Daniel’s mini-refrigerator and cartful of computer equipment to a cramped dorm room at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and officially became an empty nester. My daughter Rebecca left home for good later the same weekend to move into her new apartment at the University of Maryland.DanAdam2_PotomacHall

Since I’ve been gone all summer scraping together income to fuel my midlife career transition odyssey – except for one-day-per-month visits back home – teaching tennis at the Sea Colony Tennis resort in Bethany Beach, DE, the kids’ flight hasn’t fully registered with me yet. But when I return home for good on Labor Day night, I’ll be faced with the fact that my role as a parent has changed.

My kids have become so much more independent in the last year. Rebecca spent a semester in France and traveled throughout Europe. Daniel became more social, broadened his circle of friends, with whom he traveled to Ocean City, MD for Senior Week and California over the summer, connected with a steady girlfriend, got his first job at which he is advancing and earned college scholarship funds.

They’re becoming young adults, and our relationships will change. I am curious what those relationships will be like.

Since they are attending colleges nearby, they’ll be around on occasion, but now their college residences are their primary addresses. I am going to miss having one or both kids around the house on a regular basis.

I’m thinking the transition may be easier for me than for parents in an intact family. My kids lived with me only half the time for about half of their childhoods, since they were 9 and 7, because of my divorce. I always felt sad when I brought the kids back to their mom’s on Sunday evenings after a week with me, knowing I was going back to an emptier house and that I would likely only see them one time over the next week for dinner. The necessity to adjust to the back and forth, every other week arrangement I hope will help me adapt to this new transitional scenario.

Still, there’s nothing like your kids branching out on their own and establishing their independent lives to let you know you are advancing to new and later stages of life. I taught many kids tennis this summer and met their parents. I couldn’t help thinking those parents were me a decade ago, enjoying family vacations at the beach and doing fun kid things like walking the boardwalk at night and sliding the water park during the day. When I told tennis parent clients that I had kids also, though older at 20 and 18 and in college, I had a hard time believing it myself.

Rebecca has talked about becoming a teacher recently and of possibly following her boyfriend, a chemical engineering major, to some yet to be determined destination after college. Daniel will be pursuing studies in the computer science field at a university known for its strength in that area. They both have promising futures. I’m proud of how they have developed and the people they are. I hope I have had a positive influence on them and will remember some of dad’s “pearls of wisdom” that they probably didn’t want to hear when I offered. I implored both kids to take Spanish; they each took French. I think Daniel already may be happy that I highly recommended dorm life to him when he was considering other college living arrangements.

I look forward to developing and nurturing close and warm adult relationships with both kids. I hope it happens. It will be a two-way street from here on out. Both kids will have to desire that too and give our relationship love and care to help it grow as we all mature.

The kids are gone and one long and crucial part of my parenting journey is over. It’s been a challenge, a great learning experience, an honor and a joy, but also tinged with some tumult, sorrow and readjustment resulting from the family breakup and my second marriage. I am eager to see what the next phase will bring and know I will need to work at staying connected.

The kids are gone. In the coming weeks, I’ll learn how prepared I am to accept it.

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