Dr. Phil Doesn’t Get it

Normally I don’t watch The Dr. Phil Show during the day but Erika taped an episode yesterday that was a “must view.” Titled “Parents Divided Over Disowning Their Son,” the show featured two adoptive parents and their 24-year-old adopted son, Adam. The father in particular was ready to disown and sever his relationship with his only child. Why? Violent and threatening behavior, substance abuse and several brushes with jail.

Not knowing the complete story, I couldn’t help but see Adam’s behavior as symptomatic, at least in part, of his early life trauma, separation from his mother and subsequent adoption. This looked like classic attachment related behavior, albeit on the extreme end of the spectrum.

The parents shared with Dr. Phil and viewers a laundry list of “diagnoses” and buckets of meds, all geared toward treating symptoms, never the core, and obvious, issue. As much as I cringed at the father’s “solution” to disown his only child, I also sympathized with their feelings of being beaten down and defeated. They seemed to be as much in the dark with their son as we were with Casey, even though Casey’s behavior was nothing like Adam’s, but could’ve been.

What made matters far worse was that Dr. Phil never ONCE mentioned anything about Adam’s early abandonment and adoption, and how that might’ve contributed to his behavior. It was all about treating Adam’s symptoms and behaviors. He even brought in an “expert,” not in adoption but in substance abuse and extreme behavior. They got close to the real problem but only by mentioning disorders Adam may have inherited from his birth parents.

I wonder if Dr. Phil even believes in attachment disorder.

Erika and I were on the show in October 2008 as part of a story about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. I was skeptical about it but wanted to take the chance that we could get Casey’s story out along with the tragedy of GGB suicides. It turned out to be a positive experience. Since publishing The Girl Behind The Door, I’ve been trying to get back on the show, but the young producers we met are long gone. And now that Dr. Phil seems to display ignorance about attachment and adoption, I feel that much more compelled to get on. But self-published authors are routinely shut out from the media in favor of “real” authors with representation.

So if anyone reading this post has any magic channel into Dr. Phil’s staff please let me know. Otherwise I’m stuck with filling out their online “Contact Dr. Phil” form.

Disrupted, “Failed” Adoptions and “Re-homing”

This is a very disturbing story that I happened to hear about this morning on the Today Show (yes I admit to watching it.) I’ve heard of “failed” and “disruptive” adoptions. Some people have referred to my experience with my Casey as a “failed” adoption, something I correct immediately. If it was a “failed” adoption my wife and I would’ve had regrets about having casey in our lives, but nothing could be further from the truth, notwithstanding the tragic ending.

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I’d never heard of “re-homing” until this morning. I’d heard of failed adoptions, such as a few from Russia where the children were given a plane ticket – and nothing else – back to the motherland. It’s difficult as an adoptive parent to read these stories as I think that we are all under indictment for the mishaps of a few. This Reuters story chronicles the experience of a teenage Liberian girl adopted by an American couple who couldn’t handle her. So they went online to find new parents. There must be more to the story, because assuming they adopted through legitimate adoption channels, why wouldn’t they go back to those channels?

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I have a friend who had a similar experience. A single mother with a successful career and 2 mainly grown biological children, she adopted 2 girls from a Third World country. We never discussed why she did this, but clearly she was not some crazed child-abuser looking to prey on vulnerable kids. Her intentions were completely honorable. But she became quickly overwhelmed by these 2 girls to the point where she realized they couldn’t stay. It wasn’t good for anybody. Fortunately in her case she found a family that was appropriate for her girls and, hopefully, they are adapting well to their new life.

As I watched the Today Show reporting from Rockefeller Center, one statement stuck with me: “the real problem is the lack of support for adoptive parents.”

Even today, more than 20 years after we adopted Casey from Poland and raised her in the dark, the darkness persists. More is known about attachment and other issues in adoptees, adoptive parents have more support systems available to them, but too many couples are simply not equipped to deal with these difficulties. That means that they either need far more attachment parenting instruction than they may have gotten, or they are not fit parents at all.

This is why I’m hesitant to vilify adoptive parents who appear to be monsters until I have the complete story.

The Girl Behind The Door: A Memoir By John Brooks

TGBTD-eBookCov_03-600“This book should be a wakeup call to all adoptive parents and professionals about the urgent issues adoptees and their parents face.”

Nancy Newton Verrier, attachment therapist and author

The Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self

A Marin County, California father embarks on a journey to understand what led his seventeen-year-old daughter, Casey, to take her life. He travels back to her abandonment at birth and adoption from a Polish orphanage. His search leads to a condition known as attachment disorder, an affliction common among children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused. It explained everything. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what the Brookses learned too late.

Who should read it?

    Anyone with a connection to the adoption “triad.”
    Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.
    Anyone who cried through the movie Philomena.
    Anyone who knows us and wants to read our story.

Available now on Amazon in print and Kindle version. Soon to be released on the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble online, Sony Reader Store, Kobo and more.

Is Someone At Risk For An Attachment Disorder If Adopted At Birth?

This post is in response to comments made about a prior post where it was suggested that a child adopted at birth is not at risk  for attachment disorder. Some respondees agreed, others didn’t. The purpose of this post is not to make anyone wrong or right or to score points, but I thought it raised an interesting question which I throw open to my followers.

From everything I’ve read by the experts, such as Nancy Newton Verrier, David Brodzinsky and others, that primal wound – the broken attachment at birth – can be the source of a lifelong void in many, but not all, adoptees. The fact that there was an immediate hand-off in the delivery room from birth mother to adoptive parents is not necessarily a cure, in my opinion. Wouldn’t that child, in the back of his or her mind, always wonder about the people who gave them life yet couldn’t be there to parent them, for whatever reason?

I do agree, however, that the longer the child is separated from a devoted caregiver, the worse it is for the child. Children, like Casey, who’d been institutionalized often have difficulties adapting to a new life beyond the institution that had been the only “home” they ever knew.

So with that, I through this open to my followers. What do you think?

Did Steve Jobs Have An Attachment Disorder?

jobs-kutcher-2I was reading a review this morning of the new movie “Jobs,” an account of Steve Jobs’ career. Now I’m a Mac guy and a big fan ofJobs, but even his biggest fans would acknowledge that he was a genius with very serious personal flaws. This review brought it all back.

He dropped out of Reed College, an elite private school in Oregon for other pursuits – Eastern philosophy and hallucinogenic drugs, among other things. He was a bully, prone to rages and tantrums when things didn’t go exactly his way. He could be utterly cold-hearted and cruel to people, almost sadistic, and take pride in his behavior as if it were a character strength. He was a demanding perfectionist whom Fortune once dubbed ” one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.” At night, he would go home to his wife of 20+ years, Laurene, and his three kids in Palo Alto. I’m not aware of any similar discord at home, but then I haven’t yet read his book. That might explain any inconsistencies in his behavior at home and at work.

Where did this behavior come from in someone who was otherwise so gifted? An attachment disorder? Maybe.

According to Wikipedia, Jobs’ Syrian-born biological father and Swiss-American girlfriend (Jobs’ mother) met at the University of Wisconsin, where they studied and taught. When Jobs was born in 1955, his father said he had no choice but to put him up for adoption because his girlfriend’s family objected to their relationship.

Jobs was adopted at birth by Paul and Clara Jobs. Later in his life, when asked about his adoptive parents, Jobs was emphatic: “Paul and Clara Jobs were my parents 1,000%.” Unknown to him, his biological parents subsequently married and had a second child, novelist Mona Simpson, in 1957.

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In the 1980s, Jobs found his birth mother and his biological sister, Mona, with whom he became very close. In a 60 Minutes interview Jobs reported, “When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father as well, and I learned a little bit about him and didn’t like what I learned. I asked her to not tell him that we ever met … not tell him anything about me.” When speaking about his biological parents, Jobs stated, “They were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was, a sperm bank thing, nothing more.”

Jobs rebuffed his biological father’s efforts to connect with him.

As if history had repeated itself, in 1978, Jobs fathered a daughter named Lisa. He denied a paternity claim.

A Google search led me to the blog, childmyths, which raised the question about Steve Jobs’ difficult personality and its attribution to his early abandonment and adoption. On October 26, 2011, Maureen Dowd wrote about Jobs in “Limits Of Magical Thinking” for the New York Times. She didn’t necessarily claim that Jobs’ behavior was rooted in his adoption history, but quoted others close to him who thought it was.

I can’t claim to answer this question here, but it certainly looks to me as though there was a connection between his early abandonment and his behavior. If you’re curious, buy the book, “Steve Jobs,” or see the movie, and judge for yourself.