Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nick Smithers - Why We Have To Talk About Male Victims of Domestic Violence

From the Good Men Project, Nick Smithers tries to raise public awareness about male victims of domestic violence (in Scotland). The numbers in this country are sobering.

According to research by the Domestic Violence Research Group, intimate partner violence (IPV) is essentially bi-directional, and when it's unidirectional (aside from sexual coercion) women are more often the perpetrators (nearly 2:1 on average), yet men are more often arrested or incarcerated.
In conclusion, our results demonstrate the amount of overall IPV differed significantly among samples, but the percent that was categorized as bi-directional did not. This indicates that bi-directional violence is a common IPV pattern and suggests that women play a larger role in the occurrence of IPV than previously thought. Such findings have considerable implications for assessment, legal, intervention, and preventive efforts. It is suggested that if one resolution of the gender symmetry/asymmetry debate is to argue that there are subtypes of male and female intimate partner violence perpetrators, or that there are different patterns of violence amongst relationships characterized by IPV (Johnson, 2005; Johnson, 2006), researchers and clinicians will need to work to together to determine how to reliably and meaningfully make these determinations in ways that will facilitate our ability to effectively prevent and treat all types of IPV.
Here are some very sobering statistics on the rates of IPV and whether it is bi-directional, MFPV (male to female) or FMPV (female to male) among three populations (epidemiological, community, and college):
Among epidemiological/population samples, the average weighted rate of IPV reported was 16.3% (22.1% unweighted). Using weighted averages, among those reporting IPV, 57.9% of the IPV reported was bi-directional. Of the remaining 42.1% that was reported as uni-directional IPV, 13.8% was MFPV, 28.3% was FMPV, and the ratio of uni-directional FMPV to MFPV was 2.05 weighted (2.02 unweighted).
Among community samples, the average weighted rate of IPV reported was 47.0%. Using weighted averages, among those reporting IPV, 59.6% was bidirectional. Of the remaining 40.4% that was reported as uni-directional IPV, 17.5% was MFPV, 22.9% was FMPV, and the ratio of uni-directional FMPV to MFPV was 1.30 weighted (1.98 unweighted).
Among school and college samples, the average weighted rate of IPV reported was 39.2%. Using weighted averages, among those reporting IPV, 51.9% was bi-directional. Of the remaining 48.1% that was reported as uni-directional IPV, 16.2% was MFPV, 31.9% was FMPV, and the ratio of uni-directional FMPV to MFPV was 1.96 weighted (2.18 unweighted).
This information remains relatively unknown among the general population. This silence about gender-based violence is perpetuated by the overwhelming emphasis on male-perpetuated violence, which does tend to be more violent when it occurs.

Why We Have To Talk About Male Victims of Domestic Violence


Nick Smithers works for a Scottish charity that wants male victims to be included in the public perception of domestic violence.

I recently started a new job as the National Development Officer for Abused Men in Scotland (AMIS), a charity that’s been working to improve services of male victims of domestic violence since 2010. Part of my role is to raise awareness of male victims which often means taking our message to events where the focus has traditionally been on women. Which is why, earlier this year I ending up co-presenting a workshop with a representative of a prominent organisation which provides essential supports to women who are fleeing abusive partners.

Conversations about male and female victims of domestic violence can often get reduced to arguments about gender politics. AMIS works hard to avoid this type of dialogue. As a frontline service we bring real expertise of working with male victims and we back this up with rigorous and original research such as our recent report on Men’s Experience of Domestic Abuse in Scotland.

One of the key themes that has emerged from our research is the extent to which the “public story” of domestic abuse is extremely pervasive—that being the notion that domestic abuse is perpetrated almost exclusively by men against women. It’s one thing knowing this, the challenge we face is finding ways to create a new public story that accounts for both male and female victims.


As I sat in the hall awaiting the call to step up to stage and begin my presentation I was approached by the chairperson and informed that we would be joined by the Queen’s daughter the Princess Royal and asked whether I knew royal protocol. Well for those of you who live in more evolved democracies such things as royal protocol are likely to be something of a mystery – well, they are also a mystery to me, Scots born and bred. My innate urge to conform overcame any rebelliousness and I stood when expected, sat when instructed and generally behaved myself – I wanted to make friends and influence people of course.

While I sat on stage and listened to the informative and moving presentation by my co-presenter, my anxiety grew, as the heightened atmosphere in the hall became apparent. As my co-presenter sat down there was much muttering and whispering and I could see that there was some disagreement between Her Royal Highness and her consort. Horror, against her will the Princess was being ushered from the room before having the opportunity to hear about the experience of men in Scotland who are victim to domestic abuse, she turned and offered an apology to me as she was led away and I took to the lectern.

Well I hope I can say confidently that she missed something, as the talk attracted a good deal of interest and the majority of questions afterwards were related to my presentation. Many of the professionals from around Europe recognised the iniquity that I related affecting men. I had described the ingrained, gendered conceptualisation which renders male victimhood counter-intuitive. This can create a service vacuum where repeat victimisation of men can become a common occurrence from an uncomprehending system.

I was asked my view on the introduction of the term “gender based violence” (GBV) to replace ‘domestic abuse’ in many official publications and discourse. I suggested that this could be another barrier to men getting help as the implication was that GBV was male on female—the standard assumption. My co-presenter intervened to make what, to me, was a telling clarification. It was asserted that GBV was not about ‘who does what to whom’ but about why some people were victimised due to their gender.


My co-presenter then stated that social construction theory explains this phenomenon as it illuminates the fact that men are brought up to control women and that this is the context for domestic abuse. Well I was somewhat taken aback by this statement which I could neither relate to on a personal level as a man nor on a professional level having worked with men in a deprived area of Edinburgh for six years.

This exchange has been reverberating in my mind since then. It seems to encapsulate an ideology which is the hidden, guiding hand of domestic abuse policy here in Scotland and beyond. While it was surprising for me to hear such a political definition of sex roles it was highly instructive as to why abused men in Scotland often suffer in silence.

Men experiencing domestic abuse can feel stigmatised and ashamed. In many cases men will not recognise their experience as domestic abuse such is the prevalence of the public story- they will believe it is something which only happens to women. It is imperative that the narrative around domestic abuse shifts to allow gender inclusive language to become the norm.

The first step is the recognition that significant numbers of men are experiencing domestic abuse but often feel that they have nowhere to turn for help.

I believe that if we keep speaking out for male victims then the public story about domestic violence will change and everyone — including the Princess Royal—will recognize that both male and female victims of domestic violence need our help and support.


Photo Credit: Flickr/The New Institute

Monday, July 29, 2013

John Paul Catanzaro - 20 Reps with a 10 Rep Max, Once a Week

Here is a fun way to switch up your workouts and build some serious strength. And by fun I mean excruciatingly painful and possibly requiring the presence of a puke bucket. But if you are stuck at a plateau or your body has become accustomed to hard work, then this might be the change of pace you need.


The human body prefers homeostasis (maintaining current function) over change, which is why we need to change up our workouts every six to eight weeks, and why diets never really work. The human body is also very adroit at adapting to new conditions (which is where the 6-8 week idea comes in, and sometimes as little 2-4 weeks), so even if you switch from a traditional body-part split routine to a 5x5 routine, within a few weeks your body will adapt to the new system and stop responding as well as it did in the first two or three weeks.

This program as outlined by Catanzaro is designed to push the body FAR beyond its homeostatic set point, and in doing so the body will have to make serious adaptations in muscle strength, which can lead to bigger muscles with proper nutrition.


20 Reps with a 10 Rep Max

by John Paul Catanzaro – 6/13/2013 

Here's what you need to know...

• Performing 20 reps of four exercises with your 10RM can trigger muscle gain and fat loss in a short, but excruciating rest-pause workout.
• Rest-pause training involves taking a set to failure, resting only 5-10 seconds, then cranking out additional reps. Repeat until you hit 20 total reps.
You've heard the pitch before: "You can build muscle and lose fat, and all it takes is 20 minutes a week!" I'm sure there's some infomercial on right now making the same outlandish claim. But the program I'm about to reveal really does deliver... if you have the grit to finish it.

The Workout

A. Back Squat
B. Chin-Up
C. Deadlift
D. Parallel-Bar Dip

  • 1 workout per week
  • 1 set per exercise
  • 20 reps
  • 2-0-1-0 tempo
  • 5-minute rest between exercises

On paper this little routine doesn't look too daunting, especially when you're doing only one set of each exercise with five minutes of rest in between, but this is where it gets interesting –each set is conducted with a 10RM load.

In plain English, you'll perform 20 reps with a load that you'd normally max out with at 10 reps!

How's That Even Possible?

It's called rest-pause training. You take a set to failure, which in this case is 10 reps, and then rest for 5-10 seconds. Then squeeze out another rep or two and rest again.

Keep going in this manner until you reach 20 reps. At that point you'll probably collapse. By the time you regain consciousness, 5 minutes should've elapsed and it's time for the next exercise.

Make sure to warm-up thoroughly beforehand, and increase the load by 5-10 pounds each workout – 5 pounds on the chin/dip belt and 10 pounds on the barbell.

Fight Homeostasis and Win

The "20 reps with a 10RM load" method is not new by any means. Randall Strossen's classic squat workout was based on this age-old concept. What's new, however, is applying this method to other exercises besides the squat and arranging them in the specific manner presented in this program.

This method does require some serious mental and physical fortitude. When both your body and mind say, "Stop!" you've got to keep going.

The human body craves homeostasis – it likes to retain the status quo – so you need to force it outside of its "comfort zone" in order to adapt. What's comforting, though, is that you'll have a full week to recover before your next workout.

Trust me, you'll dread this workout. But if you train hard, eat right, and take care of workout nutrition, you'll finally get to spend more time outside of the gym than inside it.

Other Usage Strategies

If time isn't an issue, but you're looking for a change of pace, then a great strategy would be to perform the 20-minute workout once a week along with additional sessions that may include:
  • Specialization training: Concentrating on a lagging body part such as arms.
  • Energy system training: For sport/conditioning or simply to shed some extra body fat.
  • "Fluff" training: Isolation and machine-based movements.

Regardless of how you use the 20-minute workout, you'll get results.

~ John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., C.E.P., is a Certified Kinesiologist and Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private gym in Richmond Hill, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. For additional information, visit his website at

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sudden Decline in Testosterone May Cause Parkinson's Disease Symptoms in Men

New research using a murine model (mice) suggests that a sudden decrease in testosterone levels in men can create Parkinson's Disease symptoms in men. In the study, mice that were castrated experienced dramatic increases in brain levels of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and nitric oxide. Too much nitric oxide (which are generated by the iNOS) kills neurons in the brain. The researchers note, "Interestingly, castration does not cause Parkinson's like symptoms in male mice deficient in iNOS gene, indicating that loss of testosterone causes symptoms via increased nitric oxide production."

Further, "We found that the supplementation of testosterone in the form of 5-alpha dihydrotestosterone (DHT) pellets reverses Parkinson's pathology in male mice."

Currently, it's not clear if the sudden decrease in testosterone has the same effect in human males. But further research is planned.

If this result can be replicated in humans, there are serious implications for male health. Testosterone levels are clearly linked to many disease processes. In most males, testosterone levels reach their peak from late teens to late 20s. Here is a sample distribution from the study cited below.
Simon D. Nahoul K. Chades MA. (1996). Sex hormones, ageing, ethnicity and insulin sensitivity in men: An overview of the Telecom study. In: Androgens and the ageing male.  Eds. Oddens B. Vermeulen A. Parthenon Publishing. New York.
          Testosterone levels measured in ng/dl
Age   Subjects    Mean Standard Deviation Median
< 25   125    692 158 697
25-29   354    669 206 637
30-34   330     621 194 597
35-39   212    597 189 567
40-44   148    597 198 597
45-49   154    546 163 527
50-54   164    544 187 518
55-59   155    552 174 547
However, testosterone levels may fall drastically due to chronic stress or highly stressful life events (death, divorce, job less, and so on). Other factors for low testosterone can be environmental toxins (xenoestrogens, for example), inflammation, free radicals (causing mitochondrial damage), dietary choices (soy extracts [genistein, daidzein], black licorice extract [a sweetener], alcohol), and obesity (increases estrogen levels and causes inflammation) This list could go on an on.

Finally, there is one other major concern here. One half of all men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes (and the other half would if they lived long enough). One of the frontline treatments, despite a lot of evidence that the health risks for those who survive far outweigh the extra few months a man might get if his cancer is aggressive and terminal, is androgen depletion therapy (ADT). Never let a doctor do this to you. Aggressive (i.e., deadly) forms of prostate cancer are NOT androgen-dependent - they are estrogen dependent.

ADT has been linked to muscle loss, weight gain, gynecomastia, diabetes, impotence, depression, bone loss, and a series of other issues. According to this new study, we may be able to add Parkinson's Disease to that list.

Sudden Decline in Testosterone May Cause Parkinson's Disease Symptoms in Men

July 26, 2013 — The results of a new study by neurological researchers at Rush University Medical Center show that a sudden decrease of testosterone, the male sex hormone, may cause Parkinson's like symptoms in male mice. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

One of the major roadblocks for discovering drugs against Parkinson's disease is the unavailability of a reliable animal model for this disease.

"While scientists use different toxins and a number of complex genetic approaches to model Parkinson's disease in mice, we have found that the sudden drop in the levels of testosterone following castration is sufficient to cause persistent Parkinson's like pathology and symptoms in male mice," said Dr. Kalipada Pahan, lead author of the study and the Floyd A. Davis endowed professor of neurology at Rush. "We found that the supplementation of testosterone in the form of 5-alpha dihydrotestosterone (DHT) pellets reverses Parkinson's pathology in male mice."

"In men, testosterone levels are intimately coupled to many disease processes," said Pahan. Typically, in healthy males, testosterone level is the maximum in the mid-30s, which then drop about one percent each year. However, testosterone levels may dip drastically due to stress or sudden turn of other life events, which may make somebody more vulnerable to Parkinson's disease.

"Therefore, preservation of testosterone in males may be an important step to become resistant to Parkinson's disease," said Pahan.

Understanding how the disease works is important to developing effective drugs that protect the brain and stop the progression of Parkinson's disease. Nitric oxide is an important molecule for our brain and the body.

"However, when nitric oxide is produced within the brain in excess by a protein called inducible nitric oxide synthase, neurons start dying," said Pahan.

"This study has become more fascinating than we thought," said Pahan. "After castration, levels of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and nitric oxide go up in the brain dramatically. Interestingly, castration does not cause Parkinson's like symptoms in male mice deficient in iNOS gene, indicating that loss of testosterone causes symptoms via increased nitric oxide production."

"Further research must be conducted to see how we could potentially target testosterone levels in human males in order to find a viable treatment," said Pahan.

Other researchers at Rush involved in this study were Saurabh Khasnavis, PhD, student, Anamitra Ghosh, PhD, student, and Avik Roy, PhD, research assistant professor.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health that received the highest score for its scientific merit in the particular cycle it was reviewed.

Parkinson's is a slowly progressive disease that affects a small area of cells within the mid-brain known as the substantia nigra. Gradual degeneration of these cells causes a reduction in a vital chemical neurotransmitter, dopamine. The decrease in dopamine results in one or more of the classic signs of Parkinson's disease that includes resting tremor on one side of the body; generalized slowness of movement; stiffness of limbs and gait or balance problems. The cause of the disease is unknown. Both environmental and genetic causes of the disease have been postulated.

Parkinson's disease affects about 1.2 million patients in the United States and Canada. Although 15 percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, it is generally considered a disease that targets older adults, affecting one of every 100 persons over the age of 60. This disease appears to be slightly more common in men than women.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rush University Medical Center.

Journal Reference:
S. Khasnavis, A. Ghosh, A. Roy, K. Pahan. (2013, Jun 6). Castration Induces Parkinson Disease Pathologies in Young Male Mice via Inducible Nitric-oxide Synthase. Journal of Biological Chemistry; 288 (29): 20843-20855. DOI:10.1074/jbc.M112.443556

Full Title and Abstract:

Castration Induces Parkinson Disease Pathologies in Young Male Mice via Inducible Nitric-oxide Synthase

Saurabh Khasnavis, Anamitra Ghosh, Avik Roy, and Kalipada Pahan

  • Background: Developing a simple irreversible animal model to study nigrostriatal pathologies is important for Parkinson disease (PD).
  • Results: Castration induces glial activation and death of dopaminergic neurons in wild type, but not iNOS−/−, young male mice.
  • Conclusion: Castration induces nigrostriatal pathologies via iNOS.
  • Significance: Castrated male mice may be used as a simple, toxin-free, nontransgenic, and irreversible animal model for PD.

Although Parkinson disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, available animal models do not exhibit irreversible neurodegeneration, and this is a major obstacle in finding out an effective drug against this disease. Here we delineate a new irreversible model to study PD pathogenesis. The model is based on simple castration of young male mice. Levels of inducible nitric-oxide synthase (iNOS), glial markers (glial fibrillary acidic protein and CD11b), and α-synuclein were higher in nigra of castrated male mice than normal male mice. On the other hand, after castration, the level of glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) markedly decreased in the nigra of male mice. Accordingly, castration also induced the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons in the nigra and decrease in tyrosine hydroxylase-positive fibers and neurotransmitters in the striatum. Reversal of nigrostriatal pathologies in castrated male mice by subcutaneous implantation of 5α-dihydrotestosterone pellets validates an important role of male sex hormone in castration-induced nigrostriatal pathology. Interestingly, castration was unable to cause glial activation, decrease nigral GDNF, augment the death of nigral dopaminergic neurons, induce the loss of striatal fibers, and impair neurotransmitters in iNOS−/− male mice. Furthermore, we demonstrate that iNOS-derived NO is responsible for decreased expression of GDNF in activated astrocytes. Together, our results suggest that castration induces nigrostriatal pathologies via iNOS-mediated decrease in GDNF. These results are important because castrated young male mice may be used as a simple, toxin-free, and nontransgenic animal model to study PD-related nigrostriatal pathologies, paving the way for easy drug screening against PD.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Secure in Your Self-Identity - Have You Had Your ‘Man Up’ Moment?

Do you live in the "man box" or do you set your own standards and agenda for life? In the article below, re-posted at the Good Men Project, that question (in all its various forms) is identified as the "man up" moment - the point in our lives when we have to choose who we are and who we want to be(come).
When a man faces a crisis — any kind of real life-changing crisis, whether it’s financial, familial, physical, emotional, or female — that’s when he’ll know what kind of stuff he’s really made of.
This is true, for the most part.

When your moment comes, will be ready for it? Will you know who you are and what you are about in the world?

Have You Had Your ‘Man Up’ Moment?


Victory Unlimited provides a series of questions for men to discover their self worth and achieve a fuller potential.

There comes a time…there always does…when a man is forced to choose. Not just between what woman he will pick over another, not just between which career choices he will make over another — but between what kind of man he is now and what kind of man he will be.

There will come a time in your life when that question will be asked of you, whether you’re 18 or 85. There will come a moment in your life where you will indeed be forced to answer it with either your words, your actions, or BOTH. Rest assured, if it has not already happened yet, your manhood, and how you have chosen to define it will be called upon to “present itself” at the verbal or nonverbal demand of either some “one” in your life or some “situation” at hand.

Often this roll call to self-identify will come as a surprise. Rare is it that a man actually has time to consciously prepare for this moment of truth — this moment that will forever distinguish “who he really is”, compared to “who he thinks he is”. When a man faces a crisis — any kind of real life-changing crisis, whether it’s financial, familial, physical, emotional, or female — that’s when he’ll know what kind of stuff he’s really made of.

What kind of man are you?

Actually, this is a question that you will be much better off asking yourself, as opposed to waiting for circumstances to put you in a position where you have to answer it. No, it’s much better to ask and answer this question of yourself, and for yourself — now. Self-discovery, much like self-development, and then ultimately — self-deployment is not something that you can always prepare yourself for beforehand. These three phases of fulfillment, these three steps toward spiritual empowerment, and these three necessities for achieving greater heights of personal peace and happiness are not an event — they are a process. And the only way that process can begin with the most chance of overall life success is by means of self-discovery.

Every man, if he’s honest, knows when he’s faced, or is facing, his “Man Up Moment” — that exact moment in his life that separates his Stand Around days from his Stand Up days. This initial phase of the process, this kind of self-discovery, because of it’s suddenness, really is an event. An event that forces him totally awake to the consequences and gravity of his life choices.

So though the scenarios may be different, the question remains the same.

What kind of man are you?

Are you a man who puts off things until tomorrow that he knows he should do today? Or are you a man who does things today in order to increase his chances of having a better tomorrow?

Are you a man who stays in torturous, toxic relationships with women you know that are bad for you? Or are you a man who believes in himself, respects himself, and loves himself enough to break free from bad relationships in order to make room for good ones?

Are you a man who treats all women badly because some women before have dogged you out? Or, are you a man who learns from the past, takes it into account, but rationally judges the next woman he meets based on her actions as opposed to the actions of those that came before her?

Are you a man who works a job he hates, who always complains, and sells his soul to “the company store” out of abject fear for his financial future? Or, are you a man who goes after the career he really wants or works towards starting that business he really wants by using the resources from that job he hates to finance achieving those things he really loves?

Are you a man who has convinced himself that it’s better to be SAFE — at home, fantasizing about all the women you see on the Internet? Or are you a man who has DECIDED that he’s worthy enough and courageous enough to risk meeting real women in real life in order to form real relationships?

Are you a successful man who sees nothing wrong with stepping on other innocent men, women, and even “children” as long as you can get what you want? Or, are you a man who has become successful in life, but now also uses your success to inspire and motivate others in desperate need — those who are still struggling valiantly to achieve for themselves just half of what you’ve already accomplished?

Are you a man who measures his fulfillment in life by how much personal, unbridled, nondiscriminatory pleasure you can experience without any regard to the well-being of others? Or, are you a man who has chosen to live his life by a set of well-thought out moral standards, codes of ethics, or personal principles that inspire you to treat others as you’d like to be treated?

Are you a man who pretends to ignore injustice and laughs at things that are not funny? Or, are you a man that challenges ideas and viewpoints that should be challenged —a man that respectfully, but firmly speaks up and takes a stand for what he believes in?

What kind of man are you?

How would you answer that question to yourself? And when you answer it honestly, are you happy with the answer you give?In fact, if you died today, and you were attending your own memorial service — do you think that YOUR answer to that question would be the same answer that those who know you would give about you? If so, then consider yourself fortunate, because not only is there a good chance that you have a firm grasp of who you are, it’s also likely that who you think you are is in-line with the image that you project to those around you.

Which brings to mind some follow up questions:

“If you do know who you are as a man, are you also HAPPY with the man that you are?”

After reading that question, I can almost hear you say, “Happiness is such a ubiquitous, ethereal term, how can anyone really know if they’re happy or not?

Well, in an effort to help you answer the question that I have posed, you would do well to remember that the word “happiness” is synonymous with other words and phrases like “being content”, “being at peace”, “being glad”, or “being satisfied”. So, with that being said, know that the Victory Unlimited definition of being “happy” with what kind of man you are is to be able to look back at who you are and what you did yesterday — and still have a deep, inner sense of contentment, peace, gladness, or satisfaction when you think about it today.

Therefore, if this is where you are as a man — you’re on a good path. But also, if you happen to be a man who has just faced his “Man Up Moment”, found yourself wanting, and has come out of it “not” liking who you are — the good news is that all is not lost. Why? Because every day alive is another chance to get it right. As long as your heart is beating, the clock is still ticking, and time is on your side.

Every day alive is another day of grace — another day for redemption. So as long as you never turn back, never give up, and never surrender in your fight to become a better man today than you were yesterday — you will ultimately win. So stay locked, loaded, and armed with a positive attitude while you continue to aim at becoming the kind of man you want to be. 
It’ll be like shooting at the ground with a Machine Gun…you can’t miss.

Soldier on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Julian Baggini - The Death of My Father (via Aeon Magazine)

At 13, I was young when my father died. I didn't have the resources or skills an adult might possess to process the pain, the confusion, the anger, the almost (but not quite) invisible sense of abandonment. As an adult, when my mother died, I had the skills and I was able to think and write and process the experience through language, as Baggini describes below.

Fatherloss is an interesting topic in masculinity studies - how we are when we lose our fathers has a real impact on it affects us as men (or boys).

This excellent article by one of my favorite living philosophers, Julian Baggini, author of The Ego Trick and many other fine books, comes from the always interesting Aeon Magazine.

The Death of My Father

When someone close to you dies, the very fabric of your life is ripped to shreds. Is philosophy any consolation?

by Julian Baggini
Published on 5 July 2013

A funeral in Italy, 1951. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

Julian Baggini is a writer and founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. His latest book is The Shrink and the Sage: A Guide to Modern Dilemmas, co-authored with Antonia Macaro. His previous book, a "Best Books of 2012" selection on many lists, was The Ego Trick.

I’m dealing with the death of my father the way I deal with most things: by thinking, and processing those thoughts through writing, fingers to keyboard. Given my philosophical bent, these thoughts wander from his particular death to mortality in general. That might strike you as cold, excessively rational, analytic. But the only rule about grief is that there are no rules. Reactions to death cannot be neatly divided between the normal or abnormal, appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong. We muddle through death as we muddle through life, each scrambling in the dark for a way through.

At times like these, philosophers are of limited use because when they have talked about dying they have tended to focus on what it means for the one who dies. Plato, for instance, called philosophy a preparation for death, while Epicurus told us we had nothing to fear from dying. But such thoughts are not much use to those who die suddenly. My father had seemed fit as a fiddle, but he was struck by a heart attack and died on the spot. The same happened to his brother and his brother-in-law, while his own father was killed instantly by a stroke. It is as though the Grim Reaper enjoys playing a cruel joke on those who look intently ahead. Those who prepare to meet him face-to-face are just as likely to find he sneaks up behind them and takes them unawares.

A much more useful philosophy would help us to prepare for the deaths of others. I have never been sure that philosophy does a good job of that. But perhaps a philosophical outlook can help us make sense of death when it comes close to us. It seems to me there are three dimensions to this: what the death means for the one who has died; what it means for those who survive; and, perhaps most of all, the sheer shock and surprise to find death not knocking at the door but crashing through it, uninvited.

If death comes at the end of a long illness, most would say it is easier to face, even if nothing can fully prepare you for the day when it finally comes. However, when the death is sudden, almost everyone talks the language of incredulity. ‘It doesn’t seem possible.’ ‘It doesn’t seem real.’ ‘I still can’t believe it.’ I’ve heard phrases such as these again and again over recent days. My father had not lived in his native Italy for years but he was back for one of his periodic visits, and on this trip he seems to have been exceptionally sociable. The number of people who had chatted to him for the first time in years in the days before his death is extraordinary. And they all said that he seemed fit, well, healthy. Those who knew him longer talked about how they assumed this slim cyclist and vegetarian, who was a strictly social drinker and smoker, would outlive his generally stouter, less careful, more sedentary peers.

I cannot share their feelings of impossibility. Yes, there are elements of unreality about it all but, for as long as I can remember, I have been more or less constantly aware that death can come to anyone at any time. So I’m genuinely not surprised when occasionally it does, even when it’s to a member of my family. Of course, some people will have a longer life than others, but I know that the rule of chance defeats the law of averages for any given person.

So what surprises me is not that people die or get sick, but that other people continue to be so surprised when it happens. Am I unusual in this because I have devoted so much of my life to philosophy? I suspect the causal arrow is the other way round: I have devoted so much of my life to philosophy because I am unusual in this. After all, it is not as though the basic insight depends on a close reading of the Stoics, Socrates or Schopenhauer. I am talking about the facts about death that everyone knows, but cannot necessarily accept. All that it takes to ingrain them is the philosophical habit of turning easily understood ideas into the more difficult practice of how you perceive the world day by day.

Cultural norms have their part to play, too. In the village where my father died and was interred, there is no hiding from death when it comes, no disguising what has happened. Every passing is marked by posters announcing the time and place of the funeral, so wherever you go there is always some reminder of death’s omnipresence. Nor are they coy about corpses. My father was laid out in a coffin in his brothers’ house, a glass lid allowing him to be seen, and his body kept cool by a refrigeration unit. People popped in and out all day to see him, often talking over his body.

The ceremonial niceties, such as the huge free-standing electric candle sticks that were placed either side of his coffin, contrasted with the utilitarian brutalities of the thing. The undertakers, for instance, sealed up the metal lining of his coffin by putting on the lid, getting out a fiery soldering iron and welding him in. At the graveyard, he was interred into a wall, and after the priest had given a last splash of his holy water, two men in grubby clothes set to work bricking him up.

It’s very different in Britain, where bodies are whisked away to mortuaries and seeing them is something you can avoid altogether without censure. The Italian way — at least the one I saw — has to be better. Everything here seemed designed to make you as aware as possible of the reality of death and its natural place in the life cycle. But such is the human desire to avoid facing mortality that even in Italy people seem genuinely shocked to see another one bite the dust. If anyone does look at the empty cubicles in the cemetery wall and thinks ‘One of these has my name on it,’ that thought seems to be swiftly buried with the body.

These strange facts persuade me that the shock of death can be diminished by how we think about it, if we think about it as a reality and not just an abstract idea. If we really do take on board the fickle nature of fate, the inevitability of death and the randomness of its timing, then although there might be other things about a death that leave us devastated, the mere surprise and shock of it need not be one of them.

There are, of course, plenty of other things about a death to get upset about, most obviously our sadness for the person who has died. However, philosophers have struggled to make sense of this and, as a result, have often concluded that there is simply nothing to be concerned about. The person has died. He cannot suffer in any way. There is no point in feeling sorry about what he might have missed out on because there is no longer anyone there to feel sorry for. The only people who can feel any pain are those who survive.

I think there’s something deeply wrong about this. The sadness that one feels for the deceased is not that he is, in a strange way, still around but unable to appreciate life, but rather that he is no longer around at all. He is not suffering but nor is he enjoying, savouring, loving, laughing, or appreciating either. That is the cause of our sadness, for him or, perhaps more accurately, for what the deceased could still have been.

Many philosophers have been baffled by this, protesting that it is no more rational to feel sad for the unexperienced joys of the deceased than it is for those of the never born. But there is a huge difference between the time two people could have spent together in the real world were it not for an accident, say, and the time two people who had never been born could have spent together in a parallel, imaginary universe. The former did not come to pass when it very nearly could have, while the latter is just one of an infinite number of counterfactual possibilities. It takes a curiously impersonal perspective to assign the same value to both the unrealised experiences of purely hypothetical beings and those of people who lived and breathed. If we can delight in someone’s company, or even just derive enjoyment from a glass of good wine, then there is nothing irrational about feeling sad, perhaps painfully so, that someone we know who would have taken equal pleasure did not have the chance to do so.

Philosophers flounder when trying to analyse grief because the phenomenon they are trying to capture is indeed complex and paradoxical. To see a corpse in a coffin, as dozens of people did at my uncles’ house, is to be confronted by something that is, and is not, someone you loved, and love. People often say of a corpse that it looks like the person is sleeping. I can’t agree. In every living thing, asleep or awake, there are small movements, subtle signs of vitality. The face of my father was completely lifeless, not a single muscle was flexed, his chest neither rose nor fell with his breathing. He was gone. And yet in a sense this was also clearly him, what remained of him. His still being there in that state was the clearest evidence that he was no longer there. You feel for him knowing that he feels nothing, he is now nothing. And that is precisely the source of your sadness for him.

To a strict logician, this might seem incoherent. But even logicians must accept that there are times when an inconsistent description comes closer to the truth than our best attempt at consistency. The language and logic of philosophy are sometimes inadequate to capture some of the most important and real phenomena of life. At such times, the poetry of paradox comes closer than the deracinated prose of consistency. In a conflict between our best rational account and the profoundest felt experience, we should be careful of awarding victory to the rational unless we are sure it has delivered a knockout blow.

Sadness for the days not lived is appropriate even when a person is old and has had a long, good life. Life is never long enough. We almost all decline before we have exhausted our capacity to suck the marrow out of life. I accept that mortality is necessary for life to have meaning, and that eternal life would be a sentence, not a reward. But I cannot accept that 80 years (if you’re lucky) of diminishing potency is enough, and that we should not feel sad that we – and the people we love – don’t have longer.

Despite their failings, it might still seem that the philosophers who preached placid acceptance of death were not too far wrong. The existential shock can be countered and, although sadness for the dead might be deep, it need not feel like the punch in the gut that typically characterises bereavement. But there is a third aspect of grieving that is not so easily ameliorated. When you lose someone very close to you, the very fabric of your life is ripped to shreds.

The most common, and accurate, way of describing this is as a loss of a part of yourself. This is more than just a metaphor. When someone is close to you, his way of thinking, his thoughts and his biography become inextricably linked with yours. Where you end and he begins is not clear. No one would think it controversial to say that when you lose such a companion, then a part of your life is lost too. If, as I and many wiser minds have concluded, you are the sum of your experiences, thoughts, projects, plans and so on, then to lose someone who is such a big part of these things is indeed to lose a part of yourself.

Perhaps this is a better way to understand sayings such as ‘It doesn’t seem real’ or ‘I can’t believe it.’ Experiencing the death of someone close to us, we have a sense that the world has been so transformed, so disfigured, that it is no longer familiar: we don’t know how to be in it. We clumsily say we can’t believe it. What we really mean is that we cannot conceive what it even means to be ourselves any more. This can be the case even when the person is no longer a regular part of one’s daily life, but has been a constant background presence for as long as you can remember.

And yet, if the hardest thing is not that the other person’s life has ended but that our own has been ripped to shreds, then has grief become a deeply selfish thing? I don’t think so. The phenomenology of grief means that we cannot draw any simple division between self and other. We feel confused — are we crying for ourselves or for the deceased? — because our feelings for ourselves and the person we love can’t be neatly taken apart, just as we cannot neatly take ourselves apart from those to whom we are closest. Rather than being a purely selfish thought, the idea that someone was so loved that he became a part of you is the most profound form of appreciation possible. It’s perhaps also why death is so often marked by regret, which is not about just you or the one you mourn, but for the shared opportunities lost to you both.

In a subtler way, the interpenetration of self and other extends to everyone whose lives we have touched. For me, the most affecting part of my father’s funeral was when I entered the church to find it packed, standing-room only. It was not that he had dozens and dozens of very close friends. It was that, over the course of his life, he had become part of the lives of many people in his village, usually in small ways that were nonetheless significant enough to motivate them to come out to remember him. This community had lost a part of itself, and they were grieving for that. As we live more and more atomised lives, perhaps this aspect of grief will diminish in importance. There will be plenty of free seats at my funeral, for sure. When the fabric of our selves is torn apart, we will increasingly find it made of a smaller and smaller cloth. Grief will become more limited but also more private, and perhaps therefore harder to bear.

There is one more way in which philosophy can change the way we react to death. Aristotle said that you could not describe a life as good until it was over. What has gone well so far could still end in a catastrophe that would negate all that has gone before, while a hitherto awful life could yet be redeemed.

I have seen the full stop of death, closing the final chapter of a life, making it possible to stand back, look at the whole, and say that it was good. Of course, any life story is littered with mistakes, bad times and failures, as well as successes. But in the case of my father, and of some others I have known who have died in recent years, there has been some comfort in the knowledge that the overall story was a good one. Maybe there were some decent chapters that still might have been written, but there could equally have been a cruel twist or two in the tale that would have led to a less happy ending. For the protagonist, better a good short novel than a tragic epic.

There is nothing automatically soothing about this, of course. The reaper can, and often does, choose to type ‘The End’ after pages of misery, without bothering to bring any resolution. The last full stop that allows the ‘life well lived’ to be appreciated can also expose the life gone badly for all the horror that it was. That is just one reason why secular humanists should not overstate the extent to which a good, happy, moral life is possible without God. Of course it is. But bad and unhappy lives are also possible, and all too common. Philosophy provides little consolation for these, other than the knowledge that the pain is over.

I am presupposing here that death is indeed the end, as I have throughout this essay. But much of what I have described will also resonate with those who believe in a life to come. People often say there are no atheists in foxholes: that in the face of death everyone clings on to some transcendental hope. In my experience that is simply not true, and even if it were, I always reply that there do not seem to be too many theists at funerals, either. The way that the bereaved behave suggests to me that they do not feel any confidence that their loss is a mere temporary inconvenience.

My father believed that there was something more to come after this life and so, as he often did, he would have disagreed with much of what I have written here, while approving of the sincere attempt to work out the truth for myself, as he had done for himself. At the same time, his passing is a reminder that no one gets it all straight, and that even the best philosophy in the world can’t save us from ultimate extinction, likely in a state far from enlightenment. It has to be enough to have lived well and to have played a part in the lives of others too, and the only philosophy worth its salt is the kind that helps us to do just that.

However we grieve, after the tomb is sealed, the ashes scattered, or the coffin buried, all we can do is get on with trying to make sure we write the best chapters of our own lives that we can, while contributing some good lines and passages to those of others. We can’t guarantee that the great editor of fate won’t ruin it by inserting an ugly ending. But we can give the bastard as little help as possible.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It Takes Evil to Know Evil

When I think about evil, if evil actually exists, I think Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and clowns. I don't think of children, not even disturbed teenage children.

Yet, when I was a teenager strung out on drugs and alcohol and generally getting myself into heaps of trouble, I was told I was evil . . . by teachers, administrators, police officers, and even my mother (and especially her church friends). Some people probably feel the label was/is deserved. My mother died believing I would burn in hell not only for my sins against her in my youth, but because I became an unrepentant secular Buddhist.

As near as I can tell, my teenage years, what I remember of them, were hell - there is nowhere else to go but up. I would not wish that degree of angst, that total lack of self-awareness . . . that pure all-consuming despair . . . on anyone.

Those years were hellish because I believed what those people said about me - I knew I was evil. So many people could not all be wrong, right? Plus, I had heaps of the Catholic guilt for all of the things I really had done - nothing horribly serious, but many destructive acts toward myself, other people's property, or worst of all, other people's feelings.

I internalized their disparaging label and adopted it as a core belief for many, many years.

I know how deeply a label can wound, how it undercuts anything and everything we do, we are, we believe we can ever be. The inner critic says, "After all, You are (I am) evil. What hubris in you (me) thinks you (I) ever deserve to be happy, to be successful, to be loved?"

After years of therapy and a lot of Buddhist practice, still there are remnants of that wounding, there are echoes of those old scripts that long since were rewritten and reframed. I do not really even believe in evil, but there are scars where those old beliefs once were festering wounds.

It is this experience from all those years ago that informed my response to a situation yesterday, although I did not get clear on it until I discussed it with a mentor this morning. So often things we (I) think have healed can be triggered - reactivated - by another human being having a similar experience.

This particular situation, for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with objective reality, involved someone who believes s/he is evil because of some of the things s/he has done (all of which the persona was forced to do). But for this person, for that 16-year-old part still lurking inside the adult, the sense of being evil is so overwhelming that death seems the only viable option.

In reality, this could be any one of my clients, any survivor of neglect, childhood abuse, emotional violence, sexual molestation, or a host of other interpersonal traumas. But yesterday, for whatever reason, it was this person.

In the time I spent with this person yesterday, something about the pain and despair touched that old scar within me, left me filled with deep sadness and compassion.

Why that person on that day? I don't know.

Or maybe . . . It takes evil to know evil?

What I do know is that having this new awareness of why that situation followed me home and weighed heavy on my heart allows me to connect with people in a deeper way, to be a better friend, a better partner, and hopefully a better therapist.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mark Warren - The Father You Choose (from Esquire)

This is an outstanding piece of writing on one man's discovery of his father . . . after his father had passed away. I say no more than that . . . it's worth your time to read this, both for the father-son story and for the history of the men (and women) who survived WWII. There is also a great subtext in here about what it meant to be a man in 1940s Germany.

The Father You Choose

It wasn't until I met the woman who would become my wife that I met the man who would become my father

By Mark Warren

Published in the August 2013 issue of Esquire

Dieter lay in there somewhere, peacefully turning yellow and gray, his troubles over.

An hour before, the phone had rung. It was Princeton hospital. My mother-in-law was on the line, her voice ragged. She quickly handed the phone to the attending doctor, who told me that my father-in-law was septic, his body run through with infection, that he was having trouble breathing, and without intubation he would die momentarily. "What do you want to do?" the doctor asked me, her voice taut. As my wife, Jessica, and I quickly talked through the options with the doctor, Dieter's heart stopped. "Oh...oh...his heart just stopped," she said. "I'm...I'm sorry."

It is what he would have wanted, for although he'd been an American citizen for decades, he was still German enough to have no patience for the manic clinging to life that happens here, as if the mere beating of a heart made for a life. All the frenzy at the end seemed to him so foolish and undignified. He was a scientist. He wasn't religious. People die. Let them die.

But he wasn't supposed to die yet. He was too needed, too vital at a youthful eighty-two. Jessica was shattered at the suddenness of it all, and so was I. Things hadn't gone so well with my own father, but in life, things happen twice if you're lucky. There's the father you get and the father you choose. When I met Die ter, I understood what I had been missing all those years. I guess you might say that I got to know a father's love for the first time at age thirty. I liked it quite a lot.

It was a Sunday, the last day of September, 2012. We parked under a tree at the hospital, left the dog in the car with all the windows cracked, stretched for a moment from the drive, wiped our faces of the dried tears, and then began the hard walk inside. I tried to make a joke, and we went slowly, as if maybe if we didn't see what waited for us inside, it wouldn't be real. Our son, Zeke, who would turn thirteen in a week, walked with us, still in his soccer clothes from that morning. Zeke plays in goal, and had made three spectacular saves in the day's game. His Opa, who had been everything to him, would have been very proud. I stopped, faced him, put my hands on his shoulders. "Zeke, you don't have to do this," I said. "It might be scary."

"I want to," he said, his face hard. He turned back toward the emergency-room entrance and kept walking. We couldn't be too slow if we wanted to see him before they came and took him away for good. I was very proud of Zeke for braving the unknown like this, but I was a little worried, too. My father had died less than a year before, but he had been an abstract figure to my kids, quite old for all of their lives, quite infirm, rendered opaque by a stroke. But Dieter was the best storyteller in the world, the builder of epic sand castles, expert chess teacher, passionate tennis and soccer fan, fearless guide on many forest adventures and snorkeling expeditions, tender of the goose every Christmas, knew all the birds in the sky. A kind, patient, funny man. Slow to anger, slow to judge. Brilliant smile. Opa was dead.

Nothing of this size had ever happened to Zeke. Nothing had ever been this final before. I tried to explain that it was death that made love possible, that if things lasted forever, then nothing would be as beautiful or meaningful or good. It was a moment that called for fatherly consolation, but to me it just came out sounding like bullshit. This didn't make any more sense to me than it did to Zeke. Instead, I just wanted to cry.

By the time I was my son's age, my brothers and I had been dragged to what seemed like thousands of funerals and death scenes. It's one of the liabilities of having a large family and no money. We never went on vacation, we went to open-casket funerals instead, all horrifying, all accompanied by operatic grief. To see the adults in your life losing their shit was perhaps even more terrifying than being forced to reach up and touch the scaly embalmed hands of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends, which, from my earliest memory, is what we did in my family. I learned the word formaldehyde and what it was used for early on. Luxuriating in death is, or at least was, the southern way. When I was six, a much older cousin, Sara Lee was her name, died or killed herself (I was never quite sure) with a drug overdose in Biloxi, and my parents tossed me in the car and we went. I remember that on the drive from Texas to Mississippi, the radio was full of news that Judy Garland had done the very same thing to herself, on the very same day, and so it seemed to me that bodies were everywhere, and from then on, when I would conjure a picture of Sara Lee in my mind, she would come up as Judy Garland. Nobody back then thought much about having six-year-olds around fresh corpses. No one was to be spared, I guess was the thinking. (Or maybe, more generously, no one was to be excluded.) And as if to be sure that this point was thoroughly made, I got to sleep in Sara Lee's bed on that trip to Biloxi. I remember staring at the ceiling for three straight nights as the wind blew the magnolia shadows back and forth across it.

I didn't want Zeke's last memory of Dieter to be so gothic and terrifying. But then suddenly we were signing in at the front desk and making our way past the nurses' station, where life seemed so very normal. A nurse was eating lunch and casually talking on the phone. People were laughing. Didn't they know what had just happened here? Didn't they realize what a life had just finished?

We met my mother-in-law, Christa, outside Dieter's room. Her shoulders slumped when she saw us, as if she had been holding her breath for a long time. "He looks so beautiful," she said.

And then, there he was.

His skin was smooth and cool as Jessica and I touched him and talked to him. His face was placid. I became aware of a sound I wasn't used to hearing, something between a cry and a wail, and realized it was coming from me. I turned to look for Zeke and saw that he was pressed into the back corner of the small adjoining bathroom, his back turned toward us, as far away as he could get without leaving the room altogether.

Dieter at age seventy-five in Marathon, Texas, and above in 2011, a year before his death.

February 21, 1942

My dear little Dieter,

You too will have earned your own letter as payment for your own long and detailed letter. Although mine won't be as long because I'm so exhausted from today's battalion exercises. Imagine, I wake up every day at 6 am!! Then outside of my room my mount is waiting for me to finish my coffee. I wait for a gigantic crane to pull up and I am attached to a hook and am slowly but surely lifted onto my horse. The stable boy stands at his head and spins the propeller, and soon I am zooming all over the place like a crazy monkey. The whole thing looks like a speeding motorboat, and the snow flies to the sides like in a giant wake. This is how it goes in this godforsaken place until I come upon my company walking in the woods. Naturally, from afar I look like the big bad enemy and the company runs into the woods so as not to be discovered. They are of course horribly afraid of me because I can yell very loud and often run around like a wounded goat-monkey (your mother knows this animal). After I've screamed the whole afternoon away, I turn around and zoom in the same way back to the encampment — in the afternoon I walk over to the barracks and watch them do their studies and do my own work. In between I direct the paper war on my desk, which means that it's far more exhausting than any real war. That's how one day follows another, and every night I discover that my bed is the nicest place of all.

I hear that you are pale and look small and are often tired. Naturally this can't stay like this, you hear me? You have to get more fresh air, instead of always reading. You can't neglect and misuse your body. You'll pay for it later. So be good and live healthily!! Lots of kisses and hugs from your Vati

The soldier was worried about his son. He had been away at war for much of the previous three years, and parenting from the front is rather hard to do. This letter to the boy came from East Prussia, in what is now Poland. Dieter's father, a battalion commander in the German army, wrote home to Berlin every couple of days, full of worry about his oldest son, whom he considered to be too soft. He kept with him a picture of the skinny boy in his lederhosen, beaming with his mother, as evidence that Dieter wasn't developing as he should. All head, no body. But there was only so much he could do, as he had eighteen hundred men under his command and would soon be marching across Belarus into Russia.

His letters home show him to have been whimsical and clever, as well as a fierce German nationalist who viewed the English and French as the enemy and was eager that the German push for the oil of the Caucasus and the breadbasket of the Ukraine be successful. An economist at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Hans Weigmann had lied about his age to join the army at sixteen during World War I and had been held as a French prisoner of war until well after the armistice, an internment that killed thousands of Germans and almost killed him. He would be sickly for the rest of his life from the starvation and forced labor he experienced during that period. But as a veteran and a reservist, Dieter's father was, by the time of Hitler's war, an officer, first serving at the Maginot Line, commanding a heavy-machine-gun company of 150 men, before being asked to join the regimental staff as an adjutant, with the rank of captain. France fell quickly, and his division was moved to eastern Poland as an occupation force. He would spend the next couple of years going back and forth between home in Berlin and Poland, where his unit would prepare for its part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.

Dieter, aged eleven, with his mother in Zakopane, Poland, 1941.

It was from there that he wrote his son, who at twelve had become the man of the house, and his father was certain that he was not up to the task. He spent too much time reading, he spent too much time on the toilet, he wasn't properly tough.

His father, Hans, a captain in the German army, disappeared on the Eastern front in 1944.

Like all boys, Dieter joined the Jungvolk — Hitler Youth — in February 1940, the month after his tenth birthday. And it was only after he excelled and was promoted over the next few years — first to Jungenschaftsführer, then Hordenführer, and finally, on April 20, 1943, Hitler's birthday, to Oberhordenführer — that his father began to recognize the change in his son. In a letter to Dieter's sister, Nati, he allowed himself to imagine the proud moment when he, Hans, would walk through Berlin with Nati on one arm and Dieter, in full Oberhordenführer uniform, on the other.

And it is the uniform that Dieter liked most of all, with its kerchief and its braids, its belt with a knife holder and big buckle, its jagged Siegrune on the armband. Having been born in 1930, Dieter had spent virtually his entire life in Hitler's highly militarized state. In a family book, there is a picture taken in 1934, when he was four. In it, he is in full uniform, saluting, and the caption reads "Soldier Dieter." The biggest disappointment of his life as a young man was that he was too young to join the navy, because it was the naval uniforms that he favored most.

Schooling during these years was irregular. At one point, because of the bombing, Dieter's entire school, students and teachers, left Berlin for Zakopane, in the high Tatra Mountains of Poland, to a school housed in a former tuberculosis sanitorium. The boys would leave there at the start of the Russia campaign for another school in Slovakia, and all schools would close for good in the summer of 1943.

Dieter's family moved around much during these years as well, to escape the enveloping war. With his father gone, Dieter was responsible for moving his sister, mother, and younger brother everywhere they went. Each place they moved would be destroyed in turn. Staying with relatives in Wels, Austria, during an allied air raid, Dieter went on the front porch to watch the bombing and was blown down the stairs into the cellar of the house they were living in. The jolt saved his life, as seconds later the concussion bomb was followed by an incendiary bomb.

Since Dieter's schooling had been interrupted, in Wels his mother hired a Latin tutor for him. The man was so dirty and smelly that Die ter could hardly stand to be around him. And he had fleas. Dieter would come home itching and complaining about the man, but his mother didn't believe him. She went to see for herself, and also came home with fleas. It wasn't until after the war that they realized that the tutor's filth was a ruse to make him seem crazy and keep him out of the fighting.

It was also in Wels that Dieter witnessed his first atrocity. Late in the war, he and his family were living in an apartment house in the town center when a column of Nazi soldiers made its way down the main street, marching Jews westward through the town, from one of the camps the Nazis were evacuating in the east. From the high window of their apartment, the family's housekeeper tossed a loaf of bread down to the street for the prisoners. As Dieter watched, the procession stopped, entered the building, brought the housekeeper downstairs, and executed her on the spot.

In 1944, at age fourteen, Dieter was conscripted into the German army, first as a runner conveying messages between units. During air raids he would dive into craters for cover, next to soldiers deliriously praying the rosary. His next assignment was in a machine-gun unit of the Bavarian ski patrol. As the Americans advanced after D-day, they came upon Dieter's unit and sent a note into the Alps, ordering the boys to surrender. They did, and were set loose to walk home. Along the way, Dieter encountered German soldiers separated from their units, who were taking off their uniforms. They moved through the woods like ghosts. Run, they told him. Disappear. It's over. Arriving back in Wels, Dieter was immediately compelled to reenlist with a group of bitter-enders, who vowed never to stop fighting for the fatherland. But Dieter's mother had had enough. She went and retrieved Dieter from this group, telling the commandant, You have my husband, I need my son.

The irony is that Hans's war might have been over, too, but for a fateful decision. In early 1944, he had returned home from Russia to convalesce from pneumonia. He could have stayed with his family and considered his service completed, but he felt an obligation to the men under his command to return to the front, which he did in the spring. By this time, the German front in the east was collapsing, the Nazis were in full retreat, and his unit was already surrounded by the Russians. To rejoin his battalion, Dieter's father had to fly in across enemy lines. Within a few months, he would disappear and never be heard from again. For decades after the war, Dieter's mother would receive detailed accounts from her husband's men, precisely identifying his last known position and telling of how he covered his battalion's retreat outside Babruysk in Belarus, turning with his officers to walk back toward the advancing Russians as he sent his men in retreat. The last time Dieter saw his father, it had snowed, and as his father walked away from the house for the last time, Dieter gathered a snowball, cocked his arm, and hit him square in the back of his head. His father turned, shook his fist, and was gone.

In the months after the war ended, Dieter took to stealing food to support his mother. He looted the unattended storage depots with throngs of others, looking for anything to eat. He'd find cans of paprika, worthless as food, and once found a fifty-pound bag of sugar, which he struggled to carry on the handlebars of his bicycle, eventually being forced to dump half of it, which was traumatizing, as no one had seen sugar in years. His mother took in laundry from the Americans in exchange for rations, and Die-ter and Nati would scrounge in plowed fields for forgotten potatoes.

In Wels after the war, Dieter and his mother were forced by the allies to clean the nearby concentration camp and see for themselves what the Reich had rendered. By this time, his mother was in a state of nervous collapse, and for the rest of her life (she would live until 1992) would rely on Dieter for emotional stability. At the camp, she was so traumatized by the experience that he had to hold her tightly until she stopped shaking. He would not ever be able to speak to his family about the things he saw there.

With all Germans expelled from Austria, Dieter would make his way back through Germany on foot and in the back of a truck, sitting on an oil drum, watching the shattered continent go by, on his way to find family in a small town on the Baltic coast. There followed a period of years in which he would think deeply about how German society had gone mad, and about how he, although just a boy, had been susceptible to this madness. From his earliest memories, Hitler was all he knew.

"And so when word came that Hitler was dead, I wanted to die, too," he told me once. "It would take a long time for us to realize the horror of what had happened."

In formation (circled) with the Jungvolk — Hitler Youth — Poland, 1941.

The slow reeducation of my father-in-law as he completed his schooling, became a chemist, and, in 1961, came to America to do his postdoctoral studies, would define him for the rest of his life. He would become slow to judge, and slow to anger. Never would he again be subject to the irrational passions of the day. And as Dieter Weigmann became the man who would teach me some of the most important lessons of my life, this is the prism through which I would see him — extremely deliberative, cautious, fair, enlightened. A scientist, a man of reason. Being myself quick to judge, quick to anger, too ready to believe in stupid things, I wanted to be around Dieter on the chance that some of what he had might rub off on me. When I got over my amazement at the essential facts of his life, it would slowly dawn on me that these traits he possessed came to define him not in spite of his experiences but because of them.

For Dieter the war would never be far away for the rest of his life. And he would be vexed by a persistent question: How much of a Nazi had his own father been?

There's Dieter now, sitting in his wingback chair down by the fire, next to the massive ancient cabinet that he uses for storing liquor. He sees me, closes his book, looks over. "Can I interest you in a whiskey?" he says, eyes wide with pleasure. He nods his head as if to say, What'll you have?

The first time I met him was in this room. He was sixty or so then, thick white hair, deep voice, very handsome without a trace of vanity. His English was spoken with a slight accent, as if he had learned to speak it in London. He was loose in his limbs and had an easy grace. I never knew my father to enjoy a whiskey, or a nice fire, or a conversation, or to read a good book, though he would sometimes carry around a small missal in the breast pocket of his shirt. Dad never enjoyed a good laugh, either. I never knew him to turn his head as a beautiful woman walked by.

"How are you, Marcus?" Dieter says as he passes me my drink. It is a simple question, most often not meant to elicit an answer. But Dieter somehow always seems to mean it. "Have you heard from Russ?" Russ is my old friend from Texas, who grew up on the borderland along the Rio Grande, who had over the years become a friend of Dieter's and Christa's, too. We all rafted through the Santa Elena Canyon in the Big Bend together, spending nights camped at the bottom of its sheer fifteen-hundred-foot walls. When you're down there, you're just flecks of stardust in the immense night, and so moved were my in-laws by the blanket of stars you find in remote west Texas that they bought a little adobe house in the Marathon Basin, and before we knew it they were spending half their time in the high desert of my home state.

Out there Dieter was right at home, which is not necessarily the first thing you expect from someone of his accomplishments in Prince-ton. One of the first things I learned about Dieter before we even met was that he was a scientist. "My father is a scientist," Jessica would tell me. Dieter was by then one of the foremost fiber scientists in the world, having won the Olney Medal, which is sort of the Nobel Prize for textile science.

The very next thing I learned about Dieter was to be wary of accepting food from him. If something spoiled in the refrigerator, anybody else in the family would just throw it away, but Dieter would follow right after them, fish it out of the garbage, wash it off, and either eat it himself or feed it to some poor unsuspecting bastard. In this way, a compulsion rooted in horrible wartime privation became a family joke. He would enjoy the joke, too, as he would never think of lecturing us about his hard times. But I have eaten more garbage than I ever meant to, and I have not suffered, which of course instills Dieter's point more than any lecture ever could.

A man doesn't go and announce, I am going to be an example for you, I will show you how to live. He just carries himself through the world. And the most important lessons aren't declared or obvious, but more likely come along in the commonplace.

One time in Marathon, I woke up late, walked out into the backyard, and was immediately hit with an overpowering stench. The sewer pipe had backed up into the yard, and there was Dieter, leaning on a spade, standing ankle deep in shit, laughing.

He saw me, and the look on my face.

In his Jungenschaftsführer uniform, 1942.

"I knew you'd like it!" he said. "You've got to stop and smell the roses sometimes, Marcus." That kind of equanimity was new to me, in terms of fatherly experiences. For my father, this would have been the end, the absolute abyss. Darkness would have descended and never lifted. But when you've already been through the end of the world, not everything is the end of the world.

A few years ago I was working on a book project, and the deadline was crushing me. I hadn't given myself enough time to write, and I was panicking, so I left Jessica and the kids in New York and moved out to Princeton with Dieter for a month, to race the clock. I quickly established a routine of working day and night, and without a word being said, Dieter made himself my twenty-four-hour valet. Every morning as I awoke, he'd bring me a cup of coffee. "Would you like to see the menu?" he'd ask. "Or shall we just have the chef whip up something for you?" If I fell asleep on the couch, he would cover me with a blanket. It was the fall, and every morning he and I would take a walk in the changing colors, and we would talk through the day's writing, and every couple days, Dieter would read pages for me and tell me what he thought.

He knew that I'd given up on my own father, and he looked on me with a kindness for which I was not at all prepared, that it seemed he had been waiting for just this moment to bestow. Sometimes it was almost too much for me to bear. As he made us dinner, he would ask me about my life and say such encouraging things with love and without qualification, and I would look at him and think, Are you real?

Dieter had come to the United States in 1961, telling his family in Europe that he'd be back in two years, but it's just the way of the world that he would stay and raise two American daughters — Jessica and her sister, Stefanie — have American grandchildren, and become an American citizen (at least in part so that he could vote against Ronald Reagan).

Similarly, he began his postdoctoral work at a research institute in Princeton and never left, staying for thirty-five years and becoming one of three senior scientists who ran the institute. When it came time for him to retire, Christa arranged a surprise party for him, and since it was a surprise, Dieter didn't have the chance to prepare anything to say. But at the end of the evening, he stood to address the quiet room. And at the end of his talk, he paused, and began to get emotional. "In closing," he said, "I particularly want to thank Luddy Rebenfeld and Bernie Miller, my Jewish colleagues, who fifteen years after the war welcomed this young German like family. Anyone would have understood if they hadn't done that. But they did. They embraced me. I don't have words to express my gratitude."

It is the great irony of my life that the two essential men in it, my father and my father-in-law, fought against each other in the war. At the end of 1944, at the same time that Dieter manned his machine-gun position in the Alps, my father was at the Battle of the Bulge. It is an even greater irony that the man who would become my father-in-law was on the wrong side. But these two men were on opposite sides of an even larger existential war that rages house to house, family to family, life to life. Each would learn far too young that the world can be exceptionally brutal and utterly indifferent to human suffering. I'll never forget one of the first times they met. It was just after Zeke was born, and my parents came up to meet him. Everyone gathered at the house in Princeton. As my parents arrived, Dieter and Christa greeted them warmly, Dieter shaking my father's hand and embracing my mother. This simple show of affection was too much for my father, by then in his late seventies. He would spend the entire trip saying that he wanted to "punch Dieter's lights out."

Somehow, in spite of it all, Dieter turned the brutality of his early life into its opposite, and created a life of exquisite tenderness. My father would choose instead to — or, more generously, would have no choice but to — pass along the brutality in daily parcels. When my father would make himself an outcast, when he would have everybody wanting to leave him by the side of the road, me most of all, it was Dieter who counseled patience and compassion. "Let it go, Marcus," he'd say. "He's so unhappy that he can't help himself. Don't you be unhappy, too."

Dieter's library and bedroom in Princeton are still filled with books on the Second World War. He became a scholar of its massive movements, its madmen, its heroes, and all its pain and folly. Almost as if to explain himself to himself, almost as if somewhere in all those books, he might find his father.

In the time that I knew him, he set himself to the task of translating the incredible wartime correspondence between his parents — hundreds of letters — from the High German of the Reich into contemporary German. He intended to take the further step of translating them all into English, but he wouldn't live long enough.

May 4, 1942

...I feel physically incredibly healthy and vigorous. My cold has completely disappeared. I find myself mostly in a satisfied disposition, even when I occasionally feel in this bleak landscape an incredible longing for home and to be with you. In the everyday pace here the loathsomeness of war manifests itself with every passing day more distinctly. One hears of hanged or shot Partisans, and in the ranks

of the Jews death strides in, if the accounts are to be believed, a less than pleasing, even a loathsome reality. I cannot go along with that, and find that this will damage the regard for our people....

Hans wrote that letter to Dieter's mother, Jessica's grandmother, Zeke's great-grandmother, on the road between Baranovichi and Barysaw in Belarus. His unit had been on the march to the front since April 9,and, being infantry, Hans would observe, nothing had changed in 150 years — they walked into Russia just like Napoleon, still relying on horses to pull their guns.

Dieter was amazed at the bare fact of this letter's existence — that his father would have risked writing something so potentially perilous, given the strict monitoring of the mails at the time.

In his years of research, Dieter would come to believe that his father, as both an economist and a German nationalist, had been a committed Nazi in that he was a committed socialist, and approved of the vigorous rebuilding of the German economy and state. But it was this letter, in addition to a few others, that gave him some succor that his father wasn't a monster.

He would toil over the letters steadily for a decade or so, until he began to slow a little in the past couple of years, and stacks of them occupied a prominent place on the shelves in the little office he had set up in his bedroom in the house out in the woods in Princeton, next to the books on birds and dogs and sailing and adventure, and the spy novels and biographies and poetry and all the other books and pictures and things that fed an interesting mind.

It was in that room late last summer where he lay propped up on his bed, reading, when I went in to say goodbye, as I was leaving to head back into the city. He closed his book, took off his glasses. By this time, he wasn't getting around easily, and he had very suddenly started looking old. In a month, he would be dead. I leaned down, kissed him on the forehead.

"I love you, Dieter," I said.

"I love you, too, son," he said.

I left Dieter's hospital bed and walked toward Zeke. He was afraid, and who could blame him? He may be five-eight, and this year he will be the same age as Dieter was when he was drafted into the German army, but he is still just a kid. A kid with a deathly fear of zombies who was at that moment seeing his first dead body.

His back turned to me, I wrapped my arms around him. "It's okay, Zeke," I said. "Daddy, I'm all right," he said, fighting to get away. His face was hot and wet. He didn't want me to see that he was crying. I was worried that this was far more gothic than we'd bargained for. Why did we do this?

Slowly, though, after the first wave of blind grief passed, the room changed. The sobbing quieted. The lunatic adults in the room returned to their normal role as Zeke's parents. We sat around the bed, tired now, and started telling stories about the life that had just finished. And then suddenly, there was Zeke, sitting right next to his grandfather.

He leaned in close. "Goodbye, Opa."

That evening, I drove into New York to pick up our daughter, Oona, who is nine. She had been occupied all day at a play date and hadn't yet heard the news. As I told her, she began to cry and immediately said: "Nothing will ever be the same."

The night before had been Oona's birthday sleepover, which had been a lot of fun, but now the frivolity and finality crashed together in her head, and her face was pure anguish. "If I had known that while I was laughing and having fun, Opa was dying, I never would have done it, Daddy!"

Over the next couple of days, Jessica and I both consoled her, telling her that there was no one in all the world who more approved of laughing and having fun than her Opa.

There's a park down the road from the little adobe in Marathon, nestled in the primordial exposed rock of the Ouachita Range. It's called the Post, and the lonely and beautiful stretch of road out to the Post is crawling with wild turkeys and javelinas and the occasional cougar, and from there at night you can see the Milky Way brilliantly. This summer, Dieter will become part of those mountains. It looks nothing at all like Germany.