Portraits and Tributes

Gerald Frank, DC – A Tribute

It’s the week after Thanksgiving and I’m taking a much needed break to rest and rejuvenate.  I’ve been extremely busy for several months now.  So, I’m spending time in the sun preparing physically and emotionally for the upcoming holiday season. December is usually a painful and difficult time for my patients, with their often less-than-ideal memories and experiences of family togetherness.

This week, I’ve dipped into my article archive to pay tribute to a real giant in my life – Dr. Gerald Frank, DC, my therapist, mentor, doctoral advisor, and friend.  Gerry passed away almost 20 years ago.  What he gave me was invaluable and I miss him still.

My Giant – Dr. Gerald Frank

Everyone needs “giants” in their life, people they can look up to and who embody the character and values to which they aspire.  There have been several giants in my life, but the greatest of them all was Dr. Gerry Frank, a Reichian psychotherapist, chiropractor, and my doctoral studies supervisor.

Gerry saw that I needed to be redirected and healed from old emotional wounds.  He took me under his wing and helped me understand the value of going through pain and suffering.  He kept me going when I wanted to quit.

He also showed me something else that I didn’t understand yet, the value of authority.  Because of my past, I always thought that authority was terrible, abusive, and oppressive.  I had a real chip on my shoulder about it.  The irony of it was that I was becoming an authority myself.  And it was very hard to be a good one with my attitude. 

Gerry Frank was a very strong man and I needed him to be.  He had a lot of opinions, a lot of skills and abilities, and a lot of character, which he encouraged in me.  He helped my take my aggressiveness, anger, and, unfortunately, belligerence, and turn them into something positive and useful for helping other people.

He taught me how to help by coming alongside others.  He also taught me that real strength wasn’t walking around as though I was wearing a suit of armor, acting like a tough guy, which was only part of an image.

Gerry showed me that real strength was having the ability to cry and the ability to be soft, tender, and compassionate as well, to not be ashamed of that side of myself and to trust myself.

I learned from him that there will be times for power, strength, and aggressiveness, which I had plenty of, and times for compassion, vulnerability, softness, and tears.  He taught me to really understand my fellow man and myself.

He had, and continues to have, an enormous effect on my life.  Thank you, Gerry, for everything you did for me and my family.

Pink Ribbons

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and this year I’m particularly “aware” of this devastating disease and its potential toll of pain and suffering.  Many dearly loved women are battling breast cancer with the support of family and friends, but one holds a very special place in my heart – my mother, Pauline Bernstein.

Last July at a routine check-up, my mother’s doctor found a small lump in one of her breasts.  Lumpectomy surgery was scheduled, mom went in for the procedure, and some of her breast tissue was sent in for biopsy.  I was able to take time off from work to visit mom in Florida just after she returned home from the hospital.  My wife, Lynn, and I shared a precious week with my mother helping her recover.  The biopsy results were positive; the lump the doctors removed contained cancer cells.

Mom’s prognosis is good, however.  Her cancer is not particularly invasive and the doctors believe they removed it all.  They predict that, at age 83, breast cancer will not be the cause of her death.  She will begin a series of radiation treatments this month and her spirits are high.

This major event in my mom’s life gave us a chance to see both the best and the worst in her.  In the beginning, when she first heard that she could have breast cancer, she was really worried and started feeling terrified.  She was afraid of being disfigured by a mastectomy and feeling weak and sick from chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

When her cancer turned out to not be as severe as she feared, however, and she learned that there was hope, she began handling herself just fine.  She began to do more than cope – she went on with her life.   She started looking into some of the effects of radiation and preparing herself for the process.  She knows the radiation treatments will tire her but she’s also taking care not to get too far ahead of herself and too distressed trying to predict how her recovery will go.  She’s made the smart decision to stay informed without knowing too many details, because they could trigger her fears.

Mom and I recognize this time as a valuable opportunity for us to grow closer. It’s also an opportunity for me to see my mother’s strength and how well she copes with difficulties.  I see how different she is now in her advanced age than when she was younger, how she doesn’t allow the spirit of fear to consume her for too long.  She’s determined to make the best of what she’s facing.  She has achieved a measure of maturity and grace that touches me, because I know so intimately about her difficult childhood and troubled life as a young wife and mother.

I also see an amazing thing, that she’s not afraid of death.  She looks at her situation as “whatever God wants, that’s what it’ll be”.  In her perspective, there are many people who are a lot worse off than she is.  Her positive attitude and resilience are inspiring.

The last few months have given me another chance to see the good side of aging.  I see more and more clearly my mother’s wisdom from experience and her appreciation of life today.  She cares a lot about other people, she doesn’t just focus on herself, and a lot of people care about her.  It’s a very sweet time for all of us to reconnect, a real opportunity and blessing coming out of pain and difficulty.  Through it all, we’re hoping and praying for the best.

Vaya Con Dios, Mando

Armando Maliano

Armando Maliano

This week marks the retirement of my long-time friend and colleague, Armando Maliano.  I know him as Mando, as do so many other people in the treatment community of Sonoma and Marin counties.  Like Norm’s entrance into the bar on the old sitcom “Cheers”, someone would invariably sing out “Mando!” when we attended local meetings of professionals in the addiction field.

Mando got his start in the glory days of family therapy in Marin County, working at and then heading up the Family Therapy Institute of Marin.  He trained with such luminaries in the field as Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir.

I met Mando at Centerpoint, a drug and alcohol treatment program in San Rafael.  I was the young, newly-appointed clinical director and I had almost as many problems as the people I was trying to help.  As a consultant and former director of the program, Mando came alongside me as an older man and a mentor and directed me as far as he could at that time.  Later, when I left Centerpoint, we set up a private practice together in Larkspur.  Mando and I have worked together on and off since that time, almost 40 years ago.

Two years ago, at age 78, Mando earned his certificate in Drug and Alcohol Studies from the University of California at Berkeley Extension.  Since then, he has worked closely with me at our institute as head of our Addiction Recovery Team.  He has set a great example for me and my staff – almost 40 years of successful recovery from alcohol and heroin addiction, and the determination that it’s never too late in life to set new goals and accomplish them.  I have deeply appreciated his contribution to and support for my work.

Now Mando is off to Tryon, North Carolina, a beautiful part of the United States and a far cry from his rough beginnings on the streets of San Francisco, working for the gangs.  He plans to scale back his practice to occasional mentoring work.  He will semi-retire, and I think he’s being very smart about the “semi” part.  The death rate statistics for men within two years after retirement are alarmingly high.  I firmly believe that we all need to work and be productive, to whatever level we are capable, and must do so in order to maintain our emotional, mental, and physical health.

As a tribute to Mando, I’d like to quote from one of the papers he wrote as part of his studies at UC Extension titled, “Our Primitive Brain: The Force Behind the Relapsing Addict”.  Mando speaks with the voice of experience:

“Given the difficult challenge of recovery, what do addicts need?  They need understanding of their addiction on the physical level: how it works.  They need to know that they are going to relapse if they do not learn different coping skills from the ones which got them into addiction/relapse.  They need to respect the power of the primitive brain’s hold on them that seeks instant gratification.  They need to understand their plan of recovery and not have health care professionals discount that road to recovery.  They need to reach out for help and trust that help.”

“What do drug addiction counselors need in order to help the addict recover and not relapse?  They need more education about the neuroscience of addiction.  They need to be better educated about relapse, since relapse is almost a given.  They need to build their professional ethics, skills, and integrity in order to present this information credibly to the addict without pushing them away or scaring them.  They need to be able to teach the addict to say, ‘Good-bye to the high!’”

Vaya con dios, Mando mi amigo, y gracias.  I wish you the best, always.