The Toxic Parent Quiz

(Warning: Brutal Honesty Ahead)

I have severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): things-must-be-placed-“correctly” OCD, “Don’t touch that!” OCD, I-rarely-leave-the-house OCD, I-rattle-doorknobs OCD, and I-often-despise-myself OCD. But I did not kidnap the Lindbergh baby, I did not shoot JFK, I did not vote for Trump, and I did not ruin the Star Wars franchise by making The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

In other words, don’t lay the bad things that happen in this going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket world at the feet of my mental disorder. And don’t blame me for your baggage, your issues, your mistakes, and your miserable life. Yes, certain family member, I’m talking to you.

Newsflash: If you want to see the person who makes my wife cry, scream, and curse after she hangs up the phone because you have bullied her into silence and frightened her into pretending everything is fine, take a hard look in the mirror. Take an even harder look in that mirror if you want to see the person who my wife has had to parent since she was just your little girl. Go ahead and tell her again that she should have married someone else, that I was the reason she didn’t visit you when our son was a baby, and that your relationship is a mess because of me. Borrowing a quote about you from my wife, I say, “You’re batshit crazy.”

Another newsflash: Of the 100 times she’s called you, 99 of them were because I, holding the cordless handset, asked her if she should call you. And if you think her visits to see you were her idea, think again.

Ironic, isn’t it?

And that irony begs at least two questions: Why did I encourage my wife to stay in touch with you? and Are you a toxic parent?

The first question is easy to answer and a poor reflection on my ignorance of the nitty-gritty of my wife’s childhood. I wasted so much time projecting my feelings about my relationships with my own, divorced parents onto my wife’s “relationship” with you. Even though I’m grown, I still need my parents in my life . . . in different ways than when I was little, but I miss them terribly, living far away from each of them as I do. I had a hard time believing that my wife has wanted little, if anything, to do with you since before I met her. So I nudged and hinted, but it has been painfully obvious for several years now that my wife’s old scars are still very painful and that you are hell-bent on injecting guilt and heartbreak into her life as you make everything about you. So, I’m not going to hand my beautiful lady the phone any more or encourage her to visit you. That batshit is over.

Answering the second question requires help from Holly Chavez, a freelance writer, journalist, entrepreneur, and woman I have never met. In her article, “13 Signs Of A Toxic Parent That Many People Don’t Realize,” which is available here, she presents 13 situations. I re-formed those situations into a quiz, which my wife took regarding your behavior. After answering yes to 12 of the 13 questions, her conclusion was clear: You are a toxic parent.

For the readers of this post who would like to take my Toxic Parent Quiz, whether about themselves, their parents, or others who touch their lives, here it is:

(Substitute the pronoun “she” to fit the particular situation.)

Does she provide you with affirmation and security?
Is she overly critical?
Does she demand your attention?
Does she make toxic “jokes” about you?
Does she cause you to justify terrible behavior?
Does she not allow you to express negative emotions?
Does she scare even you, her adult child?
Does she always put her feelings first?
Does she co-opt your goals?
Does she use money and guilt to control you?
Does she give you the silent treatment?
Does she ignore healthy boundaries?
Does she make you responsible for her happiness?

For explanations of the 13 situations, as well as suggestions on how to manage toxic persons, click over to Holly Chavez’s article, “13 Signs Of A Toxic Parent That Many People Don’t Realize.” (Source:

Of course, no parent is perfect. No child is perfect. And none of us is entitled to perfection when it comes to family. But imperfection is not toxicity, and at some point it’s ridiculously unhealthy, emotionally speaking, not to distance yourself from that toxic someone or to remove him or her from your life. Easier said than done, I know, but you must try.

I have no doubt that if my mother-in-law created some sort of Loving Daughter or Son-in-law Quiz, my wife and I would fail it with flying colors. We’re both okay with that. What we’re not okay with is the 92.3% (12/13 X 100) chance of regretting answering the phone. At least for now, there’s a 0% chance of that.

Ain’t call blocking great?

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A Spectral Pooch

Our first ghost tour was chilly—Asheville, North Carolina, still digging out from a heavy snow, nighttime, a few days before Christmas 2010. The tour was also predictable—tall (and short) tales, strange happenings with a “ghost meter” and a pair of divining rods, and digital photos containing orbs of various colors and sizes. When the tour was over, we thanked our guide and headed back to the hotel to thaw our frozen and dubious smiles and to click through the photos.

Still unsure what to believe, the next day we printed the photos of the orbs, which caused a stir with friends and family when we got home to Virginia: “Those are camera artifacts”…“I see a face in that one”…“You know you’re crazy, right?”

I didn’t give much thought to the other photos until after the holidays, when, studying the pics on my laptop, I found something, well, extraordinary. What it is was a matter of debate when the photo made the rounds on the Internet nearly six years ago, but several facts are indisputable: (1) my wife took two photos of the spot (and nearly every spot, at the suggestion of the tour guide) for comparison, and the “ghost dog” appears in only one of them; (2) there was no living, breathing dog at the location; (3) we did not alter, enhance, etc., the photos in any way; and (4) the spot was memorable to us as “dog people” because the tour guide believed that a pet was buried under the nearby tree.

Here are the two photos. You decide.



Another Rejection, but I’m Still Writing

“Dear Tony,

The judges have chosen the stories for [title omitted], and your story, “The Queen,” was not one of the stories selected. This is not a judgment on you, or even on your writing, but simply a result of the fact that these particular judges, this particular year, did not choose your story.

I encourage you to keep writing and submitting. This very year, we had an author resubmit an entry that was not chosen last year. Rather than give up, the author went back, revised the story to fit this year’s theme, looked for ways to improve the story, and resubmitted it. This year, it was selected.

I am a writer myself, so I know getting an email like this never feels good, but I do congratulate you on having the courage to complete a piece of writing and put it up for judging. Many, many writers never get that far.

Best of luck with all your endeavors,

[name omitted]”


Although rejection hurts and sucks, it gives you a much-needed thick skin.

Here’s my short story. I hope you enjoy it.

But even if you don’t, I’m still gonna keep writing.



As far as Tori was concerned, she and her father had been “managing just fine, thank you very much,” but Daddy had let “that nag” wheedle herself into the family, anyway. It had all happened in a flash, and all of it had been flashy: the ring, the invitations, the dress, the nighttime beach wedding, the reception. What Regina wants, Regina gets.

A rare exception was the delayed honeymoon, but even that had helped her get her way. Despite the builder’s polite discouragement, she had often dropped in unannounced on the new house—a project begun in the bittersweet year prior to Regina’s arrival—and ordered changes costing thousands of dollars.

Her stamp on the brick-accented bungalow had been heaviest in the hallway, a now bright and glamorous space thanks to a skylight, modern light fixtures, and luxurious purple carpeting.

But not even the densest carpet padding could hush Regina’s footfalls as she stormed toward her stepdaughter’s bedroom. She pushed the door open. “7 o’clock,” she crowed.

As she had done every morning since graduation, Tori pretended to be asleep.

“Playing possum again, huh?” Regina asked, arms akimbo, her shadow stretching into the room. “Well, you are an annoying and unpleasant creature that’s out all night.” Her shadowy hands lifted off her hips and wrung her new daughter’s neck.

Tori smiled inwardly as she listened to Regina try to find the light switch.

“Screw that,” she said, annoyed by what seemed to be a prank. She marched to the bed and jerked the duvet off Tori. “7 o’clock,” she repeated even more shrilly.

The teenaged lump was unresponsive.

“Rise and shine.”

An exaggerated sigh and a crack of the toes.

“Get up, Tori.”

Only Daddy and my girls call me that, the nineteen-year-old wanted to insist. You can call me Victoria.

Regina kicked the latest shoe trends under the bed and headed for the window. “High school’s over, and this ‘dance’ we’ve been doing ends today.” She yanked the curtains and blind open.

Sunrise had melted into morning, and eager rays struck the dark circles under Tori’s eyes. She pulled the sheet over her head.

“No, ma’am,” Regina snarled, stripping the covers off the bed. “If you can’t drag yourself off the beach before 2:00 a.m., then you’re gonna have to go to class tired.”

The beach closes at 1:00, not 2:00, clueless nag.

“You had two choices…and chose college.” She eyed Tori’s pageant sashes and tiaras. “I guess getting a real job was beneath you.”

Tori cracked her toes again.

Regina slapped them in disgust. “If it were up to me, you’d be out of my house altogether,” she said snottily.

Your house? Tori sneered. Daddy bought and laid each brick.

“Daddy” was a mason whose public face was as hard as his private one was soft. Steady work on a “fresh start in a brand new house” had gotten him through the grief of losing his wife to cancer. Tori used to sneak inside the old place while it was on the market, until the odor of fresh paint killed the scent of the woman who had made it a home—coconut milk body wash and light vanilla-lemon perfume.

Regina, however, smelled like a hair and nail salon. “I would have kicked you out right after graduation, like my parents did me.”

Even they couldn’t stand you.

Regina inched along the side of the bed. “But, of course, your father let you stay,” she huffed, jerking the down pillows off Tori. “Going to Wilmington University here in Rehoboth was your choice, so don’t blame me because you didn’t realize their summer classes start at 8:00.” She stared at Tori’s perfect skin before stomping over to the desk. “You’re just lucky those classes aren’t for credit, with all the times you’ve been late.” She rapped her gold-glittered fingernails on a new tablet. “But you being tardy stops now.” She tossed Tori’s backpack on the bed and then fumbled with her MP3 player, turning up a now “uncool” tune until the docking station’s speakers crackled. “I won’t tell you again to get up.”

Then don’t, nag.

“I mean it,” Regina insisted as she strutted toward the door.

Tori lay in wait with one eye open. Do it; I dare you.

Yesterday morning, before slouching off to her “Writing Your Memoirs” class—“who wants to read your life story?” Regina had scoffed—Tori’s spitefulness had trumped her brattiness.

After lazily attending to each of her toenails, she had used the file to back out the screws on “that thing that covers the light switch.” And then last night, before collapsing into bed, she had collaged the wall with fashion magazine pages using rhinestone tacks. Like the models, Tori was a rail-thin fashion plate, but only her ears were pierced; she was saving a more shocking piercing for when her new mother really pissed her off.

“You better not be in that bed when I come back,” Regina declared, groping for the switch under the magazine pages.

Tori opened the other eye.

The payoff came quickly.

“You don’t wanna be in that bed when I—”

Regina tore the pages off the wall and clicked the light on. She glared at the exposed screw heads, at her chipped manicure, and then at Tori.

Victoria smiled. Gold digger.


Food for Thought That May Cause Choking: Volume 1

(Your feedback is welcome.)


Americans are arrogant, impatient, wasteful, and violent.

At the heart of every issue are money, sex, and religion in varying degrees.

24-hour news and sports networks do more harm than good.

Imagination has died, and no one seems to care.

Your parents probably did the best they could, so stop blaming them for everything.

Bridges to your family are the first things to burn when you set the world on fire.

Until 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that states could maintain militias for their defense, not grant “an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” (District of Columbia et al v. Heller, No. 07-290, Argued March 18, 2008—Decided June 26, 2008)

An “I Voted” sticker is a badge of delusion that perpetuates a broken system populated by local, state, and federal representatives who do not care about those who elected them.

That pets are considered property in the eyes of the law is ridiculous.

Using Windows 10’s Automatic Update is like doing a prostate self exam with a thick, dry thumb with an unclipped fingernail. My next laptop will be a Mac.