Monday, August 29, 2005

Where Have All The Families Gone?

Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

My profession allows me the opportunity to interview many individuals, couples and families in the span of a year and, for the past 27 years I have been amazed by the number of people who do not live near their parents or siblings.

There are parents who have moved away from their adult children to take a new job.

There are also the kids who grow up to attend a university, hundreds, if not thousands of miles from home.

Many of these students when they graduate from college tend to go where the new job takes them, even if it means not being near their families or childhood friends.

They may meet and get married to someone who grew up in a completely different part of the country, or someone from another country altogether. They raise their kids in a new location far from their original families and, twenty years later, the cycle begins again.

What happened to the families who stayed together?

In 1919, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a young Army Colonel, traveled from Washington, D.C. across country to San Francisco over dirt roads and across crumbling bridges in support of a national highway system. It took him two months to accomplish this journey.

Today, you can drive it in three to four days, depending on who is driving.

With the advent of modern commercial aviation, a traveler can board an aircraft and make that same trip in three to four hours depending on which direction the wind is blowing. A good tail-wind will certainly shorten the time to your destination.

We also have electronic mail, or email, to convey our thoughts and pictures of our kids to their grandparents and other family members. Even cell phones allow us to keep in touch from great distances.

We live in a different age and families now have the opportunity to spread around the country, if not the world, due to the advanced technology that we now possess.

But, it has distanced us from our families in geographical terms.

For some this may be a blessing. For the rest of us, it creates a sense of sadness and a feeling of alienation from those with whom we shared our lives.

I believe it is most unfortunate for aging parents.

Those parents who devoted twenty or more years to lovingly raising their progeny, only to lose them to vast distances can experience a lonely stage of life.

I recently met a couple in a small group at my church. The wife was lamenting, rightfully so, about her daughter moving to Florida after marrying a young man she had met at a conference in Virginia. Now, her grandkids were being partly raised by her son-in-laws' parents. This is very painful for her knowing that she will never have the opportunity to see her daughter or grandchildren as often as her son-in-laws' parents do.

I also had the opportunity to interview a couple who had four children. When the oldest two were nearing adulthood, the couple decided to move to Indiana from Ohio, taking the younger two and leaving the elder children behind to start their own families.

Now the two youngest of their children are settled into their lives and families in Indiana and this aging couple have two sets of grandkids, one in Ohio and one in Indiana.

Except in very rural areas there is the impression that most parents have great difficulty keeping the family nearby once the kids reach young adulthood. The very time in their lives they could most enjoy the friendship of their off-spring and the pleasures of helping with their grandkids are missing.

As a Christian and a social scientist, I am not sure if there is a remedy to this problem.

Certainly, inculcating the children with family values and the joys of being close to family might help. It could depend on the individual and how important it is to be near family as an intricate part of their social support network.

I believe that many churches are dedicated to the unification and cohesiveness of the family. Church leaders make a great effort to keep families together, thus the proverbial "family which prays together stays together".

Many churches strive to provide marriage enrichment seminars to ward off the ungodliness of divorce.

However, God also gave us the assignment to go out and multiply, to fill the earth with ourselves.

Today, young adults are very much into independence and this will always be a phenomena to be studied by theologians and sociologists.

For aging parents, it sometimes can be a source of sadness and loneliness.

For Seminars to help families, click on Interpersonal Training Institute of Indiana.

Dr. Kersey is a licensed psychologist who has been practicing in Indiana since 1987 and can be reached by email at Or, visit his website at

The Sons of Noah

A Personal Revelation About Father-Son Relationships
Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

My father was a restless, illiterate, hard drinking man who was the third youngest of fourteen children.

As the story goes, his parents were running out of names when he was born so one of his oldest sisters decided to name him Noah. Probably because of this shortage he did not have a middle name.

I never had the chance to know my father very well. He was never around, but I heard stories of him wandering from job to job and from one town to another finding work on farms, driving trucks, or whatever menial job he could find. With a third grade education, the jobs were usually manual labor and he never stayed long.

As a result of this wanderlust, my father was not present for my birth and therefore my maternal grandmother named me after my absent father along with her maiden name. However, to avoid confusion during the rare moments that my father’s name was ever mentioned, I was called by my middle name. It was only when I became a Christian at the age of twenty-one that all my friends decided to call me by my first name and I have now been called Noah for the past thirty-three years. Since I never liked my middle name anyway, I was quite happy to be called by my first name. It means comfort and rest. Something my father never gave to me.

As I was entering into my ninth year of life, my mother decided that I was too much of a burden for her and sent me to live with my wandering father, who at the time was living with one of his oldest sisters in Swainsboro, Georgia. I never held it against my mother. With her poor education, she couldn’t even take care of herself. How could she take care of a small son?

After a few months of living with my father, he also decided that I was too much of a burden as well. However, the real reason for this decision was that he was having an affair with a one-arm married woman and did not have time for the responsibility of raising a son, so he took me out to a highway one night and left me there on the side of the road with a one-way bus ticket to Tampa, Florida. I guess he was hoping that my mother would accept the responsibility of caring for me.

By the time I made it back to Florida, my mother was living with a man who did not want a little boy hanging around so, she turned me away saying she had no means of taking care of me.

I had no place to go so I spent the next six months living in a dumpster, eating out of garbage cans, stealing bread and milk from porches of nearby homes, and begging for handouts on the streets of a Cuban neighborhood known as Ybor City.

Thankfully, God was watching over me. I was eventually found by a social worker who placed me in an orphanage and I was provided an opportunity that I would never have received had my father kept me. I would have been a restless, illiterate, and hard drinking man just like him, instead of having four college degrees and a profession of helping others deal with suffering in their lives.

It was by the grace of God that I not only survived, but thrived in spite of my parent’s neglect.

Now I have three children who are almost grown. One of them is a son who just finished his first year at his university.

When he was born, his mother gave me the privilege of naming him, so I named him Noah Scott. As he was growing up, we always referred to him as Scott or “Scotty” to avoid confusion.

Since high school he has been going by his first name and now everyone calls him “Noah”. Thus the three generations of men named Noah in our family.

As my kids were growing up, I had no clue what a father was suppose to do or be. The only guidelines I had was what I wanted in a father as a little boy and young man. I so badly craved having a father I would gladly given anything just to have an older man take an interest in me.

Being a movie buff, I was also strongly influenced by the “father-figures” in such classic movies as “Les Miserables”, like the Bishop who saved Jean Valjean from a life of harshness and cruelty by his incredible act of kindness.

I was an attentive father. When I was not in classes working on my graduate degrees or, later, helping people in my practice, I was home playing with my kids, or making things for them.

We had joyous times, especially Scott and I. It wasn’t that I loved him more, it’s just that he and I shared more things in common. He was very bright and liked doing some of the same things I enjoyed. But, more importantly, he favored me over anyone else. He was definitely a “daddy’s boy” and wanted to be with me all the time. However, since I loved all three of my kids equally, I tried very hard to not show any favoritism. I played with my oldest son as well as my daughter and provided all three with my time, attention and affection. In my heart, I knew I was born to be their father.

However, Scott spoiled me. He always chose to be with me. He made me feel like a “hero” because he shared my hobbies as he was growing up and we made special trips together even though I tried to make the same efforts with my other kids. I knew they enjoyed me being their father but they did not have an exhuberance for me the way Scott did.

Scott and I had many wonderful adventures together and, he always seemed grateful to have a devoted father who was typically at his disposal, a buddy, an affectionate, playful father who taught him many things as he was growing up. We even traveled to Spain for an international karate tournament where he earned a silver medal and assisted the U.S. team to an overall championship. There are too many adventures and fun things that Noah Scott and I did to mention here but, they were the greatest years of my life.

However, there is an interesting ending to this story.

A couple of years ago I heard that my father was dying of emphysema and lung cancer which was spreading throughout his chest. He was within weeks or days of dying in a hospital somewhere in South Georgia.

Even though I did not feel any obligation to my father after a lifetime of neglect, I still felt something. I wasn’t sure what it was until I realized that he might not accept Christ as his Savior and I would never see him in heaven.

I quickly started doing research on the internet to find a minister nearby to go to my father’s bedside to witness to him and to urge him to accept Christ before he died. However, before I could find someone, I heard silent words in my head “Do not send a stranger to do what a son can do”. Needless to say, this rattled me to “hear” these words.

I immediately discussed it with my wife, but no conclusion came from this conversation because she knew it would be hard for me to call him and try to witness to a man who never cared enough to be my father.

Again, as I walked down the hall to my office I heard the words “Do not send a stranger to do what a son can do”.

Suddenly I realized that God was trying to tell me that my father may not respond to a stranger, even though a minister, to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ which would save him from eternal separation from God.

Nervously, I picked up the phone and dialed the number I had already found from my internet search. I called the cancer unit and asked for my father explaining that I was his son. They connected me and he answered, sounding weak but fairly alert.

We spoke for a while and when I mentioned that I wanted to thank him for leaving me on the side of that highway so many years before, he did not believe me. I told him that I really meant it from the bottom of my heart and went on to explain that, had he or my mother kept me, I would never have finished elementary school. Because of their selfish act of abandoning their son, they allowed God to provide for me so that I could go on to become a Christian, earn four college degrees, and to become a professional psychologist to help others who were struggling in their lives, relationships and spirituality.

He finally accepted this and I think it even made him realize that maybe he really did do something right even though by societal standards, he was a neglectful, absent father.

Next, I mentioned to him that I had never asked anything of him in my entire life. He agreed. I told him I had a request of him now that he was facing his death in a matter of days.

I could sense from his voice that he was a bit hesitant, not sure of what I would be asking of him. Nevertheless, he said “okay”.

What I said next was that I wanted to be able to see him again someday. I conveyed that the only way I would be able to do this is for him to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I doubted that he had never heard the gospel before, but I still asked him if he knew what this meant. I went on to review the steps it took for him to be able to have eternal life.

When I stopped, he was silent. Those few moments seemed like hours, but he finally said “yes”. I felt relieved and asked if I could pray for him at that very moment. Again, he said “yes”.

I prayed with him for several minutes asking that he would truly, from the heart, accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. At the end of the prayer, I asked if he would, and he said “yes”. Still a bit skeptical about a man who never could be trusted to be a father to me, I asked him again just to make sure. He responded, “I do”.

I told him “thank you” and we talked a bit longer and then I said my final goodbye.

A few days later, I received word that he passed away in his sleep. I felt sad and grieved for a short while but also felt better knowing that I had given up my quest to ask a stranger to do what God had intended only for me to do. He knew that my father might never listen to someone he did not know, but a son he had abandoned so long ago might be able to reach him.

It was a relief to know I had done the right thing and, it felt good to have forgiven my father.

I am glad I listened to that silent voice.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

The 4 Habits of Highly Effective Relationships

Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

Being highly effective in a relationship requires certain qualities in a person.

Scripture instructs, as in 1 Peter 4:8 to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”. The Bible is replete with descriptions and lessons of love but, why do people continue to fail?

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once said that relationships fail because of “selfishness” and “immaturity”, explaining why so many marriages end in divorce.

Couples tend to marry young, and before they have a chance to know themselves and to learn many of life’s lessons about self-esteem, love and relationships.

Over a twenty-seven year period of therapeutic work with individuals and couples, watching some fail and others succeed, a factor analysis was calculated, attempting to understand what were the characteristics and behaviors, or “habits” of people who were highly effective in their relationships.

These habits are learned patterns of behaviors from parents, or primary care givers, as children grow up. Most individuals perform an unconscious “re-enactment” of what is observed from others to replicate them as adults in their current relationships.

There are four basic habits a person must demonstrate to be successful in relationships.

The first habit is Generosity.

Generous individuals learn and demonstrate kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness, and courtesy for others. They also know love as an attitude, thinking about the welfare of others as Christ taught us in Matthews 19:19 “to love your neighbor as yourself”. Love is also a behavior; it is what we do.

Generous people understand that love requires making sacrifices for others. The greatest example of this is indicated in John 3:16, when God sacrificed His son, so that we may know eternal life.

Those who possess the habit of generosity also know how to forgive. They understand that to let go of hatred, resentment and anger is to be free from evil.

The second habit is Maturity.

As individuals develop over time, they acquire greater maturity when they learn to be self-aware. Lacking this characteristic prevents a person from knowing how they are affecting others.

Self-discipline is another component of maturity. An adult should be able to meet the demands of reality in order to function at his or her highest level, as well as to meet the expectations of those who depend on them.

In a healthy relationship, a mature person will also will take responsibility for their own actions. The initial response a person makes in any given situation is to ask themselves “what did I do to contribute to this problem?”.

Mature people are patient people. They understand that the ability to suffer delayed gratification is to know the true purpose of time, and that is, so that every thing does not have to happen all at once.

The third habit is Trust.

Having faith in others and being trustworthy is an essential element of a healthy relationship.

A person should not only trust themselves but be discerning in knowing how to trust others. Most importantly, having faith in God allows us to be comfortable living in this world. Psalms 28:7-8 suggests that trusting in the Lord brings peace to the heart.

Trust not only requires communicating, but it requires a specific type of communication. It should be regular in frequency, effective in its clarity and conciseness, as well as honest. Do not leave out information another person would want to know and do not bear false witness.

Additionally, trust necessitates reliability. People need to know they can depend on you. Be consistent. Do what you say you’re going to do and be where you say you’re going to be.

The fourth habit is Empathy.

There are two types of empathy. Cognitive empathy allows you to visualize what someone is saying or experiencing, and leads to a greater understanding of another person. Emotional empathy allows you to feel what someone is feeling.

What occurs in a relationship should be guided by understanding and feeling what others experience, helping you to connect in such a way that you would not hurt the other person.

The key to being highly effective in relationships is to develop healthy habits of being generous and mature in your approach to others as well as being trusting and trustworthy. Your connection with others will be stronger by being able to empathize with another person’s feelings and understanding their point of view.

When these habits are formed, and they consistently become a part of your character, you will, without a doubt, be highly effective in all your relationships whether at home, work, or in your church.

Dr. Kersey is a licensed psychologist and has been practicing in Indiana since 1987. You may email him at or visit his website at

Learn more about healthy relationships by signing up for our SEMINARS.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Until Death Do Us Part

The Sacred Oath
Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

It's a bit disturbing to talk with engaged couples to hear all the various reasons why they choose to marry.

What many will not admit is that, sometimes, they are more in love with the "idea" of marriage than they are in love with the person they are about to marry.

Let's examine this process from a physiological perspective.

When two people meet and begin their courtship they typically evaluate the relationship from their five senses. They might like how the person looks, how they smell, how they feel when they touch and so on. Then, they evaluate how the other person behaves in a variety of situations.

All this information is first affecting the brain centers that control our emotions. This area is called the "limbic system" and we find ourselves "excited" and "light-headed" and our heart beats faster when we are in the courtship and early stage of marriage. At some point during the first seven years of being together, our perception of the person shifts from the emotional centers of our brain ultimately to the logical, cortical areas.

The cerebral cortex is where reason and logic prevail. We no longer feel the pounding of our hearts, and the lightness of our senses, but realize that we have overlooked a lot about our mate because we were so joyous and thrilled about the wedding ceremony and just being "married".

To use a business concept, but still apropos, the couple are in the "marketing phase" of their relationship. Each is trying to get the other person to like them and, eventually, to love them. They are, in effect, putting their "best foot forward" trying to make the "sale", which is the wedding itself.

After the honeymoon is over reality sets in. Dealing with the every day stresses of life is not all the fun that we experienced earlier in the relationship, especially when children come along and the wife is not quite as amorous as she was during the first year of marriage, and the husband decreases being as romantic and attentive.

Now the focus is on careers and the daily routines that tire them. The couple cannot maintain the same level of energy they originally put into the marketing phase of the relationship and now that the "sale" has been made, they find themselves in the "service phase" of the relationship.

In the service phase of marriage, both the husband and wife are still expecting whatever was promised in the marketing phase but they, instead, experience disappointment.

The couple is surprised and disappointed that their mate is not delivering on the promises, whether implied or spoken, they had made during the courtship. This is when marital problems begin to occur, and the arguments increase.

In time, some couples feel like they were duped and experience a great deal of anger in the relationship and even think about divorce. This is when they tend to forget their marriage vows of "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part".

It's not "until we do not feel like doing it any more". It's until death do us part.

As Christians, we need to take our vows seriously to be pleasing to God. A healthy marriage requires mutual respect, genuine commitment, good communication, as well as time and effort.

It takes a realistic assessment of what we promised our mate in the marketing phase of the relationship when all our perceptions of that person was in the emotional centers of our brain and whether we are fulfilling those promises, or the oath we made during the wedding ceremony.

It also requires an evaluation of whether we are making good on those commitments in the service phase when our view of our mate is now in the logical, reason-oriented areas of our brain.

Marital problems and differences are resolved through forgiveness: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" [Ephesians 4:32].

Hopefully, this should be a clear message for those who are in the dating, or marketing, phase of their relationship. Be sure you are willing to deliver the "services" you are promising in the courtship.

For additional information about our Marriage Enrichment Seminar click HERE.

Dr. Kersey is a licensed psychologist and has been practicing in Indiana since 1987. You may email him at or visit his website at