“Love, and do what you will” -St. Augustine
“Man is asked to make of himself what he is supposed to become to fulfill his destiny.” —Paul Tillich
“Well-being is only possible once one has overcome one’sNarcissism; to the degree to whichone is fully awake and empty.Well-being means to be fully born, to become what one potentially is.” —Erich Fromm
MY MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS WERE FRENCH, BUT THEY LIVED IN LOS ANGELES; MY PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS LIVED IN FORT WORTH, TEXAS.I enjoyed visiting them during my summer vacations.Grandfather Staude took me fishing in his boat. I WAS LUCKY. I GOT TO KNOW ALL FOUR OF THEM WHEN I WAS A CHILD. NOT EVERYONE CAN SAY THAT!
My French grandfather, Lucien, was bedridden much of the time when I knew him at the end of his life, but he loved to bounce me on his lap and tell me stories about his youth in France. My mother’s mother Marguerite, Sr. was a snob, cold and aloof. She rejected me on the grounds, she said, that she didn’t like being around noisy small children like me.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BOTH OF MY GRANDFATHERS, PLUS MY ADMIRATION FOR MY MOTHER WHO STAYED CREATIVE INTO HER EIGHTIES, MAY HAVE SOWN THE SEEDS THAT LATER SPROUTED INTO MY INTEREST IN GERONTOLOGY AND GETTING A Ph.D. IN PSYCHOLOGY OF AGING IN MY FIFTIES.
My father was a Texan (born in Fort Worth in 1910) who moved to L.A. in the thirties looking for work during the Great Depression. He sold men’s clothing in a department store by day, and wrote feature stories for the Fort Worth paper by night to make enough money to pay the rent.
One evening he went out to interview a rising star sculptress, Marguerite Brunswig, who became my mother, (but not from his seed) after they fell in love at first sight and got married a year therafter.
Lucien had become very wealthy creating a flourishing medical drug business in New Orleans, and he replicated that achievement in Los Angeles Phoenix and Tucson, San Diego and San Francisco.
My mother, Marguerite Brunswig, was born in 1899 in New Orleans, but her dad, my grandfather Lucien Brunswig, was already in his sixties when Marguerite came along, so as soon as she was old enough to travel in 1902 he sold his drug business, retired, and returned to France, where he had originated.He and the family rented an apartment in PARIS and remained there in France for four years only returning to the states in 1906. At that point my grandfather moved the entire family (3 other girls and a boy) to Los Angeles, where my mother (and later I) grew up.
On West Adams, a rich area near the Wilshire District in LA he had built for himself a large mansion like Downton Abbey, with over twenty rooms, including—besides the usual bedrooms, kitchen, parlor and dining room—a ballroom, a library, a chapel, and a fencing room—fencing was one of his hobbies. On either side of the mansion’s front steps, where I used to play, were a giant lion made of stone, which I used to love to ride!
After she grew up, my mother (Marguerite) escaped from Southern California Society which bored her,and enrolled in an art school in Mexico City, where she studied sculpting and lost her virginity to a fellow student,who regularly stole money from her handbag to buy food for his wife and kids.When she discovered this, she broke up with him. He broke her heart. But I guess she missed the warmth of his embraces, because after she returned to LA after a year in Mexico she became romantically involved with another Mexican in LA, Carlos del Prado, who unexpectedly became my father.
They never married, and her father would not have approved had she asked because: (1) Carlos was a Mexican and rich American bourgeois in Southern Californiain those days found it unthinkable to marry a Mexican and (2) Lucien wanted her to marry a French aristocrat, and kept introducing them to her whenever he ran across one, but she was not interested.
To conceal her pregnancy from her family Marguerite broke offer relationship with Carlos and moved to Manhattan, where she proceeded to study aesthetics and art history with one of the leading artist historians of the day, Leo Katz, who also was a very talented portrait painter, much in demand in New York.
Marguerite was impatient to rid herself of the unwanted baby inside her; so she found a quack doctor to induce the birth process in her womb two months early. It worked, but after I was born I had to spend my first few weeks on earth in an enormous incubator, as if I was a baby chick.
After she had completed her art history course, and I was stable enough to travel, with some trepidation Marguerite took the Santa Fe Super Chief back to Los Angeles. She managed to get through Central Station and go on to a small bungalow that she had rented for me by long distance phone from New York.
However, she was unable to maintain her secret for long, because Lucien soon received a hospital bill from the Manhattan Hospital in the post.
Lucien was ambivalent in the way he confronted his miscreant daughter about my concealed existence, for he admired her courage and was actually surprisingly proud of her.
After a few months, my mother decided that it was inconvenient to have a baby on her hands when she wanted to travel and to concentrate on her art; so she deposited me at a dude ranch in Victorville–Rancho Yucca Loma–where I spent my early years. There I bonded with Gwen Behr the proprietor of the dude ranch, who was like a mother to me.
After Marguerite married Tony Staude in late 1938, and had settled down with him in Hollywood, she and her new husband drove out to my desert refuge in a fancy Buick convertible, to collect me one afternoon and bring me back to their new home. I cried all the way there grieving the loss of the woman who I perceived to be my real mom, GWEN. I guess my mother didn’t understand anything about how important a solid unbroken attachment to a mother figure is to an infant.
My mother was an artist, with little understanding of a maternal responsibilities, but when I grew older she did teach me to appreciate art and literature. Here is a poem I recently wrote expressing my childhood perception of her. I call it In the Studio
I sat with my feet in the sink watching her unconcerned that my shoes were slowly getting wet from the tapwater, while Mother carved away excess pieces of clay from her sculpture.
When the clock struck four, I began to wonder if Mother really cared, if she really cared, if I was there. She was so absorbed in her work; I felt she had forgotten all about me.
One day she gave me a lump of clay of my own to mould, to penetrate, to caress and to fondle. It was not bread, or milk, or honey, or fruit, but in my hands it became an imaginary companion into whom I could pour out my pain and longing.
“Make of it what you will,” she said, repeating to me the New Testament stories of the prodigal son and the unreliable servant, who squandered his money and wasted his talents.
That was her way: always moralizing. I felt both angry and grateful towards her, admiring her dedication to her art, but wanting more dedication to me. It is so difficult to be the son of an artist.
Mother died more than thirty years ago. Her heart just gave out, and she collapsed. I was not there, but I was devastated by the news, and flew home from Rome, where I then lived, to participate in her funeral services where she lived in her later years with her faithful spouse, Tony Staude, my stepfather, in Big Sur, California.
And what of that timid little boy I once was? I feel like crying whenever I remember my childhood. Like in the poem “Little Boy Blue,” I was that abandoned little wooden soldier who was thoughtlessly left behind, standing alone. She had abandoned me many times before, but when she died, it was permanent.
There was no way to go back home after that. The only option was to take the plunge and choose sanity over depression and move forward into the adulthood I had always succeeded in avoiding despite my inner pain.
“She will live on in my memory,” I thought to myself, identifying with her to avoid facing the loss of my Mom. “I will become an artist and explore many media, turning nothings into somethings to fill my emptiness, just like she did,” I said to myself.
But this never really worked. Soon enough, the magic wore off, and I was alone again with that monstrous hole gnawing at my entrails, prompting me to think of joining her in death hoping to meet her in Heaven.
“Can I ever outgrow Mother as my main reference point? Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life entangled and enmeshed in her life, as the little jewel she sported in her crown?” I wondered.
Eventually, through a lot of good psychotherapy and support from healthy sane men and women, many recovering from child abuse themselves, I found my own ground and my own center. I succeeded in separating somewhat from Mother to create my own independent life at last.
But let’s not exaggerate… Little Johnny is still here inside me. If I ignore him and his needs for too long, he takes his revenge through depression thereby letting me know that I cannot ignore him with impunity any more.
When I was a young lad, I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up. Every Saturday afternoon, without fail,I had my mom or dad drop me off at “The Hitching Post,” which offered a double-bill of feature films plus several series which filled out my Saturday afternoons. You had to check your guns (usually just cap pistols) at the door. When your parents arrived to pick you up if the movie wasn’t over yet a loud shrill voice would blare out from behind the screen, “Johnny Staude, your parents are here in front waiting for you” to which there would be booing and catcalls from the audience. I found that very embarrassing!
My first heroes were comic book characters— the Saint, Batman, Superman and the Green Hornet. I also liked Western heroes like the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Hop-along Cassidy,and his Sidekick, California, of course, played by the comedian, Andy Clyde, who lived next door to us. I felt like I was a part of his family often eating there because I was best friends with his son Johnny Clyde, until he died of spinal meninghitus.
I grew up near the famous corner of Hollywood Blvd.and Vine Avenue. Bing Crosby’s and Fred Astair’s kids went to school with me. I also was in school with Joan Crawford’s daughter, Christina Crawford, who later wrote an expose of her mother’s lack of parenting skills in her first book, Mommie Dearest, which was later turned into a movie.
On the radio, I used to love to listen to The Knudsen Family Hour which came on about five o’clock. It began with music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” the “Dance of the Flowers,” and then dramatized fairy stories by writers like Jakob Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. As far as TV, I liked to watch the Red Skelton Show and Jack Benny. Skelton’s show ran for 20 years, beginning in 1951; Benny’s ran for 15 years, starting in 1950. I also liked to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.
I collected autographs; so when I met a real live famous author like Henry Miler, I felt that I had to get his autograph. When I asked him for one, he said “Sure, kid, do you have a book?” I suppose that he might have wondered what a naive twelve year old like me was doing reading one of his pornographic novels, like Tropic of Capricorn. Anyway, I didn’t own any of his books; so I gave him the book I was reading at the time–Tarzan and the Apes–to sign. Henry looked at it, did a double-take, and then laughed, winked at me, signed it, and gave it back to me.
When I was 18 in 12th grade in high school, I wrote my Senior Essay on UFOs, firmly believing in their existence, and trying to convince my audience to believe in them, too! That was early evidence of a character trait that haunted me all my life–doing and saying outrageous things to provoke attention, which usually brought me regret after my initial satisfaction.
I began working when I was twelve. I had a paper route and I delivered evening newspapers 5 days a week on my bicycle in Hollywood.I don’t recall how much I got paid, but it was fun having a role beyond being a child at home and a pupil at school. That was over seventy years ago and my memory of the details isn’t that good anymore.
As far as having a career, mine was being a perpetual student and learner, but equally a teacher.Whenever I could, I tried to teach something I was just learning myself and felt enthusiastic about. Over the years I have learned many things in many fields, but one thing remains constant, my interest in the history of ideas, and curiosity about understanding human behavior and social change.
These are the main roles I have played at various times during the course of my life:
(1) Professor/teacher/intellectual This is my primary persona, the mask I typically show you when you first meet me.
(2) Writer & Artist This is the role I like best and own as my ideal self. I’ve written or edited five books, as well as a scholarly journal. Creativity is my highest value, as Paul Tillich would say, my “ultimate concern.”
(3) Mystic spiritual-seeker Spirituality is also my “ultimate concern.”
(4) Historian, scholar, and book collector Researching and publishing scholarly books gives me pleasure. I am like my Jewish grandfather, a man of the book, and a Book Collector, as he was, with a collection of over 6000 volumes.
(5) Sociologist, social-psychologist, gerontologist I have always been interested in understanding AGING, and the dynamics of groups and of human motives and human behavior in general, whether through philosophy, art, and literature or through Social and Behavioral Science.
6) Adventurer-traveler & documentary filmmaker. I began traveling already as an infant, moving from Manhattan, where I was born,to Hollywood, where I grew up. I have lived abroad much of my life,and been an adventurer in my travels and recorded some of thesein documentary films I made.I’ve traveled as far as China and Japan, and visited most countries in Europe,living 10 years in England, 5 in Germany, 3 in Italy and 2 in Swizerland.
‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ -said Marcel Proust
(7) Psychologist & lifelong psychotherapy patient. Recently, I have been diagnosed with a bi-polar personality disorder like the Romantic poets, Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, Hölderlin and Coleridge, whom I’ve always admired. I have needed emotional support and guidance through every decade of my life from my late teens right to the present.I’ve always had a psychotherapist working with and I’ve always needed the emotional support of the women in my life.
(8) Friend and Christian Good SamaritanI have maintained close friendships with some of my former school and college friends and with my lovers, and I cherish those friendships very much. Right now, my best friend is Helgard, my former wife in Germany. I strive to be loving and compassionate towards the other residents here at la vida del mar.
(9) Romantic Lover Love and Romance has been the loadstone of my life;I have made some of the big decisions (and foolish choices)in my life based on the promptings of my heart.
(10) Father I was not a very good father to my first two sons, abandoning them when they were small, so I could be free to travel the world. However, I have sought to make up for that with my youngest son, Raphael, to whom I have devoted almost all my time and financial resources whenever he has needed anything.
Gary Zukav says that: “active love goes beyond warm feelings, kind sentiments and connected moments. It is looking for what is need and providing it. It is living directly from the heartwithout reservation. It is realizing that what you see needs to be done is there for you to do.It is the end of waiting for others todo what you want them to do or to say what you want them to say.It is leaving behind expectations of acknowledgement, praise, or appreciation.It is honoring your inner sense of appropriateness and committing the full force of your being to it.You are bonding to your partner in the Earth School with mutual Joy in Life and feeling the deep gratification of knowing that [you are not alone] you belong to Life…
“Can you live with an open heart even while others are frightened? Love is not taking advantage of the vulnerability of others.It is making the needs of others as important as your own.Love is a fire that is out of control. Once ignited, it cannot be contained.You may strive or moderation in diet and exercise, but striving for moderation in love is like stirring for moderation in breathing.Practice moderation in all things except love.”