Family Affairs

A professional Phoenix woman wanted to help one poor, "at risk" family. It was the type of private initiative that both political parties say will ease the harsh impacts of welfare reform. Her three-year experiment in personal responsibility rescued an 1

For all his stated social conscience, there was palpable antipathy when Dr. Goldstein first discussed Richie.

"I'm not sure Richie will ever amount to very much," appraised Dr. Goldstein as the interview began. "I don't see the spark of intelligence, spontaneity or creativity.

"I use the term 'pussy' with him. In my generation, it meant you were a wimp, acting like a little girl. I have four older sisters. They were pleasers, goody-goody two shoes. Richie will acquiesce to be more pleasing in the eye of the beholder. I tell him, 'Don't be a pussy. Don't say you want a shirt if you don't.'

"I tell him he must act like a man."
It would have been easy to write off Dr. Goldstein as a pedantic hypocrite, someone posing as Tom Dooley but actually contemptuous of those who suffer. Easy, but wrong. In the end, no one overcame darker impulses to provide Richie with help than Dr. Goldstein.

With cancer shadowing his remaining years, Dr. Goldstein's early testiness was perhaps understandable. And when confronted then, the doctor said he felt no resentment at the intrusion of Richie into his life. But his transparent denial reeked of petulance.

When the issue of foster care became paramount, he agreed to the arrangement so long as it did not require any extra work of him--as if any child, let alone Richie, might ever be an entirely carefree prospect.

"Esther does not shop, cook, clean or do laundry. And I was right in that it is a lot of extra work for me," he said.

Of course housework bored Esther. But such a cranky complaint from her husband masked the larger truth: Dr. Goldstein, a man Esther characterizes as obsessed with order, saw that with the entry of Richie, his world was now spinning wildly.

"He had loss-of-control nightmares," said Esther. "He's waking up in the middle of the night, horrified that he's flunking out of med school."

Dr. Goldstein's nightmares were the result of dread layered upon dread. Barbara's drug addiction, for example, dredged up some of the man's most painful memories.

Years earlier, Dr. Goldstein paid a ransom to kidnapers who'd abducted his youngest son, a troubled boy whose involvement with marijuana peddlers led to the hostage emergency.

In 1978, drug dealers snatched his boy and held him for 24 hours.
"I paid them all the money I could get my hands on quickly," said Dr. Goldstein. "It was $25,000."

No man forgets waiting for his child's safe return, and Dr. Goldstein had no interest in allowing the tentacles of drug addiction into his life again.

And so when Esther first began bringing Richie into her new home with Josh, the boy's street musk and his droopy gang clothes provoked the doctor.

"For the longest time," recalled Esther, "my husband said only three things to Richie: 'Did you take out the trash? Have you taken a bath? Pull up your pants.'"

The doctor claimed that the severe tone of his relationship with Richie was not a source of stress between him and Esther.

Which was not accurate.
She cringed every time Dr. Goldstein berated Richie. And she was furious when she discovered that her husband was checking the boy's toilet to see if Richie flushed.

"I acted as a mediator between the two of them," said Esther. "It was terrible."

Esther's judgment was tempered by circumstances. She knew that her husband not only had medical problems but that he also was concerned about finances.

Recent insurance trends--particularly, the spread of Health Maintenance Organizations--threatened his income. Those big, managed-care systems had little use for his kind of sole practitioner. And one of her husband's former partners had gone bankrupt, leaving Dr. Goldstein the sole guarantor on a significant loan.

"He doesn't understand how to let go and let the universe bring something to you," worried Esther. "Richie was brought to us for a reason. He signifies the future. It is hopeful."

The future beckoned to Esther, but Josh, understandably, was planning for his death.

"When I was born in 1934, my father purchased a very good bottle of Pinch. I intend to drink that bottle of Scotch and take 100 Ativan when the time comes. I am not going to turn to crap."

While she viewed the external threats to her husband's mental health clearly enough, Esther never once mentioned her own role in the man's trepidation.

As if the malignancy and its prospect of a debilitating death were not enough, Goldstein endured the side effects of medical treatment. With prostate cancer, men face the possibility, even the probability, of impotence, depending upon how invasive the surgery on and the treatment of that gland are.

Dr. Goldstein had a prosthetic device implanted to sustain his erections.
During this soul-numbing phase of his life, Dr. Goldstein asked Esther for her hand in marriage. They were a mature couple who shared similar political interests and held a mutual respect for each other's wildly divergent personalities; but they were also making a decision based upon his overwhelming needs. Instead of comforting him, and only him, through this desolate period, Esther introduced a new crisis into his life--Richie. As doctor Goldstein confronted disturbing questions about his own virility, his wife brought a 14-year-old man-child into their home.

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