Gary Kretchmer was both a friend and a mentor. He closed his eyes for the last time on December 29, 2020. I have not yet read his obituary, but I am certain that when it is written it will, like so many others, celebrate the accomplishments of his life. What I hope is included is tribute to the impact that Gary will continue to have in the lives of thousands of men, women, and children for years to come.

Gary was a Mediator’s Mediator. He was adept at working as a Mediator for separated and divorced couples. His experience extended years before I learned that ”Mediation” was not “Meditation” misspelled. Over the 25 years of my Mediation practice I considered it a busy year if I worked with 300 couples. In his position as Director of the Mediation Program for Johnson County Kansas Court Services Gary likely worked with over 1,000 couples a year… often 4 couples in a single day, sometimes more. Day after workday he waded into the toxicity of couples in conflict, couples hurt, scared, couples cast into the role of litigants unable to effectively continue as parents. Gary was gifted at bringing peace to these Mothers and Fathers, moreover he salvaged “childhood” for tens of thousands of children caught in the vice of their parents’ conflict. Gary showed that there was light at the end of their tunnel

I first met Gary in the mid-1990’s, attending one of his trainings. I was immediately drawn to his calm and almost apostolic approach to communication in conflict. In that first encounter with Gary I learned that a Mediator could rarely make a misstep so long as the contributions were kept in the form of questions rather than statements. The Mediator acted as an interpreter between two people who found themselves either speaking over one another or speaking different “parenting languages”. Gary taught that the role of the Mediator was to provide a safe space for couples to craft their own resolutions. The Mediator teaches skills that empower folks to navigate their future. The Mediator is not a judge who makes decisions for them. As Gary would reflect, this is the difference between a Mediator (with a capital “M”) and a mediator. Gary was a deeply spiritual man who pursued his craft not so much as an occupation but as a calling. Much of whatever skill I developed came from lessons that I learned from him.

Beyond his work Gary was a consummate peacemaker and family man. He and his wife Sheryl were often guests at spiritual celebrations of other faith traditions. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist… to Gary, God was God, regardless of the form of worship. Gary and Sheryl enjoyed an annual Christmas Eve tradition of lunch at Andre’s Restaurant in Kansas City that began in 1984 when they first began dating.

It was the highest form of praise that over the years Gary would repeatedly encourage me with the words, “Pete, you are doing God’s work”. In my last training I was honored to be a co-presenter with three other gifted Mediators, Hugh O’Donnell, Dawn Kuhlman, and of course Gary Kretchmer.

Although our paths rarely crossed after our respective retirements, I feel a personal loss at his passing. The Mediation community in Metropolitan Kansas City not to mention tens of thousands of men, women, and children have much to be thankful for due to this good man.

I am certain that Gary will Rest In Peace since he lived his entire life, in Peace.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It comes as no surprise that I am a fan of the institution of marriage. Yet much of the first half of my professional life was spent helping people to end their marriages in litigation. The last 10 years of my career was largely dedicated to helping people end their marriages with dignity, preserving their joint roles as parents through Mediation. My motivation was the belief that children have only one opportunity to experience the joy of childhood. This opportunity can too easily be infected by the fallout of an angry and dysfunctional divorce. Through experience I have come to believe the following:

  1.  Marriage is permanent or impermanent as a matter of choice.
  2. Some marriages are toxic, notwithstanding the best efforts of one or both spouses.
  3. Some marriages fail because of a failure of effort on the part of the spouses.
  4. A child raised by divorced parents who have a well thought out and well executed parenting plan is better off than a child raised by parents fettered to one another in a bad marriage.
  5. Children learn the tools of parenting by the example of their parents. Bad relationship habits are trans-generational. An abused or abusive parent usually raises a child destined to be abused or abusive.
  6. Marriages most often fail along the fault lines of finance. The second most likely cause of failure is one partner’s belief that the other partner has the responsibility for happiness in the marriage. Failures in either or both of these two primary areas leads to the casting of blame upon the partner, disgust for the partner, and a sense of suffocating incarceration in the relationship.

There is more that 35+ years in the practice of law has revealed, but you get the point.

Early in my career I came to disagree with the most common symbol of marriage, that being two permanently interlocked circles. I found the symbolism flawed because marriage is not permanent. Also, marriage (good or bad) changes people. The symbolic circles retain their pre-joined shapes in spite of the reality that people flex and shape to accommodate the other person and the demands of their partnership.

I believe that a more appropriate symbol is that of two flexible intertwined loops that create a strong yet severable bond. The loops are not broken in order to be joined and need not be broken in order to be separated. They retain their basic nature but must change their shape in order to be joined and accommodate the shared connection. In addition to our wedding rings, my wife and I wear rings that I designed over 30 years ago. On the face of these rings, against the background of a Templar Cross, is this well-worn symbol that I believe more accurately reflects the cooperation, respect, and continuing commitment to the work of marriage.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Sisyphus, that tortured soul from Greek mythology (and the inspiration for Dante’s fourth circle of hell), was doomed for eternity to endlessly roll a boulder to the top of a hill only to have it roll back down just before he reached the summit. It is a strong metaphor of herculean effort, searing pain, and intolerable frustration, followed by defeat playing out in an endless loop. Over the years I have associated this image with the lives of many people that I have encountered as an attorney and Mediator.

Relationships which have their roots in addiction, abuse, deceit, or dysfunction are stones such as Sisyphus was partnered with. These are relationships where one person appears to assert a superhuman effort to push for the preservation of the relationship, enduring physical and emotional pain, frustration, and finally failure. If it ended there, then the comparison to the struggles of Sisyphus would fail. However, like Sisyphus there are some souls who immediately return to that “stone” (or another like it) to renew the effort, pain, disappointment and defeat. Why? No doubt hundreds of books have been written on the subject by researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Jerry Springer has made a fortune show-placing the lives of folks caught up in this revolving door. I am an attorney, not a social scientist. However, attorneys are usually keen observers of human interaction. We represent people who are caught up in dysfunctional relationships.

Any experienced family lawyer can tell of storied divorces which played out to conclusion only to have the client return to the office a few years later with the same problems, just a different spouse… sometimes even the same spouse! We scratch our heads, shrug our shoulders and go forward to represent the client to the best of our abilities.

At the end of a divorce proceeding I usually offered a straightforward piece of advice to my client, “Please, do not become engaged in a committed relationship for at least two years.” Occasionally a client would ask “why”, but more often there would be a polite smile and no other acknowledgement of my remark.

I believe that we develop habits of interpersonal interaction and communication. Some of these habits are formed by our experiences as children observing our parents’ relationship. A child raised in a household with spousal violence faces the likelihood of growing up to either be an abuser or a victim of abuse. Some habits of interaction are impressed upon the inexperienced and malleable by the object of their affection. Witness the case of a naïve teen who runs away with a man of ill intention, or one who blindly follows a cult leader. One who is raised in a household burdened by dysfunction has a greater likelihood of becoming an adult member of just such a household. Of course, some of these habits are formed merely as the fallout from a long decomposing relationship.

Why fall victim to the repetition of such misery? Familiarity, no matter how painful, may still be more comfortable than that which is unfamiliar. If a person has learned only one dance step, then that person will naturally tend to dance with the people who dance the same step. Selecting a dance partner who dances to a different beat is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and threatens to make one look inept or foolish. Learning a new dance takes time, effort, and courage.

Many clients have said “I’m done with marriage forever” but missed the point that they were not done with relationships. I think that real change takes two years, but not two years sitting on one’s hands. This kind of change requires a good support system, counselling, and at the very least “new playmates and a new playground”. It also takes the acceptance that there are things that cannot be changed (the other person), it takes courage to change the things that one can change (oneself), and wisdom to know the difference.

Like Sisyphus, we may make our own hell in this world by trying to change the other person, confusing relationship with endurance. Had Sisyphus taken a 2 year break he might have found the insight to leave that stone for someone else to bear. Of course, that would have been Dante Alighieri’s loss.

Peace Everyone. Pete

(Posted May 28, 2015, amended February 13, 2018)

Recently, I have been largely silent on social media, but not idle. For many weeks I have been designing and implementing a new website. This is the third time that I have undertaken this foreign task. My first effort, over 15 years ago, was little better than a few pages of “stick figures”. My second served me well for the last 10 years, but it was time to make a change that more accurately reflects the shift in our focus, post retirement. This new site will be my venue and “voice” both on and off the road, while Facebook will remain my primary outlet for displaying pictures to my FB friends.

The site is not yet in perfect harmony with my expectations, however it is better than 90% the way there. I have purchased a “real camera” that I hope to make extensive use of. I have not yet worked on posting images with my “Thoughts” site, but there will be time to work out those bugs so that a few select images may occasionally appear with my “Thoughts”.

Your encouragements have provided me with the motivation to dedicate hundreds (literally!) of hours into working on this. I hope that it serves Christine and me, and thus all of you as well. I invite you to use the tool that I have included on the site to sign up for email notices of future posts.

-Peace! Pete