Afghanistan, Murdering Your Spouse, Finding Your Biological Parents

Sunday August 22, 2021

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What Happens Next is a podcast where experts are given just SIX minutes to present. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

This week’s topics include Afghanistan, Murdering Your Spouse, Finding Your Biological Parents
Our first speaker will be Retired Lt. General Andrew Leslie of the Canadian Army who served as the Commander and Chief of Staff of the Canadian Army. Andrew previously served in Afghanistan. It has been a tumultuous week as US troops, personnel, and citizens evacuate the country.

I want to learn from Andrew what exactly happened on the ground. Was this loss of Afghanistan inevitable? What was the response of our allies to our surrender? Why were we left alone to handle the long-term nation building in Afghanistan? What will be the consequences to the Afghan people in the long run from a Taliban victory? There is much to talk about here.

Our second speaker will be one of my best friends Darren Schwartz who will discuss his own adoption and his 30-year search for his biological father. I want to learn about our universal longing to find our kin, and our desire to love and be loved by our parents.

Our final speaker is Robi Ludwig who is a nationally known psychotherapist and a regularly speaks on CNN and Fox News. I met Robi when our children Jonathan and Jaimie started dating seriously 18 months ago. Robi will be discussing her book Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage and the Mind of the Killer Spouse.

Many marriages end in heart ache and divorce and very few result in the death of a spouse; yet, this topic is of keen fascination to many of us. I want to learn why some of us murder our former lovers and also why we care so much.


Ret. Lt. General Hon. Andrew Leslie

Topic: The Afghanistan Tragedy
Bio: Former Commander/Chief of Staff of the Canadian Army. Former Liberal Member of Parliament of Canada


Larry Bernstein: Our first speaker today is Retired Lt. General Andrew Leslie of the Canadian Army, Andrew please go ahead.

Ret. Lt. General Hon. Andrew Leslie:
Thanks Larry. In 2003 and ’04 I was the deputy commander of the international security assistance force, headquartered in Kabul. Spent about eight or nine months there in that role. And then every four or five months, I went back for a week or two as a major general, and then subsequently as a lieutenant general. I was the commander of the Canadian Army, did that for about seven years. So I did not have a unique perspective but a deeper understanding than most of the situation that was playing out over the course of time in Afghanistan.

First and foremost, what is happening in Afghanistan is a defeat, and our allied nations lost because they lost the will to fight the good fight. They were tired of expending time, blood and treasure. As well, our nations lost because they stopped listening. They heard, but they weren’t actually listening to what was happening on the ground to the extent that they should have. And a whole bunch of nations got locked into a scenario based on time or sequence of events, which if they didn’t happen, by golly, they were going to press forward and meet those timelines. Look, soldiers can do a variety of things, in counter-terrorism, in counter-insurgency or nation building, but the big thing that we can do is buy time. Buy time for eventually a negotiated settlement between the protagonist, even though it may gall to negotiate with terrorists or those who commit terror, even though it may drive certain persons to frenzies to actually deal with people who are trying to destroy the nation that you spent so much time and effort to build up, but eventually you got to talk.

You got to sit down and negotiate. And that didn’t happen, at least didn’t happen under the right circumstances. For those of us who served, I believed it was a fight worth fighting. We were sent by our countries to do so and we fought that good fight. We attempted to support and protect those Afghans who want to basic rights for women and girls, who wanted to listen to music or play soccer or football. We were willing to fight, and we did, to get them the opportunity to live more peacefully than under the Taliban or those that had preceded them. But this is an ancient land Afghanistan, and it’s seen armies like ours come and go. It’s seen coalitions wax and wane. Matter of fact, they watched with cold eyes, Alexander and his armies moved through. And Alexander and armies did not enjoy the experience, especially on the withdrawal. Does this sound familiar?
There are some lessons to be learned. Here are some I would suggest. First and foremost, the United States is tired of doing the heavy lifting, essentially alone. They asked for help and have been asking for help, increased contributions to multinational security missions overseas and I’m not convinced they got it. The discussions with the Talib started under former President Trump, who was directly negotiating through his agents with the Taliban, and then with President Biden, who drew a line in the sand and eventually concrete saying it was going to be the end of August and then 11th of September when the last of the US forces were going to leave. To everyone’s surprise, actually to their surprise, a whole bunch of us predicted this was going to happen six or eight months ago.

As soon as this decision was made to stop supporting the Afghan troops on the ground and that a definitive closure date was there, the Afghans in the field, the soldiers lost hope because they lost their heavy fire support. The fighter bombers, the long range artillery, the attack helicopters, medical evacuation teams, and quite frankly, they could see the writing on the wall. And their culture has been when they have large powerful forces assembling that are willing to die to complete their objectives, a lot of them are not averse to changing sides or at least going neutral. The second big lesson is that without the United States and their magnificent armed forces and their world class unmatchable logistics, difficult and complex international missions aren’t going to get done. The third lesson is the world a lot more dangerous and complicated than some socially progressive folk might wish for.

And the next lesson is you can’t ignore what happens overseas and certain things are worth fighting for. And the final lesson perhaps, is what happens over there can impact us here, especially in this multilayered, multidimensional world, that’s constantly changing and evolving. And if we do nothing, all that is required for evil to spread is for good men and women to sit idly by and do nothing. If we do nothing, more will die and more people will leave their places of origin to seek safety and security elsewhere, which will create further international instability on which others will prey.

Questions for Andrew Leslie

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Darren Schwartz

Topic: Adopted Children Searching for their Biological Parent
Bio: Adopted Child, CEO M3Linked, Operating Partner: Orchid Black


Larry Bernstein:
We’re going to go to our next speaker Darren Schwartz. Darren is a very good friend of mine, and he was adopted as a child and has been seeking his biological parents for the last 30 years. Darren, go ahead.

Darren Schwartz:
As long as I can remember, I was adopted. I never knew my heritage, but I really never thought about it. I didn’t look like anybody else in my family, but it wasn’t an issue, did not consume me. I was raised in suburban Detroit by a doting Jewish couple, Maury and Rita Schwartz. And there’s been lots of love in my life. Unfortunately, my father died when I was 11. After his death, it became important for me to find who my birth parents were, specifically my birth father. An interesting fact is that most adopted children have fantasies about who their real parents are, and they’re typically grandiose. Whether it’s an actor or astronaut or a president. No one imagines that their real parents are middle-management.

In 1990, when I was 21 and senior in Michigan State, I decided to look for my birth parents. I called the adoption agency in Michigan that did my adoption, and they connected me with Marilyn McAllister. I introduced myself and to my incredible shock she said, “Yes, I remember you and I remember your adopted father, meaning Maury Schwartz.” She had literally done my adoption 21 years earlier. But all she was willing to give me was non-identifying biological information, which she sent me by mail. When I received it, it stated that my mother, birth mother was Lutheran, some information about her medical history and how many siblings she had. And again, to my surprise, my birth father’s information listed that he was Lutheran and similar information about him.

I’d always been told that my birth father was Jewish, my birth mother was Lutheran. It didn’t matter if my father was Lutheran. It was just a big surprise. However, a few days later I got another letter from Marilyn that said, “Darren, I’m so sorry. We made a mistake. There were two names for your father in your file.” And what had happened is that when my birth mother went in originally to the adoption agency, she was joined by her mother, and she was embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know the real birth father, so she gave a name that her mother knew. There were two names for your biological father in our file. But at that point that’s all the information that I could get.
I said to Marilyn. “Marilyn, you can’t by law give me the name of my birth father or my birth mother.” She said, “That’s correct.” I said, “Can you give me the name of the person who is not my birth father in the file?” And I suspect that she’d ever been asked that question before. And she said yes. So she gave me that guy’s name. His name was Dennis. And I figured I could talk to Dennis and maybe backtrack and find information about my birth parents.

I gave Dennis a call. And he said, “I think I’m your dad. I think it’s me. And based on the timeframe of when you were born and when you were conceived, I think it’s me.” So I went in and I met him and we talked and we embraced as father and son. I met his family. And I shared with Marilyn that I think I found my birth father, or I did. A few days later I got a call from a very agitated birth mother who said, “I told them that’s not the name of your birth father.” I said, “I appreciate that. I’m just doing what I can do. Could you please give me the name of my birth father?” And she’s relented and she also had told me that his name was Tony. For this discussion I am going to use the last name Smith as a place holder but it was not Smith. Your father’s name is Tony Smith.

My only option at this point in the year 2000 was to mail a letter to all of the Tony Smiths in the country. I mailed all the Tony Smiths in the country, basically are you my daddy letter. I did not receive any replies. The trail for Tony Smith went dead. So fast forward to 2006, took off. I did the DNA test and I did not get find any close relatives whatsoever. My DNA test did however confirm that I was 50% Jewish, which was interesting because I was not positive until then. However, the trail was dead. In 2019, I did a DNA test with 23andMe, and if anyone who knows how those tests work, it’ll give you relatives and their names, at least on Ancestry, and what percent you’re related to them. I didn’t get anything that was material.

About four weeks ago, I logged on to and to my shock and I almost fell over when it disclosed that I was related to a Dave Smith. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Smith name as a potential cousin. I immediately reached out to Dave. He had just done this himself. And he also had not known his own family, but just four months prior, when he did this, he connected with all the Smiths. He said he would help and get back to me. He texted me a week later and said he had some information. We got on the phone. He said, “Darren, I know who your father is.” I was in the ninth hole of Belvedere Country Club in Charlevoix, Michigan and I almost collapsed. He said my father’s real name was Ricky. Tony was a nickname. My dad had left the country in the early ’70s and he is alive and well living in Norway with two daughters and a son.

I was floored. This information had come from my aunt Bonnie, who my cousin Dave had met. The family didn’t know about me. She did not know if she was going to call and tell Ricky that, and she didn’t know if she wanted to talk to me yet. I thanked Dave from the bottom of my heart. I played on and made a 15-foot putt for par.

A few days later, I received a voicemail. Now I will do my best to imitate the accent. “Hello Darren. This is Tony. You say I’m your father. I’m trying to reach you. I don’t know how to get a hold of you. Please call me.” I was paralyzed with emotions I cannot describe. I had three thoughts. Oh my God, this is my father I’ve been looking for, for 32 years and I’ve wondered about for 53 years. Two, he has a Norwegian accent, which seemed super cool. And three, I’m already in trouble for not calling him back.

I called him back. First thing he said was, “Darren, I did not know. Had I known, I would never have let you go.” And that was a powerful, incredible statement that I’d waited for my entire life. And although that was profound, for some reason the next thing he said made me break out sobbing, which was everybody in the entire family is so excited to meet you.

My dad’s story is that he left the US in the early ’70s, traveled up and down the Mexican and South American coast, surfing and playing music. He was a singer songwriter. He said he had a private concert for the Maharaja and he partied with Mick Jagger. He wound up in Norway and has lived there for 50 years. He has sent me some of the songs that I’d say is a combination of Cat Stevens and John Denver. We’ve spoken many times. I Snapchat with my new sisters every few days. I’ve talked to my father many times. I plan to visit him and see my new family in October if COVID allows.

Questions for Darren Schwartz

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Robi Ludwig

Topic: Murdering your Spouse
Bio: Psychotherapist and TV Regular on CNN and Fox News
Reading: ‘Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse is here


Larry Bernstein:
We move on to our final speaker, Robi Ludwig, and this is a topic that is where it starts as love and ends in depth. So, this is a discussion about Robi’s book about killing your spouse.

Robi Ludwig:
Thank you, Larry. A woman’s life is safer with a stranger than with a man she knows. Think about that for a moment. One out of every 10 people murdered is by an intimate partner, and seven of those 10 murdered are women. Over the years, many of these cases have attracted national attention, as millions of viewers and true crime aficionados try to understand how one spouse could kill another. As an incurable romantic, when I was asked to write about this subject, what fascinated me the most was this question: how could someone fall in love with and marry his or her killer? I was curious if there was some unconscious suicidal wish lurking behind this partner choice. But this wasn’t the case for most of the homicides I studied. The more striking similarity amongst these ill-fated victims was an idealization about romance. Blindsided by love, the capacity to see the red flags just were not there.

Violence is a dark contrast to what many of us still believe marriage is supposed to be. For the cases I discussed on TV and in my book Until Death Do Us Part, it was not uncommon for these doomed couples to appear happy and in love. Very often, they were the love at first sight couples. No one would ever have predicted marital homicide was around the corner. There’s a dark side to all relationships. Culturally, we’re taught the romantic ideal is reality. And the quest for romantic perfection is a powerful drive. But the truth is we all marry people who, on some level, are unknown to us. And part of what fascinates us about these couples who’ve revealed their dangerous side is that they seem so much like us, yet they’re not. There’s a myriad of reasons for each type of intimate partner homicide. No two killings are exactly the same, but each marital killer shares an inability to neutralize their rage and aggression, and ultimately decides to act on their homicidal fantasies.

Given our timeframe, I’m going to focus on some of the motives behind the pregnancy killer. Expected mothers are more likely to die from murder than pregnancy related medical problems. The same myth that airbrushed the realities of marriage also impact our ideas about having children. Pregnancy can bring a whole host of strong emotions, and not all of them are positive, thoughts like, “I don’t want to have a baby. Now, my life will be over.” It can also represent the death of one’s youth and freedom. The Scott Peterson and Chris Watts headlines brought national attention to the unpleasant reality, pregnancy can be a dangerous time for some women. It’s hard to imagine an act more horrifying than killing a pregnant partner, even worse when that killer is her husband and the father of her unborn child.

In some cases, the birth of a child marks the end of a hedonistic time in a man’s life. The days of seeking pleasure without having to answer to anyone are over. These men don’t want to be held back by a wife or child. Approaching fatherhood can sometimes trigger depression, an unfounded obsession with health concerns, and in the most severe cases, suicide and or homicide. And if this wife got pregnant against her partner’s wishes, the male’s aggression factor increases. Abusive husbands may want to harm the fetus because they feel jealous over the attention their partner is getting, or they feel neglected and no longer a priority. They know any threat to the unborn child will upset the mother. They falsely think targeting the fetus will return this lost attention back to them. In some cases, the abuse from the male partner is triggered by the stress brought on by the pregnancy, like worries over finances.

The pregnant woman is more tired and may not want sex, getting her spouse to feel abandoned, replaced, and rejected. Some men feel pregnancy challenges their idea of manhood, which doesn’t include taking care of babies. For Scott Peterson and Chris Watts, the Colorado man who killed his pregnant wife and two children, pregnancy symbolizes a loss of freedom to live a carefree life on their own terms. They believe their charm and good looks would help them get away with murder. After all, who would believe such attractive, normal looking guys could do such a heinous thing? Scott and Chris felt their wives were interfering and blocking them from living the life they deserved to live. Their wives made a choice to get pregnant, and now it was time for these husbands to make their choice, to get rid of the person who was stopping them from being successful, happy, and free. Scott and Chris came first, second, and third in their world. No one was going to get in the way of them authoring their own life, even if it meant their wives. And in Chris Watts’ case, his entire family had to die.

Underneath the rage and despair is a grandiosity, the feeling they had the right to change their fate by any means. Homicide offered them a life do over that was too appealing to pass up. For Scott and Chris, their lethal philosophy was, if you’re not for me and only me, you’re against me. And that simply was not okay. This egocentric mindset and primitive problem solving skills were the impetus for these murders. There’s a quote, “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye opener.” The truth is we don’t really know our partner in depth until we’ve lived together for a long time or have been married. Killers can be quite lovable. The non-homicidal aspect of their personality can be charming and pleasant, successfully splitting off the dangerous and unlovable parts of themselves when they aren’t angry.

There are many reasons why someone might kill, including hatred, jealousy, fear, greed, or revenge. In some cases, these killers don’t want to kill their partner. They just want to get rid of the unlovable parts and keep the rest. Murder fascinates us because the desire to kill comes from the deepest part of our psyche, living inside our unconscious mind. It’s nature’s way of helping us to survive. Murder doesn’t happen out of nowhere. While it’s hard to project marital homicide, there are signs to keep in mind. For the homicidal male, poor ideas about women, high frequency of violence, depression, use of drugs or alcohol, possession of weapons, and threats to kill and or to commit suicide. When we idealize success and what it means to be happy, the frustrations of life can make any of us vulnerable to anger, and in its worst form, violence. And for spousal killers like Scott and Chris, murder is seen as a reboot, a solution for emotionally surviving, resolving interpersonal conflicts, and getting another chance to achieve their life dreams.

Questions for Robi Ludwig

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