Homecoming adjustments

October 28, 1991|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

FOR EX-HOSTAGE Jesse Turner, the most difficult part of the reunion with his wife, and the daughter he had never seen, may still lie ahead.

"I would say it will be a real challenge for them," said Dr. James P. McGee, director of psychology at The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson.

"The very behaviors that may have served this fellow so well, and allowed him to survive the hostage situation, are behaviors incompatible with being a good spouse and parent," he said.

"He's constructed . . . a protective wall around himself. Now he's going to have to get rid of that," he said. It will probably take "at least a period of a year or so to develop a semblance of normality."

Turner's first meeting with his daughter, Joanne, last week was a particularly important moment, McGee said. Turner was kidnapped five months before Joanne was born.

"She's at kind of a nice age to tolerate something like this," he said.

At 4, he said, "she's at a level of maturity where some of this is going to be understandable to her. She's also beyond the age where kids . . . have something called 'stranger anxiety,' where typically they are rather fearful and shy around strangers."

Mrs. Turner has helped to make her husband less of a stranger to his daughter by displaying pictures of him and talking about his return throughout the years he has been away.

That, McGee said, "gives her dad a reality, and makes her absent father as present as possible."

In reunions like this, McGee said, it is also helpful to give the child a role in planning the event.

"A bright 4-year-old can come up with a lot of cute ideas about it," he said. And "if the child participates, it gives her a better sense of being in control."

It's also important when a parent returns after a long absence to give Mom and Dad a chance to meet first privately.

"If the parents get hysterically overwrought, the message to the child is that something horrendously upsetting is going on, and kids respond to that as well," McGee said.

The actual reunion last week was private. But Mrs. Turner told reporters later that when Turner, 44, first met his daughter, "She said to him, 'Daddy' in a nice voice. And he said to her, 'Sweetheart' and gave her a doll."

Mrs. Turner said father and daughter shed no tears, and that there were plenty of smiles.

"He was so kind and gentle with her. He let her lead the way so she would not be frightened by him. They got along really well," Turner's mother said.

When Turner is finally released, and the family returns home, the real work of rebuilding their family life will begin, McGee said.

"I wouldn't expect something like this to go real smoothly," he said. Returning Vietnam-era POWs found a "real bumpy road" fitting back into a family that had learned to get along without them.

For Joanne, "there will probably be a period of testing and experimentation," McGee said.

"Trying to manage a frisky 4-year-old who doesn't clean her room, throws clothes all over the house and doesn't want to eat her lima beans -- Dad is going to have to participate, and this kid may not be used to that.

"There may be a period where she tests the limits and acts somewhat rebellious. In the beginning phases, perhaps he would be better deferring to his wife and gradually ease himself back into the picture. It would be imprudent for a person in this situation to really come on like gangbusters.

"I don't want to sound self-serving for my profession, but if I were in their shoes, I wouldn't want to try to pull this off by myself," McGee said. They should seek professional counseling.

"Little kids have a hard time sharing to begin with," he said. "Now, instead of two people sharing, three people have to share. It's an intrusion onto her turf . . . Kids don't want that."

Signs of trouble in Joanne's adjustment might include trouble sleeping, irritability, temper tantrums, moodiness and regressed behavior, where she returns to old habits she had outgrown, like thumb-sucking.

But "if it gets played out the right way, kids are very flexible, and they can adjust to situations."

Turner's adjustment may be more difficult.

"He's been exposed to some extraordinary stresses, and could be expected to have some version of post-traumatic stress symptoms during this re-entry to civilization, probably with depression anxiety, sleep disorders, flashbacks related to past experiences such as torture."

His difficulties will "really test the limits of the marriage," McGee said.

It will be made all the more complicated "because this guy is in the limelight right now. He knows everybody's expecting that he look well and feel well. So he will have the additional pressures of living up to everybody's expectations."

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