Michael Tobin has been an author and playwright since he was twelve...
…when he wrote a monumental play about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that had over 20,000 actors on stage at one time. For logistical reasons it was never produced. On his way to becoming a psychologist, he was a former US Army officer, glacier climber, marathon runner, and restauranteur. He also claims to be the first entrepreneur to introduce granola to Connecticut.
Professionally, Dr. Tobin has been a clinical psychologist for forty-six years specializing in marriage and family therapy. He has written extensively on couple and family dynamics and is the founder of the highly acclaimed website, www.wholefamily.com, a finalist in the GII, Internet Academy Awards. He also consults to high tech companies on leadership and management issues.
Personally, he has been with his life partner Deborah since the summer of 1974 when he first met her on a dance floor in Keene, New Hampshire. Together they have four children and seventeen grandchildren.
Click on any question below to reveal Michael’s answer…
The inspired kind. When the writing fire rages inside me, I write. I have no choice.
I have many daily routines: meditation, exercise, prayer, reading, to name a few, but writing is not one of them. Until Riding the Edge, I never had a compelling inner necessity to write. Writing this book had nothing to do with will, drive, discipline, or motivation. I wrote because I had to, because there was an inexplicable force in me demanding that this story be told.
Perhaps the catalyst was when my beloved wife, Deborah, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I wanted our children, grandchildren, extended families and friends to remember this extraordinary woman as she was before this soul-destroying illness stole her life.
Writing this book was an act of love and truth. Every moment I sat recreating our journey was an experience of exquisite pleasure tempered by the knowledge that I’d give it all up in a heartbeat to get my wife back. I suspect the writing was an escape from the pain of losing my soul mate and life partner.
I didn’t anticipate the impact this story would have on so many people beyond my circle of influence. There’s a Talmudic statement that says, “What comes from the heart, penetrates the heart.” This book came from my heart. Love was the fuel that ignited the creativity and commitment to complete my love song to Deborah.
Before I forget, thank you for your lovely words. A writer never tires from hearing praise.
I was a daily, long distance runner and competitive marathoner prior to the bicycle trip. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was a kid. Deborah was in decent shape from yoga and aerobics but was not an endurance athlete and she had very little experience as a bicyclist. We started slowly so she could acclimatize to the challenges of long-distance bicycling. By the end of the trip, she snarled at eighteen-degree slopes and soared down twisted mountain passes like a crazy road warrior.
No, I continued to run marathons for many years, and I became a competitive master’s runner. Deborah became a serious yogi, and, along with her practice as a psychologist, taught yoga. In our sixties, we both fell in love with high altitude trekking and have trekked multiple times in the Himalayas and the Alps.
Yes. One is a crazy idea about doing a sequel to this book in which we ride across America on electric bikes – both of us in our seventies, she with Alzheimer’s, and me with a body that – let’s say – “aches in places where I used to play.” (Leonard Cohen) It will be an FU to Alzheimer’s, aging, and giving up. And a big yes to rediscovering the wounded soul of America and its better angels.
The second idea is a novel that’s based on a real story about someone I knew when I was in my mid-twenties. The story takes place in war torn Vietnam, in Europe prior and during World War II, and in Israel during the War of Independence.
I still have a fire inside me to grow and to explore. So, the same restless spirit still exists in me. On the other hand, children, grandchildren, my long and loving relationship with Deborah, and her subsequent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease have all contributed to turning me into a kinder, more generous, and more compassionate version of the Michael Tobin of 1980.
I’m no longer so crazy that I’d soar hands-free down a mountain at fifty miles per hour. I’m more aware now that bones break, brains stop functioning, and pee doesn’t always flow. In other words, my limitations remind me to be less arrogant.
Deborah was very involved with me during the process of writing. As soon as I completed a chapter, I would read it to her. She didn’t remember any details from our trip, but I could tell she was emotionally moved by the story. Prior to Alzheimer’s, Deborah was one of those rare souls who knew what you felt and could speak to your truth. Sadly, along with her memory, Alzheimer’s has robbed Deborah of a large chunk of her emotional intelligence. Yet, on a number of occasions she did what she rarely does anymore, she cried while I read to her.
Our four children, Elisheva, 38, a psychologist; Shayna, 36, a wedding gown designer; Aaron, 34, a building developer; and Ilana 32, a special education teacher, are all married with children. We moved to Israel when Elisheva was four, Shayna was two, and Aaron was five months old. Ilana was born in Israel. My children are all fluent English speakers, but their native tongue is Hebrew.
Unlike Deborah and I who went through a major transformation to discover Judaism, our children have grown up as Israelis and as Jews. None of them are particularly religious but all of them are committed to keeping the Jewish holidays and many of the family rituals. We are fortunate that our children all live close to us and we’re frequently in one another’s homes.
I struggled with the subtitle for months until in a moment of deep contemplation I heard a voice in my head say, “A Love Song to Deborah.” I immediately cried and I knew it had to be this. This epiphany occurred on August 23, 2020. The pre-Alzheimer’s Deborah would have sobbed, on that day Deborah said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
Since you’re asking me, I’d say, “psychologically challenging.” Betty Mae, more or less, came to terms with Deborah’s conversion and even visited us a number of times in Israel before she passed away nine years ago. Nevertheless, she remained Betty Mae: controlling, manipulative, and self-absorbed. She and I had a number of run-ins over the years, but, by and large, we managed to get along. I could – but won’t – write a book about the complexity of Deborah’s relationship with her mother. On the other hand, how can I not forgive Betty Mae? She gave me an extraordinary gift.
My mother died when I was nineteen so neither Deborah nor my children knew her. However, every year on the anniversary of her death I gather the family together and tell anecdotes about her life. My children know how much I admire her and how much she’s influenced my life.
My father moved to Israel with his new wife in 1982, four years before we did. He died in 1999. So, all four of our children grew up with their Zadie (grandfather) as part of their lives. They were all at his bedside when he passed away. Some of my children have fond memories of him, others less so.
My relationship with my father remained complicated. He was the most mercurial person I’ve known. He had his periods of being a delightfully engaging and loving individual and his times of being painfully angry and critical. That, too, is a book that will never be written. At this stage in my life, I focus more on what I gained from him than where he failed as a father.
For much of my life I’ve been an avid reader. The authors who had the strongest influence on me are Hermann Hesse, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. From studying Peter Matthiessen’s, The Snow Leopard, I learned how to write about nature. And from meditating on Ernest Becker’s, The Denial of Death, I learned a great deal about human psychology and the necessity to live life like your life depended on it.
Mostly my meanderings about philosophy, psychology, love, God and the meaning of it all. Simple stuff like that. I sort of fancied myself as being able to write something akin to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but funnier, more literary, and significantly less focused on my personal battle with sanity. I deleted it all (but saved it) since it distracted from the story. Although, IMHO, an interesting diversion, nevertheless.
Exactly as I wrote in the beginning of the book: “I share this story with you in the hope that the lessons we learned will inspire each of you to love with more passion, to take more risks for the truth, and to give of yourself to others as others gave to us.” The caveat is this: Whatever the reader takes away is fine. An author doesn’t get to tell the reader what his experience should be.
I had all the chapters outlined before I wrote. I also had all the maps organized by days and routes. However, writing this book, like the journey itself, had a life of its own over which I had no control. I found myself understanding my relationship with Deborah in new and deeper ways and I discovered lessons from our numerous serendipitous encounters which I hadn’t realized previously.
Truthfully, I loved every part and relived every encounter and place as I wrote about them.
I must say of all the characters in the book (excluding Deborah) I had the strongest affinity to Simone. I truly loved her for her quirkiness, her brilliance, her insight, her pain, and her friendship. I regret that after numerous attempts to contact her, including three subsequent trips to Paris, we never found her.