on trying to think positively (preliminary draft)

Having a psychotherapist for a father always seemed like a privilege to me and for multiple reasons. (*)On a very basic/fundamental level, since my father enjoyed discussing psychology even outside of work, and since he was also an amateur artist (not so much “amateur” in the sense of downplaying the depth or evocativeness of his art so much as in the sense that he never pursued it [1]at least not to my knowledge as a career, for profit, et cetera), and despite his three failed marriages and his distaste at times to be a father, thoughts and feelings did serve as a prevalent theme in his discussions. (Especially in his later years when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and grappling with his mortality grew more and more visceral.) At it’s more light-hearted, my father, when my younger brother and I stayed with him (that was, typically, every other weekend, mostly from Friday night to Sunday late afternoon), at night before bed, he conducted what he referred to as “chat time.” “Chat time” was when he would devote, perhaps on average, roughly 20n minutes, alone just with each of us, individually, and just… “chat” about… “what-evs” (as that expression goes). In hindsight, though I don’t condescend to accuse him of comprehensively unethical betrayal of his love for the profession of psychotherapy, I do wonder, if only because I have an imagination (?), and even if only it were on his part in fact unconscious… could chat time have been disguise or his own code for secret psychotherapy sessions? I really do want to be emphatic that by no means am I sardonically trying to desecrate my father’s integrity (unacquainted with the depths of his views on ethics or “moral conflict” there are only certain realms where I can express feeling jarred by his apparent breeches of integrity. For example, and bless him by the way, may he rest in peace, I love him, and find plenty about him to appreciate as I age, still, alas, he rarely went out of his way to take RESPONSIBILITY as a father in the context of actual PARENTING. [2]That is to say, he did seem to enjoy having been the creator of off-spring, I mean, having in a biological sense, earned the title of “father” and he enjoyed finding ways to have fun every other … Continue reading Furthermore, that two of the women my father married were 19 years younger than him, and arguably vulnerable in the face his capacity to charm and provide a sense of psychological reassurance that might blind one from the rest of his more complicated and not reassuring personality; add to the mix that he liked photographing nude women, going on vacations by himself or with photographer friends to often do these photo shoots, and that he was very open about his love for pornography…well, when he told me once, in his final year, “I can’t figure out my marriages,” I find that perplexing. Mind you, in my view, that my father photographed consenting nude women and did so on get-aways that excluded his wives, and indulged quite indulgently in pornography—as such, assuming one is in a relationship where such past-times are appreciated, why not. But if my father’s marriages were exceptionally open and sexually liberated and such on anyone’s end other than his, you could have certainly fooled me. Indeed, for as little as saying the WORD “sexual” I was once chastised and told “don’t ever say that again!” In other words, I fear that if my father genuinely  DIDN’T understand his marriages, it was I think highly probable that he hadn’t wanted to, that he was in some sort of denial. If even a kid who is too young to masturbate can smell the intense odor of sexual repressiveness, shame, insecurity, and refusal to have a mature conversation about it, well then, that my father some how failed, as, you know, someone with a doctorate in psychology and decades of clinical experience, it’s just rather hard to believe. Was it that he couldn’t figure out his marriages or was it that he couldn’t convince his wives to see the world as he did? Or…did he not have any awareness of his terrifying episodes of anger which could manifest themselves in such forms as his calling a young prepubescent child a “shit head pussy jew,” saying at times “get out of here” and alternatively, “come here so I can hit you” who knows what the hell he may have said to his wives and whatever role that could have played in the shaping of sexual chemistries. That my father couldn’t figure out I suffered from pretty severe panic disorder, depression, and self-hatred is also perplexing especially given how he sometimes boasted of knowing how to deal with children and teenagers, even those with serious behavioral problems. (And he was explicitly conflicted when it came to opining on the psychology of friends and family. On the one hand, he said it was absolutely inappropriate for him to my psychologist, or his wife’s, et cetera. On the other hand, he sometimes shared his view that he thought I had Attention Deficit Disorder. Funny enough, he and my mother shared this view. And yet, if they ever were to watch me at work, reading and writing or whatever it is I do, I’m the extreme opposite of ADD. To a fault, or so a former coworker once alleged, my hyper-focus comes at the cost of failing to engage in necessary multitasking. So not only was there conflicted thoughts on the role a parent psychologist’s psychologizing should play, but he clearly got it wrong…until I was like 19 and my panic disorder became so blatant that at any point in the day I would have a panic attack in front of whoever was around and he might break of a piece of his Xanax to try an alleviate it. Though technically illegal he’s dead now so he can’t get in trouble for it. And the context of that phase of his life and my life is so complicated anyway…were we to delve into it now, one might empathize with the his guilt and need to feel he could do something to help if he couldn’t so much as assertively insist that I see a psychologist. You see, to give you the simplified version, my father was by then in the more progressed stages of his Parkinson’s disease, no longer working from his office and only very part time, and on the verge of divorce from his third wife, it resembled, in my view, one of those terrifying psychological dramas of hopelessly miserable white middle class suburbia like American Beauty where everyone under the roof was essentially debilitated by his or her own hybrid of psychological disorders and thus utterly isolated from everyone else in the household with the exception of when one person seemed to anger another and an argument would, like baking soda mixed with vinegary, explode. But returning to my point about my father’s alleged knack with troubled children and teenagers: the classic story I remember, in fact, is that he once had a client (no, he never gave a name, and said often and explicitly, that as a therapist one was never to do such a thing and betray a client’s confidentiality [3]and he also made certain that a client was indeed referred to as a “client” and not a “patient,” and my father had no patience whatsoever for jokes at the expense of anyone suffering from … Continue reading)… yes so he had this client, I think she was 14 he said, and when they began their session the first thing she said to him, as his telling of the story went, “suck my cock.” His response apparently to her was, “wow…you have balls.” This, he said with pride, brought a comfort to her which led to her opening up to him and liking him as a therapist, he said. Why he did not possess the faculty for similar understanding with wives and children, I just don’t know. My hope in this complex tangle of paragraph is to illustrate just one angle from which I gained at least an experiential appreciation for at least certain nuances of psychology as subject in practice as a perk of sorts for having the father I had. Moreover, as I imagine someone who grew up wealthy might appreciate, having a father who was exceptionally educated, with a doctorate, (an Ed.D), and an enormous library (to date, I’ve never encountered a home with more books and bookshelves than my father had; books and shelves were like the wallpaper in the five room basement of his house). I mean, even as obstinately anti- conventional institutional education as I was, and devoutly “fuck-up” driven as I was, the conditioning influence of his intellectualism—his passion for theory, academic writing, the New York Times, art and culture and a sense of well-rounded “knowledge”—it was, it seems, impossible to evade. To put all of his another way and hopefully serve as summary, it’s deeply embedded in my personality to self-psychologize and to inadvertently psychologize most people I encounter. Thus, even if I never fell in love with literature, art, self-expression, et cetera, I suspect I still would have been the type to keep some form of track on his thought process and gain a sense of whether the thinking was constructive or negative. Not to say that people with experiences so different from mine wouldn’t. My purpose is simply to illustrate the context of and sense of the nature of my own style of unqualified but inevitable self-psychologizing……….

(*)And perhaps he, along with a segment of others interested in psychology and parents might appreciate how father has been “haunting me,” so to speak, in my dreams, almost nightly for I don’t know how long. (Makes me think of President Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father which I sometimes mistook for Dreams OF My Father.) But it feels like it has been at least a year. Maybe longer. Maybe two years or even longer. I’m not sure as I’ve only been tracking my dreams since March 16, 2020, which, as of now (I mean as in July 14, 2020, in the midst of the draft of this essay, identifying and writing on this specific thought for the first time) is just shy of four months. By “tracking” my dreams I mean writing briefly about what I can recall from them each morning. And sometimes I was quite lazy about it. For example, if I happened to have told my wife about it that morning, I often just wrote down that I told her. A few weeks ago I ended that practice. You see, at first it was simply about reiterating to my consciousness an awareness of dreams. But as my thinking on the topic progressed I came to the opinion that what I want is a RECORD of my dreams. The first entry I have of actually writing a summary of a dream is March 20th and wouldn’t you know, my father was implied. It wasn’t about him in this instance but took place in his house. March 22nd, another dream taking place at my father’s house though again he’s not in it but my former stepmother and stepsister were. March 25th: in this dream, again, my former stepmother is the main character, again my father is not actually present but still thought of/mentioned. In my March 29, 2020 entry I wrote: “I dreamt so much I can barely recall it all. I remember expressing fury with my father, relentlessly and without any interest in reconciling.” This seems to have calmed down until April 15 when yet another dream about him transpired. April 24th about my father’s pills. Another dream on April 29th. For the next month or so a lot of my dreams I either didn’t remember or I just wrote down that I told Ashley so maybe I didn’t dream about my father or maybe I just didn’t write about it. But by May 22nd, I was back at it again. April 29th.  April 30th. June 6th. June 9th. June 11th. June 14th. June 18th. June 22nd. June 24th. July 2nd. And today. Dr. Michelle Carr writes for Psychology Today in a November 14, 2014 article: “Theoretically, recurrent dreams are assumed to reveal the presence of unresolved conflicts or stressors in an individual’s life. This is corroborated by findings that recurrent dreams are usually accompanied by negative dream content, and that they are associated with lower psychological well-being” ([Here, Carr cites:]Zadra et al., 1996). Her concluding thought: “Thus, being aware of and working with recurring dreams in your personal life or in therapy is a useful tool for resolving conflicts and improving well-being” (What’s Behind Your Recurring Dreams?”; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dream-factory/201411/whats-behind-your-recurring-dreams; date accessed: July 14, 2020)  This line of thinking appears to persist among some academic psychologists. In a 2017 article published online  on November 30th, 2017andin Motivation and Emotion in 2018“Linking psychological need experiences to daily and recurring dreams,” written by Netta Weinstein,corresponding author  Rachel Campbell, and Maarten Vansteenkiste— one of their studies found that “those higher in general psychological need frustration reported recurring dreams.” (emphasis mine) And additionally: “recurring dreams may be more sensitive to distressing psychological experiences that must be processed by the individual. In line with this, researchers and theorists have argued that recurring dreams challenge individuals to process the most pressing problems in their lives (Weiss 1964), and may be thought to result from individuals’ failure to adapt to challenging experiences (Brown and Donderi 1986; Klein et al. 1971)…lower general psychological well-being has been linked to recurring dreams, as has depression and other psychological disturbances (Brown and Donderi 1986; Cartwright and Romanek 1978; Renik 1981), but this possibility should be evaluated in future research.” (emphases again mine)Hm. That I have depression and deal with “other psychological disturbances” is not so new to me. But what may be “the most pressing problems in [my] li[fe]”; what “challenging experiences” may I be “fail[ing] to adapt to”–?” Well, on top of my list of goals is dealing with my struggle for a self-esteem, and on top of my list of self-esteem elevation related goals is positive thinking. But does this recurring theme of my father suggest I’m headed in the wrong direction, or is it like Bob Dylan writes and sings in his song “Meet Me In The Morning”: “They say you’re darkest hour comes right before the dawn.”


1 at least not to my knowledge
2 That is to say, he did seem to enjoy having been the creator of off-spring, I mean, having in a biological sense, earned the title of “father” and he enjoyed finding ways to have fun every other WEEKEND; and my father was at times brilliantly fun, inventing a play religion, playing music and getting us to dance with him, roasting hot-dogs, pretending people driving white cars were an alien species referred to as “lippoids,” telling stories about the made up planet of Zepper, and maybe one of his most favorite activities, watching movies, either at home, or at the theater—especially movies, to my former stepmother’s dismay, with lots of sex and violence. Indeed, often enough an R-rating was a requirement, which as a kid, has a thrill to it.
3 and he also made certain that a client was indeed referred to as a “client” and not a “patient,” and my father had no patience whatsoever for jokes at the expense of anyone suffering from obesity or addiction as it was one of the very, very few behaviors I recall him emphatically reprimanding

Leave a Reply