"From Father to Son," a therapist helps her patient see how his relationship with his father affects his feelings about his own son.
“My son’s home on Spring break,” Craig says, looking forlorn.
“I know I should be happy, glad to see him. He’s a good kid, getting great grades in college, actually thinking about becoming a psychologist,” he says with a wry smile.
“But you’re not happy.”
He shakes his head. “And I hate myself for it!” Pause. “You know, I told you my father was an ass, always criticizing me, always telling me all the things I’d done wrong. He was the perfect one, I was the incompetent fool. Made me the anxious, insecure mess you see now.” Pause. “It’s not that I’m like that with my son Daniel. I’d kill myself if I was like that. I swore to myself I’d never be like that with my kids and I haven’t been. It’s more what I feel inside. And I’m so ashamed, how could I be such an awful person? It’s not like that with Britany, my daughter. We have a great relationship, so easy to spend time with, so easy to talk to.”
“So what is it that you feel about your son?” I ask.
“Jealous. Jesus, I hate that about me, what an awful thing to feel about your own son.”
“Beating yourself up for your feelings isn’t helpful to you. Or to your son for that matter. It would be better if we could understand your feelings. What do you feel jealous about?”
“It’s so embarrassing, but I’m jealous about everything. I’m jealous of his relationship with my wife. I’m jealous about his ease in the world. I’m jealous he has all these friends. I’m jealous that he already has a sense of purpose. I’m jealous, I’m jealous and I’m sick of myself.”
“It sounds like you’re saying you’re jealous of Daniel because he’s had a much easier time in himself and in the world than you had.”
“And what kind of father is that?! Fathers are supposed to want more for their children, want their kids to do better than them. And me, I’m a despicable jealous fool!”
“You certainly still carry your father’s critical voice with you inside your head, condemning yourself for who you are and what you feel.”
“But I should condemn myself. How else could I feel?”
“Well, you might feel compassion for yourself and, again, try to understand where your feelings come from.”
“It’s not only how I feel, it’s how I act! It’s not that I’m critical of Daniel but I’m – I’m not sure what to say – I’m distant, reserved and I worry how he interprets my coolness.”
“Do you think your father felt jealous of you?”
“What?! No. I told you, he thought I was an incompetent jerk.”
“But maybe he needed you to be a, quote, ‘incompetent jerk.’ Maybe he needed you to be less than him so he kept you down by being critical and demeaning. I don’t mean he knew all that consciously, but unconsciously he might have experienced you as a dangerous competitor.”
“I don’t know what to say to that. It’s like turning my world on its
head.” Pause. “And what would that mean in relation to Daniel?”
“Well first, as I said, you carry your father’s critical voice with you in your head. That critical voice certainly gets turned against you, but it sounds like you’ve also been afraid you’d turn it against Daniel and rather than do that, you’ve withdrawn from him.”
“Wow, that makes sense. I’m not sure what I do with it, but it makes sense.” Pause. “What about Barb, my wife?”
“What are your thoughts?”
“Barb always doted on Daniel. Britany was our first born, but I thought Barb always favored Daniel. I don’t know why, maybe because he was a boy and she lost her father shortly before Daniel was born. I guess I was jealous then, jealous of their bond and I worried that she was indulging the boy. Wow! I do sound like my father when I say that. My father was always telling my mother she was spoiling me, but unlike Barb my mother would immediately stop however she was being to me and side with my father.”
“So you lost your mother to your father. Are you saying you feel as though you lose Barb to your son?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Especially since we’ve gotten older, you know, as the passion dims.” Pause. “I feel as though my heads spinning.”
“We have dealt with a lot today. Some of it might make sense intellectually, some not, but there are certainly a lot of feelings to work through on an emotional level. For sure, your relationship with your father has affected your being a father and that’s pretty much true for everyone.”
“So I’m not a freak?”
“That’s you father’s voice again, Craig. And, no, you’re definitely not a freak.”