Rand van Sant (all names have been disguised) was always late for our psychotherapy sessions. By exactly 5 minutes. I decided not to ask him about it; he was late for everything and had a lifetime of excuses ready for any inquiry.
Randy was Vice President in charge of municipal bonds for Van Sant Trust, a small but prestigious investment house catering to individuals and institutions with at least $10 million to invest. Randy’s father, Peter van Sant, was the firm’s founder and president. Randy was single, 25, and had just graduated from an Ivy League business school. Since graduation he had been living with his parents in a prosperous community a little over an hour up the Hudson River from New York City.
Randy told me that he and his father had a daily ritual. His father would take the 7:03 train, get off at Grand Central Station, walk the seven blocks to their office, and be waiting for his son at 9:00 a.m. sharp. Randy, choosing not to accompany his father, would drive alone in his black Porsche (a graduation gift from his mother) to New York City. With the vagaries of traffic and/or garage attendants, he would arrive at Van Sant Trust between 9:05 and 9:15. Each morning his father would angrily ask, "How come you’re late?" Randy would reply with a terse "traffic" or "the weather."
Evening dinner was a nightmare. It was officially called to order at 7:00 p.m. Randy would dawdle and arrive at the dinner table 5 to 10 minutes late. After an angry glare from his father, the dinner would be conducted in Dutch, his parents’ native language, or in silence.
After about 6 weeks of psychotherapy Randy must have miscalculated because one day he arrived a minute early! Finally for the first time I addressed the issue.
"How come you’re on time?" I asked. Randy laughed at this irony and a therapeutic alliance had now been formed. He was rarely late after that.
Randy told me his father was controlling to the point of suffocation. He was impossible to please: Randy’s high grades should have been higher; his time in the mile race should have been faster. His father never hesitated to cut Randy down and humiliate him, not only in private but in front of others. Randy’s mother was rarely sober after 5:00 p.m. and was quite peripheral to this ongoing battle. Randy was their only child.
Randy was dating a young woman when he began his twice-a-week psychotherapy with me. As he began to feel better about himself, he worked up the courage to propose to Sara Griswold. He was crazy about her.
They were married in a ceremony befitting her own wealthy background, and they moved into a nice home 20 minutes across the Hudson River from New York City. Randy felt liberated living in his own home with his own wife, and within a year, with his own son Thomas.
In contrast to his father, Randy was a full-time parent from the start, participating in pregnancy and labor classes—quite unusual for the 1970s. He stayed home a week during the childbirth period, and, when he resumed psychotherapy, proudly brought in a picture of little Tommy van Sant taken moments after birth.
He told me that in 3 weeks there would be a "showing" of the baby to his parents, to Sara’s parents, and to Sara’s brother and sister who would be flying in from Palm Springs.
The morning after the "showing," Randy came into my office. As soon as he arrived, he said, "Boy am I embarrassed! Do I have egg on my face!"
"Tell me about it," I said.
"Well, Dr. Druss, Tommy was upstairs finishing his nap. Sara and I were shoveling drinks into my folks and the Griswolds. I dressed Tommy and brought him downstairs. First I handed him to Mrs. Griswold, who made a big fuss, rocking Tommy and kissing him. Then I handed him to Mr. Griswold, who laughed and said ‘great kid’ as he handed him back to me. Then to Rod Griswold, who lifted Tommy up over his head. Then to Amy, who hugged him lovingly before she handed Tommy back. Then, next in the semicircle, I gave him to mom, who smiled broadly and gave him back to me. Then, as I approached my father, I shouted out, ‘Baby tired,’ and ran Tommy up the stairs back to his crib. As you can imagine, my father looked hurt and bewildered, but I couldn’t control myself."
Randy and I had spent more time on anger toward his father (or rather the lack thereof) than on any other topic. Initially he denied having any anger at all, justifying his father’s behavior toward him as a "generation gap" or cultural differences because his father was first-generation Dutch.
But soon Randy admitted being "irritated" or "annoyed" at his father. When he actually did admit that he was angry it was without emotion (and he may even have been trying to please me). The day when they first had Sara’s family over, his father had squashed Randy extra vigorously. I remember asking Randy, "Why do I feel more angry than you do when you tell me this?"
This intervention of mine was no more helpful than any of the others I had tried previously. The only kind of intervention that convinced Randy about his true feelings was his own cruel behavior toward his father at the showing, in front of the whole family, when he got egg on his face.
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