What I have come to realize after a decade of practice, as a psychotherapist, is that the fundamental skills needed to be a solid father are not that different from the skills needed to be a good therapist. Learning how to raise up “good men,” and learning how to become a good psychotherapist have deeply informed each other. They have brought me front and center with the need as a father and as a therapist to simply BE with difficult challenging human emotion. To simply be present and emotionally available for my clients, and my sons.
My father simply could not be in that space. His default mechanism was to dominate—something many of us fathers have learned. I still hear my father’s words, “You want something to cry about, you want me to get my belt off?” I think I peed my pants. Seriously. I still feel part of my father, embedded deep in me, struggling to stay in control – of me and of others. It’s a legacy I am letting go of.
Defaulting into domination is something that I have been attempting to un-learn and to un-wire for at least 2 decades. That re-wiring has been the biggest challenge of hopefully becoming a good father and hopefully a good therapist: I’m working hard to be present for and listen to my sons and my clients. My sons, now in their 20’s, are strong enough to speak honestly with me, “Dad, stop telling us how to act, and just BE that way yourself.” And I can hear those words without being reactive, without dominating, and end our conversation with hugs. I’m chalking that up as progress.