On the Corner
BY ROBERT DOCTER –
They walked into the room–this family of seven–for whom I had been asked to deliver family therapy. My co-leader and I watched them as they filed in and found seats we had previously arranged in a circle.
They looked very serious–the mother, Ann, 45, very severe, hair pulled back tightly, no make-up; the father, George, 46, tall and angular, looking frustrated. They had five children–all present. George Jr., 20, sat quickly and erect in a chair, pulling it back slightly from the circle, as distant from his father as the circle allowed. The two girls, Maud, 19 and Shirley, 13, looked around anxiously. Maud, attractive, nicely dressed, sat next to her mother and Shirley huddled closely to Maud. Two young men sat opposite me–Andrew, 18, and Gareth, 16. Everyone looked at me somewhat expectantly, tense with some considerable spillover anger.
I was just about ready to begin the session when the door opened. Striding purposefully into the room came a tall, thin gentleman. George leaped to his feet. “Dad!” he exclaimed–rushing to find another chair to insert into the circle. Nobody else moved. No one slid chairs apart. No one, except George, seemed even superficially welcoming.
My co-leader widened the circle slightly and slipped the chair between her and Gareth.
Standing behind the now-occupied chair, George started to say: “This is my…” when a tight, powerful voice said: “Just sit down, George. These people know who I am.”
George looked at him, seeming to shrink in size, then moved to his chair.
I said: “Why don’t you finish your sentence, George.”
“This is my father. I had invited him to this meeting, but he told me he didn’t believe in this kind of stuff and he wasn’t coming–but he’s here.”
“A very inadequate introduction,” the voice boomed. “I am the Reverend George Tobias Smith…” and then he continued with the nature of his relationship with this family–including the fact that he lived in the house next door to them. “And you sir,” he said, referring to me, “may call me Reverend.”
“Thanks for that introduction, Reverend. I hope everyone here will feel comfortable in calling me Bob.” I then gave them some ground rules about confidentiality and reminded them of the referral to me by their physician. “Now,” I continued, “I’d like to get your thoughts on why you think we are here. Who will begin?”
No period of silence followed. The Reverend spoke immediately. “We are here for a reason you can’t deal with. This family is in trouble because of sin. This generation has chosen to stray from God, to ignore his commandments, to walk into the very halls of hell with their behavior–and their parents have ignored the problem–even joined them–cable television–associating with sinful people–just look at that young woman’s painted face–I tell you they are hypocrites…”
“Okay, Reverend–we got the message.” I said as he took a breath. “Who else has something to add?”
George Jr., his chair pushed back from the circle and slightly turned away from everyone, spoke next. “We’re all here because we care a lot about our family. We can’t seem to figure out how to relate to each other.”
“We’re here because Grandpa doesn’t like it that I wear lipstick, and he’s frightened Mom so much she can’t figure out herself what’s right and what’s wrong,” Maud said.
“That’s part of it,” Andrew said. “And he’s got Dad all riled up ’cause I want to join the Army. Grandpa’s against war of any kind. He won’t even let me go to West Point–and I’m admitted.
Shirley and Gareth said nothing. I asked Mom what she thought.
“That old man over there has his long, rigid list of rules. I don’t think he even likes us. I don’t think I like him–mostly because of what he’s done to George after we all decided to start going to a different church.”
I looked at George–staring at the floor–depressed–shaking his head–crying softly. “You’re really wounded and confused, George. Tell us about it.”
“I feel like a failure. I’ve tried to respect my father–to honor him–but he’s so narrow–and he’s got things about religion so upside down–and the kids are all turning away from him. Ann won’t even let me invite him to dinner. He’s just not the same person since mom died.”
I looked over at the Reverend–then looked again. “I think I see a little tear in your eye, Grandpa. Tell me about the tear.”
My mind flashed on the healing necessary in this family–so quick to see things in black and white–nothing in the middle–longing so much to have perfect parents, never realizing its impossibility–needing to strengthen some boundaries and lessen others–needing to learn how to relate–how to grieve–how to parent and grandparent effectively–and most of all, needing to learn about a loving God who wants us both to love him and those around us.
We’ve got a lot of healing to do in this family, I thought–and we’re starting now.