Witnessing the trauma of children used as pawns in a struggle for control, I drew pictures that illustrated the precepts of our journey to independence and posted them on the southern wall of their room. The large floor was reserved for their projects, the furnishings being limited to inflatable beds and a computer workstation. Still, I wasn’t certain that the lessons had sunk in until my elder son, a junior in college, began lecturing me over dinner on the proper application of power and love.
Still, for years they were skeptical of my spirituality. Greg, as I counseled him through a painful breakup, was first to make concessions. Kevin was close behind, under my prompting to consider how his moral posture at work facilitated the creativity of his team.
Still, children need to define their own space. My financial situation doesn’t make it easy for them. Psychology has used law to stake claim to the mind, undermining the position of independent mental wellness professionals. My sons sensed, as their earnings soared in the field that I left, that I needed to concede my mistake, and return to high tech. What I attempted to make clear to them was that the factors that made that unsustainable still applied. In fact, my personal influence has grown in the intervening years. I am unmanageable, in the sense that no supervisor is going to be able to control my attention, a fact that leads immediately to the conclusion that I am myself management material.
Their alienation from me was stiffened by the correlation with the narratives that they were fed during my divorce. It came to a head during a walk at the Malibu tidal marsh over Thanksgiving weekend. Kevin was arguing that psychology, with the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychopharmacology, provided the tools needed for mental wellness. As occurs when I am confronting lies propagated by selfish gestalts, I raised my voice and addressed the air. Alarmed by crackling energy, Greg told me to keep my voice down.
Focusing narrowly on Kevin, then, I spent the next thirty minutes dissecting his narrative. CBT is a minimal improvement on prior practices that actually harmed patients. Yes, pharmaceuticals can kick the brain out of a destructive spiral, but the psychiatrists have absolutely no idea how they actually work, which means that side effects can be worse than the disease. In fact, every rigorous study shows that only one factor leads from mental disease to wellness: an experience of authentic relationship that convicts the client that they are capable and worthy of love.
Concluding this dialog, Greg interjected to observe, “Dad, how can you expect others to trust you when you haven’t done the work yourself?”
What lies implicit in this kind of comment? That became clear only in December, when I blew up and exposed the false equivalencies that had been cultivated in their minds over the last twenty years. Confronted with that injustice, Greg softened.
When he takes his archery jaunts on the weekend, he revealed, he stops in quiet moments and open himself into to nature, and inescapably encounters my presence there. He admitted that I have cultivated experiences for him, over the years, that have awakened sensitivities unknown to his peers. In fact, when he attempts to share the concerns they instill, his peers respond, “Our parents and grandparents screwed up the world while enjoying their privileges, and the only thing for us to do now is to enjoy those same privileges as long as we can.” Greg is, simply, afraid for the future.
As for Kevin, I send texts and emails to no response. But, after testifying that I value his love, something subtle shifted. His thoughts come through to me now, though still with a defensive anchor against the vastness of my concerns.
All this as prelude to yesterday. Reading to the conclusion of Keltner Dachner’s “Awe,” I tripped over this quote from Rachel Carson:
“…that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood…[children should live according to] a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation of things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
This distillation of Greg’s despair tore my heart open at its foundations, and I found within the fear of his generation. Tears welled up as I attempted to let it wash through me, allowing the fear to ground itself on the hope that arises from the Divine Presence. Immediately they were present with me, my two boys, bearing witness to the gravity of my responsibility. As they watched the sorrow dissipate within me, each after the other offered, “I am glad that you are here.”