my father and Dr. Colp

 

One reason there was such a meeting of minds — a fusion — with my therapist Dr. Colp — he called it the X factor — was similarities in our relationships with our fathers.

I remember when Dr. Colp’s father passed away. I read the latter’s obituary in the Times.

Dr. Colp’s father was a surgeon. Dr. Colp became a surgeon. He said he could never equal his father professionally. And he found that he didn’t particularly like surgery.

But what caused him to, in a sense, defy his father and assert himself by forging a new identity was that he found he was, above all, interested in talking with his patients and learning about them, something most physicians don’t see as a primary function or concern. He said he wrote some short stories based on his patients.

The result was that Dr. Colp “started all over again” and did a second residency in psychiatry.

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Early on, I told Dr. Colp: I can feel the interest in me. That alone is therapeutic.

What a person. His capacity for empathy. And for LISTENING. Rare in anyone, even therapists, it seems.

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Charles Darwin’s father was a physician. He felt that his son Charles would probably never amount to anything. His persona vis-à-vis his son was remarkably similar to that of Dr. Colp’s father; and Dr. Colp (the younger, that is, Ralph Colp Jr.) became a preeminent Darwin scholar.

The parallels were apparent to me. I commented on them to Dr. Colp, who expressed approval for and admiration of my insight.

Dr. Colp’s relationship with his father was a lot like mine.

At some point — in his writings, in our discussions, in general, and when my own father died — I gathered among Dr. Colp’s views that the death of a man’s father (and, by extension, a woman’s mother, which did not pertain to our discussions, but can be implied or inferred) was a crucial event in one’s life (he said this explicitly to me) — I am sure he was speaking for himself. And, that death is profound in terms of loss and grief, but there is also a release. In the case of a parent, you are free of the parent: free of demands and expectations they placed on you; of criticisms that may have crippled you emotionally, undermined your self-confidence.

Dr. Colp saw all this.

You are free to grow. To become, more than heretofore, your own person.

And …

to incorporate into yourself — your personhood, character; your personality; your demeanor — hitherto unappreciated and overlooked strengths and admirable features of the deceased loved one, parent.

In conclusion

I forgive my father his faults.

They are all of ours. My own.

I appreciate much more than I ever did his admirable qualities, Without being aware of it, I absorbed, unconsciously, and mimicked many of them.

I had an excellent male role model without knowing it.

My father.

Perfect. No. A good father. Yes and no. Someone to emulate and admire. Yes.

And – this is in afterthought which may seem to undercut what I have said – I recall moments of genuine affection. His delight in getting me something I really wanted for my birthday once when I was a preadolescent and surprising me with it; affectionate hugs from him when, after a long absence, I came home for visits in my twenties and thirties; and our last long distance phone conversation, which meant so much to me (that we had it), on a Sunday night two days before his death on the following Tuesday — he told me at the end of a long talk that he loved me. He may have said this because he had a sense of impending death, but our conversation was not gloomy, he was in good humor, and as far as he knew he was going to have a routine operation that he was scheduled for on the day that he died.

 

Roger W. Smith

   December 2022

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