Tag Archives: Alan Wright Smith

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

what sort of man was Dr. Colp?

 

I shared this whole letter from my mother to my father — a very long and loving letter, written when my parents were in middle age, seven years before my mother’s untimely death — with my therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr.

The salutation is so tender and touching, I said to him.

It brings tears to my eyes, he replied.

 

my parents, 1944

— posted in loving memory by Roger W. Smith

   November 2022

my mental influences

 

I got a great education, almost entirely for free. Realizing this now, I consider myself very fortunate.

But I want to talk mostly about my parents — Alan W. and Elinor Handy Smith (how I miss them!) — and their influence on me. Again, I was very fortunate. How much so I have grown to appreciate over the years. Posthumously, as it were.

Intuition and critical thinking skills. The ability to do mental work requiring great effort. To pursue an area of study: languages or mathematics, for instance; the principles and rules of composition and rhetoric.

To persist in research. The laborious undertaking (only a practitioner can appreciate this) of translation.

Sculpting a piece of writing. Perfecting it and trying to ensure comprehensiveness and accuracy.

Intellectual colloquy. Listening ability. The ability to assimilate and weigh contrary opinions. (How much I have enjoyed this with cherished friends. Incalculable.)

So called emotional intelligence. And what my former therapist, Dr. Colp, called “rapid insight.” He complimented me, saying I had it.

These are gifts which I was bequeathed. This being the case, I made the best of them. I am proud of this and, like Walt Whitman, feel entitled to be “no more modest than immodest.”

My mother. She had a “preternatural” intuitive faculty. Great insight. Emotional sensitivity like that of Dr. Colp, the practitioner of medicine and man of science who was a deep thinker (and a writer as well as physician) with keen analytical abilities; and, at the same time, like my parents, the opposite of emotionally clueless. He never lost or left at the door his humanity.

I must have gotten my memory from my mother. She recalled emotionally significant situations, people, incidents in novelistic detail–minute detail. Something amusing or significant from her youth or young adulthood. Elementary school teachers. Relatives (aunts). Funny things they said or did. Wisdom from her father. Books she read and loved (from both childhood and later, e.g., Little Women, All the King’s Men), words and incidents. She would quote lines and passages from memory, as can I.

Humorous things she remembered and recounted. The oddities and peculiarities of a person. Related as might a Melville with his Bildad and Peleg and Peter Coffin of the Spouter-Inn.

My father. Blessed with native intelligence. A lover of learning, meaning, as was the case with me, intellectual immersion and challenge. For its own sake. (He would recount the sheer pleasure he took in certain school subjects and areas of study.) He was the first in his nuclear family to attend a four year college. Like me, valuing it mostly for intellectual enrichment, rather than regarding a degree as a steppingstone. (The same very true of my mother.)

Insight combined with intellect (rationality). (Thinking mostly of my father.)

My parents’ keen aesthetic sense. They both had it and transmitted this to me and my siblings, who all have it, in spades. This was perhaps the most important thing of all. My mother majored in Fine Arts in college, my father in Music.

Like Dr. Colp, who had every right to be presumptuous, my parents did not seem to care that much about degrees or credentials. Other than being proud, implicitly, of having graduated from prestigious schools. It was the same with me (insofar as regards how I valued having a degree).

The following is a final point or points which I believe are critical.

The abilities I acquired should not be taken for granted. As I have said, they were inherited. But they had to be developed.

Most people, I would guess, think college is everything. The school one attends, what one majors in. This is not quite true. For me, at least. I think also for my Dad (a Harvard graduate). It was quite interesting to see his high school transcript and to find about the languages he studied and how he excelled in math (as did I). He studied Latin and French! (And German in college.) I never knew it.

College (for me) was greatly enriching and intellectually broadening and stimulating, an intellectual finishing school. But high school–early adolescence– in contrast, was foundational, critical. Made all the difference. (A nod to Robert Frost.)

French. Latin. Le subjonctif. Declensions and conjugations.

Magna cum celeritate. Castra ponere. Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Corneille and Racine.

Algebra I and II. Theorems and proofs. Quadratic and simultaneous equations. Cartesian coordinates. Logarithms.

English class. Writing essays in first period. Like pulling teeth, as they say. Coming up with something to say. Trying not to make a fool of oneself.

Lucubration. Intellectual effort.

Workshops and discussion groups in my church youth group.

I have often thought of Samuel Johnson in this regard. Like me, he got an excellent primary school education. But you know what the most important period was? His adolescence. Not his year at Oxford. The influence of his cousin Cornelius Ford, whom he boarded with for a year or two beginning at age sixteen. See W. Jackson Bate’s magnificent biography of Johnson. With Ford’s example and from conversation with him came the brilliant Johnson– scholar, writer. and conversationalist — whom we meet in Boswell’s Life.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2022

Melville’s thoughts (mine)

 

To have known him, to have loved him
after loneness long;
And then to be estranged in life,
And neither in the wrong;
And now for death to set his seal—
Ease me, a little ease, my song!

– Herman Melville

Herman Melville was a man of deep insight and feeling. And yet it was difficult for him to get close to people.

I apply Melville’s words to me and my relationship with my father. Not exactly, but close enough.

I so wish I could talk with my father now.

Can anyone understand?

Written by me in P. J. Carney’s pub, while reading Wordsworth’s Prelude and reflecting upon each and every phrase.

 

– Roger W. Smith

 Sunday, October 23, 2022

addendum (his character)

 

Elaborating further on my latest post

his character

his character

Was my praise of my father fulsome? A Falstaff and all that.

Enumerating such things (as James Joyce did in the case of his own father), I would say that I got from my father:

– intelligence

– good nature towards all and sundry

– conscientiousness

– a sense of humor

Regarding personal flaws, mine and everyone else’s:

I don’t choose friends or intimate acquaintances (to the extent one chooses one’s spouse, significant others, and closest friends) based on a checklist.

If I see good in someone, humanity, sincerity, etc., that is enough for me. There may be egregious failings as well.

I greatly value the friendships I have formed with intellectuals and deep thinkers. I do not, however, look down per se on people less well read or educated than me. This is not just out of kindness of indulgence on my part. There are all sorts of wisdom and intelligence that one can profit from. And, character means a lot to me. Plus – as an afterthought – I have observed wit and insight in persons who don’t necessarily read a lot. This is something my father, who was entitled to pride himself on his education, was very capable of.

I have tended for most of my life to be very self-critical. I am more able now to live with myself when I do something “wrong” out of heedlessness or resulting from willful misbehavior. But I don’t just forgive myself or give myself a pass. I have not changed in that respect.

Regarding friends and acquaintances of mine who have been guilty of transgressions or have character flaws — or what seem to be misguided beliefs — I err far on the side of tolerance. And the same with those who have problems causing them to be castigated as deviant or abnormal.

I was greatly influenced by the Bible when I was young, how Jesus treated sinners: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

and

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

And Walt Whitman:

This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp’d slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest

— Watt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

his character

 

Taking the Staten Island Ferry this morning and enjoying the cool breezes and the City, I thought of my parents and when they took me to New York in the summer of 1953 (or was it ‘54?) when I was age seven.  We took the ferry to cool off.  Our hotel, in Times Square,  was four dollars,  I seem to recall.

Why did they take just me? I had a younger brother who was around three years old and an older brother who was around ten.

They may have thought I needed special attention.  I was,  deep down, unhappy and insecure.  I adored my mother and was needy of love and attention.  She gave it, but it did not seem like enough.  My father often seemed remote and distant.  I was afraid of him.  He was so imposing.

Then there was the time in 1969 when my parents, with my younger brother and sister, came to visit me in New York. I was doing CO  (conscientious objector) service. I was barely making enough to live on, but I had found an apartment.

took them to Wo Hop, 17 Mott  Street, in  Chinatown.  No frills. Cheap!  My coworkers on East 18th Street had introduced me to the  place. What became of them? Where are they now?

My father was delighted.

My father relished every such good moment in his life,  every day. People and quotidien experiences.

I miss him greatly.

A Dickens or Shakespeare would have appreciated him for what he was.  A sort of Sir John (aka Jack) Falstaff,  a Mr Micawber, a Simon Dedalus.  A man liked by all and unfairly maligned by a few narrow minded relatives  for faults real or imagined that most of us have and few like to admit.

 

— posted by Roger W.   Smith

   July 25, 2022

James Joyce on his father

 

James Joyce said of his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, “I got from him his portraits, a waistcoat, a good tenor voice, and an extravagant licentious disposition.” In Ulysses, Simon Dedalus is a version of the author’s father. While the fictional character is a bad provider for his family, leaving his daughters penniless, James Joyce also portrays Simon as witty and good company outside of his home, popular in bars and gifted with a wonderful tenor voice that soars in the novel’s “Sirens” episode. Of his father’s influence on the book, Joyce told a friend, “The humor of Ulysses is his; its people are his friends. The book is his spittin’ image.”’

— James Joyce exhibit, Morgan Library

 

I can relate to this portrayal.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

carpe diem

 

When my father would get into an argument with his second wife Jan — my stepmother — he would, as she told me, grit his teeth and say, “I’m not going to let it ruin my day.”

We (siblings and stepmother) had a surprise birthday party at my father’s home on Cape Cod on his 65th birthday.

At the end of the day, after the guests had left, he said to us that he almost didn’t want to go to bed. He didn’t want his wonderful day to be over.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2022

a memory

 

“Well,” his father said, “reckon I’ll hoist me a couple.”

They turned through the swinging doors into a blast of odor and sound. There was no music: only the density of bodies and of the smell of a market bar, of beer, whiskey and country bodies, salt and leather; no clamor, only the thick quietude of crumpled talk. Rufus stood looking at the light on a damp spittoon and he heard his father ask for whiskey, and knew he was looking up and down the bar for men he might know. But they seldom came from so far away as the Powell River Valley; and Rufus soon realized that his father had found, tonight, no one he knew. He looked up his father’s length and watched him bend backwards tossing one off in one jolt in a lordly manner, and a moment later heard him say to the man next him, “That’s my boy”; and felt a warmth of love. Next moment he felt his father’s hands under his armpits, and he was lifted, high, and seated on the bar, looking into a long row of huge bristling and bearded red faces. The eyes of the men nearest him were interested, and kind; some of them smiled; further away, the eyes were impersonal and questioning, but now even some of these began to smile. Somewhat timidly, but feeling assured that his father was proud of him and that he was liked, and liked these men, he smiled back; and suddenly many of the men laughed. He was disconcerted by their laughter and lost his smile a moment; then, realizing it was friendly, smiled again; and again they laughed. His father smiled at him. “That’s my boy,” he said warmly. “Six years old, and he can already read like I couldn’t read when I was twice his age.”

Rufus felt a sudden hollowness in his voice, and all along the bar, and in his own heart. But how does he fight, he thought. You don’t brag about smartness if your son is brave. He felt the anguish of shame, but his father did not seem to notice, except that as suddenly as he had lifted him up to the bar, he gently lifted him down again. “Reckon I’ll have another,” he said, and drank it more slowly; then, with a few good nights, they went out.

— James Agee, A Death in the Family

 

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I sent the following email to my brothers and my sister this afternoon:

to my siblings

I am in a favorite bar near Carnegie Hall. The waitresses are so nice to me.

A guy just walked in with a little kid under five. They are sitting in a booth right next to me.

It triggered a memory which made me feel very sentimental. I have not thought about it for years.

I wound up at a bar with Dad, probably in Cambridge, when I was around six or seven.

I sat on a barstool. Everyone — the bartender and everyone else — was so nice to me. They treated me like an honored guest.

The bartender gave me a bowl of potato chips …. how I enjoyed them!

I was bathed in warmth and kindness.

miss Dad terribly

ROGER

 

— posted  by Roger W. Smith

    July 31, 2021

 

Walden Pond, Concord, Mass., early 50’s. My father, me, and my two brothers. I am the furthest to the left.

a witness at the Nurernberg trials

 

Bunky Morrison letter 2-17-1946

Posted here is a letter to my father Alan W. Smith (“Smitty”)  and my mother, Elinor Handy Smith, from my father’s good friend “Bunky” Morrison, dated February 17, 1946.

My father served in the U.S. Army from April 1942 until January 1946 with the rank of First Lieutenant. Both my father and his friend Bunky (who was from Boston) lived in Massachusetts. My father served in Panama.

Also posted here below is a photo of my father with his Army buddies taken in New York City in September 1942. Bunky Morrison is the furthest to the right; to his left is my father.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2021

 

Photo taken in New York City, September 1942. “Bunky” Morrison to far right. Alan W. Smith on his left.