You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2014.

Image

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I felt much disconnection and alienation within my family unit. My mother contracted a mysterious illness for ten of my formative years while my father worked excessively in his high-end furniture business. Around the dinner table if you didn’t discuss the furniture business, you were invisible. I learned to use humor and negative behavior in order to be seen. My paternal grandfather was known to be more of a humanitarian than a businessman and politically leaned toward socialism. My father attended a socialist school during his high school years. This school was comprised of working class Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe and focused on social injustice. Perhaps it was watching his mother refuse food during the Great Depression so that her children were able to eat that influenced my father to shift toward capitalism. During high school my father began working and would ultimately transform his father’s used furniture store into a high-end competitive furniture business. As I watched my father’s obsessive behavior over the years, I developed a love-hate relationship with capitalism. I would never make a choice to work in businesses to sustain a materialistic life style after witnessing my father’s hyperfocus on business and the resulting neglect of his family. From an early age I was drawn to a life of service, visiting people in the hospital in my neighborhood and working in summer camps for developmentally disabled children. I had little interest in capitalism; instead I became idealistic and wanted to heal the world.

 
In addition to my antipathy toward capitalism, I had an abject fear of not being able to support myself. Confidence building in their children had not been a primary focus for my parents; they were much more focused on survival. Both of my parents were first generation American born and with that carried much trauma from their respective histories. Achievement orientation was not a central part of my upbringing. My 1st serious boyfriend, however, instilled this quality in me during my college years. I became the president of the freshman women’s honor society and later vice president of the psychological honor society. I graduated cum laude from the University of Miami and received my Masters from Tulane University as an A student.
 
When I moved from Miami to New Orleans for graduate school, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. It would be in New Orleans where I would truly grow up. It was in New Orleans where I found a succession of teachers to help me heal many of my wounds from childhood. It was in New Orleans where I would face my fear of not being able to support myself financially, but it would take a surprising and circuitous path.
 
When I became pregnant, I began working with my husband in his construction company. I was surprised to learn how quickly I understood business and became an asset. During that time I was actively working in group psychotherapy so that I could consciously raise my daughter as a single mom. Unsure of how to serve, I entered a premed program and was invited to join the premed honor society. When I realized that I would have to redo my whole undergraduate degree which was comprised primarily of social sciences in order to become a doctor, I decided that practicing psychotherapy could provide all the service I would need to feel fulfilled in a career.
 
Soon after this decision was made, I met, fell in love with and married my second husband. A year later, my son was born and we moved to the north shore where I volunteered at my daughter’s school and participated in her extracurricular activities. Needing to contribute to the family income, I secured a job at a furniture store in New Orleans run by a Jewish family. I know, the irony eluded me at the time.
 
When I began working at the furniture store I took to it like a fish in water. I sold three times that of each of the other salespeople and was offered a sales management position. To me selling furniture was a gas. I could sell furniture effortlessly. What I found most satisfying, however, was the unconscious tendency I had  toward working therapeutically with my customers. When working with couples, I found a way to empower the disempowered member of the dyad. This method proved strangely effective in influencing the outcome and ultimate satisfaction gleaned from the sale. On one occasion, a woman disclosed that her daughter was raising her mentally disabled grandchild. She described a particularly challenging scenario that her daughter was managing. I can remember saying to this grandmother, “God knows who to give these children to.” The next time the women came in to see me, she reported that she had had a mini breakdown and secured a psychotherapist after becoming deeply moved by our interaction.
 

I was beginning to feel that selling furniture was feeding an addictive part of me even though I could, in fact, support myself. It was becoming clear that in order to return to practicing psychotherapy, I had to take myself much more seriously; I had to find the confidence internally that had not been forthcoming. I recognized the significance of returning to my roots through the business I had adamantly and righteously rejected. I had come full circle. The success and satisfaction that I found was a complete surprise. By completing the circle from resentment to humility, I was able to have gratitude for the sacrifices my father and grandfather had made so that our family’s physical survival was secured. Now I had the freedom to choose how I would express that life.
 
It was only from the sacrifices of my ancestors that I had the freedom to choose a life of service and social action. I wonder if my grandfather would be surprised to know how much he indirectly influenced my life. He was known as a quiet man, one who would cross the street to avoid a
customer who owed him money so as not to embarrass the customer. I never knew my grandfather as I was the youngest of my siblings and he had contracted a degenerative neurological disease in his later years. Ultimately, it is ironic that I probably had more in common with the man whom I’d never known.
 
Now that I am in my later years, living with this degenerative neurological illness and being so far away from my grandchildren, perhaps there is an unseen way that love and its influence manifests. Perhaps this is yet another unexpected teaching from my grandfather.
 
 
 

 

 

Advertisements