Wednesday, December 10, 2008
What's in a Name
No matter the family dysfunction, if you have children you have an opportunity to change direction. And it does seem, that if you come from a family that was functional, you can change that, too, with the right match.
But for now, let's stick to the former idea, the hopeful one, that no matter the family dysfunction, we can change direction somehow. Let's stick with this thesis that we can direct fate, for everyone likes thinking they can. We don't have to be slaves to circumstance.
Those of us with anxiety disorders especially like this world view.
As are those in The Business. They know that we go to the movies to see how others fumble at controlling their lives, and how other people, ordinary people, make it all work out somehow. Satisfactorily.
The people in the business know that some of us really need happy endings. We need to see change that will make it all functional, and we're so grateful for this art, for the places we can go to see that things really do work out for the best. Our favorite drug, seriously.
Therapists like me try to model our personalities, actually, off of therapists in the movies. We assume that they get paid better, so why wouldn't we? I admire them, but can't really bring myself to behave like them.
Like the therapist in the movie Ordinary People (played by Judd Hirsch, a natural therapydoc) leaves his office and chases down his patient, a fifteen year old kid. He goes where ever the kid's pathology takes him.
The little guy, poignantly played by Timothy Hutton, has watched his brother drown in a boating accident and has significant post-traumatic stress. Timothy is not going to go to therapy voluntarily. His mom, Mary Tyler Moore, isn't a touchy-feely Mom. She apparently isn't chasing him. So Judd chases him.
When the doc catches up with him, the conversation goes something like this:
The kid says, "I needs control."
Judd says, "We therapists aren't real into control."*
And it is true! I clap loudly, of course, when I hear this and get dirty looks from people all around me in the theater, but I can't help it. Who could? It's true. You want to control your life, but life basically takes over, does whatever the __ it wants.
We have a Yiddish expression, and I always get it wrong, so forgive, me, correct me, put me in idiom jail, Mann tracht und Gott lacht. Man is busy making things happen, plotting the details, and God laughs. I'm sure He/She has a serious knee-slapper or seventeen million of them every single day.
Anyway, one way of doing this, controlling your life, plotting the course of destiny, is to name a child after someone you respect. I'm pretty sure that several cultures do this.
For example, a guy named James might name his son after himself, making his son James II. James II names his son James III, and so on. This pattern continues generationally. Pretty soon you have many, many respectable guys named James in the family tree.
This makes it a lot easier to be a family therapist plotting names and dysfunction in the family forest. We don't have to ask, "So what was your great-great grandfather's name?" We're pretty sure that it is James and a Roman numeral.
On my husband's side, there's a David in every family. At least one David. I had no idea how important the tradition of naming the first son David could be until I failed to name either of my first born male twins, David. In my family's tradition, if a living uncle or an aunt is named David, you wouldn't name your kid David. It's just not done. So we didn't.
And we're paying to this day.
Relatives from far away will visit and gaze at photographs that I have elegantly stapled to a wall in the hallway to the kitchen, giving up on picture frames (they break) long ago. I dedicated the entire wall to pictures and when I get depressed I go there and visit everybody.
So visiting relatives will look at the pictures, too, and say, "So which one is David?"
I'll point to my fourth child.
"Wait a minute. He's not the b'chor (first son)." I tell over the Explanation.
Nah, I'm just kidding. They smile as if to say, "Well, you figured that one out." That's how it is in most families with strong traditions about names. Keep it functional, they're saying, or we'll show you the door. And we want to please them, too, and keep the wheels of history well-oiled.
It's about wanting control. Well, some of it is.
We really do want to change history, change tomorrow if we can. That's what therapy is all about. It's why we go to see therapists. And if the therapist is a behaviorist, we begin to play around with the future. This is exactly what we do in therapy, some of us. We play around with the future.
For example, a patient will mourn seeing the next day, dread going to work: "Tomorrow I'm going to go to work and the boss is going to beat on me something fierce." Therapists hear this at least once a week.
And we'll say, "Ha! You're not going to work! Are you crazy?"
Forgive me. Forget that line Are you crazy.
We say, "You're not going for three weeks! Maybe more. You have to get better." And we all bless Bill Clinton and FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Or we discuss other ways of handling situations and teach assertiveness. If you're not really sick, and face it, you're probably not, we work with the system, and sure, teach assertiveness. We teach this even if you are sick, but we wait until you're well enough to absorb it.
You'll say to your boss, at some point, "Boss. I have two hands only."**
We can control quite a bit when we open our mouths, sometimes.
Therapy is hard, however, so the simplest way to control destiny really is to have a child or adopt a child and to name the little peanut after someone you totally admire and respect, someone who probably wasn't always saintly, but grew into the role.
If we're smart about this, we'll look into the family tree or perhaps our communities, or even to history, and will find someone born with an easy disposition, someone thoughtful who doesn't automatically get riled up just because everyone else is riled up. We'll name a child for a person who thinks before speaking, responds rather than reacts, has a ready smile and if at all possible, an aptitude for music, even song, for song is music; someone who assumes the best in people, rather than automatically suspecting the worst.
Then the little miracle, robed in this fabulous name of a fabulous person tells people, "I'm named for So and So. Let me tell you about So and So."
And So and So lives on.
Talk about controlling destiny.
P.S. You can read about imagination, control, and addiction at The Second Road. I post over there once a week.
*Thanks Paramount. For sure. The best line in movie history. Whatever it was.
**And thanks, Helen, for the two-hands-only line.