Monday, November 22, 2010

Lea's Children: Part 1

In the early days Lea would speak of her children in quite glowing terms: Josie, the lovely and talented singer and Malcolm, the mathematical genius. Just as Lea presented her family of origin in pristine terms, so she depicted her children and her relationships with them. The reality was much more troubled. Malcolm was barely on speaking terms with her and Josie. He had not introduced his new wife to his family. Josie, who had been openly rebellious and contemptuous with her mother for some time, had gone to England, trying to start a singing career. Lea was unsettled about both of them, feeling the guilt that any parent has over problems with her children. She was aware of the toll taken on them by the vicissitudes of the family's life and she longed to be able to repair the damage. She was undoubtedly pained by the realization that many in her practice were making strides to resolve residues of their own family backgrounds, becoming freer to live productive and happier lives.

Lea's boundaries in dealing with people were, unfortunately, not very good. She would become involved in various ways in the personal lives of her clients, seeing these interventions for their good -- as they often were. However, because she had developed such faith in her instincts, interventions could easily verge into outright interference. There are many difficult moments in the life of a parent with a child. One is the time when a parent must allow the child to forge his or her way in the world precisely without the kind of interference that can bind the child to a pre-adult state of dependency. Lea wanted too badly to make things better for her children and her interventions on their behalf had disastrous results for all involved. The adage "be careful what you wish for" was in this situation, spot on.

At Christmas, 1965 Josie came home for a visit. Then twenty years old she had been living in England for over a year and had every intention of returning. Contracts had been signed for the spring; England was now her home. But Lea was worried about her. She was a very young woman living a long way away. She had been involved in relationships that would give most mothers pause. Lea was very keen to keep her in Canada and to involve her with the people of her new learning group. Every inducement was attempted. Josie was a recent convert to Catholicism and Greg Baum was to her a hero. If she joined the learning group she would get to know him personally. People from 55 and 59 Admiral (prompted by Lea) introduced the topic of the learning group into conversations, saying how excellent it would be for her. As Lea's daughter she received particular attentions from some of the men in the group. None of these inducements swayed her, however. What changed her mind was a scenario in which Lea used the influence of one of her clients to get Josie an audition. This led to a union job, and a contract for a gig on Avenue Rd. In the event, however, the job fell through and Josie was unable to claim her rights in the situation because the boooking agent was her mother's client.

In the meantime Josie had committed to remaining in Toronto. Lea sent her to Tom O for a battery of psychological tests, necessary she said for the kind of self-knowledge one ought to have when entering the learning group. Tom scheduled a series of meetings with her to "explain the results of the tests," though this was in fact her intoduction to therapy. When he became attracted to her, Tom withdrew from that role, becoming before long her fiance and husband. Lea then organized a "family group" for Rob, Josie, and herself as a locale for Josie's therapy. Others closer to the family like Tom O were invited to participate to lend greater "objectivity" to the endeavour. When Malcolm and Judy landed in Toronto late in 1968 Judy was included in the group and Malcolm may have attended sometimes. Clearly this was never a situation in which issues could be discussed openly and fully. So much of Lea's history and troubles were hidden from all present, even from herself. The others were either her children, her clients, or her students. Tom wasn't entirely in any of these categories but he was her son-in-law and he carried to the end of his life a strong belief in her. In these groups Lea would baldly confront Josie about things she wasn't happy about. Attempting to do therapy with one's own mother, a mother with whom one had had an uneasy relationship, would be hard for anyone. Josie found it, "horribly, horribly painful. It was all difficult. It was flaming hot. My mother could be very hard on me in those settings though I don't think it was because of any ill will. I think it was just an impossible situation from any point of view."

Early on Lea invited Josie to come as an observer to a morning group that she was just beginning. "I couldn't be involved with any of it because I was her daughter and because I wasn't a therapist. I would make the occasional comment though. I learned a lot being there. If she was sick or couldn't come for some other reason, she would ask me to keep an eye on things. I saw that as the group running itself with me there as an observer, letting her know what had happened for the sake of continuity." Over time Josie began to see clients. When she and Tom moved into 105 Admiral in 1967 they were the house group therapists to the other, newer people who shared the first and second floors. Over the years Josie developed a practice.

None of Lea's children could receive therapy of any depth within the Therafields fold. Given the circumstances, they would have had to go to people outside for either objectivity or for a chance to explore their complex relationships with their parents, in particular with Lea herself. But this was never going to happen. And so there was "therapy" of a sort, looking at this but not that, going along so far but not beyond. Always in the foreground was the reality of their roles, their positions as part of "The Family." As her children took on more visible functions Lea had more deliberately to enlist their public solidarity. It would be deemed unseemly, destructive even, for Josie to question or oppose her mother in any public forum. For all her promotion of confrontation as the new golden rule of therapy, Lea herself did not handle it well. She would not only defend her position but would gather supporters to refute any challenges made. Others might be confronted but by affiliation with Lea neither could Rob, Barry, Josie, Malcolm, Visvaldis, or any other particular favorite of hers. People learned that attempts of this kind led to having the tables turned against them. One would be variously accused of destructiveness, paranoia, or ignorance. As Lea had more and more issues in her own private life and those of her children to protect, open and free discussion within the seminar necessarily dried up.

Josie was in the anomolous position of being lauded in public and scolded in private. During the years of Therafields Josie says, "I could never question my mother, certainly in any public way. Permission wasn't there at all. I dreaded having daughters because I thought that my relationship with my mother wasn't so much bad as unexplored. I feared that whatever was there would be acted out in some dramatic manner with a girl that wouldn't happen with a male child." In fact Josie felt that her relationship with her family essentially ended once Therafields began. "It all had to do with the fish-bowl effect, the sense of always interacting in a public place, of there always being an audience. In my dealings with my family 90% of the time, if anything came up between my mother and me, it couldn't be dealt with naturally. Years earlier we might have just gotten into a fight and then gotten over it. But within the Therafields context everything had weight and meaning. It's true that people couldn't confront me the way they might have someone else, but it was also true that if they had done so we couldn't have just had it out. I was in the position of trying to be a therapist in every situation."

This is a particularly sad commentary. It is a reflection of how Lea viewed her own life as it evolved in that same fish-bowl. But the bowl grew naturally from the fact that Lea did not have a life of her own separate from her work, her clients and her students. Her homes were used by these same people to such an extent that real privacy was impossible. Josie also chose to live in large houses with other Therafields people even after the birth of her children. Like her mother she enlisted impressionable, often vulnerable people to assist not just with the care of her children but also herself and her home. Over time she developed a "court" comparable to her mother's. And always in this court, like her mother, she remained the ultimate arbiter, always the "therapist," always unassailable.

Calling Josie "the therapist" though is a misnomer. It was simply that she took control of any situation that she found herself in, deferring only to her mother and her brother, Rob. She had learned enough of the discourse of therapy to be able to use it for her own purposes -- for flattery, to punish, or to soften the needs of daily life. She had never learned or appreciated therapy as a dispassionate relationship with another for the good of the other. Clients were eased into roles as baby-sitters, house-cleaners, drivers, or masseuses. Josie seemed to believe that merely being in her presence, within her ambiance, would impart special value to the fortunate client-cum-servant. And like her mother she would brook no opposition. Even the mildest complaint would be turned back on the complainant as an indication of serious faults of one's own. In the process the individual would be shamed, likely in ways similar to the manner in which Lea managed to shame Josie herslf.

I don't think that Josie ever understood how she had used and abused people. Even as Therafields was falling apart in the early 1980s and the dynamics became clearer to formerly foggy-minded people like myself, she remained puzzled by animosity that came her way. She would approach people asking to renew friendships though no relationship of that kind had ever existed. Since, she has connected with musicians in Toronto and is enjoying working once again with her earliest passion.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on!

    The funniest example of Josie's "power" over people was her BAN ON TOAST at Capricorn Farm.
    One day the toaster was removed from the house and gone were the deliciously toasted, thick slices of Lisa Bread that we had grown accustomed to eating slathered in Therafields' creamy honey.
    (Of course, one could always drive into Mono Mills and have a complete breakfast, including toast but eating toast at home was prohibited.)

    I have forgiven the nonsense but I haven't forgotten.