Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Pater Pater Pater Noster

My father, Raul Stanati, when he was somewhat younger than I am now, underwent a radical transformation. The ambitious, worldly, hard-driving, controlling over-achiever became a quiet, accepting, peaceful and spiritual man. It was not an overnight transformation, but it was not gradual either. It took my mother by surprise. It began with meditation. He used a non-denominational, body-focused concentration technique. I bore tremendous fruit in his life. He changed careers -- from administrator to hypnotherapist. He believes in reincarnation, and, in addition to the more traditional therapeutic uses of hypnosis, has taken people on past-life regressions.

My first serious beau, the Reverand, whom I met in 1969, was a bitterly-lapsed, working-class, Irish-Catholic Marxist. He was politically passionate, atheistic, under-educated, angry, needy and dysfunctional. A lot older than me, too. When we parted ways in 1978 he was living in a basement apartment in a local suburb, and driving a truck. Three or four years ago he contacted me through a letter to my parents' house. He was still living in the same place, and still working at the same job. The letter was full of allusions to mystical, native-American, forest-based experiences, encounters with numinous beings, ineffable contacts about which he was desperate to inform me for the good of my soul. We met for breakfast. It was terribly strange and awkward. I repeatedly refused to be "proselytized," my defensive word, about his experiences, afraid that they might be symptoms of psychosis. He said he could not invite me to his apartment, alluding to the untidy "stacks of newspapers" that apparantly filled it. His final letter to me alluded to an impending retreat into a Buddhist monastery, told me he would trouble me no further with letters, and furnished me his social security number "in case I ever needed to contact him."

I was in psychoanalysis for a number of years, initially sent to a shrink when, two weeks into medical school, I proposed quitting. (Raul Stanati, in his over-bearing days, was very interested in my becoming an MD.) I ended up with a wonderful doctor, a Columbia-trained, Harvard affiliated Freudian analyst, who, in my paper journals, I always called "The Alienist." We did vis-a-vis psychotherapy for several years, then I graduated to the couch and free association. This and he became the absolute center of my life for several years. It was an undeniably powerful and valuable experience. With a fabulous and quasi-mythic Dad like Raul Stanati, it was little wonder the transference was intense. Under the spell of it, I “acted out” and entered a psychiatry residency in the Midwest, a totally inappropriate, even nutso move, that turned out disastrously. Within months I fled home, then jumped back into another hastily-resumed, ill-thought-out and inappropriate residency, then married a tremendously incompatible fellow, then got “accidentally” pregnant, left residency short of completion, and, of course, went back to the Alienist. In 1985, when I’d just encountered Vipassana meditation, he sent me to an EST-like workshop. I didn’t do much serious meditating then, but it was a taste. The workshop was simply weird/wierd; later I came to consider the facilitator and the process to be, well, rather fascistic. After a divorce and a marvelously right remarriage to DK, love-o-my-life, I went back to finish residency, and the Alienist, again ever-faithful, saw me for a series of sessions of supportive therapy. It helped me through a very stressful two years. He never billed me for the sessions. He once said that, if I chose, I could donate to his Foundation. He, you see, had a new interest. The Alienist, my “Alienist,” had become, well, actually, a literal alienist. As in alien abductions. Recalled under hypnosis. I could not bring myself to donate, as grateful as I was for his meticulous and professional help.

As an act of great mischief, I later took Raul Stanati to a lecture the Alienist was giving on his new field of investigation. It was right up Raul’s alley, actually. But my agenda was was more Freudian: to get my real Father to meet my Transferential Father. They did, and shook hands. It was an orobourotic moment. The Alienist, even in his new incarnation, seemed to appreciate the Oedipal (Electral?) symmetry of that handshake. I looked on, bemused.

In that moment, the transference had been finally resolved. The play was over, the masks were off. Dad was Dad, Dr X was Dr X. The Rev was the Rev. All on their own paths, none on paths I could follow.

It's time to find my own path.

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