I have been in finals mode for the last couple weeks: staying up late and sleeping in, showering only when I remember to, not keeping my beard well-groomed and, much to the chagrin of my bride, not doing a great job keeping the house in cleanly order. But I always like this time of the year, especially when the final projects involve a synthesis of learning and reflecting back on the content of the semester. One of the projects I completed this semester was a Genogram, which is sort of like a family tree but with therapeutic details like relationships that are distant or fused, mental health and substance abuse issues, loss and grief, etc. Along with the assignment I wrote a reflective piece and I thought I’d share part of it here. It feels slightly odd to share something this personal in a publicly visible place but I decided long ago that part of my writing and career would always be to maintain a brutal sense of honesty and genuine vulnerability. Besides, it’s not like anyone actually reads this thing.
I spent some time on the phone with my father as part of this project and gained a fascinating perspective about my motivation to build a career in the field of psychology. I was raised in a fairly conservative evangelical Christian tradition that I later rebelled against. I felt forced to believe something that never made sense to me. This has created an occasionally contentious relationship with my father as I struggle with the faith tradition to which he has committed his life’s work. One of my lifelong concerns has been a desire to build a career and accomplish things that would elicit pride from my father, the desire of any son. I tried both of his career paths, church ministry and teaching public school, and neither one of them fully made sense to me. One of the biggest things that excites me about a career in psychology is that my job will never be to convince anyone of anything. Rather, my role will be simply to listen, provide education, and try to objectively empower and guide people toward making their own decisions. I was raised in a faith tradition that taught me the only way to truly save people was to convince them to believe in Jesus. That was so exhausting for me and I lived under a constant state of chronic stress that I wasn’t doing enough to save the world in the name of Jesus. It has been hard for me to understand how my father could be happy in that type of ministry. I was inadvertently projecting my own baggage onto him and his life’s work.
I learned that a few years ago my father completed a similar project as part of one of his classes in a Doctor of Ministry program. In talking with him about the project, I understood why Christianity is so important to my father. It’s the same reason Psychology is important to me. It helps to make sense of life. My father saw multiple people in his family experience redemption through Christianity, leading to more healthy and fruitful lives. The story of and belief in Jesus was redemptive for him and he has helped many other people throughout his life to experience that same healing and redemption because it also made sense for them. What was redemption for him, however, resulted in feelings of bondage for me. I felt bound to behave a certain way, to believe certain things, not ask certain questions, and get everyone in my life to think and believe the same way even if it didn’t really fully make sense to me. I just needed to have faith and press on.
As it turns out, my father and I are quite similar though our paths may look different. His job is to meet with people individually and provide counsel, share teachings to larger groups on a regular basis, and publish his thoughts in writing. That is exactly what I want my career to look like. The process will be the same but the substance will be slightly different. Conceptualizing my relationship with my dad in this way allows me to move beyond my boyhood desire for his approval and begin to learn from him as a fellow adult. As I move beyond those boyhood insecurities and feel confident in my career choice for myself, I begin to see that there is much I can learn from my father. He has spent the last 20 years ministering to people and has countless lessons from which I can learn in my quest to build a successful career in Psychology. I hope that we can continue to learn from each other.