The Coach: Don’t Take Your Dad To Work Today

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The Coach: Don’t Take Your Dad To Work Today

Words by Mr David Waters

5 December 2019

“Dr Sigmund Freud believed we transfer our early relationships with our parents onto other important people in our lives when we grow up”

Henry’s story reminded me of my own tricky relationship with my dad. My father felt like a stranger to me and I sensed that one day he would leave me, my older brother and my mum. My prediction was right. Dad left us when I was 15 to start his life anew with someone else. Up until the day he left, his moods were unpredictable. He was particularly frightening when he got angry, even more so if he’d been drinking.

My training in psychotherapy helped me to become more self-aware, but before that, a bit like Henry, male bosses put me on edge. I would fear losing my job if I did anything wrong. If I made a small mistake, I would expect a heavy punishment. I even had dreams where I’d be shamed in front of my colleagues just as I was sometimes humiliated by my dad in front of my brother and my mum.

I explained to Henry that his feelings of panic were probably to do with his father and his childhood, and not just his new boss. He looked both puzzled and relieved. He stopped looking anxious and began to smile.

In the year we worked together, Henry would often worry that he’d upset me or that I was angry with him if he were late for a session. A client’s relationship with their therapist can provoke the same kinds of transference we feel towards a boss. Therapists are authority figures, too. Each time this happened, I’d remind Henry that he was seeing me through the prism of his father, which at times made him laugh.

Henry’s boss didn’t sack him when he came in late that morning. “Steve turned to look at me when I walked in,” said Henry. “A smile broke out across his face and he said, ‘You’ve made it in! None of the other reprobates are here yet. Go and grab yourself a coffee. You look like you need a shot of caffeine.’” Precisely what Henry’s dad would never have said.

Illustration by Mr Gastón Mendieta