Family Dynamics

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Blog, Featured | 7 comments

Family Dynamics

I was recently chatting with a friend and she asked me what led me into organizational consulting. I thought about it for a few moments and then responded…

When I was in high school back in the 1960s, my mother was drinking a lot. My father was successful, on the road quite a bit, and she was responsible for 6 kids. I developed a keen sense of her drinking pattern.  I could find where she would hide her drinks and I knew when I walked in the front door if she had been drinking without even seeing her. My sister and I, the two oldest, would manage the house—feed my younger brothers, put them to bed, etc. I would get furious at Mom. And I would get furious at my father. “You are a psychologist, why don’t you fix her?”

My friends never knew about it. Mom wasn’t drinking every day– she was quite charming and all of my friends loved her. So, we got good at keeping it a secret. I think I was so angry because I loved Mom so much….she had taught me to paint and draw, she was a wonderful  storyteller, she loved fiction, and she was larger than life. But she would fall apart at the worst possible times.

The night before I left for Africa to study abroad for a year in college, my family had a going away party for me. Mom got so drunk that night. I was disappointed, angry, and hurt. The next morning I woke up early and caught a flight to NYC where I had to wait for a few hours for my flight to Dakar. All of a sudden, my name came over the intercom that I had a call. It was Mom, apologizing for drinking too much. For the first time, she admitted that she was an alcoholic and would seek help. I didn’t believe her but I appreciated the call.

And she got help. She joined AA and pulled her life back together. She stopped drinking, went back to get her Masters in Social Work, and became a dependency therapist, working with alcoholics and drug addicts. I remember later in college, she sat all of us 6 kids down and explained the concept of co-dependency. She read a list of attributes that we may all struggle with because of her drinking. It scared the hell out of me. I felt like someone was reading my diary. But she worked with me—with all of us. And Dad did as well. He, for the first time, owned his own part of the problem and began to change. He ended up resigning from his powerful job and became a family therapist working from home.

So, I grew up intertwined with family dynamics.  I tried to push it away but I couldn’t. It fascinated me. I didn’t want to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a therapist, but I began to pay close attention to what was going on behind the scenes in organizations in which I was working. That’s what I fell in love with—the behind the scenes stuff.  And when I learned that there was a profession that helped organizations and employees deal with their problems, I jumped.


  1. A lot of this resonated with me, John. Thanks for sharing it. Glad that I’ll be able to talk to you in person next week.

  2. Sharing your story is important for you, your family and your friends.
    Very appreciated, John.

  3. One never knows how their creative expressions will land with a viewer, a reader. In this case I was fascinated to read what you wrote and them quite surprised when I burst into tears as I was flooded with my own childhood memories. The letting go of fear stored as a child is an worthwhile endeavor for me. Thank you for putting me in touch with an old feeling that wanted to be felt and released.

  4. Thanks again for sharing. I am so happy that you and Farn are in our life.

  5. Wow, and Powerful …. are words that came to mind when I read this. Well done, John.

  6. God is a master of making good come from bad. I have seen it many times. I try to look for the lesson or gift from the worst things that have happened in my life, and there is always wisdom, compassion, and mercy.

  7. This is why forgiveness confounds so many, especially with family members. It seems simple, but it actually asks a lot of us. To truly free ourselves from the past, we need to develop the strengths to become compassionate observers of life.

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