Bustles and bonnets. Top hats and spats. Chamber pots and rotary phones. What do these things have in common? They have all gone the way of the horse and buggy. You can find them, but they are rare, and they tend to elicit comments on precisely that basis.
They are anachronisms; relics from a time long ago that for many is considered to be a more gentle, courtly, civilized era. In two weeks we’ll see classic cars in the Fourth of July Parade down Main Street, the Model T’s will be out as well as the hot rods of the 1950s. I love that parade. I’m in it each year and I always have fun with the kids.
Humans tends to romance the past and try to make it so that only the good things are remembered. It is a natural inclination. The problem is that by doing so, and not healing the past, we can be stuck in a quagmire of pain and hurt.
Some people do get bogged down in the patterns of the past. I see lots of them. They are generally found in family law courts. They cling to the old hurts and pains of relationships. They are carrying the wounds of a childhood that they have never resolved. The anger felt at the first betrayal by a lover is relived over and over. It is extremely sad to watch when it happens, for so often the hurts are merely revisited upon the children.
People play out the dramas of their own childhood with their spouses, who frequently resemble their parents, without ever thinking that they may be in need of help. It is a human trait to think that we can change our behaviors on our own. We like to think that we are powerful, that our willpower alone can fix us. It cannot.
I see it daily with the men that I represent in child custody cases. They come in determined to not repeat the errors of the past. They want to see their sons and daughters, and for a brief moment, they are willing to do anything that it takes to get their children back in their lives.
I tell them what they will need to do; keep diaries, attend parenting classes, maintain calm when dealing with the ex. I usually suggest that people get into some form of therapy, whether it is a fathers’ group, individual therapy, couples therapy if possible, and occasionally drug and alcohol counseling. It almost never happens. When it does, great and wonderful things start to emerge.
Last year I had a case with a 28-year-old Marine who was in a relationship with a highly volatile woman. She was carrying the hurts and pains of her very abusive childhood. They had a child together and in the custody battle she made many unfounded allegations about all types of behavior on his part — physical abuse, drug use, etc.
I sat him down and gave him my regular pitch, and being the good Marine that he was, he made a list and began working away at it. Inside of a week he had completed an online parenting course, signed up for an in-person parenting course, and began therapy. Three months later, I got a phone call from opposing counsel telling me she was going to dismiss the case because my client and hers had reconciled, and things were working out well. His new skills taught him how to respond to, and work with, the mother of his child. A happy result for all.
The past can be a fun place to visit, but it can also be an unpleasant place. Who doesn’t want to ride in a ‘65 convertible Ford Mustang in a parade? The fashions of the past are fun to wear occasionally, and if I wore a suit from 1860 to court it might be fun, but I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to a time with no indoor plumbing, no air conditioning, and slavery.
Because my client was willing to confront the past, he was able to change the future and create a better life for his child. Time marches on, and we can either take the easy road, and remember only the pretty parts, or we can do the work it takes to make a better future by healing the past.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.