Saturday, April 30, 2011

Auto-Didactic Adlerian

This is story from very long time ago, right about the time of my 30th birthday, in fact when Ronald Regan was president of the United States. I was in Baltimore for a job interview, and I took the opportunity to visit some friends of mine who lived near Fort Mead and had recently become parents. Mom was working at NSA, Dad was assigned to Marine Corps HQ, and their daughter, Erin Nicole, was 19 months. I’d always wondered how the sergeant was going to turn out as a father. It turned out, he took to it like a duck to water, which is entirely appropriate (after all, ducks are tri-phibious now aren’t they?) Erin’s dad and I were sitting on the sofa talking (He might have been giving me tips on the finer points of bayonet drill) when his daughter fell off her plastic tricycle, smacked her head on the linoleum, and voiced her displeasure in a voice that I’m sure could be heard beyond the tri-state area.

Her dad immediately picked her up and sat her on his lap so she was looking directly at him with their noses just a few inches apart. I heard Erin say plaintively, “Nee na na na nee noo noo,” to which her father replied, “Nee na na ne na noo?” There was silence for a moment, and Erin made a sound of complete satisfaction: “Noo.” Dad then smooched her where she had bopped her noggin, put her back on the bike and she rode off happy as can be, There was silence in the living room for a moment, then he said, “You know… what worries me… is I understood every word we just said.”

No need to worry Sergeant, I understood every word too. She said “I have fallen down, I have bopped my noggin, and I am unhappy about that fact.” Dad’s response was, “I hear you saying you have fallen down, have bopped you noggin, and are unhappy about that fact.” That and the smooch took care of the problem completely.

Years later, I had occasion to talk with a clinical psychologist with a PhD. I repeated that story and said, “Dad really handled that in a very Adlerian manner, didn’t he?” His response was, “Exactly, that was very Adlerian.” A few years after that I asked the Sergeant if he’d ever heard of Professor Adler. He said no. I said, “Don’t worry, you seem to have figured out his system on your own.” I think Erin is very lucky to grow up with a father who is an auto-didactic Adlerian.

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