Ivan And Tara: Part II

In the last article, we met a sister, Tara, and brother, Ivan Donaldson, from New York City who spent several weeks in our region at their summer home. They traveled a week or so prior to their respective families, including their spouse and children. They reached me after calling other local providers. I answered first and they agreed to a two-hour session. They provided an overview of a conflicted family dynamic. The gist of their concern centered on their father, Topel, who was the CEO of a successful family enterprise. They described a history of a father who was cold and ruthless in business. Topel’s diatribes were indiscriminate. He displayed poor boundaries towards employees, including Tara and Ivan.

The more immediate concern was about vacation. Topel and Margo, his current and second wife, were expecting to spend a week in the expensive summer home with helpers in tow. Ivan and Tara took issue with Topel’s propensity to express his meanness and vicious attitude towards anyone, including grandchildren. Their desire was to seek a resolution to a common good — to keep Topel away. He had adversely affected holidays, leaving Tara and Ivan anxious about the forthcoming event. They were discouraged. They left with an agreement to further their concerns with a second two-hour session in a couple of days. A question of coping in this family dynamic was at stake. I had questions and needed time to prepare.

We met again in two days. Tara and Ivan arrived in more relaxed clothing. Nevertheless, both were drinking a large container of coffee and looked ill at ease. Both provided a comprehensive history of ruined vacations whereby Topel’s tirades led to tears, upset and heightened anxiety. Topel’s behaviors, both at work and on vacations, sounded volatile and oppressive. He reportedly spoke with disdain towards employees at work and family outside of work. They described a family dinner at a local restaurant where Topel gave the wait person a severe tongue lashing. While I wondered about Topel’s emotional and mental health, I tried to picture a successful businessman without self-control or a governor on his emotions. He spoke his mind, which was hurtful and shameful to others. Ivan’s description of the dinner caused his hands to shake. He nearly spilled his coffee. Tara had tears silently flowing down her face, disturbing her makeup.

Asking more specific questions to each about the effect on their respective marriages, Tara answered first. “My husband is generally cool and calm. He, too, works in the business. He’s been able to be a force of empathy and understanding. He wants Ivan and me to decide upon the fate of the upcoming vacation.” Ivan got silent, and, too, began to tear up. He barely could speak. My body language offered him understanding of the moment. Several minutes passed. “My wife, Isabel, can’t take it anymore. She worked for the business for five years. The stress of Topel’s behavior resulted in her quitting. She was angry and took out her wrath on me. We went to a marriage counselor and she helped us lean in together. We’re still married and I fear that she might leave. If Topel comes to this vacation, she’s threatened to take the children elsewhere. I can come with them or not. See, I think my marriage is in jeopardy. We have good times together. The kids can’t take their grandfather’s outbursts. They shake and cry. My wife gets upset. I can’t take it anymore.” Ivan cried bitterly while Tara hugged and comforted him. What a dilemma. Knowing that a solution was needed sooner rather than later, the challenge before us reminded me of a line from the past. This looks like a job for superman. I’m no superman. We advanced their concerns with some solution-focused work.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.