Dear Nick and Dear Nora:

Toady or bully? Paul’s epiphany …

At the conclusion of the last letter, I confronted Rose’s resistance to listening to what Paul was trying to tell us. I confronted Rose for the first time, and I knew from observation that when she’s criticized she goes on the attack. Not only was this unpleasant for me, but it also created an atmosphere where Paul was unheard. She finally agreed to listen him, and I’ll do what I can to hold her to that agreement.

The story continues below.

“Paul, what happened when you visited the organic garden?”

“Not much really; it was peaceful. Nester sent me to check irrigation nozzles, and I cleared or replaced them if they were clogged with dirt. It took all day, so I knew I was doing something useful. And this guy, Nestor, was a good man. It sounds corny, but he seemed at peace with himself and his work. I can’t imagine any kind of work that would be like that for me.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“It’s the way it is; too bad.”

“OK. Can you explain the point of your story?”

Paul answered, “I saw this big, powerful guy, Coby, who’s used to getting his way by pushing people around. It’s unsettling to watch him do it — and even more unsettling to see how effective it is. But at the border, his attitude was challenged by an otherwise insignificant functionary. Coby switched off the tough-guy attitude and turned into a brown-noser. Both personalities seemed to be authentic — whatever that means.”

I asked, “Well, what do your observations mean to you?”

Paul said, “Maybe that’s why Coby is so successful. He can become whomever he needs to be to get what he wants. If I tried to get what I wanted by pushing people around, I’d get beat up on the first day — and on the second and third days. I can’t stand toadies, and I go out of my way to never be one. I believed that because there were certain attitudes I can’t or won’t assume, that there were no choices left. You asked me if I had a choice about how I think and feel, and I said ‘probably not.’ Now I’m questioning that belief.”

I asked, “Can you say what you just said to me, to Rose?”

He complied, “Rose, I am considering the possibility that I may have some control over what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking about at any given time. If I do, I would have to change my beliefs about a lot of things, and I would have to be more responsible for what I say and what I do.”

Rose said, “Are you saying that you want to come home?”

Paul’s response was immediate. “No, not at all. I’m sorry if what I just said about being more responsible for what I say misled you.”

“I was just asking. I don’t think I want you back home, but the dog would probably like it.”

I asked Rose, “Could you repeat what Paul just said?”

“He doesn’t want to come home to his dog.”

“What else?”

“He’s in the midst of some kind of metaphysical epiphany. He is realizing that his friend Coby, who hits on me when he can — even though he’s married to a model — is a jerk.”

“Anything else? It seemed to me that the point he made was clear. We are going to have to work on this until the communication from Paul to you is complete. Until then, we can’t begin the second part of the session, which is your opportunity to talk about your grievances.”

Since it was the prerequisite for unveiling her complaints, Rose relented. “He’s just saying that maybe he isn’t what he happens to be thinking and feeling at any particular time, and that he might be able to exert control on both. If he can, he doesn’t know who he is and will have to figure it out.”

“Paul, did she get it?” Paul nods.

“Rose, what do you think about what Paul has said?”

“I say, dah, and I wonder if Paul was dropped on his head when he was a baby.”

In the next letter Rose complains and I explain to Paul that the most important thing he can do is nothing.

Your friend,

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.