I never knew exactly what Dad did for a living until I was well into high school. I knew he was a psychologist and that a psy- chologist was a doctor who talked to people about their problems.
To his patients, he’s Dr. Fox, to his col- leagues he’s Ron and to the general public he’s Ronald Fox, Ph.D., but to me he’s always been just Dad.
Every once in a great while, his work life would bump into our home life – a client obsessively calling the house hoping to speak to him, meetings with his intern group, a random word about the types of patients that he saw.
Being a psychologist did not seem like too difficult a job or a very interesting one for that matter.
Dad never pushed it as a career choice although he was adamant that we (my broth- ers and I) attend college and appeared to be fairly certain that we would attend graduate school in some field or another. That I would become a psychologist did not really cross my mind for many years.
I do remember from a very young age feeling that Dad is the very best listener in the world. I felt like he could listen forever and I believe that even now. Whether it was about receiving a D in fifth grade math, deal- ing with a boyfriend’s abrupt rejection, worrying about getting into graduate school or finding employment, he was simply the most attentive and supportive listener I have ever known.
He almost never had the answer I was hoping to find but the process of being listened to, taken seriously and respected never failed to have a calming effect on me. He was a genius at putting a problem in perspective and finding a reason to feel hopeful. In addition, Dad has a very good sense of humor and could almost always get me to smile and on occasion laugh at myself. To this day, I believe that if I can offer nothing else to clients, supervisees or colleagues, I can offer them the experience being listened to.
My father believes that most of his clients are doing the best that they can at a given time and that particularly applied to families. He understands that all families have eccentricities and can be maddening – that’s just what they do.
Regardless of their behaviors, he believes in giving his clients the utmost respect and truly lives the principle of “dislike the behavior, not the person.” This was not an ongoing topic of discussion; it just came up from time to time.
This way of thinking about families was particularly helpful to me in my work with abusive parents. Many times it was tempting to feel nothing but contempt for those parents but understanding that they were people deserving of respect and doing the best they could at the time helped me make it through more than one grueling interview or assessment session.
After finally choosing psychology as a career, Dad became more of a role model. Dad was and is immensely proud to be a psychologist. On the other hand, he could be exceedingly humble about his accomplishments. On one occasion he told me that no one (outside of psychology) would ever be as impressed by my degree as much as I was. And so the challenge: how to remain proud yet humble in my chosen profession. I think this awareness helps me to be accessible to my clients (for the most part) and to appear genuine. However, I have to admit that I am very biased toward psychology as a helping profession.
It doesn’t seem possible that my decision to become a psychologist was not more colorful or overtly influenced by my father. At various times in my college career I wanted to be a bartender, a dancer or a business owner. I didn’t major in psychology as an undergraduate and was completing a master’s in counseling when I decided to apply to doctoral programs. Dad didn’t set me on this career path by telling me what to do.
Once on it, he never tried to influence my professional course. He models professionalism and is unfailingly respectful, fair and kind to those who need it most. Without doing much of anything, my father strongly influenced me to want to help others through psychology and became my greatest mentor.
Kelley Fox Callahan, Psy.D., received her doctorate from Wright State University School of Professional Psychology in 1990. She has spent her career working with chil- dren, adolescents and their families as a therapist, consultant and educator in med- ical, child protective and private practice settings. She is currently clinical director of Family Solutions Center, the youth division of TCN, a community mental health center. She is married to a psychologist and they have a teenage daughter – who is not planning on becoming a psychologist. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org