- the Hostage at the Table
- George Kohlrieser
On a cold and sunny March day, Derek Smith, a fifty-six-year-old successful business executive, was racing his seventeen-year-old son down an advanced-level ski slope. The day was special because Derek was" married to his work" as his friends would say, and did not often spend time away from the office with his family. His son, eager to demonstrate his skills, wanted to be the victor, and so did his highly goal-directed and competitive father.
Refusing to let his son win, Derek raced too quickly down the slope, lost control, and hit a tree. When he regained consciousness, he found himself in the hospital with a broken back. After the doctor told him he would recover but would never be able to ski again, Derek sank into a deep depression. He insisted, "If I can't ski, then life isn't worth living." He became full of despair.
His son was devastated and blamed himself. He said he had known since he was a child that his father always had to win. Feeling guilt and regret, the son believed if he had just let his father go ahead of him, then the accident would never have happened.
In my discussions with Derek, at one point I asked him a question: Did he want to be a hostage to the belief that life was not worth living if he could not ski, or did he want to recover and find joy in life? Given that direct choice, Derek suddenly realized that, of course, he wanted to live. In a flash, he shifted the focus of his mind’s eye.
Derek needed to grieve the passing of his adolescence and accept his identity as a middle-aged father, husband, and business person. When Derek was seven, his father had died, and he had grown up without a father figure to teach him about emotions and about life. He was a typical overly independent loner who had spent his life focusing on being the best and attaching only to goals. He had stopped bonding to... [continues]
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