Bert’s mask

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert speaking:)

Steve’s been mad at me for the past day or so.

Can’t say I blame him.

Here’s why:

A month ago, just before he resumed publishing Monkeytraps, he made a point of asking his two kids (both twenty-something) to read it and tell him what they thought.

He likes and admires his kids, and he respects their opinion.  So this seemed a natural enough request.

But they hadn’t read the first version of the blog a year ago.  And though he didn’t blame them for that (even he didn’t think the old Monkeytraps was that great), he was a little scared it might happen again.

But he asked.  And they promised.

And then it happened again. 

They still didn’t read it.

Disappointed and puzzled, he came to me. 

“What the hell?” he asked. 

Of course this had already gotten my attention, since I’m in charge of the Controlling How Everyone Feels About Us department.

“I have a theory,” I admitted.

“What’s your theory?”

“You won’t like it.”

“Tell me.”

“They’re scared of you.” 


“Uh huh,” I said, embarrassed.

“But why?”

“It’s my fault.”


“I think I convinced them that I was you.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

I took a breath.

“Do you remember,” I asked, “what Fritz Perls said about having character?”

“Yes.  No.  Maybe.  Remind me,” he said impatiently.

“He said we think of having character as a good thing, mainly because it makes us predictable, and other people like knowing what to expect from us.  But it’s actually a sign of rigidity.  It means we’ve developed a fixed way of responding, and lost our ability to cope flexibly and creatively and authentically.  Stopped growing, in effect.”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember now, ” he said.  “So?” 

But I could tell he knew, now, where I was heading.

 “I think the character we’ve developed over the years scared the kids out of giving you feedback on the blog.”

He was silent.

“You mean the I-know-everything character?”  he said finally.


“The argue-like-a-lawyer character?”

“Yes,” I said unhappily. 

“The guess-how-many-books-I’ve-read character?”

“That’s the one.”   


He fell silent again.

Finally he said,

“I was afraid it was something like that.”

“Sorry,” I said meekly.

“Hey, it’s my fault too.  Seemed like a good defense at the time.   I didn’t want anyone seeing how I really felt about myself.”

“I know.  But it got away from us.”

“Yeah.  It’s like what I tell clients about defenses.  You put them on thinking they’re a suit of armour.   Then you wake up one day and realize you’re trapped inside them like tuna in a can.”     

What could I say?  It ‘s true.

 “So what now?” he asked me.

I’d been waiting for this question. I smiled.

“That’s easy,” I said.  “Leave the can.”


“Go to the kids.  Tell them the truth.  Tell them what you need from them.”

He squinted at me. 

“It’s the only way,” I shrugged.

“I suppose,” he sighed.  But I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with either the problem or the solution.

Still, he did it.  He went to both kids, one at a time, and told them the truth.   That when he sent them a blog post he didn’t need them to critique the thing.  He didn’t need them to analyze the ideas or evaluate the writing.  He didn’t even need to know if they could relate to the psychology.  He just needed them…to like it.

“Just a pat on the head,” he said, feeling like a moron.  “Just a ‘good job, dad.’  That’s all.”

“Really?”his daughter asked.

“Really?” his son said. 


His daughter, the affectionate one, gave him a hug. 

“Of course, daddy.  That’s easy.”

His son, the serious one, pursed his lips. 

“I can do that,” he nodded.

And Steve felt better.

I think he’s forgiven me.  We haven’t talked again, but that’s how it feels.

Anyway, we learned something. 

Masks slip on easier than they slip off.   

17 responses to “Bert’s mask

  • Kelly

    Oh this brought tears to my eyes….what a gift this was and how “Steve’s” daughter could so readily express that yes indeed she was given a gift…..Steve just wanted to be “seen” and before he could, he had to really “see” his children. Not an easy task, I am practicing it myself as my first born just became an official teenager this week….

    just such a beautiful story. An inspiring way for me to start my morning. 🙂

  • marsha

    So as I said when you first resumed the blog, great idea, or brilliant or other words to the same effect.
    More simply put, a pat on the head.

  • Linda

    Sometimes we think or feel we are making a good decision at the time to protect ourselves; then realize like you expressed you can wake one day and feel trapped. When we do move forward, out of our comfort zone, great things happen. Thank you for that reminder.

    • fritzfreud

      Thank you, Linda. Comfort is seductive, isn’t it? Takes work to remember that it sometimes functions like anaesthesia.

      • Linda

        That is why it is so hard for many of us because it feels Safe; very hard to move forward. You are an Inspiration!
        Thank you again.

  • rob k

    HUGE!!!!!!!! what a great story

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, Rob.

  • Frank L.

    Wow, much the same experience as I had with my daughter when I asked her to read my column! I too, wanted the simple head-pat! In fact, I did not realize how “infallible” I have appeared to her all these years until I told her about a test that I recently did poorly on. She was shocked, and thought for sure there was a mistake. I took the opportunity to assure her I was a mere mortal, and I, too, mess things up. We’ve never been tighter. Doing poorly on that test was the best thing that could’ve happened!

    • fritzfreud

      I hear you. We try so hard to prove to our kids that we’re perfect, then are appalled when they actually believe it.

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