In mulling over what led to my becoming an author, I found myself asking myself, “What is writing?” The answer that popped into my head was, “Simply talking.” I find this answer to be accurate, and a fitting one for me. Yet an odd one for me as well.
It’s odd because you, the listener, don’t get any chance to respond. From my high school days till the present, I’ve always loved iron-sharpening-iron dialogues where you go back and forth. But in writing I don’t get a chance to ask you the reader: “Am I making sense?” or “What say you?” In all my relationships, the listener gets a chance to say back what he or she thinks, to agree or disagree, or ask clarifying questions…or perhaps yell at me that I am an idiot! The listener gets to talk back to me. Even speaking at seminars where I do most of the talking, I get to see the audience. I get to see if they’re looking at me quizzically or if I seem to be making sense. They get to ask questions, make comments…and so on. But not with writing. With writing, you the listener have no chance to respond. With writing, it’s only forth, not back and forth. So as an author, I have to “talk”—that is, write—in a way that is clear and anticipates your questions. I have to “talk” in a way that keeps you interested from page to page. In my book Faith of a Father, I have to make sure that I keep you moving with me—and do it in a way where you want to walk along with me for a very long time…even though I am the only one doing all the yakking. Incredible. Who’s worth listening to for that long?! Without one peep from you, I have to anticipate where you itch so to speak, so I can scratch. Without one retort from you, I’m supposed to stretch your thinking while having you respect me for doing so. Without knowing your life narrative or your world view, I’m trying to persuade you of what makes sense to me. And, as in my book, I presumptively offer you some wisdom for your life though I don’t know you from the man in the moon. Writing is an odd way to talk with someone…at least for me.
It’s also odd because there was a time when I couldn’t talk well at all through my writing. Don’t get me wrong, by others’ judgments, not just my own, I was and am a good public speaker. And I was decent at it even as a very young man, like eighteen. But I couldn’t get my thoughts out my arm. I once had an agent who edited my writing. He tried to get what was in my head to come out my arm by doing mock radio interviews. Once done with the interview, he’d say, “Now write it.” But I couldn’t. And that was after putting in thousands of hours practicing my writing before I had even met him. I really found it odd that I could have my thoughts come out my mouth but not my arm. Although, in fairness, writing is different from speaking. You can “get away with” lousy grammar and long sentences and complex sentences and convoluted thoughts and difficulty wording and modifying your thoughts as you go and correcting ill-worded comments and cracking jokes on impulse while speaking…phew!—that you can’t get away with in writing.
But I like to write now…almost as much as I like to speak. But whether writing or speaking, “talking” does fit me like a glove.
Along the way, I’ve discovered the power of talking. All of culture stands on talking; without talking, there’d be no culture. We’ve built a legal system that uses written law and courtrooms where we argue—“talk”—innocence and guilt. We’ve built libraries so we can talk to each other at length about our ideas——and do so from anywhere in the world. We’ve built technologies so we can talk to each other 24/7, from television to phones to Facebook, whose mission it is to connect everyone on the planet with everyone else so they can…what?…talk!
I’ve also discovered the power of talking in counseling. I know some think of my profession as “listening to people’s problems all day.” But if I thought of my work that way, I’d sell insurance instead—which I did, by the way, as a graduate student, and hated. Instead, I think of my work as reconstructing lives. I think of myself as a scientist, engineer, teacher, spiritual consultant, life coach, software specialist for the psyche, and mind surgeon—all wrapped in and through the artistic delivery of my personality. But my instrument is an odd one. I do not use microscopes or telescopes like my scientist friends, surgical instruments like my podiatrist friend, optometric equipment like my eye doctor friend, or pills like my family doctor friend. Instead, I use words—simply words. More specifically, the ideas those words carry. Ideas create lives; changing ideas re-creates lives. That’s what I so deeply love to do. And I do it all by talking.
I have a simple-headed definition of intimacy: it is the exchange of information between two people. If I sit night after night with my wife saying little to nothing, I’d not be sharing information—information about my day, how I acted toward it, how I reacted to it, how my personal history got provoked by it, or how I emotionally felt about it. She wouldn’t get to know me…or I her. We’d not be intimate. In fact, that’s what happened in my family growing up.
Tragically, my mother was a cold, emotionless woman who had been an alcoholic. She lived in a chemical fog most days. From infancy on, she didn’t hold me much, read me stories, or discuss life with her boy. I not only have no memory of her ever holding or hugging me, but I frankly can’t even recall her voice. It’s not so much that I’m blocking, but that she just didn’t talk much. She was “out of it.” And my father? He got multiple sclerosis when I was a little guy; I never saw him walk. He became paraplegic then quadriplegic over the many years of my childhood. I witnessed his slow and torturous demise as a child. But he buried his pain—which then gave rise to his rage. I was at the receiving end of it often. As a little boy, he’d lock me in a small room with the lights off or in our nearly pitch black cellar where my brother said I screamed hysterically without any relief from my dad. That memory I’ve blocked. My dad never discussed anything about life with me. After my parents’ dreams shattered with my father’s MS, they withdrew from community and life, and my mother retreated to the bottle and my father to chain smoking and watching TV. In the wake of their shattered dreams, they never talked through the question, “Now what?” Now—what do we do with our lives? Now—what meaning can we create for ourselves? Now—how do we love one another and our children when loving is so tough to do in the face of our fears and our implacable desires to retreat? They never talked.
Is it really any wonder why I love to talk?
I thought for some time about putting my spiritual journey down on paper for my children. But Tim Russert’s book Wisdom of our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons crystallized my desire. When I caught a glimpse of his stirring passion in an interview one Sunday morning about the power of a father’s legacy, I decided I had to write. While I believe that the real legacy is in how one lives—not in what one says—I nevertheless wanted to tell my children and grandchildren my story, and have that story be part of what I leave behind.
That motive quickly merged with another however. I’ve been in practice over three decades. Over those years, I saw how suffering and trauma impacted my clients emotionally and spiritually. I saw the dance among their suffering, emotions, and views of life and God. I realized that their journey was my journey. And my journey was theirs. To be sure, the particulars varied. Each narrative is different. But the dynamic interplay between one’s emotions and the questions, struggles, and emerging views of life and God are pretty much the same. So I knew as I wrote my story that I was writing everyone else’s story who suffered. As Ecclesiastes points out: there is really nothing new under the sun. My story is theirs.
The author is a licensed psychologist in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and has been in practice for 35 years, from 1980 to the present. Before his training as a psychologist, Frank was theologically trained for three years at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1974-1977.
Frank is a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Fellow with the American Psychotherapy Association. While he has a general practice, he specializes in relationship and trauma therapy, as well as the integration of faith and the Bible with the tough issues he faces clinically.
He is an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pa and on the Permanent Judicial Committee of the Presbytery. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, as well as adjunct faculty in psychology at the college level. He has led seminars, taught Adult Education, year-long discipleship programs, and led church committees.
Frank is a father of three——Paul, Matt, and Kristen——and the proud grandfather of three (as of this writing): Dylan, Hannah, and Leah. He now loves to sail and play golf, along with launching model rockets with his grandchildren and chasing them around the house as the “Grampy Monster.”
Finally, Frank is the survivor of multiple traumas, including emotional trauma at the hands of his own parents, beginning in infancy.