What I Did in My Retirement: Some Reminiscences While Rummaging in Boxes in My Basement
Norbert B Enzer, M.D.
For the past six or seven years I have spent several hours each week with the boxes that have been in my basement since I moved from the Lansing area to Ann Arbor in 1997 to be nearer to my eldest daughter and granddaughter. .I do not remember just how many boxes there were when I started but it was a quite considerable pile. The contents were varied---lots of papers and files from my university office at Michigan Sate University, family letters and clippings, photographs, financial records and almost anything else one might imagine in almost anyone's basement untouched for many years, in some cases decades. I can not say I was proud of the state of these boxes or their contents when I first attacked the pile. Nor can I say I am proud of the current status of things. But it is a little more orderly now than it was before. And, I have had a delightful time, for the most part; sorting through all this "stuff" (I can think of no better word and will continue to use it here.) My intentions were to bring some order to the stuff, discard duplicates, unidentifiable or meaningless matters and in general create and preserve memories and memorabilia that might interest my children and grandchildren. It was a lofty goal and the work turned out to be quite an adventure.
As I started I did not really have a clear idea of what I might find and it had been so long since I did anything with those boxes except move them from place to place, it took quite a few trips to the basement before I was even able to get a handle on the time frame. It has been an adventure with surprises and puzzles and a good many satisfactions. I was delighted to find handwritten grade cards from my maternal grandfather's years in medical school in England during the 1880s and some letters he wrote to the family while he was in France in World War I... There were letters regarding my father's first position as a hospital pathologist after he completed his residency. And there were pictures and more pictures, some of which I have not been able to identify. I am making progress slowly. I am often diverted if I happen upon a particularly interesting picture news clipping, or document.
Among the categories of treasures is the Academy. I became a member in 1970 along with others who had also been waiting for the membership criteria and process to be changed. I had been "turned off" by the original elitist approach and at one point was truly unsure if I wanted to be a member. However, my views did change and when the time came, I was eager to become part of this organization and thrilled to attend my first meeting in Denver at the Brown Palace Hotel. The older members were most hospitable and welcoming. I did find it disappointing that the one time set aside for socializing was so formal. A formal banquet with an after dinner scholarly lecture had become the standard. I later learned that those lectures were often long, dry and an impediment to social interaction among the attendees. I found this puzzling and later came to wonder if the Academy was somehow hesitant about socializing at the Annual Meeting. It was as if there was something inappropriate about fun at the Annual Meeting. I found a couple of carbon copies of a couple of letters I wrote in the early 1970 about this very subject among the papers in my basement. I did remember one banquet speech which I felt did not follow the usual pattern.
In 1975, E. James Anthony presented an address he titled "In Search of the Little People: the Child Psychiatrist, past, present and Future". For me it was a tour de force, full of charm, wit and wisdom drawn from history and literature and a life-time of research and clinical work. Years later Dr. Anthony sent me a copy of the address which I unearthed during my explorations in my basement. Even over 35 years later, I still see Anthony's messages for child and adolescent psychiatrists as important today as they were 1975. The understanding of the individual child and his (her) thoughts, wishes, dreams and fears must continue to be central to our work. Seeing the world through the eyes of the child must not be overwhelmed by reports from parents, teachers, the laboratory or X-Ray department. And, we must communicate directly with our child patient. (Italics are my attempt to compress Dr. Anthony's thoughts expressed in his address.)
A couple of years after my first Annual Meeting I was pleased by my appointed to the Program Committee. It was a pleasure working with Jerry Wiener (Future President) who was Chair of the Committee. We seemed to share the values guiding the selection of papers, the desired ambiance and the format of the meetings. When Jerry's term ended, I was appointed to replace him. I was pleased by that but felt somewhat apprehensive. It was a big job when Jerry did it and the meetings were growing and becoming more complex each year. Part way through the first year, the Academy agreed to pay for a graduate student to assist me and my overworked secretary with the paper work and mailings. Still there are copies of programs and correspondence in my basement.
I must address one other memory. Bennett Leventhal, who had been a student when I was at LSU in New Orleans, agreed to come on board to assist with the management of the Committee and the Meeting its self. His value can hardly be underestimated. He is still at it. And, more.
As it happened, my first meeting was in 1978. The year of the Academy's 25 the Anniversary and there was an expectation that somehow there would a celebration. The Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego had been selected as the site. What a treat! Through a personal connection with the San Diego Zoo's Medical Director, I was able to arrange a special lecture and tour of the zoo for our members which focused on the development and care of baby animals. It was a huge hit.
With what appeared to be a rather bold move at the time, we planned a dinner dance and brief celebratory program. With the Academy's own renowned raconteur Donald Gair from Boston as Master of Ceremonies, a nice dinner and some lively music in the lovely décor of the old Del Coronado the evening was another hit. Even some of the more elderly members danced and it appeared everyone had a jolly good time. That evening marked the end of the tradition of a banquet with an after dinner lecture.
Sometime before that meeting, the Executive Committee had been confronted with the problem of receiving several complaints alleging mistreatment of children by child psychiatrists, only one of whom was a member. At the time the organization had no ready mechanisms or procedures for responding to such complaints nor did it have any approved standards for judging them. President Irving Berlin appointed a committee of Elissa Benedeck, Donald Gair, Tom Haizlip and Bob Stubblefield (Future President) with me as Chair to "do something about this" and draft a Code of Ethics for the Academy. In a real sense, this was bold undertaking.
There were no models to draw up especially as related children and families. It was a wonderful committee. I found a good many folders of drafts, correspondence and meeting records in the boxes along with other Academy stuff. This discovery brought back many memories. It was very challenging task but one that captured the creative minds of the Committee. The records I have indicate the process took three to four years. It was an iterative process with essentially all components of the Academy contributing, sometimes repeatedly including the newly formed Council of Regional Organizations, and very careful attention to wording. In the end, the Code was approved by the Executive Committee in 1980 and stood as the Academy's own, despite the original Committee's recognition that changes were to be expected, until just a couple of years ago.
George Tarjan was President at the time of the 25th Anniversary. And, with Bob Stubblefield, President-Elect decided that the time had come for a comprehensive review of the profession, not simply the Academy with the intent of setting directions for the future. Tarjan/Stubblefield was a formidable team. With support from several foundations and the NIMH, they set in motion what became known as Project Future. They began by approaching several individual members for their reactions and to determine their interests in being part of the proposed venture. Richard Cohen, Irving Philips, Larry Silver and my self were among those approached. Larry was, at the time, Associate Director of the NIMH and felt that would preclude his leadership in Project Future. Richard, Irving and I all express our interest and enthusiasm.
In the end, we served as a "writing committee" working with an editor to produce Child Psychiatry: A Plan for the Coming Decades, published in1983. This was a major undertaking involving a great many participants from the Academy and other professionals from medicine, nursing, psychology, social work, education and others. Much has been written and said about this venture so I will not repeat here. I will say, more box space in my basement was devoted to Project Future than any other topic. And, I will be so bold as t quote myself, speaking to Richard Sarles ( President 2003-2005 ) in regard to his article for AACAP News ( Oct. 2003, Vol.34, Issue 5 ). I said to him, "There were such enthusiasm and passion and so many thoughtful suggestions, even from those outside the profession. The process itself created some initiatives and energy for change. I look back on it as a marvelous experience for me personally, there was a buoyant, joyful quality to it, the really tough work came thereafter as we tried to synthesize all that we heard and read into a coherent report." A revisiting of Project Future is now underway.
My work in my basement is on going and I could go on here with more but I think I have said enough. There is more. But I would like to leave it with this and with this closing statement. The Academy is a wonderful organization. It has been good for me and good to me. I treasure the memories, those noted here and many, many others; and the friends and colleagues I have encountered along the way. The trip has been worth it! Thank You.