When we sign up to be parents we may not realize that we carry with us a personal history made up of the unique backgrounds of our parents and their parents before them. I think that is one of the reasons that we are so intrigued these days by the stories of our ancestors. They help us understand where we came from and why we are the way we are.
Bob and I took a trip to England this August and we were amazed at how much of the history of the United States reflects our English heritage. English expressions, stories, heroes and heroines have influenced our cultural in untold and numerous ways. If you have read a Shakespeare play recently I am sure you have noticed the words and sayings that infect our language. Just as a nation is influenced by its history our forebears and their trials live on in the cultures of our families.
Bob had an unusual history which has greatly impacted his life and that of his whole family. His parents were missionaries in Prague which was then Czechoslovakia. (It has taken me years to learn to spell that word.) He was born in Prague and the family lived there until 1939 when they were expelled from the country. His mother and three young children made a harrowing escape on a crowded train out of the country. The story is told of Bob and his five-year-old sister each carrying little suitcases while their mother carried the baby in her arms. People were crying and shouting—trying to find a seat on the train or to say their tearful good-byes. Their father stayed behind to get the rest of the young missionaries out of the country. He took the last boat to Denmark before the start of World War II.
The family returned to Prague when Bob was ten. His father was preoccupied with the mission and his mother was trying to manage a household of five children. Bob and his sisters spoke only English but had to attend Czech schools where they were taught in Russian. They lived there four years until the Communists took over and they were once again expelled from the country. Again they feared for the safety of their father who was regarded as a spy. Understandably Bob’s mother was in a state of nervous collapse and for about six months the family was cared for by the 17-year-old oldest sister.
For many years Bob and his family talked only of the heroic efforts of their father who was doing missionary work in this foreign country. Little attention was paid to the human cost to his family including Bob. But both Bob and I were studying psychology and as the years went by we began to realize that he did indeed carry deep emotional scars as a result of these revered family experiences. After our eldest son was born he had what I can only describe as an epiphany. He saw with clarity that for the sake of his family he needed to have professional help to address what had happened to him.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.