Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist’s Memoir

By DANIEL J. TOMASULO

Among the many pitfalls that can befall memoir, there are special classes of pitfall reserved for memoirs by therapists. Because the writers come armed with arsenals of theoretical know-how, they can be overly brooding, full of false epiphany, or highly academic. They can navel-gaze, stare into a wistful distance, or endlessly deconstruct themselves in search of object lessons. Occasionally, some of these formulas work, and sometimes they are pleasing and insightful, but what’s refreshing about Daniel Tomasulo’s memoir is that it celebrates emotional complexity without seeming to do any of these things. Though written by a therapist, it seems only to be recounting a life with generous humor and a gentle wisdom acquired in hindsight. Tomasulo, who lost his father to a heart attack and his mother to cancer, meditates on other losses as well: some as large as losing friends and patients to heroin, others as small as the pain of throwing away old running shoes. And as a man of Italian and Irish ancestry living in New Jersey, Tomasulo offers linked vignettes with a “regular-guy” simplicity that comes off as generous, slightly gritty, and down-to-earth. As his stories leapfrog through time, it becomes apparent that he has a simple guiding philosophy: it is possible to live in the past and present at once, and that it’s possible to feel contradictory feelings at the same time. Living with complexity is his sense of resolution. The stories aren’t really pat, but what Tomasulo occasionally seems to lack in theoretical depth, he makes up for in warmth. Holding his newborn daughter in his arms for the first time, he feels the wide expansion of both present and past in the miracle of her body. At once, a rueful kicker: “It was at this very moment I realized I had become a father, that Nancy and I were now part of a family, and that my keys were locked in a car outside the emergency room with the motor still running.”