Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist's Memoir


A hilarious and perceptive examination of the mysteries of childhood and the perils of parenthood

From August 1956 through April 1961 I controlled the traffic and streetlights in New York City and northern New Jersey. It was a daunting task for a five-year-old, but by the summer of ‘56 I realized I had a responsibility I could not ignore. My identity and my mission were top secret. With the exception of terse, encrypted communications to the ...

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A hilarious and perceptive examination of the mysteries of childhood and the perils of parenthood

From August 1956 through April 1961 I controlled the traffic and streetlights in New York City and northern New Jersey. It was a daunting task for a five-year-old, but by the summer of ‘56 I realized I had a responsibility I could not ignore. My identity and my mission were top secret. With the exception of terse, encrypted communications to the National Security Council and the CIA, I couldn’t breathe a word.

In this honest and witty debut, Daniel J. Tomasulo chronicles and confesses his childhood delusions, his particularly challenging experiences as a parent, and his life as a psychologist. His memories of being a kid—controlling streetlights, avoiding any foods with seeds lest he get pregnant, enduring his mother’s cold love—are vivid, and his life as a parent is riddled with dilemmas. To start, he finds himself locked in a rubber-walled hospital room while his wife is in labor, and later he faces the necessity of giving mouth-to-mouth to his daughter’s suffocating Raggedy Ann doll. As a professional who specializes in the highly personal, he traces the unusual and illuminating connections between his own life and evocative scenes from the lives of his patients.

With refreshing candor and laugh-out-loud humor, Tomasulo explores the elusive magic of childhood, the complications of parent-child relationships, and the lasting significance of the everyday.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A practicing psychologist puts himself on the couch. In his witty debut, Tomasulo (Psychology/New Jersey City Univ.) examines episodes in his work and daily life that provoke jarring, sometimes humorous reminders of various childhood traumas. When a move to the Jersey shore prompts the purging of possessions, he comes across a box marked "Mom" and begins to reflect on his dead parents. An especially funny, discomfiting chapter describes the psychological warfare Mom and Dad waged with him one day at the amusement park when he wanted to give the timeless ping-pong ball "fish toss" a go. His mother was appalled at the thought of a "filthy" goldfish in the house, but his father cajoled her into acquiescence. "My parents were banking on me screwing up," Tomasulo writes. "They'd let me throw the balls, miss, then go home without a fuss . . . My mother wouldn't have to be the bad guy and my father would have given me the chance. It would all be on me." (He won, and Mom flushed the goldfish down the toilet.) In grad school 25 years later, the author witnessed a scene at the beach in which those same no-win dynamics were inflicted on a young boy being used as a pawn in his mother's battle with his grandmother. With characteristic candor and humor, Tomasulo writes, "So I'm on the beach, early in the morning, reading about family pathology when God figures it would be better for me to watch family pathology than read it . . . I finally recognized the family. It was mine." Much of the memoir sets up similarly neat, reflective parallels: Judging by this account, reckoning with your own traumas comes easiest when encountering those of others. Disquietingly funny, stuffed with entertaining details andpenetrating insights.
The Barnes & Noble Review
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." --Tess Taylor
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555974992
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 738,982
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel J. Tomasulo is a psychologist, psychodrama trainer, and writer on faculty at New Jersey City University.

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Table of Contents

Crossing the Hudson 1

Saturday 17

A Day at the Beach 25

Confessions of a Former Child 37

Kettle of Fish 65

Always Get a Receipt 81

The Marathon Runs 95

Committed 107

Journeyman 119

Raggedy Ann Was an Accident 125

Manhattan Transference 133

My Father's Shadow 147

The Smoke Clears 157

Reiki 169

King of the Streetlights 175

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2008

    A must read

    This book is impossible to put down. Dr. Tomasulo weaves his memories and stories together so perfectly. There are parts that are humorous and parts where the deep emotion and feelings are very palpable. This very charming book is easy to get immersed in and you will enjoy every minute of it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2010

    Reading as a corporeal experience.

    I am not a reader who can read a book cover to cover in one sitting. It takes me weeks, sometimes months to get through even the shortest book. The first line of Daniel Tomasulo's Confessions of a Former Child kept me reading until there were no more lines to read. Reading Tomasulo's book was a corporeal experience, laughing, gasping, and sighing my way through stories like "Inkblot testing with Enrico" (the mentally challenged, two hundred and forty-one pound Italian immigrant). His candid way of retelling makes you feel like his most trusted friend. Having never been a psychologist, a parent, or a marathon runner, I found myself relating to the magic of his childhood, his idealization of his father, and the humor that occurs in the every day moments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2008

    PHD+Sense of Humor+Psychologist+Author=Smart, Funny, Insightful, Great Read!

    The author shares his most personal dreams, childhood fantasies, and life experiences with humor and honesty. Such a great reminder of how our past and present are always connected and makes us who we are no matter how hard we try to forget, wish it were different, or deny it. The author faces it head on with such courage you cannot help but be inspired to do the same.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2008

    Insight with Humor & Compassion

    For all of us who were children, laugh out loud stories with an understanding of why we are who we are. Helps us to understand ourselves and those around us with compassion and love. Must be read more than once to realize all the humor and insight.

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