What would you do if you suspected that your best friend was a sexual predator? What would you do if it was 1998 and Jerry Sandusky was your best friend? When Bernie Fine, Syracuse University’s assistant head basketball coach, was accused of being a sexual predator, Head Coach Jim Boeheim said, “There’s absolutely no truth, no validity. … I’ve known Bernie for 40-plus years, and I don’t believe in any way, shape or form he would ever even pat a kid on the shoulder. Is that clear enough?”
Two weeks later, after the chancellor had fired Bernie Fine, Jim Boeheim said, “I reacted without thinking . . . . I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m trying to learn from my mistake. That’s all I can say. There is an investigation going on, which I fully support. We all need to know as much as we can as to what happened.”
Loyalty to your friend is the first response. You just absolutely positively can’t believe that your good—very, very good—friend could do anything as sleazy and slimy as engage in sexual molestation. Couldn’t have happened—could it?
Richard Gottlieb, MSW, was my best friend—and then he wasn’t. Without a word of explanation, he just stopped calling me. Then I found out that he was accused of having sex with women who were his psychotherapy patients.
I met Dick at Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference in 2011. Within an hour of meeting Dick, he was holding my hand, which I found surprising and confusing. Later, assailed by post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the mistreatment I’d received in the psychiatric system, I asked him if he would engage in therapy with me. Dick’s reply was that he charged $150 and I couldn’t afford him.
Then he engaged in therapy with me. Dick insisted it was not therapy; it was friendship. I halfway believed him but he opened me up like a can of peas. Dick used his considerable clinical skills to get me to tell him everything. He’d call and ask how I was doing. I’d say, “Fine,” and Dick would say, “No, really—how are you?” And our conversation wouldn’t go any further until I opened up and let him in. I had to tell him everything I thought and felt.
If you tell a friend, “I don’t want to talk about it,” or “not now,” or “please don’t push me on this,” you expect your friend to back off and say, “Okay, but I just want you to know that I’m here if you ever want to talk.” Friends respect your boundaries; Dick didn’t. I would try to set boundaries and he would simply view them as defenses to be overcome. He had no boundaries. Our relationship was whatever he wanted it to be. Dick would tell me that I was his colleague, then he’d tell me that he loved me. The fact that he was married didn’t seem a limiting factor.
Dick lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I live in Syracuse, New York. We talked by phone, sometimes every day, sometimes as often as four times a day. In a year, there were only two weeks when we didn’t talk. He always and only talked to me from his office at Holland Hospital.
One of the weeks we didn’t talk was after Dick got a letter informing him that he was going to be sued. He was devastated. Dick told me that the person suing him had been his patient and then became his friend and, as his friend, the man had come back to see him from time to time and occasionally paid Dick for his time. Now Dick’s friend had turned on him, betrayed him, and Dick was devastated.
Dick, who always was upbeat, positive and optimistic, told me that he was going to lose his license, be unable to practice, and lose his income. There was no “if” in the statement—if I lose the lawsuit—there was just a blanket statement that he was going to lose everything. I tried to be supportive and encouraging but Dick wouldn’t let me help him. This was something I had learned about him—he had to be the Big Guy. Dick had to take care of people and have people depend on him; he couldn’t be the person who got help—he had to be the helper.
After Dick found out he was being sued, he never again told me that he loved me, which reminded me of James Lipton’s interview with Robin Williams on Inside the Actor’s Studio. Lipton was asking Williams about when he stopped abusing drugs. “Was it the birth of your first child that caused you to stop doing drugs?”
Williams hesitated a moment, then said, “Yeah, that and the Grand Jury investigation.” Funny how the threat of the law changes a man’s behavior.
Then Dick got downsized. The hospital cut him to half-time. Twice I asked him how we would continue our conversations if he wasn’t at the hospital every day. Twice Dick brushed the question away. The third time, he told me we could continue to talk from his private office. On Thursday of his last full-time week, we had a long and friendly conversation, then parted with the agreement that Dick would call me on Monday.
Then he called me on Friday afternoon. I was shocked. Dick never called me on Friday afternoons and never answered when I called him on Friday afternoons. I assumed he left the office early.
He did not call me on Monday or Tuesday. When I called Dick on Wednesday and asked why he hadn’t called, he stumbled, stuttered, then told me that he had tried to call but I hadn’t answered. This always was Dick’s way when he didn’t want to answer a direct question: he would turn it back on me and make it my fault. (To be continued.)