The Dr. William Blatzes

The young Turk who led a revolution in child psychology a generation ago has become a mellow elder-statesman of family counseling. “No marriage is ever successful 24 hours a day,” he says. A well-known reporter listens to how the Blatzes solve their own problems

June Callwood January 3 1959

The Dr. William Blatzes

The young Turk who led a revolution in child psychology a generation ago has become a mellow elder-statesman of family counseling. “No marriage is ever successful 24 hours a day,” he says. A well-known reporter listens to how the Blatzes solve their own problems

June Callwood January 3 1959

The Dr. William Blatzes

The young Turk who led a revolution in child psychology a generation ago has become a mellow elder-statesman of family counseling. “No marriage is ever successful 24 hours a day,” he says. A well-known reporter listens to how the Blatzes solve their own problems

June Callwood

Dr. William E. Blatz, a child psychologist who disagrees with such giants of psychiatry as Freud and such admired techniques of child-raising as spankings, recently observed that he is mellowing. When I visited him and his wife in their ravine-side Toronto home, a greying Dr. Blatz talked about his life and philosophy, about marriage and, inevitably, about children, with a gentleness and detachment that seemed newfound.


Dr. William E. Blatz, a child psychologist who disagrees with such giants of psychiatry as Freud and such admired techniques of child-raising as spankings, recently observed that he is mellowing. When 1 visited him and his wife in their ravine-side Toronto home, a greying Dr. Blatz talked about his life and philosophy, about marriage and, inevitably, about children, with a gentleness and detachment that seemed newfound.

Bill Blatz was one of the pioneers who brought the science of psychology from an unpronouncable unknown at the time of World War I to a common household word used as readily as soap. He had been a newly graduated doctor, assigned to a strange study of a nervous disorder that for the first time was being called shell shock instead °f cowardice. Like many thoughtful men of the petiod, he became convinced that the answers to the puzzle of adult behavior lay in childhood.

Thirty-three years ago, backed by a RockefclSrant, he launched the Institute for Child tudy, the world's first nursery school founded or the explicit purpose of studying post-diaper pre-school human beings. W'ithin a few years, .c VVas ann°uncing some of the most controverS|u convictions that parents had ever heard. He ”DS Vrj1fe^ 9u°tcd but to begin a sentence with

rBlatz says ...” was as potentially cxploSlVe a Pastime as the home-manufacture of

bDh uCS ,^eav>ng a wake of argument, he L e^ Miiled against giants: he told people

° eheved in self-expression that frustration aS *OCK* for children; he told mothers that

mother-love wasn't of much value; he informed worshippers of Sigmund Freud that psychoanalysis was founded on a wrong premise; later, he told admirers of Brock Chisholm that there is a Santa Claus.

The most contrary egghead the nursery world has ever known. Bill Blatz is now a relaxed, benign grandfather who rocks his chair a little as he talks. His former impish impiety isn't gone, but it is infrequent.

He is still uncommonly busy. Along with his duties at the Institute for Child Study, he is psychological adviser to the juvenile and family courts in Toronto, lecturer in the University of Toronto's department of psychology, lecturer and clinician in the department of psychiatry and adviser on education at a hospital for disturbed children. Now sixty-three, he has witnessed misery and malice in most of its human forms but he sturdily insists he is an optimist.

Bill and Anne Blatz, a former nursery-school teacher he married in 1946. spend much of their time at home in a high-ceilinged, deep-rugged library. Lined with thousands of books, the room contains a fireplace, good reading lamps, relaxing armchairs that tip back and a toy corner for their grandsons. Anne Blatz has that rare quality of being a comfortable woman, full of graces, intelligence and good humor; her husband is sharp-witted, mercurial and twinkling. .As a couple, they radiate a sense of companionship and balance.

"No marriage." observed Dr. Blatz. settling in what was obviously his chair, “is ever success-

ful twenty-four hours a day. There is no such thing as perpetual happiness. When periods ol arguments and bickering occur, you must stop and assess how fortunate you are. II your marriage is a good solid piece of workmanship, it can stand a great deal of strain."

In thirty-three years of being a marriage counselor, Dr. Blatz has reached the sunny conclu sion that most unions, despite occasional aches and contusions, are sound. “There are four hundred thousand families, roughly, in Toronto and in a year at the family court I see only three or four hundred couples having difficulty. That demonstrates something about the proportion of unsuccessful marriages."

He was to speak later of his own unsuccessful marriage, which ended in divorce after a daughter, his only child, had grown to university age.

Anne Blatz filled a coffee cup for him and set it on a nearby table. He thanked her for it absently and considered the question of what factors contribute most to marriage failure.

"Is it usually that the original choice of mate was poorly made?" I asked.

“No, no, " he said, phrasing his thoughts with characteristic rapidity. “It's what you do afterwards that counts. How do you make a choice anyway? You put your best foot forward during courting and you don't see the other's faults. It's afterwards you find out what you have.

"One of the best qualities a marriage can have is sympathy, not just for each other but for people. The most important thing, though, is that each individual has continued on page 31

what? It’s over, gone”

fear. It isn’t born in anyone, any more than leadership is born. "

“But you yourself are renowned as being a hotly competitive type of person."

He grinned ruefully. "I’m getting over

11 et 11 v.| ti 11 * y 11 ■' c . «

•Anne makes the salad dressing, the bread, cookies. 1 cook the meat. I cook the spinach—1 have a recipe for spinach rm verv proud of. We are both very proud of what we do. Then we sit down together at the dinner table and say. Isn't this wonderful!' We rarely fail to say it. and to mean it."

"We’ve had no help for, let me see. three years, isn't it Bill?" Anne remarked. •\Ve lind we enjoy being alone. Most evenings we read together.

“Anne reads eighteenth-century authors like Walpole and I read seventeenth century,” continued Dr. Blatz. Every now and then, we dovetail, read the same

The Dr. William Blatzes continued from page 19

‘After you’ve achieved some goal — so

a chance to dominate, at times. Each must have an area of competence it

vou like, recognized by the other.

' -Now. for example,” he continued, throwing a cheery glance at his wife.

11. f lie tonina in

The discussion moved to the general problem of a need to excel. Here he was very serious. "I believe the cause of a severe need to excel is environmental, a compensation for a lack of attention, or lack of affection, or the result of some

it, thank God.” he said. “How? 1 wish 1 knew. Vigor decreasing, I suppose, with age. You get more philosophical, you dispense with goals. I’ve made the discovery that after you've achieved some goal—-so what? It's over, gone. Those achievements that don’t involve competition last forever, like writing a poem or building a fireplace. That's why Anne and I love our farm so."

The Blatzes own a 150-acre farm just outside Toronto, in the foothills of the Caledon Hills. It is farmed by a niece and her husband, who occupy one of the


They chuckled and Anne Blatz leaned hack in her chair, which squeaked.

"We wouldn’t dream of fixing this squeak.” she commented contentedly. "Sometimes when Bill’s students visit us they begin by being a bit strained. We arrange to have them sit in this chair and the squeak so thoroughly startles them that they relax afterwards. It’s a splendid ice-breaker.

Her husband returned to the subject of marriage. "A lot of couples, he remarked, "have a habit of setting their differences out on the table. Important things, like the use of money, must be discussed but if you strew your clothes on the floor 1 can’t see having a family conference about it.'

"It implies, doesn't it, that you are trying to change one another? Anne Blatz said. "There has to be recognition, and acceptance, oi differences.

Her husband regarded her fondly. "For instance, I don’t shave when we are at our farm ..." he began.

"You enjoy it," commented Anne.

"... I'm sure I look like a bum, but Anne has never remarked on this.

She smiled at him. "But you always shave when we are going to have guests.

Dr. Blatz had another illustration. Hanging in the library in a prominent position is a painting he gave his wife for Christmas. "I knew when I got it home,” he explained, "that il wasn't much of a picture, not suitable for this room at all. But Anne thanked me very warmly and hung it there in a place of honor. Someday we’ll be able to afford the right picture, but in the meantime ...”

Anne smiled slightly, but said nothing. After a pause, she changed the subject. "You were speaking about areas of competence,” she prompted.

“Everyone needs an area of competence that is acknowledged by the other," he nodded. "People have this necessity to dominate, to beat the other one in one Field or another. Individuals living together need to recognize this and have an alteration of polarity. In our ease, Anne is better than I am at making triends. She is also skilled as a homemaker, I mean that in its embracing sense. She is an excellent cook too."

And what is your area of competence?"

Dr. Blatz considered. “I am a fine Carpenter, he replied with boyish smugness.

houses on the property. Anne and Bill, mostly without aid, rebuilt another farmhouse which is eighty feet long and two stories high. This is the site of the annual Blatz family picnic, attended last summer by one hundred and fifty-eight relatives.

Bill Blatz. was the youngest of nine children. “1 was spoiled, or so my sisters insist," he commented easily. "My father was a happy, hard-working man, a tailor with a shop that had about thirty employees. I can remember some of them still because I used to visit the shop a good deal. 1 was my father's favorite and he used to give me a nickel.”

Anne chuckled, "Quite a haul.

“My mother," he continued, "was a small woman, just five feet exactly. She used to read to me a lot; we always had books. She gave me full acclaim for everything I did.”

"Then why do you suppose you developed into such a competitive person?”

“I don’t know. I was sixteen when I went to Varsity ami I weighed one hundred and eight pounds. Yet 1 turned out for football and got my letter. I was

centre scrimmage.”

"You slipped in a little boxing too,” reminded Anne.

“Yes, I guess that’s indicative of something all right—someone my size, fivefoot seven, so anxious to succeed. But it was partly because of a strong desire 1 had to please my mother, to do well for her sake."

One of the most vivid memories Bill Blatz recalls of his youth was a fall

afternoon w hen he was fifteen and he and a friend were rowing near Burlington Beach, not far from his Hamilton home. Blatz had just begun his final year in high school. “What do you want to do?” the friend asked idly. 1 don't know, Blatz

heard himself reply, "but I'm going to

get my PhD."

"That’s rather interesting." Dr. Blatz remarked when he hail finished telling the story, lie mused over it. in the detached manner of a clinician. "We weren t an educated family. 1 don't think I even knew anyone with a PhD. I still don’t understand how it popped into my head."

“But you went from high school to medical school, didn't you? ’

“Oh yes. That came about because when I was making my choice of subjects in high school my mother said to me, ‘You’re going to be a doctor. I was an obedient boy, so I did. 1 hen. after I hail fulfilled her instructions, 1 got my PhD."

"Bill often says." laughed Anne, "that the order his mother gave him was the fastest piece of guidance ever heard of.”

"It turned out happily." Dr. Blatz murmured reflectively. "1 suppose looking back over it all that 1 would have to say I’ve had a very happy life, but I’ve had some severe jolts. I hey are unavoidable, of course. The important thing is youi ability to recover —and that goes back to your childhood, that ability.'

One summer when he was a university undergraduate. Bill Blatz built a fiveroom cottage on the side of Hamiltons mountain. Toward the end of the summer he reached the stage of putting the glass in the window sashes. He planned to paint them the next day, but during the night there was a heavy rainfall and the unpainted sashes warped, breaking all the glass. When he discovered this, he wept and walked home.

“My mother made me a cup of coffee and a fried egg.” he recalled.

“Imagine you remembering that,” observed his wife softly,

"Then she told me to go back and get more glass for those windows. ‘This time, remember to paint the sashes first,’ she advised me.”

"She didn’t give you much sympathy,” Anne remarked.

"No,” agreed her husband. “She was teaching me how to recover from a disappointment.”

One of the most difficult burdens Bill Blatz has had to bear in recent years has been poor health. Bouts of pneumonia and flu were accompanied by a prolonged depression that desolated him. "For a while I couldn’t even read,” he said somberly. “That was the most terrible time of all. I wasn’t alarmed, just waited for it to go. I carried on with my work, though it was very hard to do so. You must carry on, you mustn’t give in.” Anne Blatz, who had been watching the street through the wide windows of the library, abruptly rose and hurried out of the room. “Here come the children!" she reported as she fled.

“Our grandchildren,” Dr. Blatz explained. "We are spoiling them.”

“You, the child psychologist!” "Certainly,” he retorted cheerily, “that’s what grandparents are for.”

Ileuithy neglect

Two boys came into the room, Jeffrey, seven, and Jimmy, five, followed by their mother, Margery Deroux, who is Dr. Blatz’ child by a previous marriage that ended in divorce. After introductions, they went out for a moment.

“You give your own children a certain amount of healthy neglect because you are so busy,” continued Dr. Blatz, nodding in the direction of their departure, “but your grandchildren become very precious. You feel no one can look after them well enough, not even their mother."

“Is your daughter raising them according to good solid Blatz principles?” He grinned. “She does pretty well, slips now and then."

"What is the fundamental principle of your philosophy about raising children?” “I used to know more than I do now, but the fundamental principle hasn't changed much: you must never violate the sanctity of the individual."

"Were you a good parent?”

“Yes, Margery had a happy childhood.

1 made mistakes, trivial ones, but I didn’t worry about them any more than I worried about a mistake in spelling.” "What is the worst crime adults can commit against children?"

"To be mean and cruel, that's the worst. To deny a child security. It’s common. too common. It shouldn't exist.” “What is the noblest human virtue?" "J ustice."

"What is maturity?"

He stopped. “These are hard questions. Maturity is a sense of values and proper

. . straight through from Miami in forty-eight hours

importance.” He searched his mind. “1 used to care most feverishly if Varsity won a football game; now I don’t. That’s maturity.”

“What is the most critical time of a child’s development?”

“The present,” replied Blatz promptly. He savored his answer with evident satisfaction. "That’s rather good. I’m rather proud of that.”

Anne returned to the room, followed by Margery and the boys. "Did you get off a bon mot, dear?” It was repeated and she listened admiringly. “That’s really very good. I'm ready to give the boys their dinner now. Do you know what we’re going to have?” she asked, turning to Jeffrey. "It’s your favorite potatoes. Guess what kind.”

"Baked,” he said immediately.

“No, potato patties.”

“They aren’t my favorite,” Jeffrey retorted with the beginning of a small boy's quick indignation. "They’re Jimmy’s!”

“Well, then,” said his grandfather soothingly, “you won't have to enjoy them as much this time. Do you know what 1 did? 1 cut up four peaches for you boys and put sugar all over them.” The adults exchanged grins as the distraction worked and the boys ran toward the kitchen.

"Is it true,” I asked tentatively, “that you postponed your divorce for many years until Margery was grown?”

"Yes, that’s true,” answered Dr. Blatz steadily. “1 feel there has been too much importance attached to the damage a broken home causes children, but we didn't want to run the possible risk. We were very friendly, her mother and I, still are good friends. I would have felt differently perhaps if there had been constant bickering or violence. We waited until Margery was about twenty; it seemed best.”

Dr. Blatz met his present wife, Anne Harris, daughter of a wealthy Toronto family, when she was a student at his Institute for Child Study preparing for a career as a nursery-school teacher. She hasn’t worked since their marriage but donates a good deal of her time to a nursery-school project that is part of a community centre in Toronto.

“I decided to stay home and look after the boss,” she explained affectionately. “I can't understand the tendency some women have to do a lot of things, join a lot of clubs. They are in search of something, of course, but 1 think they would be more likely to be satisfied if they did one or two things, and did them well. Perhaps I’m just lazy.”

“She’s my chauffeur,” said her husband. “It’s a great help to me, with all my errands to Family Court, the hospital, the university. Saves parking problems.”

“While he’s busy at one place or another, I sometimes come home and tidy the house or else go over to the Institute and watch the children, have a cup of coffee," Anne smiled serenely. “1 take it pretty easy.”

Bill Blatz laughed. “She’s got one fixation though, she can't bear to have a dish dirty. She has to wash it immediately.”

His grandsons had finished their dinner and climbed into the child psychologist’s lap for the next installment of a game he invented. “Let’s see,” Dr. Blatz began, getting a piece of paper and a pencil ready. “The elephants are playing . . .” “The panthers,” supplied Jeffrey.

". . . and we’re in the second quarter. This is the field and here the panthers are lined up on their twenty-yard line. Who has the ball?”

"The elephants?” enquired Jimmy. "Yes, and it's second down . . .” The boys heads bent down in fascination as their grandfather drew lines to indicate the path of the ball, and stopped the pencil to describe a bone-shaking tackle. Margery and Anne watched, entranced by the total communion so quickly achieved. It was growing twilight outside and the boys began to look sleepy.

Half an hour earlier Bill Blatz had talked about being a grandfather, growing older. “I’m not appalled at the idea of retirement,” he had said, “but I'm not yet ready for it. I think a man should keep what serious writing he has to do until after he is sixty. I'm ready now to write a few books.”

"What do you think your contribution will turn out to be?” he was asked.

“I don't know yet,” he replied thoughtfully. "Have you seen my presidential address that I gave this summer to the Canadian Psychological Association? I'll get a copy for you.”

The speech read, in part, "Security is a state of mind in which one is willing to accept the consequence of one’s behavior . . . mental illness is the pattern of behavior that an individual manifests when he has succumbed to . . . devices for dealing with insecurity . . .” He listed two devices that he felt could lead to mental illness. One was “immature dependent security,” or gaining security from total dependency as an infant does; the other, "deputy agents,” trying to drown a sense of insecurity by such mechanisms as hysteria, mania and paranoia.

Here in the older Bill Blatz is the 108pound battler who played varsity football. The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion in his profession holds that much mental illness will be cured eventually by drugs. On the other hand, many geneticists are convinced that heredity is an important factor. Blatz, militantly out of step with all. maintains mental illness is environmental.

"Some day,” he mused as he glanced at the copy of his combatant speech, "the time will come when none of us will want to beat the other, will need to beat the other. That will be marvellous. Most of the discouragement in the world comes from being defeated.”

Now, as the game between the panthers and the elephants drew near the halftime whistle. Margery Deroux watched her father fondly. "That game started this summer as a baseball game, didn t it. Anne?” she asked.

Anne Blatz nodded and grinned, “h never ended, somehow just slid into football a few weeks ago.”

"Does Dr. Blatz ever get irritated with children?” I wondered.

“I've never seen it,” answered his wife. “Have you, Gery?”


Dr. Blatz looked up. "I don't get irritated with children. Only with adults.” ★