The Historic Court House with marble floors and old fashioned wrought iron was the backdrop for a lawsuit that involved a landlord and a tenant.
The two men stared and would not look at one another, the court called out their names. They both responded with a yes and what caught my eye as the court appointed mediator is they shared the last name.
The crowded court room was silent and the voice of the judge said the landlord/tenant would be going to mediation and if it did not work out a trial would be that day.
I was assigned that mediation, and I asked the silent men to follow me to the jury assembly room.
I introduced myself and asked if they were related.
The response in a muffled tones were they we were father and son.
Father had previously evicted his son and received a judgment from another judge, today was trial for damages for the maximum allowed in a California Small Claims of $7,500.
The father and son each told a story, demanding of money and the other willing to go to trial.
Something told me there were issues deeper than the demand of $7,500.
I suggested that I would like to share time with each of them and their our conversation’s would be confidential.
As time passed, the landlord tenant issue was only the tip of the iceberg, and issues of anger, resentment, trust, control, love, the introduction and desire to see for the first time a grandchild by a grandfather surfaced.
Memories of camping and fishing trips in years past. A failed marriage.
The father burst out with tears flowing, that it was not about the money, but wanting a son to be in his life, as he loved him.
He wanted only a telephone call, a birthday card and a dream of seeing a grandchild.
I took a deep breath and my own tears began to flow, the 2nd time in my 5 year mediation career.
The son wanted to be trusted and not be controlled. He wanted his independence.
Both knew that family was important but neither side would budge.
Little by little, as the neutral, I began a process of building trust and offering empathy.
I took a risk and as the mediator. I rose from my chair and asked them to hold my hand and offered that at that moment it was a time to start the healing process. I then asked them to shake and touch each others hand with a handshake.
The two joined, hand to hand, father to son, son to father.
In the mediation the father dropped his lawsuit and the written agreement between one another was stated, “Father and Son have begun a healing process to preserve a family relationship”.
Upon returning to the court, the judge reached out to both father and son and accepted the settlement, knowing that new beginnings were made possible and family unity had the greater value than a judgment.
As a the mediator, my own tears flowed with the emotion of a family dispute that went deeper and beyond a landlord tenant dispute.
This is the complete interview by Robert Benjamin with Margaret Shaw, filmed as part of Mediate.com's "The Mediators: Views from the Eye of the Storm" Series.By Margaret Shaw