As I sat here relaxing in front of my computer after a seven-block round trip to the grocery store on foot in 90+ degree weather, yeah I’m a crazy bitch *chuckles*, it dawned on me that this Sunday is Father’s Day. With that realization I began thinking about my dad and although sometimes in the past it was difficult for me to talk about him today was different.
Dad was a man who had to struggle with a great deal in his life. He was a good man who my mother loved deeply. Her family tried their best to change her mind when he proposed, but like the stubborn Irish-Cherokee she was she knew my Dad was the man for her. If you’ve ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond then you’ve seen Ray’s parents, Frank and Marie, and laughed your ass off. Perhaps you’ve even wondered about how this couple could stay together for so long and not kill each other. That was my parents in a nut shell.
As my youngest brother said shortly after our mother passed, Say what you will about those two, but the old man loved her and she loved him. He hit it on the nose. They didn’t have the perfect happily ever after that so many romance writers want to prattle on about. He wasn’t the white knight in shining armor and she wasn’t the fairytale princess that needed rescued from the evil queen. They had a realistic love that outshone all the fairy tales for me. Dad was a blue collar worker, a man who worked demolition and then in the local lumber mill where he was when he met my mother at thirty-five. She was twenty-five and they fell in love at first sight if I’m to believe the stories my mom told to me as a child.
He was fiercely protective of my mom, the sweetest guy you could ever meet, but he also suffered from schizophrenia. Mom knew he had problems, but she didn’t care. She looked into the darkness of the disease and saw the true man beneath. Five years into their marriage at the age of forty-one he was committed by my mother, temporarily, to the state hospital when the drugs he used to treat the disease stopped working. I was four years old and I had a brother that was three; that was in 1972. My mom hadn’t given up on him, but she knew he needed help that she couldn’t give him.
Dad was a different man when the disease took hold; violent, suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations as well as black outs. As a child I didn’t understand that it wasn’t his fault. It was something that he was born with and suffered with from the time he was twelve years old. Back then the cure was worse than the disease. As a teenager he was sent to a mental facility where shock therapy and lobotomies were common place. People like my father were treated like animals and my grandmother thought what she was doing was the right thing.
At seventeen my father ran and kept running until he returned to his family at thirty. His mother who he lived with when he returned didn’t have a clue and I doubt cared (having known the woman, she passed when I was fourteen) how to treat my father. She was a bitter woman already saddled with a husband (my Dad’s step-father) who’d suffered a stroke. When he met my mother at thirty-five he discovered someone who loved him unconditionally. Not just my mother, but her mother as well, welcomed him with open arms–not so much my mother’s siblings, but that is a story for another day. For the first time he felt loved and his life began to change for the better.
Despite her family’s opinion they were married on August 13, 1966 in his mother’s backyard by the local justice of the peace, his mother and half-sister the witnesses. A year and half later I was born on February 19, 1968. My parents desperately wanted a child, especially my father, and I was from the moment I took my first breath daddy’s little girl. He adored me and I knew it. Hell, I was the biggest brat you’ve ever seen when I was a child. 😀 Almost another year and a half later my oldest brother was born and he was a momma’s boy. The two of us were wicked little things when we got our footing.
My Dad spent six months in the hospital in 1972 and when he returned the disease had been caged again. He was quiet and painfully shy at times. I recall him standing on the porch watching my brother and I play in the yard, a cigarette dangling from his fingers, with what I now know was a deep-longing in his blue eyes. There was also fear in his eyes, fear that the drugs would cease working again and that he would hurt one of his children or his wife. He understood why my mother had committed him, hell he had to permanently retire after returning home due to the side effects of the drugs he was on. Before he’d rolled his own cigarettes, but now his hands shook so bad that he had to resort to prepackaged smokes and he was lucky if he could light one.
On occasion, my mother would speak to him in quiet whispers and he would come off the porch to play with us, but it was rare. He wanted to protect us, I understand that now, but growing up I felt him slipping away and there was no understanding that then. I began to think that he didn’t care. The truth was he cared too much.
When I was fourteen the medications quit working again. The distant yet loving father was overcome by the disease that had been dormant for a decade. By then I had a second brother, who’d been born in 1976. He was six when my father fell back into the darkness and I am grateful that he doesn’t recall that time with clarity. My father vanished for two weeks, my mother had the police searching for him, and when he finally returned he wasn’t the father that I had known. The night he returned the disease was in complete control and he busted down the door and came close to killing my mother with his bare hands. he probably would have, but for the fact that I jumped him from behind and distracted him long enough for her to get away. I remember my mother telling me to run to the neighbor’s house and call the police. Barefoot and wearing nothing, but my pajamas I took off out the door and ran through a foot of snow to the neighbor’s house and did just that.
After that night, my father spent eight months in the state mental hospital. When he came home no one talked about what happened and my relationship with him went down the drain. I had no idea what had happened or even why. All I did know was that the father I’d loved had tried to hurt my mom and I was the one that had stopped him. I was angry and lost. The anger continued to build until there was little but tatters remaining of what we’d once shared. I felt betrayed and hurt.
I left home at eighteen I didn’t see him again until I was twenty-one. The anger was still there and the stupidity. The last words I ever spoke to my dad was I hate you. I don’t ever want to see you again. Four years later my dad passed from a massive heart attack at the age of sixty-two.
When you’re young you think you know everything, the filter between your mouth and brain pretty much doesn’t exist. If I could take what I said back I would, but you can’t live your life full of regrets. It took me nearly ten years after his death to forgive myself for being a stupid kid. As I’ve become older, so I’ve become wiser.
My Dad was a good man who tried the best he could. He loved his children more than I ever imagined when I was younger. After his death my mom was never the same. If there is such a thing as soul mates I believe he and my mom were just that. Without him she seemed to age beyond her years and though she teased us kids about finding someone else she never did. No one else could truly make her happy and though he’s been gone seventeen years and she three years their love lives on through the children they left behind.
As I type this I’m looking at a black and white portrait that hangs above my writing desk. The portrait was taken on their first date in August 1965 at a traveling carnival that was passing through town. They look happy. Mom has this expression of contentment on her face and dad…well he has a spark in his eyes that says to me This is the one.
So, Pops…wherever you are…
Tell mom to quit chasing you with that cast iron skillet and cook you up some of those greens and cornbread you loved so much. Then give her a hug from me and kiss her breathless like I recall you doing on more than one occasion. After all you deserve it…
Happy Father’s Day.
I love you. 🙂
If you’re interested in learning more about schizophrenia check out the following websites:
The Mind Research Network: http://www.mrn.org/
NARSAD The Brain & Behavior Research Fund: http://www.narsad.org/