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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Farewell to my Father



"Sometimes, my dad hears voices that no one else can."

I am 10 years old and trying to explain to a classmate why my parents split up a few years prior. I recall the look of shock and confusion on her face.

"Is he crazy or something?" She asks.

I shrug in response. I had a tendency to shrug a lot when it came to questions about my father. I regarded him as two separate people. During his lucid times, my father took us fishing,  taught us how to play sports, demonstrated outdoor survival skills, and played board games. However, whenever he went into one of his schizophrenic episodes it was a completely different story.

My sister, mother and I hid from him in our bedrooms and waited for the proverbial dark storm to leave. An hour later, my father was back to his jovial self and we would come back out into the living room and pretend as though nothing had happened. Ah, the picture of a typical nuclear family...hiding a not so pleasant secret.

My father was a celebrated college track athlete, scholar,  successful entrepreneur, and an all around upbeat man.  Even as a kid, I put so much pressure on myself to live up to his accomplishments. Once my father turned 35, his lucid moments became fewer and fewer. I was around age 7, when my parents split up for good. I remember feeling happy that my dad would no longer be living in the same house. I also felt guilty for feeling relief when he moved out.

I watched helplessly as my father struggled to hold his mental illness at bay. My paternal grandmother and aunt were around during my childhood to make sure that we were able to spend part of the summers with our father. He wrote us letters and called us on the phone. There was never any doubt in my mind that my father loved us.

Yet, at the same it was heartbreaking to see a brilliant and caring man brought to his knees by schizophrenia.
During my adolescence, I began to worry that I would end up like my father. According to family "historians" on both sides, my father always worked super hard and put tons of pressure on himself to excel. His "psychotic break" occurred because of his over-achieving ways. He short-circuited and continued to decline steadily over the years.

I made it my life's mission to not be like my dad in that respect. Sure, I put pressure on myself to do well, however I balanced this need out with a healthy dose of self-sabotage. I had lots of big goals and the skills to achieve them. Yet, I never really gave my all to anything. Just to be clear, I am not blaming my father's  mental illness  for any of my life's failures. However, I do realize that my own fear and prior ignorance about it caused me to put handbrake on my own achievement's.

I am now fully realizing that holding myself back all of these years has caused me just as much  pain as my father's mental illness. I find myself mourning the time which I wasted being half-assed about my own gifts.
My dad during his more lucid times chided me about my "fear of success". I laughed off as me just being dilettante. I am not sure if he ever really believed that about me.

For the past ten years, my father and I had a tradition of spending Father's Day together in the local Pizza Hut. We would laugh and joke with one another. We talked baseball and about the weather. After eating, we took a short drive through town and ran a couple of errands. These visits gave our complicated relationship a much needed sense of normalcy.

My father passed away a couple of months from a massive heart attack and the pain of his loss is still fresh in my mind. His death has made me review how I have lived my life up until this point.  I am not going to waste any more time handbraking my life or feeling guilty about other people's problems.

Now is the time for me to take my turn at bat and this time I am swinging for the fences!

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