My Dad was bipolar. Among other things. No one will ever really know now. And while we can look back on his life and his actions, we don’t know what was in his head.
For so many years, I believed that my Dad just didn’t love his family enough. That’s was my Mom says, still. And Mom’s word was golden, at that point. But then again, I’m fairly certain she doesn’t “believe in” mental illness. So things are kinda weird when I’m around her right now.
Dad was a hero when I was a little girl. He brought me gifts when he came home from trips, was fun, was strong.
But something changed somewhere along the way. My parents started fighting. While I loved my Dad, I was Mommy’s little girl. And I could see that Daddy wasn’t making Mommy very happy. In fact, she was down right miserable. They spent more time away from each other when they were home together, and there was an awkward tension when they were forced to be in the same room.
So a girl who was blissfully naive to the world became a girl who felt the need to run away from her home. Don’t worry, I only got to the end of the driveway. But what matters is that there was a lot of thought and emotion behind what I was doing.
The separation continued to grow. Mom and Dad staying away from each other, and my staying away from my Dad. My brother, 4 years younger, always went with Dad, and I always went with Mom. And so our family was divided. There were lines drawn. Crossing them would be a betrayal to our “main” parent. I was fine avoiding my Dad, that was easy. But my brother couldn’t avoid my Mom. There was, and still is, 20 years later, a lot of animosity between them.
As the seperation grew and grew, the fights on all sides grew as well. Me vs. Brother, Mom vs. Brother.
Dad? Oh he didn’t fight. I’m not sure I ever saw him angry…just a little pissed.
Fast forward to my age of 16. Dad could never get to a soccer game, a band performance, and ultimately missed my high school graduation. Work was always more important. I wish I hadn’t of felt like I had to pick a parent.
Dad started acting different. He’s not silent anymore. He’s funny, he’s laughing, he’s wanting to go out and do things. This isn’t the dad I’ve known for 16 years. He starts singing some country song about buying an ice cream and driving real fast, then he suggests we drive to Dairy Queen to get some. I was all in for this. I would love to see Dad like this. We did.
This Dad would communicate with you if its what you want. He’s not silent and unavailable. We spent a very brief interlude in this moment, before he went down the path that took his life.
The happy Dad quickly turned into a dangerously happy Dad. Too in your face. Loud. Driving too fast. Easily irritated. He would get into confrontations with strangers over trivial things. That’s what scared me. Mom told me he was abusing his medication. I’m not sure what meds he had, but that sounds like a manic episode to me. He ended up turning to street drugs, and Mom ended up making him leave.
I was glad to be rid of him. I hate saying that now. But he was an oppressor for so long. He got upset if we didn’t hang our towels straight, and little mistakes were looked upon with disgust. It was a rough way to grow up, with constant expectations, not allowed to just be.
So in his absence we made messes. We painted our rooms colors other than beige, slightly beige, very beige. I went extreme: Crayola yellow, green, and blue. It felt SO GOOD! While we’re enjoying our freedom, Dad is out snorting coke, and sleeping with hookers.
I was never able to express my anger to him, until one day when my brother called the house from Dad’s house. Somehow, Dad had managed to buy a house in town. Of course my brother went to love with him as soon as possible. Living at home, he was camping behind enemy lines. So my brother calls, in a panic because Dad is in a room and won’t open the door. I was 17. I drove to my Dad’s house and went inside. Dad seemed to have tied the door handle to the bed post so no one could get in. My brother said that a woman was in there. After failing to get the door open, or any response, my brother and I went out to my car to leave. Before we could leave, Dad came out. All I remember is screaming from the street “How could you????“.
One day, my Mom noticed that my guitar was missing. She told my brother and me to get in the car, and drove us straight into the crack district. She parked across from a house and said if she isn’t out in 5 minutes, to call the cops. Less than 5 minutes later, she came out with my guitar.
Dad ended up moving down to South Carolina, and my brother went with him. We didn’t talk, except for a card that came every birthday that didn’t say more than “Love you. Miss you”. My Mom always insisted that my Granny (Dad’s Mom) picked it out. My brother kind of bounced in between the two houses.
A couple years later, I spoke to Dad. He had invited my brother on a trip to the beach and he had turned him down. I jumped at the chance to spend some time with Dad, and get to the beach. He picked my boyfriend and I up in a rented convertible. He let me drive the whole way down.
We got there, checked in, and ordered pizza delivery for dinner. I remember Dad commenting that he had really wanted a room near the busy part of the beach (he had me make the reservation). Dad was really live. My boyfriend thought he was funny; he was making a lot of jokes. It just made me nervous. The night was short, we were exhausted from the trip. When we woke up in the morning, Dad was gone and so was the car. I called my Mom, and after he hadn’t shown up after a couple hours, and we didn’t hear from him, she came down to rescue us. Awkward drive home. I was so angry. About 30 minutes after Mom dropped us off at our place, Dad knocked on our door. I had left my favorite CD in the car and he had it in his hand. I took it, silently, and before I could slam the door, I heard “I’m sorry Sis…”.
We didn’t speak much after that. I called him to tell him I was getting married, and I wanted him there. I told him my brother would be giving me away (God knows I wouldn’t depend on him to be there). He ended up coming, sitting in a pew towards the back of the church, and then quickly leaving as soon as the ceremony was over.
He stayed long enough for pictures, and those were the last we ever took together.
I sent him a handwritten letter about 6 months later while my husband was in Iraq. I felt the need to connect with him. I told him when my husband got home that we were going to try to have a baby. I never heard back.
About a year later, when his first grandson was born, I wanted to let him know. I didn’t have a number to reach him at, didn’t even know where he was, so my husband called my Aunt to try to find him. She wouldn’t give us any information. That was my last time trying to contact him.
About a year and a half (and another baby) later, it was the first Wednesday in March, my brother called me. He was crying. “Dad’s dead.” He had been found in a field in Miami. The medical examiner concluded he had died of an overdose of Xanax, Cocaine, and Heroin.
We buried him a couple weeks later. I was still so angry with him. I thought he was just an addict. I thought he didn’t love us enough to fight it. In speaking with my Granny, I found out he (and she) were bipolar. I started looking into bipolar illness then.
Three rough years later, I was diagnosed bipolar. Needless to say, I am no longer am angry at him. I know that I would have ended up right where he is sooner or later, without a lesson learned from him and without good support from my husband. Now when I think of him, I feel sad for him, angry at the people along his path that let him down.
I had the best example of how no therapy and no medication can end up. So while a lot of bipolar people resist it, I embrace it. I know my Dad would say that I am stronger than he was.