The Lies of My Life: My Dad

Oh man. This is the lie I feel the most guilty about. So, where do I begin. Let’s start at the beginning.

I’m not sure if all the details are actually true, but the story I’ve been told is that my parents met at the Flame Nightclub, also known as “The Flame.”  The Flame was a bar and exotic dance club in my hometown of International Falls, Minnesota. My mom was a free spirited, blond bombshell, and my dad was a super funny and handsome, movie star lookalike. Due to my grandparents’ various levels of disinterest in my mother, she was living in the convent. As things usually go, my mom caught my dad’s eye, and he found himself at her place for a late night.

Now, my dad tells me all the time that I was conceived in the convent and “in a state of grace,” and for you Catholics out there, you know how important this is. My parents weren’t married, they had a shot gun wedding, but my dad insists that he was strong in his Catholic faith, loved my mom, and was one with the spirit of God during the conception. Honestly, I’m not judging. Sounds good enough to me.

Well, to clarify, I was conceived in a convent, or the “back of mom’s car the next weekend,” as my dad recounts the alternate ending, so…

As the story goes, my parents decided to get married, my grandparents go ape shit, and they all sit down with my mom to explain to her the most important bit of information in her life: my dad is medicated and has a severe mental illness – schizophrenia.

I’m sure my young mother was nervous, scared, in love, and blind to what my dad’s diagnosis really meant. She said, “I love Jim, and I want to marry him,” with all her stubborn conviction. At around 4 months pregnant, they were wed. March 22, 1980.

As a young child, I remember very fondly looking through my parents’ wedding album. As the times dictated, my dad wore the baby blue suit with the ruffles, and my mom had an empire waist lace and chiffon gown. My parents looked so beautiful and happy that day. My mom was glowing, my dad smiled is if to say, “Look at me; I’m the man!” I can even remember the smell of the album: photo paper and plastic. All of it brings back amazing memories.

But life with my dad was anything but buttercups and roses. My dad’s official diagnosis was bi-polar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. I remember toting along with him to the clinic to get his injections of cogentin and prolixin. One was an anti-psychotic, mood stabilizing drug that caused muscle spasms. The other was for the muscle spasms. I would laugh every time I saw the nurse pull down his pants to expose his butt for the injections. My dad had a really goofy sense of humor too. He’d tell the nurses jokes like, “What did the French-man say to the zebra? Take off ze-bra!” One day my favorite nurse told him how lucky he was to have daughters like Annie and I. One time she boldly suggested if he ever needed help or a different home for us, that she’d love to consider taking us.

Oh no. Here we go.

My dad blew up at her. “You’re not touching my damn daughters, so don’t even think about it,” he yelled. She just tried to diffuse this situation saying she was only joking, but we all knew what she meant. Part of me wanted to go live with her. She was the nicest lady I had ever met, and showered me with stickers and toys every week. …I always wonder what it would be like if she would’ve been my mom, and I sometimes think about how my life could have been so much more easy if that was the case.

When I say my parents fought a lot, I really mean they fought a lot. These fights weren’t just simple arguments either. It usually started with my mom having her own secret expectations of my dad that she never communicated, then she’d nag the shit out of him for not living up to her secret (and quite frankly) unrealistic expectations. He’d get triggered and feel emasculated, and then he’d get “madder than a hornet.” That’s how everyone described my dad’s anger. He’d go from zero to non-linear instantaneously. Sometimes it would result in violent outbursts (pulling the phone off the wall and smashing my mom with it), or just stomping back to his room and hollering at the top of his lungs while my mom egged him on with lines like, “I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeear you…”

Ugh. Two adults having temper tantrums. No wonder why my parents thought I behaved so well as a kid. I knew exactly how not to behave by watching the two of them tweak out all the time.

My mom worked when I was young too. She’d leave us home alone with my dad, because, you know, that’s what dads do when Mom’s at work. He was so tired from his medication that he’d just be sleeping all the time. I cried and cried because I never wanted to be home alone with him. He was no fun, he was always yelling at us to be quiet so he could sleep, and I was always lonely. Sometimes we’d go to wake him up, and he’d be so irritated and angry that we’d have to run and lock ourselves in the bathroom while he tried to beat down the door and get to us. We finally hid the tape recorder in the bathroom cabinet, and the next time he tried to attack us, we recorded it for my mom, and played it for her.

…Then she lost her shit at him, and he went storming off screaming…

My dad wasn’t really cut out to be a dad. I’d go as far to say that he wasn’t suited for parenthood. It didn’t make things any better that my mom didn’t have any interest in getting smart on my dad’s mental illness or how to make their marriage healthier.

…and this is where the lies and deception about my dad started…

In first grade, my mom went to my parent-teacher conference with Mrs. Katrin who was one of my favorite teachers of all time. At the conference, Mrs. Katrin mentioned that she had talked to my dad recently and he mentioned we just moved out to the country. My mom was really embarrassed. We didn’t move out to the country. We hadn’t moved at all. This was one of my dad’s delusions, so my mom laughed it off. My mom wanted so desperately to whitewash his illness that and deny how different his reality was compared to hers. She came home and really gave him hell about lying.

So let’s take a quick break to talk about schizophrenia.

Here’s the thing about people with schizophrenia: they’re not actually lying. Their view of reality is just vastly different than the norm. My dad sees things that most people don’t see. He hears things that people don’t hear, and he feels things that people don’t feel. Some may say that’s an illness, but it’s not. I actually think my dad’s perception is detecting things on a much more subtle level than normal people. That’s why he’s so sensitive. I believe what he sees is a more complete picture of what normal people see. It just took me 35 years to figure that out. Before you judge people with schizophrenia as “crazy,” talk to a person who has it. It will change your life.

My mom still hasn’t figured out this concept, and neither has most of the world. People are elitists and want to believe that the way they perceive the world is the only way and the right way, but that’s actually not correct. So check yourselves.

Moving along…

Because my mom was so humiliated by this “lie” to my teacher, and the never ending and continuous strings of lies, I also became humiliated by it. Ugh. My dad was so weird. He was sick. He said weird things that didn’t make sense. He told people BB King gave him a guitar. He told me that I was actually an angel and described the angelic light that glowed around me. He would counsel me on all things spiritual, and the only thing I wanted to do was cringe.

I was so embarrassed of my parents – especially my dad. My mom likened him to my dad’s friend Jerry (who was my dad’s “mentally ill” best friend from high school). Jerry had this really ridiculous laugh, and my mom didn’t want our family to be associated with him or his family. When my dad went to school events (IF he ever actually showed up because he was usually sleeping), I’d yell at him to “SHUT UP.”  I was regurgitating my mom’s words and tone when I heard him babbling.

Even when I got older and had a serious boyfriend, I didn’t want him to meet my dad. I didn’t know how I was going to explain my dad – the enigma father figure in my life. Do I tell this guy my dad is “retarded?” Do I say, “he’s a little goofy?” My sister Annie also ran into this predicament. We kept this information from many of our future friends because we thought they’d judge us for having a mentally disabled dad.

One time I remember seeing my dad wandering around town, and I turned around and walked the other way so he wouldn’t notice me. I didn’t want to be caught dead trying to explain to my friends that this guy who looked and acted like a crazy bum was my dad.

It really wasn’t until I met Greg that I felt free to open up about my dad. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. Greg made it really easy for me though because his family has a lot of mental illness too. I think in the mental illness competition, I won by a landslide, but knowing that he could relate to someone on daily medication for serious psychiatric problems was so refreshing to me.

And that’s when the magic happened.

Once I was able to let go of all that illusory, bullshit guilt and shame that had been put on me as a child (by people who unfairly judged my dad), I was able to get to know him better. Unfortunately, by the time I had this change of heart, I had already moved to Washington D.C. Despite the distance, I’ve been able to take advantage of this relationship with my dad, and it’s one of the best partnerships in my life.

I can’t begin to even explain how sorry I am for denying my dad and lying about who he was for so many years of my life. I cheated my dad out of a meaningful relationship with me, and I cheated myself out of a meaningful relationship with my dad. When I needed him the most, I didn’t even want to go near him because I was so embarrassed and repulsed. And to make matters worse, my friends missed out on opportunities for lessons in diversity, acceptance, mental illness, and compassion.  For all these reasons, I feel like I’ve cheated everyone.

The good news is that I’ve grown, and I’ve worked hard to deepen my relationship and my love for my dad. I accept him just as he is because HE IS PERFECT. He’s exactly the dad I needed, and he’s exactly the dad I was supposed to have. I am who I am today because of him, and for that I am so grateful.

Because I want this blog to be about so much more than me blabbering on about how shitty of a person I’ve been in my life, I really want people to think about how this difficult lesson could apply in your own life.

Do you ever feel like you’re judging and treating people unfairly for things they cannot control or are not their fault?

Do you feel that you’ve lost out on opportunities for personal growth because of your negative feelings toward a person or their situation?

Do you feel that you could be more compassionate and show those in most need of your compassion that you care for them?

How can you change the life of one mentally ill person by showing them that they matter?

Think about that. Meditate on that. Let’s get better together.

I’m sorry dad. I didn’t even know what I was doing.

With all my love,

The Guru Girl

Isn't he so handsome?
Isn’t he so handsome?
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4 thoughts on “The Lies of My Life: My Dad

  1. Jess, as one of your closest friends in elementary school, (or at least I thought I was…you were the person I called my best friend through at least fourth grade), it hurt me a few years ago when you began speaking more openly about your dad. Looking back I realized I never even went to your apartment until you were pregnant with Mali and I came by to see you. I wish, as a child, I could have been a better friend to you and helped you work through some of this. You are one of the most open, understanding people I know. I love you. Keep sharing…I love reading your stories…so many of us are not nearly this brave.

    Like

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