This Father’s Day will be the 27th one without my dad. Tragically, he committed suicide back when I was in college. Unfortunately, for some of us, Father’s Day isn’t a time to celebrate with the dad we love. It’s more a time of reflection on who he was and what our childhood was because of his influence. My dad was the most fun, creative, imaginative person in the world. He was my hero, and I loved him very much. I still do. My childhood was a good one despite his challenges.
As a young kid, it was great having an adult that all the other children wished they had as a parent. He would take me for bike rides and let me decide which way to go even if it were so far from the house we arrived back home after dark. He would have me race alongside our old Ford down the long driveway of the college where he taught, and I can still hear him yelling out of the window how many miles-per-hour I was running. He allowed my sister and me to eat strawberries right off the vine in my grandfather’s garden as we pretended not to hear Maw-Maw’s pleas from the porch to, “please wash them first.” These are the memories I cherish and choose to keep.
My dad also had ADHD, bipolar disorder and suffered from seasonal depression. I have memories of him running in and out of the house a lot and often being away from home on “business trips.” I remember the day my mom found out about him having an affair; I was eight years old. Shortly afterward, we moved. We moved numerous times because he couldn’t hold a job; though I didn’t understand why back then. He was very smart and held positions such as teaching in a college to being an associate minister of a church; yet, in the end, he delivered newspapers while seeking regular employment. The spiral downward was sad.
One day he decided that he just was no longer going to take his medicine. He told a family member that he didn’t like the blah feeling it gave him. He simply wanted to be and feel like his natural self. No one then would have guessed the consequences of his nature. And while I feel horrible thinking of his suffering, I can’t help but wonder who I would’ve become had he remained alive all of these years. I know I am forever shaped by the circumstance, but I believe all men have a profound impact on their children. I suppose I am more shaped by his influence, however, short-lived it was.
Ours was a home full of hustle and bustle but also full of love. What some see as chaos others view as excitement and fun. Knowing what I know now about my dad’s mental health doesn’t change how I feel about him but I do now see why there were many challenges my family had that others’ seemingly didn’t. We moved a lot, and I had to make new friends every time. My dad liked to wear costumes to parties and dance like a robot in front of these new friends. I recall many embarrassing moments. Begrudgingly, we tried the new things that he was into like clowning, kiting, camping. Fast forward to now and I see these make for great stories to share with others as well as memories of time spent together.
The takeaway is to know that as a man, as a father, your influence is great. Your joys and sorrows become your child’s memories. Your presence is intoxicating, and your absence is felt. The choices you make will impact more than just you. It is okay to have challenges and even fail. Know you are the role model and when you draw lines in the sand and take a definitive stance on an issue, it is noticed. I am strong and caring like my dad. I am an out-of-the-box thinker like him though less impulsive. I’m fun, creative, and imaginative. I also know that it’s okay to make mistakes; I’m still a lovable person. My hope is that you consider all of this and be mindful because your biggest fan is always watching.
Photo: Flickr/ Angelo Ghigi