Jed Diamond left his father in search of adventure in Mexico. Here’s what he found out.
50 Years Helping Men and the Families Who Love Them: Part 2
My involvement helping men and their families began for me on June 12, 1965 when my father came to my college graduation, an encounter I described in Part 1. Although I hadn’t seen him since I was a child I recognized him immediately. I went looking for him when I came off the stage, but by then he had disappeared. A letter from an uncle told me my father was living under an assumed name in Los Angeles and I went looking for him that summer.
When I found him I was relieved, but also frightened. He had been committed to a mental hospital following his suicide attempt when I was five years old. My uncle had taken me to Camarillo State Hospital to visit him and I dutifully went weekly, though the mental hospital and the patients terrified me. Even as a child, I felt that my father’s “break down” was somehow my fault and that it was my duty to try and help him.
The family story was that my father had broken down under the pressure of trying to support his family when he was unable to find work. In my child mind I believed that if I hadn’t been born he wouldn’t have felt the pressure and he wouldn’t have broken down. I didn’t understand that his depression and bipolar disorder had little to do with supporting me and a lot to do with his own family history and childhood neglect.
That summer I had the great joy of being with my father for the first time as a young adult. I got to know him directly, rather than through the distorted lens of my mother’s view of him. At the time he was living in Santa Monica, California, and he introduced me to many of his friends along the board walk in that beach town. Growing up I had viewed him as a shadow figure who was “mentally unbalanced.” I felt ashamed to have a father who was so weird.
But I saw another side of him that summer. Many of the people told me what a great guy my father was. “He puts on puppet shows for kids,” one of the men told me. Another man said, “He’s really a good friend. He’ll give you his last dollar if you need it.” I felt pride in my father for the first time and in some way, also felt pride in myself.’’
As the summer went on, I began thinking more about attending medical school in the fall. I had been accepted at U.C. San Francisco and had been awarded a four-year full tuition fellowship that would pay all my expenses. I hoped to become a doctor and go into psychiatry because I was interested in helping people. It didn’t occur to me at the time that my interest in psychiatry might be related to my father’s illness or my fear that I would inherit his disease and end up in a mental hospital.
I was planning a month trip to Mexico as a last adventure before I embarked on the next stage of my career. My father wanted to celebrate with me and send me off. He suggested we go together to San Diego and spend four days together before I continued on my way with a planned bus trip from San Diego to Mexico City. We agreed on the trip and I was looking forward to learning more about my Dad and feeling his support as we set off on the first leg of my summer adventure.
Our time together was initially wonderful. He had spent a lot of time in San Diego and wanted to show me around. We went to book stores that he had frequented and he bought me a book about the life and times of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo. We attended a Shakespeare play and spent hours walking and talking.
He shared stories from his growing up in Jacksonville Florida and the early years with my mother in Greenwich Village in New York. He seemed on top of the world and I felt like I was up there with him. He was pleased that he had reconnected with his son and I was glad I finally had a father in my life. But there were dark clouds on the horizon, which I didn’t recognize until the storm hit the last night before I was scheduled to leave.
We had decided to go out to a restaurant to celebrate my college graduation and my beginning medical school in September. It was a nice restaurant with views across the water. His mood was buoyant and he talked a blue streak. Gradually I became aware that something wasn’t quite right. His voice got louder and louder. People were beginning to notice us at surrounding tables.
This seemed to stimulate my father to talk more. He would engage people at the next table, telling them that he had found his long lost son and that now that we were together everything would be OK. “Calm down, Dad.” I tried to get him to talk more quietly. “They don’t need to hear all about us.” But he kept going and tried to start a conversation with people at another table. I just wanted to get out of the place as fast as we could, but he wasn’t finished yet.
Next, he pulled his chair back and stood up on the chair to address the whole restaurant with his exuberant story. I wanted to die. I finally was able to get him off the chair, pay the bill, and get out of the restaurant. He seemed oblivious to the scene he had caused. I finally got him calmed down back at our room and I fell asleep, exhausted, but glad I would be leaving the next day. I didn’t know what had happened to him (I would learn later that this behavior was typical of bipolar or manic depressive illness).
The next morning he had gone from happily manic to angry and abusive. He was mad at me for pulling him out of the restaurant the previous night. He went on a long rant about how my mother had engineered his being locked up in the “nut house” when there was nothing wrong with him. Finally, he announced that he was cancelling my trip to Mexico.
I was totally confused and taken aback. Where was my proud, loving father who was going to send me off on my next great adventure? I was totally shocked. I told him, “Of course I’m going to Mexico. I have my ticket and I’ve been planning this trip for months.” He became enraged.
“Your job is to stay here with me. You absolutely can’t leave.” Are you nuts, I thought to myself? I grabbed my backpack and literally ran out the door. His last words, which he screamed to my back were these:
“You’ll never make it in medical school. You’ll never be a doctor. How can you expect to be a good doctor, if you can’t even take care of your own father.”
I blocked out his words and literally forgot what he had said as though the last few days had never occurred. I had a wonderful time in Mexico. I returned at the end of the summer excited to be starting my new studies as a healer. I enrolled at the Medical Center and began my first classes. I felt I was on top of the world. Three weeks later I dropped out of medical school. I was convinced that I just wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. Hard to believe, but it never occurred to me until years later that my decision to leave medical school had anything to do with my father.
It took me more years to understand the power of a father’s blessing as well as the power of a father’s curse. Many of us have had mixed blessings and curses from our fathers. Have you?
I’d like to hear any comments you have about the article. I’m also wanting to connect with people who would like to help me spread the word about helping men and the families who love them. Drop me a note at [email protected]. Put “help” in the subject line and respond to my spamarrest filter if you’re writing for the first time.
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
Photo Credit: Getty Images