I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately, he’s gone 20 years next month. Maybe because of the new year. Maybe because I spent Christmas with my siblings, Maybe because he was depressed as well.
I remember more bad things with him than I do good. Sometimes I’m afraid my kids think the same way. What I remember most was always being on edge. You never knew what kind of mood he’d be in at any particular moment.
I suppose one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about it is since being diagnosed bipolar I wonder if he was too. That would explain so much. It explains a lot about me as well, not that it’s an excuse. I can look back now at both of us and see the pattern.
As much as he may have been depressed he could still have had compassion. He was a blue-collar guy who grew up in the 50s in an Italian family with a dominating mother with an active wooden spoon. There were many times he reminded me of Archie Bunker. He was never Mike Brady.
The most vivid memory I have was my 10th birthday. Some family, including my grandparents from the Bronx, were over. I was wearing a corduroy outfit including a vest I picked out from the Sears catalog. I was upstairs in my room when he came in and noticed dust on my record player. I was supposed to have cleaned my room, which I had, but not enough for him. He ran his finger over the dust and then slapped me. I wet my pants and then told him I’d make it shine as I began to cry. He said the thing that all parents in that era said. Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. If I think about it enough I can feel the warm liquid running down my leg.
We had a roof, we had food, we had electricity and phone most of the time, even though he was out of work half of the 70s. He was always unpredictable.
He was a model train buff with a perpetual O27 gauge setup in the basement with his childhood trains. We were down there one day and he let me take the throttle. I pushed too hard and the antique steam locomotive derailed off a curve and hit the concrete floor with a crash. He came at me and I backed against the cold stone wall. I put up my hands and said, “Do what you’re gonna do.” He stopped short and stepped back. I guess I caught him by surprise and he had a split second to see what he was about to do. He picked up the locomotive, examined it, and put it back on the rails. Nothing else was said about it.
There were some good things too. I remember laughing, card games, camping trips, and shooting pool when I got older. He bought me my first car. I think it’s like when something bad happens you tell more people than when something good happens, like bad service in a restaurant.
He chose to tell me he was depressed and suicidal at my wife’s wake, Why he chose that moment I’ll never know. I was in no frame of mind to take him seriously and the next few months for me were crazy getting into a new routine. I don’t know if he ever spoke with anyone, medical or otherwise.
One of the things I realized in the hospital was that no matter what day, I was doing the best I could at that particular moment, even if it sucked. And of course, so was everyone else.
It’s not an excuse, he could have been a better human but I understand better now.
Happy New Year!