When I was just a tiny baby my mom took me, and whatever she could quickly throw in a bag and left my biological father. She was hurriedly leaving an intensely abusive relationship which included drug and alcohol abuse (from both of them), emotional abuse and severely violent physical abuse brought on, unbeknownst to her, by what would have been called Manic Depression in those days. We now know this affliction as Bipolar Disorder. I am in no way an authority on this subject. I have read quite a bit on it in effort to understand but, I’m no doctor. Consider that my disclaimer.
I was about six months old, so this is the story as I’ve been told. We arrived at my grandma’s house with very little. My mom was in clothes that were “thread bare” and had little more than my bare essentials and a short stack of cloth diapers. My mom was escaping and she was starting over. From what I’m told, he didn’t take the break up very well. There were doors kicked in and vehicles damaged (he was a pretty big guy at 6’4″ and upwards of 250 pounds). He had served some time in the army and to my knowledge was honorably discharged. They lived the first year of their marriage in Germany and it was a party, paid for by his service to the U.S. Government. They lived in a flat next door to a German hooker, they grew their own pot and learned to drink their beer warm. The physical abuse started there but only escalated upon their return to The States.
When they were back in our hometown, my dad had a hard time keeping a job. His lifestyle and attitude undoubtedly made him a difficult employee. They were dirt poor. By the time they had me, his abuse knew no boundaries. He had thrown my mother to the ground and kicked her repeatedly WHILE she was very pregnant. I have no doubt that the single most important choice she ever made in my life was the one to leave him.
Skipping forward into my early childhood, I was cared for often by my real dad’s parents. Real dad…Funny, I’ve always referred to him in that way but he has never been that to me. His mom and dad were wonderful to me. Some of the most important influences in my life. I loved and still cherish my time with them. I know now, that my grandma (his mother) was also bipolar. I know that she had many relationship problems with friends and family… none of that ever trickled into my childhood, though. It was always very exciting to her when she had me and he would come around. I saw him very infrequently and with no regularity. The only constant was the awkwardness that came with him. THAT is a constant to this day. I would feign happiness at seeing him FOR HER ONLY. I absolutely dreaded seeing him. Still do.
Moving on to thirteen years old. My mom had been remarried for 8 years and I had a four year old brother. My “real dad” found religion. I believe that he struggles with taking scripture literally and that his personal brand of Christianity is fear based and serves as any number of excuses in his life. He decided at that time to be in my life again… Like, full force. Offering parental advice and trying to spend time with me regularly. Now, think about thirteen and imagine how amazing it was to me, to have some dude decide that I needed more parenting… Yeah, not so great. I went to church with him some and he bought me a few nice gifts… HE even bought a horse that he said was mine. That horse was only around for a little while. Everything though, was laced in awkwardness. I do not ever remember having a “nice time” with him.
As I became an adult, he told me to come to his house once a week and he would help me with some dough. I was single and struggling to find my way in life and eighty bucks a week was “worth it”. On those days he would offer me hair brained and unwelcome advice on a myriad of subjects, mostly irrelevant to me. On one of those occasions, he offered to fix my car. I asked if he knew how or had any tools (fully aware that he hadn’t the first clue) and he became very irritated at the questions. Somehow the conversation escalated to the point that he shoved me. I immediately turned on him, swinging. He shoved me again HARD. I fell to the ground and my dog went NUTS. He kicked at my dog and missed, then he kicked me and connected…. My eighty dollar a week gravy train ended there and so did his relationship with his daughter. I refused to see him for years after that.
It’s been twenty years since that night on the porch of his single wide trailer.
I have a family of my own now, and have a strange and nagging sense of responsibility toward him. I’ve not acted on this but, it’s there… it picks at me when I’m not expecting it. He’s spent the rest of his life, mostly alone. His disorder keeps him from forming meaningful relationships. I believe it’s too late to make any significant changes for him medically and his prescription of prayer has not made any notable improvements… save for the lack of drugs and alcohol (though, I’m fairly certain he still dabbles in beer). Knowing that he is utterly alone comes with the realization that I am it. I am the only one who will care, I’m the only one to be counted on and quite frankly, that knowledge is met with a sense of anger, sorrow and resentment that is an undrinkable cocktail.
Sometimes I wish I knew more. Did he have trauma as a child? Were there others in the family with the same affliction? Were there signs that he and his mother suffered from the same brand of crazy? Of course there were but, with the exception of one sane uncle and one estranged uncle (now both deceased) there is nobody in the family who can provide any actual or factual accounts of what life was like for my dad as a child. So, I’m left to wonder if this is hereditary and will be carried over to my boys. I get to pay close attention as they reach their teens and wonder if it’s typical teenage angst or a sign of deeper underlying chemical issues. What I get to do, is learn from his history and make sure that IF this does indeed touch my family that it gets the attention and care that it needs. That I am strong enough to make sure that I don’t do any proverbial sweeping under the rug. That if my creative and passionate children are indeed victims of this disorder that I give them the tools needed to not self medicate and live healthy and well rounded lives. I get to have that tiny scared voice in the back of my mind that says “is this because… Bipolar?”
Now we wait.