6.16.2012

Father From the Truth

















This is my father. Or should I say, this was my father? This was taken before I was born. I wanted to do a post about Father's Day, but first: a disclaimer: this is my version of Father's Day. If yours is/was idyllic, Hallmark-worthy or like a Norman Rockwell painting you may want to leave my blog. Now.

Are you still there? Good. Some of us may not have had perfect fathers. Some of us may have had fathers from... let's say "father from the truth," okay? (and some of us may have not even known our fathers- or wish we hadn't. I didn't create this holiday. I'm just writing about it.)

This is me and my father. I was 14 or 15 in this photo. This was about five years after my father left my mother and my brother and me... and ran off with my brother's first grade teacher.

There is a long story there. A story full of pain and suffering. A lot of pain on my mom's part, but she can't tell the story. She died of multiple myeloma- a blood cancer- a few days after I turned 24.

There is pain for me, too. Was. And still is.

I wanted and needed a father to be there for me.

But he wasn't. And isn't.

This photo was taken at my grandparent's house.

There was never a "room" for me at my father's house. There was a folding cot. Or there was a dinner at a diner. There was not a sense of being part of a family.


But I grew up, and I grew independent. I took care of myself. I took care of things when my mother died. I knew that my mother was mentally ill- she had bipolar disorder, but it wasn't until I went through my own spiral through depression when I was 35 that I realized that my father was mentally ill. He, like my mother, had bipolar disorder. He was climbing into the heights of mania when I put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

My father was an artist, but he could never make a living as one. He was lucky back in the early 1960's when his therapist introduced him to another client- a man named Dick Smith- who took my father under his wing and taught him how to be a special effects make-up artist. Dick and my dad ran the NBC make-up department. I grew up hanging out there as a child. Then they went "freelance." Dick brought dad with him to do "The Exorcist" movie- dad did the priest and helped Dick with Linda Blair.

Dad was very successful. He was nominated for two Oscars. But by then, my mother, my brother and I were living on a near poverty level... we couldn't pay our taxes or heating bills... and he... well... he had another life.

For years, I avoided him as much as possible. He barely sent me a card or called... when he went into the absolute heights of untreated mania in 2005 he left his second wife and moved into a loft in Brooklyn. This photo above documents that period.


I could see the crash coming. I tried to warn him but why would he listen to me? He once told me that he was "not a pillar of strength" when I wanted him to be there for me. So he made a lot of mistakes. He wound up in upstate New York upside-down in a house that he was ripped off by an unscrupulous neighbor.

This is where he was when I realized that I had to help him. Save him. Stop him from sitting there and dying. He even said he was "waiting for the Grim Reaper."

He couldn't take care of the house. He couldn't take care of himself. He had slid into the pits of depression and he didn't see any way out.

I tried to help from far away. From Seattle. I told him about a senior center a few miles away where he could get hot meals on weekdays. My brother, who lived 70 miles away- my brother who he had belittled and verbally abused not only when we were kids, but into adulthood, drove over almost weekly and tried to fix what he could, but the situation was dire.

I realized that even though this man was not a father to me in the way that I wanted him to be- he was my kith and kin. He was also a human being and he deserved to live (and die) with dignity.


So my husband- who told me "you took care of my boys for twenty years, I can help with your dad"- signed up for the mission.

We took my father out of that house, and off that sofa where he had been sitting for over six years- buried in mail, surrounded by peeling paint, filth, and a nasty pellet stove that he used to keep warm. He was malnourished and he hadn't showered for years- nor had he done laundry. I tried to use the washer and it wouldn't work...

We had no choice but to stay there for a week while we packed what we could salvage, sleeping on an air mattress my brother lent us. I got sick the third day from all the mold and who knows what else.


Then one year ago on Father's Day we put my father in our rental car and drove to Newark airport and we flew him home. To our home in Seattle.

It was a long flight.

It's been a long year.

One year later I have to report that my father is no longer malnourished. He is healthy. As healthy as an 80 year old can be.

We just moved him into a lovely retirement community less than a mile from our house. He seems happier than I've seen him in years.

He has never really thanked us in the way that you would expect a grateful member of your immediate family to do- especially considering the scope of what we did- and we did it all by ourselves. No moving companies. No cleaning services. No help whatsoever. The sacrifices we both made to our personal lives and to our professional lives are immeasurable.

I have to believe that my father is proud of me, but he will never say it. Nor will he do anything so simple as offer to buy us a dinner or a drink... but here it is, Father's Day and I can celebrate because I know that even if he is not a good father, I have done what I can to be a good daughter.

I can rest well knowing that he will be comfortable for the rest of his life- and all of us, no matter how we treat others, deserve that on some level. That is the truth.

So my Father's Day is not full of barbecues and bad ties... and maybe I should be grateful.
But it is full of hope- hope that now I can put my life back in order and go back to being the creative person I have been. I can thank my father for some of those genes. I do carry the talents of both of my artist parents with me. I learned how to play with words from my father. I didn't realize that it was a sign of mania at the time...

Sometimes we learn from our parents and sometimes we learn what we don't want to do/be from our parents.

No matter what, I will always think of my father on Father's Day- because he did give me a gift- this life- and I'll always appreciate that.

And someday, maybe someday soon I'm going to write that book about all this because there is another thing my father had given me, albeit inadvertently; he has given me material. Conflict. Characters. Story. Thank you, Dad.

With Love,
Nina


28 comments:

  1. I salute your courage in sharing this story, Nina. And more, I salute your tender heart, your willingness to rise above and behave with enormous respect and dignity, even when others didn't. You are strong. You've done well. You can be proud.

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    1. Thank you Jet. Your words are a salve to the sharpness that I have felt from doing this and having to be "too strong."

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  2. Thank you for your story. I hear you talking about your non-perfect relationship with your non-perfect parents. I reflect on my non-perfect relationships with my non-perfect parents. I have more trust in myself as well.

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    1. I am happy for you, serendipoz. Thank for sharing this.

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  3. My brother and I had a similar experience with our bi-polar mother. Thank you for writing about this.

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    1. You are welcome- and you have my empathy...

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  4. I salute you. Rising past your feelings and being a "good daughter" is both the hardest, and the best decision. After all, you don't have to live with your father forever, but you do have to live with yourself. Thank you for sharing the story. By the way, it sounds like the man you married is nothing like your father. In fact, he sounds like the great guy you deserve to have in your life. Happy Fathers Day

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    1. Yes, the man I married is not like my father, and I am so ever grateful for Booth's love and support. Happy Father's Day to you and your family, Corsaire.

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  5. I think you just described what I've always been afraid of becoming. I hope if I do, someone saves me like that.

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    1. If you are aware or fear becoming isolated like my father did- ill and vulnerable- then you are one huge step ahead of the game. Awareness is tantamount to doing something about it. Don't be afraid to ask for the help you need. People want to reach out- and I know you'll find that safety net when you need it.

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  6. Amazing story and well-told. Since I was in a similar situation and had to move past similar barriers, I especially liked the line: I can celebrate because I know that even if he is not a good father, I have done what I can to be a good daughter. That is how I healed. Thank you for a great story--now write that book!

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    1. So happy to hear that you healed- I keep telling myself that "we can only reap what we sow"- which works in the garden, and it works with our feelings- sow goodness and reap happiness.

      And yes... I know I need to get that book out of my head and onto the paper/screen!

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  7. Nina: I too celebrate the fact that even though my own step-father was not a good father to me I did what I could to be a good daughter to him as he apporached the end to his own life 25 years ago. That truly was when my own healing process began and I learned to love the person I had become inspite of all of the pain and suffering I had endured because my mom chose him as a husband.
    Here's to becoming whole loving human beings.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. Cheers to you, too! Being "whole" is not always so easy and not celebrated as much as it should be... Happy Whole Person Day!

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  8. Thank you for sharing. On Father's Day and Mother's Day FB and blogs are full of these wonderful role models, which for many people this just has not been our experience. Thanks for sharing the pain, the loss, the process, the healing and the story. May this year be full of wholeness and stories!

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    1. Thank you, Joanna! Yes, I have read all of those blogs and stories for years and kept my pain to myself... it's not healthy to do that and I do look forward to peeling off the bandaids and moving forward.

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  9. >>even if he is not a good father, I have done what I can to be a good daughter.<<

    Beautifully put, Nina. Thanks for sharing.

    Bonny

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  10. What a touching story, Nina. I too had to bail out (with the help of just one of my siblings) a depressed Father who let himself and everything else around him fall to pieces. It was a hard time in my life and very hard again when he was later diagnosed with cancer. In his last days, he did come to appreciate and thank us for all we had done for him, and I hope that your Father will too. It sounds like you went above and beyond to help him and you should be applauded for it...not everyone would go to those lengths. When his time comes, I guarantee you will feel a sense of peace that you did all you could, even if he wasn't deserving of the sacrifices you made. I hope the coming year is full of happiness for you. YOU deserve it.

    Joan

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    1. Thank for your kind thoughts, Joan. I'm sorry that you, too went through the difficulties that you did, but I'm glad to hear that you did feel gratitude- and really that is all we want is some gratitude- for the love we give. I hope you have peace and happiness, too.

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  11. Sharalyn EdgebergJune 17, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    What a story Nina. So much tragedy. But you are so courageous to have helped your father & loving to have sacrificed for him after how he treated you. Take care of yourself now and enjoy your summer at your island.

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    1. Thanks, Sharalyn. I do hope that there will be some summer (it's still "Juneuary" here) on the island- and it will be so nice to relax, if possible, and enjoy it!

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  12. I'm glad all of you are moving on. You've done all that you can do (and much more than most anyone else would have done). Congratulations on a new start this Fathers Day.

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  13. Happy daughter's day, Nina. You inherited gifts from your father and mother and in turn became a gift to everyone.

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    1. I love that: "Happy daughter's day," Miss Connie... that does sum it up! Thank you for the perspective on "lemons to lemonade" or "blackberries to blackberry jam" or "insanity to imagination..."

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  14. Thank you for sharing this very personal story with all of us, Nina. It's beautiful. You have no reason for doing all the remarkably hard and caring things you've done for your father...but you did them anyway. Like you said..."I can rest well knowing that he will be comfortable for the rest of his life- and all of us, no matter how we treat others, deserve that on some level. That is the truth." You are an amazing human being.

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    1. Cubby- thank YOU for your sweet comment. It has not been easy, but honestly, by sharing this, it also helps me understand what I did and continue to do. We all need to share the good things. This world focuses too much on the bad.

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