When my father was having his first nervous breakdown, when I was in the womb, he was probably thinking about all the things he could not do to meet all the major obligations and responsibilities that were presenting themselves in his life. Here he had these two little boys, and the little wife was knocked up again, and he couldn’t handle a job. He knew he was incompetent. He just didn’t know how to justify his disability, because nobody was calling it that, back then.
He didn’t know what he was going to do to support three children and a wife.
From the way I heard it, he was a randy young bastard, and his parents pressured my mother into marrying the SOB, right after the Second World War. Get him a nice girl, and she’d straighten him right out, quick. Just marry him off. That would fix him. Well, in 1946, next to nothing was known about the genetically inherited disease that amounted to what we know today as a chemical imbalance in the brain, or schizophrenia, as they call it now, and he had it, really bad. It came down through my grandmother’s side of the family. It really wasn’t my father’s fault anymore than it’s mine.
The doctors didn’t really know what schizophrenia was in those days.
The only tools they had to use to treat the kind of madness my father had, amounted to a few primitive major tranquilizers, which didn’t solve the problem, and electroshock therapy, which doesn’t really solve the problem, either. Both were a humiliating and debilitating ordeal to have to go through, and my father was a proud man. He was a reader, and had distinguished himself in his schooling very well. What’s more was that he was about to distinguish himself even further in his schooling.
He was scholastically more than competent.
The medical profession knew almost nothing about schizophrenia or the treatment or cure for schizophrenia in 1950, when I was in the womb. They didn’t know hardly anything about it, at all. Now, at least they’ve finally come up with some sophisticated medications and some sophisticated understanding of the nuts and bolts of how schizophrenia malfunctions in the brain, and a little bit more about how to treat it than they ever did. They don’t know the cure for it yet, but they do have plenty of ways of controlling it that are very effective by the year 2012.
My father had been reading books his whole life, and knew something about such concepts as duty and honor. He knew what it meant to be a man of principle, of rising to meet his obligations. He knew. Don’t you worry about that. He may have been irrationally violent and an all round bastard to have to live with, but he was not ignorant.
He was quite well educated.
It was a shame for a man to have a wife and a family, and not know what he was going to do to support them. It was a shame that a man as smart as he was, couldn’t handle working a job in this world. But by the time I was in the womb, my father already knew he couldn’t handle a job, but the kids just kept on coming, anyway. He had that fit of violence, breaking down the door to the house with his bare hands, and inside there were his pregnant wife and his own two young sons.
We’re all lucky he didn’t kill us. He might have, you know. A little while later on, there was another son (me) and a daughter, who was the youngest, too. My sister and I were only fifteen months apart in age. We were almost like twins when we were little. When I came unglued, my sister went West, literally. She bailed out because she couldn’t hang around and watch me destroy myself.
The issue was that the only thing Dad could finish was semester after semester of endless schooling, achieving degree after degree of advanced academics. He was good at going to school. It seemed that going to school was the only thing he was any good at. But time does go by, and the question came down to answering to his wife, of being held accountable for his obligations.
We needed money.
What was he going to Do?
The man had already tried the ministry, and had been publicly humiliated by the Methodist Church. The Church had the nerve to fire the inadequate minister, outright, after trying to work with him for years of putting up with disgruntled congregations. They tried to take his ordination away, too, but that was a matter of scholastic achievement, and he won his suit in a court of law. He was in good academic standing with the seminary, but that was about it.
The minister’s wife and children had to follow the man all over Southwestern Pennsylvania, to parish after parish, year after year. The incompetent minister could not claim that the church had not tried to work with him, giving him every opportunity to catch on to how to handle the job. They tried and tried to work it out with the man. But Reverend Bob was just not any good at being a preacher, and that’s all there was to it.
And what the brilliant bastard knew when I was 13 years old, was that he couldn’t handle any sort of job, ever, except they weren’t using such nice words as “disability” in those days. They were calling “madness,” and “being crazy,” and that’s about how validating it was to the individual who suffered from the hereditary disease. It was a disgrace in 1964, like it was in 1950.
Who knows what he was thinking when he crashed in that door? Who knows? Maybe his most valiant act in his whole lifetime had been to ignore the impulse to commit cold blooded murder against his entire family, all at once? The possibility does exist. Suppose he was trying to live with that close a call in his heart of hearts, with his own wife and growing family under foot all that time?
It had come down to crunch time for the old man, by the time I was 13 years old. He’d gone about as far with his schooling as was humanly possible for him to go. He finished a PhD in a fully accredited university, in good academic standing. The colleges and universities where impressed with the scholastic record of Dr Bob, far and wide.
Dr. Robert, would you please come be a professor in our institution of higher learning? The letters of invitation were pouring in. Mother was having visions of getting free college tuition for all four of their teenage children, if Dad would only sign on as a professor somewhere. But the old man was licked, and he was smart enough to know it. He knew he couldn’t handle a job, but Mom was breaking the dishes against the walls. She was beside herself. She’d been making do her whole life, and he wouldn’t even answer the letters after he got that expensive piece of paper called a PhD.
There was nothing left for him to do but to desert his wife and his four children. Oh yes. There had turned out to be four of us by this time in the great Dr Bob’s whole mess of a marriage. We were all becoming teenagers by this time, too. He planned to make a break for it, before his father could get another chance to take him back to the insane asylum, but his wife went for a ride in the family car that day, and wouldn’t cough up the car keys – immediately – when she got home.
She was tired of her no count husband.
She didn’t want to get along with him.
She had Nothing to get along With.
So, the woman wouldn’t immediately give up the car keys, and there was a big brouhaha. The great Dr. Bob broke his wife’s arm, right in front of all four of their teenage children, and took off for Florida the next morning, to sun himself in the vacation capital of the nation, where his own father would occasionally go on vacation. He could forget his obligations that far away. He could forget his obligations long enough to avoid another breakdown; long enough to avoid going back to the insane asylum for more shock treatments.
At least, he thought he could.
When I was considering committing matrimony, myself, at the very natural age of 21, my own mind went back to my childhood experience. I was already schizophrenic by that time, and my mind was going over and over all that family history when I was with my own girl at my own college experience one evening. I finally understood that there was going to be no way I could be an asset to the girl I’m still in love with, with that disability hanging over my head. It took me a little while to catch on to what I was up against, but she never got pregnant over it.
I instinctively understood the fact of my own father’s disability, and the ramifications of that disability on our family life, when I was growing up. I learned a lot from Dad’s mistakes. The disability of schizophrenia has since become an immutable fact in my whole lifetime, just the way it always was in my father’s lifetime. My father’s violence could have been one continuous act of desperation, when I was growing up. He couldn’t even get his own children to do as he would have us to do, anymore than he could get his own mind to do what he needed it to do.
It’s only a matter of conjecture here, but it remains a likely possibility.
Maybe my father understood exactly how he placed, among all those high ideals and lofty principles he’d read about in all those books of his, that he’d been reading all his life. That could have been the source of his violence, I don’t know. All the old man could do was lash out all around him. He was a bully and a madman, along with being an incompetent Methodist Minister, that much I do know. I know that he was all full of all the highest principles and all the loftiest ideals that anyone could ever aspire to hold dear, and yet he was violent with his own wife and his own little children.
My Dad had issues he couldn’t justify – to himself – and they weren’t going anywhere, regardless of where he went. They weren’t calling schizophrenia a disability in 1950, or in 1964, when he deserted us. They were calling it insanity. It was a shame and a disgrace to be insane in those days. Nobody knew anything about what schizophrenia was in that day and time. Not even the doctors knew. To make matters worse, my father was an extremely intelligent man who could perform very well, scholastically. His IQ was probably astronomical. But he couldn’t bring home the baccon.
He couldn’t take the risk that his disability would get him scholastically discredited, like his incompetence as a minister had gotten him discredited professionally, already. His wife refused to understand what he was up against. There were mouths to feed. There had been all this pressure for my mother to marry an incompetent man, but he’d gotten to the place where he had to answer to his wife – and he knew he couldn’t do it, so he lost control of himself.
It was an act of desperation.
He was an ordained Methodist Minister, and a violent monster, the way he treated the most precious of all his possessions – his own family. He had never had any idea how to handle a job, and had no business getting married and fathering four children in the first place. He was not a valid candidate for a marriage, just like I never was, as soon as we were individually diagnosed with our own chemical imbalance in our brains.
But my father was not diagnosed with schizophrenia until his third child was on the way, if then. It was only 1950. They didn’t have any idea what schizophrenia was at that early time in medical history. What he was up against was something he knew he couldn’t justify, and he couldn’t get around it, either. He was a madman and a fool, according to the prevailing state of consciousness of his day. He’d been discredited by the Methodists, and wasn’t going to be discredited by the academicians as well.
The difference was that I took responsibility for realizing the fact, and broke up with my girl before there were any children to have to answer for. It had already been what I’d wished my father had done. My father probably never had the background to understand what he was up against, medically, until it all came down to the fact that he couldn’t justify his own violence. He was a good, negative example for why it makes good sense to avoid being violent in this life.
He married his girl, and she gave him four children.
The dye was caste.
I never did know if my girl ever fully understood my situation, the way I understand it, but I saved my girl from going through all that confusion and all that trouble that my father put my own mother and all four of us children through, whenever it came to be my turn to call a spade a spade in this life. He probably never had the perspective to understand the things that happened to him.
It was probably what sparked his irrational violence, knowing that he was unable to be responsible and do the right thing, like getting and holding down a job and supporting his family would have been the right thing. In the 1950’s and the 1960’s there wasn’t any such thing that what Dad suffered from was an illness, and a disability.
It was a plain disgrace in those days.
I had all that background to think about, whenever it came my turn that I wanted to marry my best girl in my own life. She was willing to take on all my bad habits, and take on whatever my ill-fated future had in store for us, together. But I was the only one of the two of us who had the training to understand what was coming if I did marry her. That’s why I’ve never been married, in my old age, and don’t have any people of my own to come visit me on holidays.