Since I started my A Day in the Life Series about growing up with a mom who had paranoid schizophrenia, I have received a number of comments and questions about my dad. The general sentiment is one of admiration and wonder, along with many questions about how he did it all those years. So today I will answer that question as best I can, from my own personal observations. I must admit there have been plenty of times when I had to work through anger towards him, believing he should have done something more than he did. I have since realized that in the context of the time in which he was dealing with her illness, there were few resources, a poor understanding of paranoid schizophrenia, financial restraints, and social isolation due to stigma.
I’ll start with the positive ways in which my dad dealt with my mom’s illness for which I am so grateful.
- He was usually patient and accommodating. If she was having a hard time with something, he usually didn’t try to force her into it. Instead, he adapted his lifestyle, often passing on things he would have liked to have done.
- He had compassion for her, and didn’t try to force her to do something she didn’t want to do, such as taking medications that had severe side effects.
- He made sure his 4 children were well cared for and were able to have many of the same experiences as the other children in our neighborhood.
- He lived by the philosophy that he married her “in sickness and in health” and honored that commitment for 40 years, until the day she passed away from lung cancer.
- He tried to find a way to help my mom without having to go through a legal process of commitment, but ultimately was unable to fight that system. The only times he had her hospitalized was when he was concerned about her safety or the safety of her children. He tried to respect her basic human rights.
- He was playful with us.
- He taught me many lessons about the importance of honesty and doing the right thing.
There were times when I resented my dad and disagreed with his approach.
- He often used me as a sounding board when I was probably not emotionally equipped to handle it.
- He didn’t intervene and protect us enough from my mom’s rage when she became delusional.
- He told me my mom didn’t love me and never had, not understanding that it was her illness that caused her to react that way to me.
- He sometimes made light of my concerns and often chose to ignore my struggles as a teen.
- He often withheld information from my mom or sprung things on her at the last minute to avoid confrontation, which may have increased her paranoia.
As I become older and have a better understanding of my mom’s illness and the restraints imposed by a misguided society, I am so thankful for the stability my dad provided in our lives. He provided an environment where we were able to learn, grow, and have good childhood memories. Both of my parents strove for this in their own ways and always did their best.