Friday, October 25, 2013

39: A Not-So-Magic Number

My parents separated and divorced in 1988, when my dad was 39.  As I’ve written before, my dad was untreated bi-polar, unmedicated epileptic and probably a few other things.  He was verbally abusive and between his frequent abusive episodes and his seizures, he was awfully dramatic.  You never knew if he was going to scream and call you names or drop to the ground and flop around for a while.  Anyhoo, when my mom kicked him out (He finally did hit her. I came home from school to hear him screaming from the end of the hall and to see something flying from there too, which my mom blocked with a couch cushion.  She went for the phone; he beat her to it and ripped it out of the wall. She ran for the back door, I backed out the front door. Cops eventually came and took him away.  That was the last of him living with us.) he went back to his parents to live.

I saw him for the first time after their separation when he came to pick my brother and me up for a weekend visit. My mom had kept the family car so he drove my grandpa’s car, a maroon Buick LeSabre.  We went out for supper at Burger King, where he paid with quarters, and went to my grandparent’s house.  He wanted to spend time with us alone so we went up to his old/then-current bedroom in the attic.  It had creaky wood floors and, I imagine, looked much as it did when he’d left it 17 years earlier.  There was a coffee can on the dresser, half-full with change and it quickly became clear that that can held my dad’s money.  All of it.   The rest of his earthly possessions were in the suitcase on the floor next to his bed. 

I hated my dad then- red-rage hated him.  But I felt so sad for him up there in my grandparent’s attic.   He was my dad for christ’s sake! And he had some clothes and a few coins! He tried so hard to make those weekends pleasant, tried so hard not to be “sad dad.”  He took us to movies and fast food dinners; he took us to swim in a river and to museums.  But he lived in his parent’s attic and drove their car.  It was so desperately depressing.

I am 39 years old.  In an hour I’m going to pick my kids up and bring them down to Iowa, where we will spend the weekend at my friend’s, in the bedroom where I’ve spent the past week.  I hid my bucket of change. I can’t bear for my kids to see it.  My clothes are in a suitcase on the floor though.  And I am desperately sad but wearing the “I’m Not Sad Dad” smile.  Ain't that some shit? 


  1. Sending you an 'e-hug'! This is so wonderfully written, and beautifully sad. My dad lived with my grandparents after my parents divorced, and we spent a lot of time at the mall, and at museums, and at the movies... and I could not love him more. Then and now. It matters that you're trying not to be 'sad dad', it really, really does.And maybe if you can't manage sometimes, that's ok too. Sometimes people are sad when their situations suck. Your kids will understand that some day, even if they don't now. <3

  2. I like you had a bipolar father also schizophrenic unmedicated as well as an alcoholic drug addict ( herione and crack) unfortunately from the very beginning my father was absolutely out of control , although my father had 4 children with my mother I was the only he did not deny (for my sisters this pains me greatly although other than hurt and dismiss me they do not acknowledge me) both my parents were heavily involved in drugs and couldn't care less about much else , I remember being young 4-6 my grandmother calling the police (we were living in her basement) because my father was" trying" to kill my mother, bu and them wrestling him to the ground naked , bleeding and wrapped in the American flag the point of this blah blah blah your posts have me divulging so much out of " comraderee" I am embarrassed ... Long story short when my mother finally moved on from my father I also remember the desolate visitation on weekends he was staying in a friends extra room , he tried to make it fun , enjoyable , and memorable but with the squalor he lived in with all the empty " golden anniversary cans" and change enough for a few nickel popsicles , I remember as bad as I felt for me I felt sad for him