He is half of me. I have his nose, his face shape, his eyes, his hair, and the same creases in our cheeks when we smile. Pretty much the only thing I didn’t get from him are my giant hips and sarcastic attitude (that, my friends, I got from my mama).
It’s difficult for me to determine how to write this post - he is my dad, the man who helped create me, but that doesn’t mean the same as it does to a lot of other people.
There are very few, really awesome memories I have with my dad. We had a very troubled and limited time together - as his mental illness lead to the separation of our family, and ultimately resulted in his continued cycling of medications-doctors-institutionalization. My dad suffers from a very severe case of schizophrenia, which is described as “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.”
Due to his mental state, it was, and continues to be, very difficult, if not impossible, to have a “normal” relationship with him. It seems that since I could remember, he functioned more as the child, and I the adult. Always trying my hardest to bring him back to reality, convincing him that the dystopian life he created in his mind is not at all true.
Even to this day, he questions my actions (and often times, inaction), or my intentions. Even though I am his daughter, he still has the voices in the back of his mind to not trust me. That I am working against him, in conjunction with the CIA, “the Italians”, “the Russians” – whatever his mind focused on at the moment.
The frustration and sadness I experience is indescribable. The desire to help him and love him unconditionally is met with a realization that, at some point, something has got to give. There’s only so much of his imagined, internalized drama that one person can deal with. At some point, I have to save myself from going down the same path as he – there isn’t a moment when I don’t question my reaction to life’s situations, worrying that the hereditary characteristic of schizophrenia is taking hold onto my consciousness now, too.
Even at the age of 28, it is a constant battle of finding a happy-medium in how to interact with him. Completely distancing myself from him makes his condition worse and often times frightening, but allowing daily interaction introduces conversations with him that he doesn’t recognize as inappropriate - such as talking about girls he meets at strip clubs who are my age, and how they are in love with him. While I take these stories with a grain of salt, reminding him that I have no interest in discussing this part of his life with him (because I am his daughter, not is buddy), is met immediately and expectedly response from him is always, “Ok, I see what game you’re playing, Nichole…” Almost as though he thinks I’m toying with him - even if logic is completely void from his conclusion.
Despite his problems and flaws, he did all he could to be a father to me in ways oddly unique to him - buying me Barbies and all of her accessories (taped in shirt boxes, never wrapped), sending me little pamphlets or magazines from wherever it was he was living/visiting on the East Coast, random knick-knacks he somehow got his hands onto. For Christmas in 2012, his shipment of gifts was so massive, I had to go to the post-office to pick up the 5, 18” x 18” x 24” U-Haul moving boxes. After getting home, opening the boxes revealed at least 30 different collector’s edition Barbies, various Hot Wheels cars, and other items that no adult reaching their 30’s would ever have use for.
At the time, I thought of it as a ridiculous joke. Posting a photo onto social media, describing how my dad was up to his shenanigans again (this was probably the 5th time in two years that my dad sent me an overabundance of toys), and began a bidding war between friends of, “I’ll give you $1 for it all!” – “I’ll give you a case of beer for the Hot Wheels!”
And this was my usual process for dealing with things my dad did – make a joke out of it and move on. But for some reason, this time around, as I was trying to find a place to put all the Barbies, I started to really think about how incredibly upsetting this occurrence was. For whatever reason, he has it in his mind that I am still the elementary school kid he knew me as, before his mental illness took hold of his life. Which explains a lot with our interactions and arguments, and him ending emails, “You’re just a kid, you don’t understand. Just keep playing your games, Nichole…”
The greatest memory I have of him is our trip together to NYC a couple years back. My mom and I were in NJ visiting family, and my dad was very adamant about going into the city - something I was very reserved agreeing to. While I knew that he was actively involved in therapy, history taught me to not always believe what he says.
But I agreed, hoping that this interaction would be far different than most. We drove to the bus station, rode the bus roughly 2-3 hours from Cherry Hill and arrived in NYC early in the morning. We walked all the way down to Chinatown, back up to the Empire State building. We ate pizza (of course), talked, enjoyed the warm weather, and took photos. We went to Times Square and did an amazing amount of people watching.
My boyfriend at the time had me take a Spider Man action figure along, so we could take pictures of it in random locations throughout the city. My dad came up with the brilliant idea of having an NY-PD officer take a picture with the Spider Man toy - and it was super hilarious!
The trip was amazing, and awesome, and one that I wish I could relive over and over again. Most importantly, it felt like an ordinary father-daughter trip. There was nothing weird. He occasionally made comments about how his medications made him fat, so he couldn’t walk as quickly as I could. But other than that, I felt like I was a normal daughter there, enjoying the sunny day with her daddy.
Just writing about that day fills me with so many emotions. And it breaks my heart.
No matter how earnest I am to him with my pleas to stay on his medication and to continue with his therapy, his mind twists my concern into ridicule and judgment. The exact opposite of where my heart is.
Even with our relationship reduced to the occasional email or random giant box delivered in the mail, he’s still my daddy. He’s still the man who would let me stay up with him to watch Saturday Night Live on our weekend visits, and when I fell asleep halfway through, would carry me to bed.
The same man that when I had my first…well…”milestone” of puberty, was honesty so proud of me when I went running out to him when he came to pick me up yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!! I just got my period!!!”
The same man who, every chance he gets, apologizes profusely for being who he is, for what our relationship has come to, and that he loves me with all his heart. His love, while at moments clouded by the lies his mind conjures up, is unconditional and so amazingly strong.
He is my daddy, and I am his little girl. And despite all the issues with our past, present, and inevitably our future, I do love him, and want nothing more for him than to be healthy and happy. Nothing more for him than to escape the twisted jail that is his mental illness, and see the world in a new light.
Nothing more for him than to one day be in the present and stable mind to walk me down the aisle when I get married - and to experience the reality of that beautiful and touching moment, not what his mind tricks him into thinking.