Men Tell Their Stories

Father and Son

When you talk in terms of relationships and mental illness, it invariably goes to a place of gain and loss. My history is strewn with examples of bad relationships; friendships, marriages and the like.  Successes and failures marked by how I acted or reacted to conditions brought about by my bipolar disorder.

In writing this piece, and knowing the specific man-related site I'm authoring it for, I've decided to delve into the relationship with my father. I do this with great trepidation. I haven't walked this path in such detail very often.  That said, I think it's important to tell this story not only for myself, but hopefully for others that might relate to a nugget or two contained within.

Firstly, I have to say that my official diagnosis of bipolar disorder did not come until 1994, just three years before my father's death.  Like many, just because I didn't have the diagnosis did not mean I didn't carry the actual disorder with me long before. For myself, I can trace it back until basically I can remember having my first thoughts.  My father was the prototypical man from the earlier parts of the last century; strong, stoic, often cold.  He had a sense of bitterness towards life, and I inadvertently inherited that bitterness.

He worked since he was 13 to help support a poor family, and I believe he never got over the bitterness of a lost childhood. He worked hard, teaching his son the value of hard work.  This is probably the ideal time to note that I'm adopted, and an only child.

My father wanted a son to carry on his legacy...as of note, my mother did not. That's a story of another complex relationship for another time.  As I grew, the distance between my father and I grew accordingly. He had his alcohol as his mate, his buddy...it did not talk back like I did, it did not put forward actions and reactions that he couldn't understand like I did.  Time did not heal all wounds, it just opened those further that were already there.

 My father and I often 'settled' our differences by his physical outpouring towards my body, and / or, with a verbal barrage that left me more scarred than the hand or ruler laid upon me.  As I grew into teenage years, I nurtured a false sense of bravado that falsely made me feel equal in his eyes.  A more sharpened tongue...more hurtful language.  This was my first experiences with mania, where many have a euphoric experience, mine was a welling up of negativity and a lashing out of emotions in a heightened state, like I've rarely experienced to this day. 

Ultimately, all I accomplished was shoveling dirt on a sunken coffin that was father and son.  Through my adult years we spoke, tried to find common ground, but even in his death, we never could resurrect any type of common ground that we could stand on together.

As I look back now, I have the better understanding of my mental illness, aka bipolar disorder, as a map that shows where I deviated in my efforts to be a good son. We failed, to the detriment of us both. As with many other things, I have regret, sadness, longing. There's also, though, a sense of peace that comes from the acknowledgement that we were both damaged souls that didn't first clean our own houses before attempting to point fingers at the other.

I will always miss my father, and yes, I'll miss what could've been. When I meet children and teens and tell them the old familiar adage "don't be bad to your father, he won't be around forever", well, I have first-hand knowledge of what that really entails.

In a strange turn of events, I've come to love my father, nor whoo he was, but fr the greatest gift he imparted on me, being an integral part of me.


With the theme of #MHAW16 being relationships, this is a really poignant blog from Chris, we're sure you'll agree. How was the relationship with your own father or father-figure? Do you recognise elements of that relationship with your own children? Let us know in the comments below.

You can keep up-to-date with Chris via his own blog over at cpwilke.wordpress.com or via his personal Twitter feed, where he's @CPWilke