I am trying to figure out how to be the adult child of a mentally ill parent. Until tonight, I think I believed it was a lie. If he could just snap out of it. If he could just be the good person I know he is. In my mind, he is the top- level administrator at a major organization. He goes on active duty, arming himself with skills to defend our nation. He teaches, he strives, he aspires. The Great Books collection grows. He carries my school books through the halls on his fingers tipped in leather gloves, black wool coat flowing, inspiring the rumor that I am a 'rich kid'.
I feel so poor tonight.
Dads are not supposed to do this. Dads are supposed to be the rock when we need to crumble, the sense when we are senseless. They are supposed to tell us when we are wrong, not the other way around. Dads are supposed to cheer at our swim meets, move us out of college, walk us down the aisle.
He did do that, actually. He walked me down the aisle four days after I checked him out of the psychiatric unit. I'm glad he was there. It is almost my favorite picture of the two of us. My favorite is one of me, as an infant, sleeping on his chest. It is a dark photo, but you can still see the smile, the security, that seeps forward.
It is dark tonight. It is dark in my heart, and dark in my soul. He is gone- or, perhaps, he was never there. Was he? That is what I need to know. Those signs of his illness, almost imperceptible, were real. How can my hero and my sadness exist in the same person? They do, they do.
So tonight I sit. I watch the flames, hear the silence, miss my father. I miss the notion of who I thought he was, and who he has fought against being. Part of the sadness is knowing he, too, misses who he thought he was. He thought he was a father. He is, but now we must care for him. How do we do that and let him keep that dignity?
I wait, I watch. Perhaps the answer will come out of the candlelight.