Schizophrenia, one family\’s story Part III – A different kind of Daddy 10-21-2006A different kind of Daddy
By Jennifer Perry
Herb, Jen and Hannah Perry goof around for the camera in this photo taken in his sister’s apartment in New York City around 1998.
The room was almost painfully white. Everything from the bleached cement blocks of the wall to the excessively shined tiles of the floor gave off the impression of uneasiness, even vulnerability. On the opposite side of the room was a large glass window. My mom squeezed my hand tightly as we approached the window, which on the other side sat my father. He had been arrested for drunken driving. I was 3 years old.
As my mom tucked me into bed later that night, I recall asking curiously why my father had been sitting in that little white room all by himself.
“Because he wasn’t very happy.”
I remember thinking it was a very unusual way to respond to unhappiness. But at that point, I didn’t know how unusual it actually was.
Herb and Jennifer play catch at their home in Saco, Maine, in 1987.
I’m only really learning about it now. For some years I’ve known that my father has had schizoaffective disorder, but from the moment my mom told me, it was only just a name — one that was supposed to clarify why he wouldn’t talk to the other parents at school functions, or why when every time he spoke to me he always sort of glared, or why my friends thought he was always mad at them “¦ why I thought he was always mad at me.
Online medical Web sites address schizoaffective disorder with a strict, complicated definition: “An uninterrupted period of illness during which, at some time, there is either a major depressive episode, a manic episode, or a mixed episode, concurrent with symptoms of schizophrenia, all in the same 2 week period.”
Well, I have never marked off the 14 days on a calendar, and I have never categorized my father’s life as a series of episodes. To me, he’s just always seemed different “¦ the kind of different that has been, yes, frustrating for the typical adolescent who’s focused on appearances and others’ opinions. I never really understood why he couldn’t laugh and joke around with my friends like I had seen other fathers do. His behavior in social situations always angered me, as, up until now, my ignorance told me he was just not interested in trying.
There have been multiple times in recent years when I have come home in tears from whichever teenage conflict had occurred that day. Each time this would happen, I would race toward the stairs in order to reach the seclusion of my bedroom as quickly as I could. I would often, however, be stopped by my father who was sitting at his usual place at the dining room table. He would immediately start lecturing me about keeping my proof of car insurance in my wallet, or reviewing my bank statements as soon as possible, or getting in shape before soccer tryouts. I’d always get exasperated and blow up at him at this point, as I didn’t comprehend why he couldn’t realize that I was upset and couldn’t take that into consideration. I know now that he sometimes has almost a tainted view of reality. That is, in this case, he has difficulty reading other people’s emotions, as he often either over or under exaggerates them.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I became analytically aware of my father’s oddities. As a child, he was my best friend, someone who would stick an oversized baseball glove on my tiny hand and play catch with me for hours (the fact that I was a girl, of course, didn’t make a difference). I suppose my innocence and blissful ignorance allowed me to view him as just my “daddy,” someone who couldn’t have negatives if he tried. Since then, though, the relationship between my father and me has been considerably strained, especially during my adolescent years. However, I would be lying if I claimed it was one-sided. We habitually clash because, in a sense, we are one and the same. I admit that I often share his short temper, his obstinacy, his sensitivity and his constant anxiety. Not to mention, we are both pretty feisty. So, as I learn about him, I also learn about myself. I’ve discovered what choices I need to make for myself in order to stay healthy. I suppose I have learned an alternate “hard way” about the effects of marijuana.
As a recent high school graduate, I have been given countless opportunities to smoke pot, yet I have never tried, never even considered it. In this way, I feel luckier than others. I have already gained the maturity to know in one way what’s best for me and the intelligence to learn from his mistakes. And I know that that’s what my dad wants, what he’s grateful for.
It’s been about 15 years since my father sat in that little white room. And although his disorder has made life difficult since then, he has achieved things that would be considered impressive for any human being. And even though these 15 years have been hard on me, I would never determine that the difficulties take precedence over the fact that I love him dearly and he loves me.
And I’ve finally started to gain the necessary acceptance to improve our relationship. I’ve known him, yes, as my odd father with the disorder I was forbidden to talk about. But more importantly, I’ve known him as the one who played “monster” with my sister and me when we were young, the one who taught me to kick a soccer ball with both my right and left feet, the one who kisses all of our sleeping heads before he goes to work “¦ the one who just dropped me off at college with tears in his eyes. And, all frustrations aside, I’m proud of him.
Copyright 1999 – 2004 Seacoast Newspapers, a division of Ottaway Newspapers Inc.