Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

First of all I'd like to wish all the fathers a very happy day today. My daughter has telephoned her father from New York where she is celebrating the day with her four year old daughter's father. My son is coming for dinner so my husband has not been forgotten on his special day.

Today I've seen a lot of tributes to fathers on people's blogs. I have found it quite delightful to read some of these special pieces and see the strong bonds that were forged between some people and their fathers; bonds that are remembered even long after they have died.

I am always envious when I hear others speak so delightfully of the relationship they had with their fathers. For this was not my reality.

I felt I hardly knew my father. He went to work for long hours as a machinist for the railway department and when he was home he spent all his time in our garden which was his pride and joy, but of little interest to me. My parents should have been divorced but that was not possible for monetary considerations I suppose. Today's expression which would best describe our family was "working poor". So because of practical reasons I guess, I interacted more with my mother than with my father. The one thing for which I am forever grateful to him is that he insisted that I complete my schooling to the highest level. So I matriculated and later attended university.

When I was 17, my father, who came from Scotland to Australia as a child, at age 48, suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown. In actual fact he fell into a deep clinical depression and was institutionalized. Funnily enough, during this time we became closer, as I visited him every week. The year was 1953 and no antidepressants were available and the only treatment was electric shock treatment which was not administered in the safe way and for the short period of time, as it is now. My father was terrified of it and he was given this treatment on and off for six months. Finally he could no longer endure it and he drowned himself in the river which ran through the institution's grounds. This was December 11th, 1953, so Christmas was a rather painful celebration for my mother, brother and myself for quite a few years.

Mostly I don't think about my father very much, after 53 years. I don't even have a photo of him and no one is still alive who remembers him. Not even my brother. But lately I have been thinking about him and trying to get up courage to write about this. Today seemed like the right time for it, although I don't want to put the damper on the celebration of the day. But it is the day to remember your father, even if he is no longer with you.

So today, as the card above says, I am thinking about my father, despite the fact that it is a rather painful memory. I have always hoped that he achieved in death the peace that he was not able to find in his life.


leslie said...

It was very brave of you to write this post. I haven't been so brave about today and have been just wishing the day would quickly pass. My relationship with my Dad was never good but now that he's in a care facility, he's turned into a fairly nice person. But the strokes he had caused it - it wasn't really his choice. Then again, my daughters hate this day because their father killed himself 15 years ago when they were 12 & 15 years old after years of mental illness. Now my younger one suffers similarly and days like today are awful triggers for her. She stayed overnight last night and is really low today - I took her out for a while but she has no energy for anything. It's a day we have to just "get through." Then next Saturday would have been our anniversary, which is a hard day for me. But I'll make it - I always do. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing a different perspective on this day when so many celebrate that which some of us cannot share.

ipanema said...

Sometimes it is in writing and sharing our deepest thoughts that we feel free of them...momentarily. Sometimes it is in reminiscing the wonderful and the not-so wonderful things that make us see straight ahead or simply look back and see where it took us and what it made of us.

However, there are only few who are honest and brave enough to do this. I'm proud to say I'm in the company of these great women.


Josie said...

JMB, your father probably had been quite ill long before he was institutionalized, and that was why he escaped to his garden. So the illness took him from you long before his death. I think he would be happy that all these years later his daughter still remembers him and honors him on Father's Day. He gave you the gift of encouragement in getting your education, and that has formed your life. So, in a very odd way, you have had a relationship with him all your life. I'll bet he would be very pleased to read your post today.


RUTH said...

They say we can choose our friends but not our family. My father is still alive but I had such a difficult childhood with him that "love" doesn't enter the fact at the age of 55 he still scares me;I feel uncomfortable in his prescence and turn back into a quivering 5 year old when I speak to him or see him.Thank goodness there are some wonderful father's in the world..I know my girls would give anything to have theirs back (and so would I).

Lee said...

Touching post, important post. I never knew my father...he and my mother separated when she was still carrying me. So, I never "celebrated" Father's Day when I was a child. My father-in-law from my second marriage was a wonderful man so finally, I got to celebrate the day with him while I was still married to his son, and I got to spoil him. :)

Liz said...

That is a very tragic story and so brave of you to write about it.

It was the case with many fathers of that era and later, I believe, that work and other interests occupied their time away from their families. And I suppose children were seen as mother's work and responsibility.

That combined with what was probably a long-term illness made him what he was to you.

Like you I don't think often of my father - although I have done more so later in life - but they have contributed something to what we are, and I believe we've both turned okay!

Thank you for this piece of writing.

lady macleod said...


that's lovely darling. Our memories are what they are, aren't they? One of the most comforting parts to me of aging is the increased ability to forgive. Thank you for sharing this personal and very touching story of your father. I hope he has found his peace as well.

Janice Thomson said...

Thank you for the courage to share this tragic story Jmb. Hopefully your father has found the much needed peace he deserved. You moved on to become that shining light he would have been so proud of.

Ian Lidster said...

A very sad tale about your father. I commend your courage in writing about it. It's a wonderful testament for Father's Day, because it's so human.
My father was an accomplished man, and a very harsh taskmaster. Quite frankly, when I was a young child I both feared and detested him. It really wasn't until near the end of his life that I came to know a bit about who he was, and realized that so many of his attitudes were the product of his own Victorian upbringing and he too could never please his father.
He died a decade and a bit ago and, ironically, I have found myself missing his presence more as time has gone by.
Thanks for the food-for-thought.

Voyager said...

Thank you for writing this touching post. I wrote about my father too yesterday, remembering some of the best parts of our relationship. But like most, our relationship has had its ups and downs and challenges. I try to focus on the good parts.
Your father did give you a gift in encouraging your education. His illness was trgic, but through it he cared enough to want the best for you.

Gledwood said...

It's strange the British mother's day was on a different date to yours, America's and Australia's (you were all the same) ... you wrote a fascinating post ... do you really think your parents "should have divorced"?

ECT was administered in a barbaric fashion in the era you describe... the only thing to shield against the electrical shock was a gum shield! It's awful I know someone who's an ECT "survivor" too... v traumatic memories (or more to the point: lack of them)

Ruth is right: we choose our friends but not our family

as for my Dad I've no complaints at all he is a brilliant Dad

he just happens to have the same fault as me - ie impatience!!

Take care
all the best
Gleds ...

jmb said...

To all of you, my blog friends.

Before I say anything about the individual comments, I just want to say that behind the celebration of every holiday there is someone who who does not share the joy, for whatever reason. I put my story out there out there for this day and was amazed at how you have shared your own stories which relate to it. I guess that's what I love about the blogosphere. That here we can say things we don't share with our friends and families because we dont want to put them on the spot or we've said them before or.... But here we can read and feel free to comment or not.
Thank you all for sharing with me your different but similar feelings that you had on this day about your fathers. It made me feel better to know them.

jmb said...

Hi Leslie,
How mixed your feelings must have been this day. Your poor young daughters, to have had that happen and now the younger with similar problems. With most psychiatric problems there are better drugs all the time so I hope your daughter is able to benefit from help in the long run.
Hang in there for Saturday. Ill be thinking of you.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema,
I read the post about your father and your husband. One of the many I saw that prompted me to write this one.
That's a very nice pearl of wisdom you put in the comment. Thank you

jmb said...

Hi Josie,
As a child I didn't recognize that illness. But my mother said when it happened that he had been like that for some years. However I do remember him insisting on me continuing school past the age of 15 when I could have legally left.

jmb said...

Hi Ruth,
I'm sorry that you still have this terrible relationship with your father. Be grateful that your daughters have such good memories of their relationship with their father.
Thanks for sharing

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I'm glad you found someone to celebrate Father's Day with. Having no father must have been hard on you.

jmb said...

Hi Lady M,
Thank you for your comments. I was rather relieved to be able to talk about it in my blog at last.

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
Thank you for reading this. I realize now that his suicide was the result of life being too painful to endure, so I hope he found peace after it.

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
Reading all the testaments on Father's Day must have been hard for you too. What you say is so true. Was he acting the way his father had acted towards him? A vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Hopefully we are all so much more aware of these things now and we can make the changes needed.

jmb said...

Hi Voyager,
I read your post and thought it was lovely. You did focus on the good parts because there was no hint of anything else.
Thanks for reading

jmb said...

Hi Gleds,

ECT is so much better administered nowadays. I worked for 18 years in a hospital where for the psychiatric patients if applicable they administered it three times a week for no more than 2 weeks. Everyone says it is a very effective way to quickly lift a severe clinical depression.

I'm glad you have a great father, cherish him while he's still around.

meggie said...

Your story touched me, I hope it has helped you, writing it all.
I had a sad father story too.
Now my beloved Granddaughter's father refuses to meet with her. I feel so angry with him, I feel he doesnt have the right to refuse her wish to meet with him.

jmb said...

Hi Meggie,
Thanks for coming by and reading. It seems there are many sad father stories out there. I hope your granddaughter's father changes his mind.

MedStudentWife said...

I am glad you wrote this. Sometimeswriting helps us look deep an accept everything (or most everything) that makes us us.

I hope to be able to share more of me as time goes on.

jmb said...

Hi medstudentwife,
Thanks for coming by and reading this post. This is part of what shaped me , that's for sure.

Smalltown RN said...

how brave and courageous of you to share your story. I have read most of the responses to your post...and it looks like you opened a door for allow those that did not have the most perfect of father opportunity to open up as well....this reminds me of something I was told once...never fear to ask the questions because chances are there is a dozen others wanting to ask the same shared...and it snowballed...thank you

Vic Grace said...

Thank you for sharing this.I did not have a good relationship with my father but he is dead now and I consider it all in the past and have forgiven him. I suppose there is some heritage he left with me, I hope it was not his dark side.

jmb said...

Hi smalltown rn,
I have found the comments as helpful as I found writing the post. Isn't that amazing?
What you said about asking the questions, that has always been me. I have never hesitated to jump in when I thought it appropriate to do so.
Thanks for commenting on the post

jmb said...

Hi Vic Grace,
Another sad relationship. What do you think it was with some fathers? Just repeating the sins of their fathers? Should they never have been fathers?
I'm glad you have come to terms with your flawed relationship with him. I'm sure you learned a lesson or two from him, even if just not to repeat his errors.

jmb said...

Hi Liz,
I think I missed answering your comment.
What you have said is very true. Partly it was the era and how the parents' roles were perceived. I don't doubt that his illness was of a longstanding nature.
I do believe I have come through this experience relatively whole and I'm glad you can appreciate the contribution your father made to your life, whatever it was.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

So Sorry about your father. He would have had much better treatment today. It is sad that many suffered from the lack of understanding and prejudices against mental illness and depression. I believe this is something that could happen to many of us under certain difficult situations. There but for the grace of God go I.

Rhea said...

A lot of people had a very 'thin' relationship to their father. Mine, too.

jmb said...

It is indeed a different world in the mental illness field. The fifties eventually brought the introduction of antidepressant drugs and slowly ECT has evolved to a safe procedure given for a short term with often very good results.
It is a shame that mental illness has this cloud of prejudice against sufferers when for the most part it is a malfunction or chemical disturbance of the brain. Break your leg. Lots of sympathy. Problems with your mind, often treated like a leper.
Yes, there but for the grace of God go you or I. We should never forget that.

jmb said...

Hi Rhea,
We always think that we are the only ones affected by whatever we perceive our problem to be.
But if you talk about it to the "right" person you find that you share the experience with so many others and it helps such a lot to deal with it when you know you are not alone.
Thanks for commenting

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Oh, jmb, I'm so sorry I didn't come to this post before. I do so feel for you. Your poor father - he was a victim of his times, wasn't he? I'm sure, though, that he loved and was very proud of you. It was brave of you to write this and I hope it didn't cause you too much pain - but fear that it must have. I'm sure he is at peace now.

Ellee said...

Yes, a very brave post. I feel so sorry for those children who don't have father figures. Dads are so important and essential for providing grounding for children - that's why nature has made them half of the equation.

jmb said...

Yes he was a victim of the psychiatric treatment of the times. Today's treatment would have been so much better, although even today some people are not easily helped.
It was a tough time for us and there have been recurring periods in my life when it has returned to haunt me.
Still I have always believed that it was the only option he saw to end his pain, which although mental was just as unendurable as any physical pain.

jmb said...

Hi Ellee,
It seems the lack of a father figure is quite common. Also the figure is often too flawed to be useful.
Although the ideal is a two parent upbringing with examples of love and right behaviour, it seems lots of people manage to get by without.
Thank goodness for that.

Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, jmb. So sorry to hear the tragic story of your dad. But fortunate that you visited him and have those memories at least. My dad was an alcoholic, and I have many unhappy memories. Only as an adult can I begin to understand the torment that he went through. Heaven knows, he caused me, my brother, and my mom many, many upsets. But all rooted in his own world of nightmares. Poor guy. He past away years ago. I think of him from time to time and send "good thoughts" his way. Maybe he sends some to me now.

jmb said...

Hi Donnetta Lee,
Thanks for sharing your story too. I think alcoholism in a family is such a tragedy. I am very ambivalent with it being classified as a disease when some people seem to be able to conquer it. I have always considered it like slowly committing suicide, with someone seeking oblivion to avoid their life. Such terrible consequences for the family, however.
I'm glad that you are able to think of him with some kindness for he surely was not kind to you.
You must be a very strong person.

George said...

very touching jmb. Happy father's day to you - belated!

jmb said...

Hi George,
Thank you. I hope you'll be back this week for Photo Hunt. No new camera yet?

Dean Moyer said...

A very sad tale. Thank you for sharing it. It is fortunate that now we have medicines for treating depression.

jmb said...

Hi Dean,
It is lucky depression has other treatment options today, including better ECT treatments.
Thanks for stopping by.