Chris, you are a phenomenal storyteller and you have an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it.
Yani and Grampie bought me a suit, packed a small bag with my things, and sent me on a TWA jet to San Francisco. It was the last time I would ever see Grampie after 7 years together. I still adore him.
And he still adores you. I cannot imagine the gut-wrench this must have been for your grandparents. I am my six-year-old grandson’s “parent” right now, and while it is an extremely challenging situation, I love him to the moon and back. There will come a day when his parents will send me the equivalent of your Mom’s telegram, and it will be rough to see him go.
Thank you for sharing this story, @Chris. I love your wife for being such an amazing young woman who could see that you were a diamond in the rough. Give her a hug from me. 🤗
It's not often we get to appreciate a so candidly shared story of a life! It moved me as I read all your episodes, as if I was living it. I can see that you are now a man who understands, and enjoys the gifts of life!
I cannot imagine the gut-wrench this must have been for your grandparents.
I can't either. I have a whole trunk full of home movies Grampie made with his 16mm movie camera of mom growing up. He's in this picture with mom and her best friend — my dad's sister. He was so devoted to mom. Then to see her end up on the streets with her illness... I heard he was never the same after that.
Here's a short sample of his films. He used to make a new family film every month and show it on the projector.
Thank you for sharing your story Chris. It looks like you are one to find strength from adversity. I have had several friends who have suffered from mental illness, I could not imagine if it were my mother. Wow!
To this day mental illness is not given the proper amount of attention it deserves. Not by a long shot!
Seems like you've got the writing thing pretty well figured out, Chris.
I was in 4th grade in the 1950's when my mom developed paranoid schizophrenia. Years of turmoil and anxiety followed, but my devoted father never gave up. Following electro shock therapy she was able to return to a somewhat normal life. Discussion of mental illness was taboo back then, and it has taken a lifetime for me to begin to understand. Thank you for sharing your story and for this amazing forum you've created!
thank you ❣️
Wow, that's impressive of your dad to not give up. For most schizophrenics, they become alienated from their families.
Sometimes schizophrenics are truly brilliant. Mom retained a public library card when we were on the streets and we went to the library almost every day. The librarians were wonderful and chatted mom up about what she was reading and how she liked yesterday's books.
The astonishing thing is she would get 7 books at a time (the limit), one for me. I'd typically pick something like the biography of Wild Bill Hickok and it would take me 3 days to read it. She would read her 6 books in a day or two. I would say "Mom, how is that possible? No one can do that." And I'd open a book and ask her about some stuff I could see in it. She could answer correctly. I never figured that out.
At Stanford, they had a speed-reading class based on Evelyn Wood and I took it because I wanted to be like mom. I failed at it and Stanford discontinued the course, saying it reduced comprehension.
Mom claimed to have memorized the complete works of Shakespeare. I was never able to verify that because I hate Shakespeare. However, when I tried to read Hamlet, I recognized what I read from the things she'd recite as we walked.
If you want a fantastic read on how brilliant they can be, Simon Winchester's book The Professor and the Madman is riveting.
I have the audio version of the Winchester book and it is indeed fascinating.
Mom and dad met in nursing school. Becoming a nurse was the fulfillment of her life-long dream. Dad eventually went on to Dental school in Atlanta, and after graduating was invited to join the faculty where he taught for a couple of years. After several years in private practice and a short stint in the army, he went back to grad school and we moved to southern California where he became one of the founders of his church's dental school. Teaching was his Calling, and he loved mentoring students. It was there that mom's "breakdown" occurred. She became irrational, convinced that my older sister was a "dope fiend" and was hiding drugs in the house among other things. Dad would often be out till two or three am searching for her in the nearby orange groves where she'd be hiding from her demons. Eventually she was 'committed' to the university hospital, where the psychiatrists recommended electro shock therapy. Mom vehemently disagreed, but dad reluctantly gave consent. That treatment was successful in that she was able to return home and function in a more normal manner, but she disliked California and longed to return to North Carolina where she felt less threatened. Dad ultimately gave in and we moved back east where he returned to private practice.
Mom never forgave dad for consenting to her shock therapy. After his passing she said that if he truly loved her he'd have taken them himself before subjecting her to that treatment. But from my perspective that therapy saved her life. Only after her passing (at 97) did I learn from her younger sister the rest of the story. I had only known that my maternal grandmother had died in early middle age while mom was away in nursing school. I'd heard mom say "the Doctors killed my mother" but she never elaborated and I assumed it was her paranoia talking. But my aunt told of returning home from high school one afternoon to find that her mother had painted the walls of her bedroom with the contents of the slop jar (they lived on a farm and had no indoor plumbing). When my aunt objected, her mother siezed a butcher knife and chased her out of the house. My grandfather, a poor farmer in the middle of the great depression, had no option but to have her committed to the state mental hospital where she was treated with insulin shock therapy (as graphically portrayed in the movie "A Beautiful Mind"). After many weeks she was discharged, but the psychosis eventually returned and she was recommitted. The chief psychiatrist happened to be on vacation, and a less experienced physician apparently got the insulin dose wrong and she died during treatment. Perhaps that's why mom, who always extolled the joys of Nursing, had a lifelong distrust of doctors.
Oh, no... That sounds so much like my mom. I think I heard from my sister that she had shock therapy when she was in Sayre, and apparently it helped for awhile. Maybe that's how she got out. She would not see a doctor, even when she broke her ankle.
I went to see A Beautiful Mind with Toni and I've only been so emotional in a movie once — Million Dollar Baby. For both movies I had a 3-day hangover. Btw, Sean Penn plays the Madman in the upcoming movie version and he's unrecognizable.
A Beautiful Mind made me sick for days. There are drugs available now that would have made mom's life, and the lives of her family members, much less stressful. But distrust of doctors and fundamentalist religious beliefs led her to refuse all drugs. In her last two years she came to trust her caregiver and accepted the "vitamins" that wonderful lady provided. And anxiety and paranoia faded. We enjoyed the most relaxed and rational conversations of our lives.
Mom left dad and moved in with her parents.
I am curious as to why your mother left your dad and if this was ever revealed to you? Was it primarily due to the on set of her mental illness and that placed just too much stress on your family? You mentioned that later on in life you bonded with your father with the help of his wife. I am wondering why you may have been fearful of your father? (excluding the example you gave of his dislocating your shoulder by swinging you around.). Was it mainly the fact that you spent most of your time with your mother and infrequently saw your father?
Somewhere in the past, maybe an interview or an article, I was aware of your being sometimes homeless as a child. However, your story above is more complete and takes great courage to tell. As you relate, your hardships and trials were many. However, most importantly as you point out, there were crucial supportive people at the right times and places in your life that allowed you to overcome a very difficult childhood! The follow through on this is it may be possible that each one of us could play a supportive role in someone's life that ultimately make all the difference in the world as to the outcome of their life.
I'm not sure why mom left dad but my understanding is schizophrenics often become alienated from their families. They looked so happy together when they were younger.
My father was known to have a big temper. He had been the captain of his hockey team at Queens and a golden glove heavyweight boxer in the navy who was proud of giving an opponent amnesia for a day when he knocked him out.
When I was in junior high, he took Jane and I skiing and somehow we got in a good-natured snowball fight between the three of us. I threw a long one and got lucky, it came down on my father's head and packed snow in his sunglasses. I thought it was hilarious and started laughing.
I guess he thought I was mocking him and he marched me to our cabin, made me pull up my shirt and drop my drawers, and he lashed me with his belt to teach me respect. The whole time I was thinking I would never forgive him, I didn't have to, nobody could make me. I had thrown a snowball and didn't deserve this.
The next morning Jane said I had big welts on my back. It was a long drive home and I didn't speak. When we got home, Julie knelt down to give me a hug and I just walked past her and went to my room. She must have talked to Jane or dad because eventually she gently opened my door and sat beside me on the bed without speaking. I was lying face down, sulking, and she gently slid up my shirt to see my back. I heard her give a soft gasp. She just sat beside me for I don't know how long with her hand on my arm, but we never spoke about it. We didn't need to.
I was never the same around him after that, not until I became an adult and married Toni. I think I got over it in a year or two and I always tried to impress him, I just wasn't going to mess with a temper like that.
Chris, that is really a tragic growing up episode. I am sorry to hear this. After I asked my question, I was reviewing your writings and saw that had it not been from Julie you would have run away from your father. All these memories and feelings about events in your life centered around your mother's schizophrenia and your dad's temper fit together perfectly to add up to big time trouble for you to deal with. Your reaction to all this is very normal given everything. Your fleeing your dad in the sailboat incident brought up all those past violent memories compounded by having to deal with your mother's situation and what you were going to have to do to survive all this, not only figuratively but literally!
You have mentioned the supportive people in your life who made all the difference in your life. Imagine, had your dad's temper been one of more compassion, how much a difference that would have made for everyone dealing with your family situation. It is very common for victims of abuse to want to please those that inflict the pain.
I am guessing your father grew up in an era "when men were men", "spare the rod spoil the child" and "men don't cry" era. In the mid 1950s, Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners portrayed man's potential for violence toward family members. "One of these days! One of these days! To the moon, Alice!" was Ralph Kramden's (Gleason) humorous threat for physical violence. Humorous because it never happened because he believed "Alice, you're the greatest"! The dark reality is men sometimes do inflict physical violence on family members.
Your photo of your mother and dad reminds me of what a promotional photo of two movie stars of that era looks like . Your mom reminds me of the actress Claudette Colbert and your dad, a dashing military hero who apparently could paint! They do look happy!
It seems to me that schizophrenics withdraw from their families, and most everyone else, because no one can enter their internal, frightening world. The words "You don't understand" or "You'll never understand" were frequently heard in our house. My older sister was in constant conflict with mom and left home as soon as she was able. They never reconcilled.
My father, on the other hand, was the most patient and steadfast person I've ever known. The wife of one his university faculty colleagues experienced a breakdown about the time that mom did. He eventually had her committed to the state hospital, got a divorce, and went on with life, urging dad to do the same. But he refused to even consider it.
Both my parents beleved in corporal punishment, and I earned the occasional 'spanking' while growing up. I discovered that one of mom's whippings could be shortened by yelling and hollering, while dad expected me to silently "take it like a man." Mom would most often grab a switch in the heat of the moment and let fly at my legs. Dad would wait until tempers had cooled, sit me down to explain exactly why my behavior merited punishment, and after I agreed, apply his belt to my legs. Welts, "the marks of disobedience", were expected but were never severe.
My last whipping occurred when I was around 6 years old. I had so egregiously disobeyed that mom did not punish me immediately but waited for dad to get home from work. He took me into the bedroom for our "talk", then had me drop my trousers as he removed his belt. Then he said, "You know, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." Being a smartass, even then, I blurted out "Well, if that is really true, shouldn't I be whipping you?"
The raised belt stopped in mid air, and there was a long moment of silence. Then dad said "I never thought of it that way, but you're right! Pull up your pants and take this belt." By now I was crying, said I was only kidding, that I had done wrong and deserved punishment. How could I do this? It was unthinkable. It was my fault. But dad lowered his trousers, handed me his belt, and instructed me to whip his legs. We were both in tears, and I half-heartedly struck a blow or two, but he stopped me and insisted it must be hard enough to "count", to raise welts. So that I did. But resolved to never again earn a whipping from my dad.
I am guessing your father grew up in an era "when men were men", "spare the rod spoil the child" and "men don't cry" era.
That's so true. I've often wondered why I grew up to be a pushover, as my kids all tell me I am. It was hard on my wife but our kids loved it until they had kids of their own and now they don't like it.
Your photo of your mother and dad reminds me of what a promotional photo of two movie stars of that era looks like.
Now that you say that and I look at their photos again I see it!
Amazing. Its 1:20 am here, at first i planned to read it in morning then i couldnt sleep and read your story. Truly inspiring.
Thank you, Awais. I often wonder what would have happened had I not been caught stealing that sweater? I very nearly outran the detective and for awhile I was mad at myself for giving up because when he caught me I could tell he was completely gassed.
What would have happened had I followed my instincts and run away, which I so nearly did? I could have pulled it off. Oakland was just over the hill and I knew how to stay hidden. What if I didn't meet Mr. Davis in high school? What if Julie didn't turn out to be the step mom she was? What if I didn't meet Toni at summer camp? I've always wondered about these things.
Go Julie!!! Step parents can be hit or miss. I'm glad you got a loving person to care for you.
I would never have guessed your story, Chris. I was homeless at age 16, after I moved out to get away. I had the opposite experience of very few people helping, and being preyed upon. It left lifelong scars around trusting anyone that I still struggle with. You are so fortunate to have had Julie and others who helped lift you up.
Fantastic. Over the years of knowing you, you've let out bits and pieces of this story to me. I recall talking about some of parts 1 and 2 in our early days on knowing each other, when the average phone call was 2.5 hours :)
Thank you, Anne. I can't imagine what it must be like to be homeless and a teen girl. I don't remember even knowing that adults preying on kids/teens was a thing until maybe my 20s? I know some boys are preyed upon too, I just can't imagine and was lucky enough to never have to.
My daughter recently took in a pregnant teen through a wonderful, inspiring program:
Thank you, Chris. I’ll be thinking about you and your life story for quite some time, I expect. The immediate impact took me back to the scriptures and the beautiful passage on love. “Love.....bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The “believes all things” phrase had me stumped for some years as a young man. Your life story is such a powerful example of the impact of love when it is manifested as the investment of belief in another person. Belief in response to abject failure, even. And such love was not lost on you as you clearly rose to it. How can we understand this kind of love? How are we to respond to the examples of those who loved you in this way? Can we learn to give this kind of love to those we encounter in life? Even to our adversaries? So much content here.