By: Ryan Heffernan
Can you hear me? You don’t have to answer that. I can feel your spirit every day, moving as a battlefield wraith through my wartorn life. Sometimes you’re my blooming, purple Jacaranda tree, sometimes you’re a star constellation gently moving over me on my broken renter deck, and sometimes you’re the condensation on my wine glass.
Bad, or maybe good news, I’ve been sectioned again. I won’t trouble you with the details, but, for now, being in hospital just means I have some thinking time and there are some things you need to know.
I was quite happy with my eulogy at your funeral. Just to remind you I talked about how good our relationship was and that we were getting on splendidly before you died. I also said that brain bleed you had was merciful, given you were so open about wanting to die quickly, and you didn’t want to end up a “vegetable” as you used to put it. By the way, I’m not sure if I should apologise for getting drunk or not. The conservative types were a little “tut-tut” that I was drinking at 10am at my Dad’s final farewell, but you and I spent so much time drinking, I thought it was apt. And as you well know, you also got trashed at your fair share of significant events.
But that’s all semantics. I need to get down to business, because there have been some things that have come to mind since your funeral and it’s time you heard them.
You probably never thought about this, but the thing I miss about you most Dad, is your free-flowing nature, your easy way. Do you know that no matter what dramas and calamities I had in my world, when I was in yours, they always vanished. My intense bipolar world would open up and begin to free itself, from the moment I climbed into my car and began the drive out to your joint on the tranquil water. I’d drop the windows, turn the stereo off and listen to the sugar cane rustle in the wind. Then I’d watch and smell the billowing smoke during the cane’s pre-harvest burn. You and those cane fields and our lazy chats about everything and nothing, they are all one single memory now. They live together in unity, in my essence.
I do know Dad that mental health talk was way out of your comfortable space, as it was for your generation who were forced to bury the shame of what has now, ever-so-slowly, become something we can chat about, at least to each other who have bipolar and other mental illnesses. And that’s okay, I know you did try. But you taught me something that exists way above and beyond the logistics and scientifics of mental health. It’s one of the most powerful lessons I have learned. You taught me that sometimes a person’s mere presence has the power to overcome the troubles we are confronting. A simple visit with you was enough. You could be so easy breezy and that helped me to be easy breezy too. And all you had to do was just be.
What I’m struggling with now Dad is what I did to you and what I didn’t do for you. I’m a Dad myself of course, and I don’t know how I would cope if my boy became anything like the young man I was. The terrible drinking, the hard drugs, police and watchhouses, not coming home, fighting at school, fighting on the street, constant problems with teachers, frightening battles with depression where I couldn’t leave bed. And then there was arguing with Mum, battling with her boyfriends and arguing with you too.
I know I had some big successes in journalism and writing while you were here, but right now those things seem to matter not. It’s hard for me to comprehend what those reckless years must have been like for you. And I’m welling up with tears as I write this. The pain that must have come with that would have been immense. And I know what I was like. There is nothing you could have done to stop me.
To be powerless to stop the self-destruction of a boy born of your love and soul is something so monumental to us, as fathers, that I struggle to know where to move now. I can only say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry in a way that leaves me frozen here, knowing that nothing will move again, in any kind of easy breezy way, until I have dealt with what I have done to you. I need to let it in, to absorb it, accept it and let it become part of me. I must let what I have done become part of my story and let it make me better, stronger, kinder. To have failed in this will have been to have truly failed you, Dad. I never want to fail you again. I want to be a Dad, the same as you, who just has to be.
That you were able to live through those years and remain the father to me you were, and the grandfather to my boy you were, makes you a wonder. Which reminds me, I have a beautiful photo of you looking down over Louis as he crawled slowly down the boat ramp and toward the water. In that photo you define love and masculinity. Louis is just five feet from his end, and he looks safe as houses. The photo is a little out of focus, which used to bother me. Now I couldn’t care less.
Dad, I know you had your demons. I could see them in your eyes sometimes when we walked down to the water by yourself. Your easy way would go and in its place I witnessed a man of deep thought and reflection. I only hope that none of those demons has anything to do with what kind of Dad you were to me. Because mate, you were a one-of-a-kind in the finest possible way.
I better go. I’ve just taken my antipsychotics and I’ll be in a coma in 15.
I love you always Dad,
*The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Bipolar Foundation*