Sunday, August 4, 2013

"I'm After Bill's Mind!"

Shortly before my parents' divorced, when my folks were drowning in debt which they had foolishly gone deeply into because Dad had taken a higher paying job at his factory, when the systematic harassment of their creditors became overwhelming, when my parents were arguing almost constantly, Mom blaming Dad for having given up his higher paying position because the stress of it was overwhelming him, when my Dad had become a totally different man - all sullen and withdrawn, a sudden non-attender of church with his family, a man who spent long hours sitting and staring into space - during the time all this going on in their lives, my mom beheld a vision.
I heard her tell it in church at the time and heard her tell it to me personally many times. One quiet evening as my dad dozed in his easy chair my mother looked at him and saw a demon, which she always described as having the appearance of huge crab, crawling around his forehead, tightening a band which was wrapped around his head. The words came to her: "I'm after Bill's mind."
Now it wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to figure out that my dad was in trouble. Mom blamed him for our financial woes because he gave up a job which brought an extra hundred dollars a month into our budget (not exactly small change in 1969/1970). I'm sure Dad blamed himself. When I think back now, with the wisdom which comes with age, to the troubled soul my dad had become during all that mess, it surprises me he did not take his life. I'm sure he thought of it more than once. Probably his deep abiding faith in his God and fear of Hell (which our church believed was the outcome of suicides) are what kept him from it. 
This is an example of what I wrote about the other day: people who believe in angels and demons tend to see them from time to time. I don't doubt in the least my mom saw - at least in her mind's eye - the thing she says she saw. It was a fitting picture, I think.
She had the church come and lay hands on my dad and pray, but he was too far gone for that. The noose of financial debt was lightning and very soon we as a family would experience the embarrassment of trucks backing up to our front door in order to remove the furniture and appliances that my parents had bought just months previously, when my dad's pay raise was in effect.
The demon did get my dad's mind, and I remember the night he cracked up. Long, loud, heaving sobs erupted from his throat as he banged his head on the floor and begged to be put away. I was ten years old. I was terrified. My dad had always been the very picture of calm, even in the face of trouble. Mom was the high-strung one. Dad was always mellow. Not only that, he had a sense of humor that wouldn't quit. But now I was looking at a totally broken man - and it scared me beyond words to describe.
Dad was institutionalized and drugged up. He was a stranger for a long time. He was released back to us in a few months, but he came back a different man. It was years before he was his old self again. (Well, maybe he truly never was his old self again, only similar.) In a move which I held against Mom for many years (and in fact still find distasteful to talk or think about), she filed for divorce and left him.
The divorce devastated my father, but he didn't exactly have a relapse. He did start hanging out with his brother, who conveniently enough also owned a local beer joint. In short order my dad was a drunk and a womanizer. He dropped his "nerve medicine" in favor of alcohol. It was two years or so before my dad sobered up and got back into church.
If the devil got Dad's mind it was only for a short time. Once restored to his faith, he never left it again and remained deeply committed, deeply serene until the time of his death. In fact, I used to marvel at how well he coped with the many physical and emotional trials that followed him in his last decades. 
I lost my dad in 1997 and have to say the loss was enormous. Because of the divorce my dad wasn't around nearly enough for me from the time I was eleven until I was eighteen. Then we lost touch again when I was in my twenties because he married a much younger woman who was jealous of my brother and me. When his health broke the final time I was finally able to really get to know my dad on a man-to-man basis. I'm biased, I'm sure, but I think he was a wonderful man. Had he not had the pressures of a wife and three kids, I'm certain he would not have fallen off the log that one time. His mind did eventually begin to give way to the strokes that robbed him of his health and the encroaching dementia. He never totally lost it, but towards the end I had to catch on his "good days."  

On the day I had my last visit with him at the nursing home, shortly before he died, I told him I loved him. The last words he ever spoke to me were "I love you, too, son" and with that he waved good-bye to me. I refused a final view of my daddy in death. I wanted my last memory of him to be sweet, and it is. He was cremated and his ashes are with me still. I think a large portion of his mind resides in my mind to this day. And fortunately for me I inherited a large portion of his kind, sweet spirit.


  1. Doug,

    Thank you for sharing this. It deeply resonated with me, a reminder of my own life many years ago. Divorce, mother's mental illness, and Jesus always hanging around. Like you, I have been deeply affected by these things. In some ways I am a better man because of going through the things I did but I also have deep wounds that have never completely healed. (And probably never will)

    I am glad you and your Dad reconnected in the end. When my Dad died at the age of 49, I had not seen him in five years nor spoke to him in two years. One of my greatest regrets regardless of how I felt about him.

    1. Bruce,

      I adored my dad and miss him so. I was glad for the time I got to spend with him before he died. I think you said it well and the same can be said for me: "In some ways I am a better man because of going through the things I did but I also have deep wounds that have never completely healed. (And probably never will)"

  2. I want to hug that 10 year old. Like Bruce this resonates with me on a personal level as well. We're all human and each of us at times struggles with our own "crabs." Like Bruce my wounds run deep.

    1. Zoe,

      Because it is always in the back of mind how much like my dad I am, I have worried from time to time that I might one day crack. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. Stay away, crabs! I'm not quite so bad as Dad was about keeping things bottled up inside.

    2. This I relate to as well. The cracking.

    3. I think Dad learned a major lesson from that incident, and he was a better, stronger person for having endured it. He never came close to cracking again, even as his health problems became severe.

  3. I KNOW inside was always a wonderful man. Look at the man he made of you.

  4. Thanks for sharing a difficult theme for you.