Big Daddy

“If you hear your eldest son has just committed suicide, you shouldn’t be too surprised.”

Then I slammed down the phone.BigDaddy1

A bottle of Chardonnay rested on the kitchen table in front of me, and in my hand were 20 100 mg. tablets of sedatives. Feeling queasy, I poured another glass of wine, then put 10 pills on the table.

It was late Sunday afternoon, June 4, 1995.

Earlier that day St. Paul had celebrated its annual Grand Old Days. I’d gone to the grocery store feeling spacey and anxious. “The weather was sunny,” the day’s journal entry states, “and everyone seemed cheerful and active. I felt like the walking dead. At the store I was grumbling to myself and got what I needed and out as soon as I could.”

Later that afternoon I’d opened the wine and started calling people, but no one picked up. When I phoned my parents in South Florida, Dad answered.

“He said something accusatory in my mind about comparing how I felt with [the] premature birth my cousin had just had over the weekend.”

That’s when I dropped the bomb and hung up on him.

I was furious and miserable. I don’t think I ever hated my father more than I did at that moment.

And, I believed, I was ready to die to prove it.



“What,” says Big Daddy Pollitt to his son Brick in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, “do you know about mendacity?”

Well, since I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, quite a lot. Lying and liars sickened me, as with Brick, especially when it came from within my own family. But probably more insidious were the lies I was telling myself. It’s right there in the journal, over 20 years ago: “He said something accusatory in my mind about comparing…”

It’s very revealing and important to the story I think I want to tell here, the question I want to get at. What, the question goes, did I really need?

In that low, low point I didn’t need platitudes, vague comparisons, or indifferent shoulder shrugs—I needed a caring, sympathetic voice. I needed kindness and love. I was aching to be heard.

But when I didn’t get that, I retaliated in the easiest and worst possible way.

I was determined to meet (my perception of) Dad’s accusation with self-violence.

“That ought to show him!”


“Doing the dishes early Sunday morning,” the journal entry continues, “I was thinking a lot of extremely insidiously harmful things. My thoughts seemed as automatic as the thought one would have opening a door, turning a key, or putting one foot in front of the other. What frightened me was the magnitude of my loneliness, pain and frustration.

These days I’m hearing, like most people, the mendacity issuing forth from the slimy bullhorn that is the Trump campaign and its adherents.

There is a lot of pain in this country—but it’s mostly insecurity. When Big Daddy is barking orders and demanding things be made right (or in my late father’s parlance, put in perspective), you’d better snap the hell out of it and be strong. Be bigger than you are. Get angry and fight back.

You know. “That oughta show ’em!”

Yet, thoughts “…as automatic as putting one foot in front of the other.”

I now recognize those “thoughts” as the stinky brain farts of a severe depressive episode. In 1995, I’d only been aware of my condition for about eight years. My first episode, in the fall of 1987, was something I was unlikely to forget—it landed me in jail for a weekend. But that’s a story for another time.

Right now it’s enough to say I was happy to wallow in my own mendacity during those years—a sweet little fiction that “I really don’t suffer from mental illness” and “Hey, it’s no big deal, we’ll just take some meds and keep on doing what we’re doing” and—wham.

—Willful ignorance almost killed me.

What the hell was I buying into?


Around 3:30 p.m. that Sunday back in 1995, I took two of the pills. The effect was immediate. “I crashed out in bed and was unable to get up until early evening, when I think the phone rang again.”

BigDaddy2Friends had called back. My mother “called again later and had some Bible verses for me, then I went back asleep around 9:30, and the phone rang after 10, but I couldn’t move.”

I was still contemplating the deed. “I was really afraid of what I was capable of doing,” the journal goes on, “with the last glass of wine in one hand and a handful of pills in the other. I looked at them and counted them out. I knew it would just take a toss to the back of the throat and a couple swallows of wine…”

Mom’s Bible verses felt to me like just another form of mendacity.

And her attempt to manage the situation struck me as weakness and acquiescence. Big Daddy says you’ve got to live with it, you gotta listen to Big Daddy because Big Daddy is a success and you can’t get where you think you need to go without him. Big Daddy is disappointed and angry with you, and you feel nothing but shame. You flail about looking for something—anything for fuck’s sake—to make you feel stronger. To help you fight back. To meet that anger with your own anger.

But perhaps that’s weakness.

Maybe the only weakness humanity has ever known.


“When I awoke Monday morning, I had had a call from [my brother] after 10 the previous night (Mom had apparently called them, but they had been out) and I was feeling groggy and sore. I was shaky trying to get to work…”

Two days later I told my therapist about what happened.

“He did something that I thought was unusual: he called my parents from his office and asked me to apologize to my father for threatening to kill myself on Sunday. He seemed to think it would help start some fundamental healing. I had a hard time not crying and Dad seemed—as I suspected he’d be—to not make a big deal about it … he said he knew I didn’t ‘mean it…’ but I did not feel very satisfied about that, and would have to confess now that it seemed more for my benefit than Dad’s (though I’m sure it must have meant something to him)…”

Mendacity. “Oh, I know you didn’t mean it.”

Those hateful words coming out of a Trump rally? And the candidate’s reaction to the press: “How could you think I meant to say that? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

My father’s black and white world, the one he was born into, all the presidential candidates he voted for, who represented stability and patriotism and “strong leadership,” Richard Nixon and the “silent majority” of the early 1970s, good and bad, black hats and white hats, chanting, “Be careful! Don’t do anything risky! Don’t be weak! Avoid uncertainty!”


Nine days after that awful Sunday, on Tuesday, June 13, I wrote:

“It’s amazing, but this morning I felt better than I had in months. I think taking care of myself is starting to pay off … it’s hard to describe the wealth of even and startling impressions I had this morning … The light in the morning seemed, well, more brilliant, almost crystalline. It was really delightful.

Whoever my late father was as a person, along with whatever he truly believed, what his fears and prejudices were, all that is beyond me now.

And that’s as it should be.

Whether I did or didn’t feel supported by my late mother, that, too, is no longer important.

Because I now know that real strength is in kindness, gentleness, optimism, and wonder.

The life I’ve been given is a gift, and it’s now mine to choose how to live it, to honor my own values, and to not fear anyone or anything.

No matter how big they think they are.

~ by completelyinthedark on March 18, 2016.

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