I always knew that my dad was an addict, but it took me a while to truly understand the difference between my dad and my friends’ dads. However, as I moved from primary school into high school, the differences became more and more apparent.
One of my close friend’s father was a truck driver who drove semitrailers interstate on a regular basis. I remember this friend complaining about how his father was often not at home for long periods, but when he returned they would go to the football or play at the park.
Another had a dad who was a factory manager. This man would work long hours, but was able to bring a lot of money into the house and therefore provide a comfortable lifestyle for his children. Later on he would also give them their first taste of paid employment with a packing job on the factory line.
Every one of my friends complained about their dad, saying how they hated when he was away. About the long hours he worked and how they could only spend weekends with him. Yet they also bragged and gloated, and would often bring the latest toys to school or say how much they enjoyed going to the game or the latest movie. Typically I remained silent, my complaints wouldn’t have been well received or even understood, and what I had to brag about was pathetic by comparison. I mean, what could I say?
“Yeah Dad’s business has really picked up recently, three new clients! Can you believe it? By the looks of them they will all become regulars, and you know what they say, word of mouth is the key to growth!
Dramas? Yeah like everyone of course he has a few, mainly supply chain issues, you know how it is. Sometimes the stock is available and sometimes it’s not. I keep telling him to diversify and get multiple suppliers as well as expand into other markets, but he seems to be set in his ways. Too bad because it really leaves him open to external market forces and legal regulations. Perhaps he should vertically expand and become his own supplier and cut out the middle man. Although in doing so he would need a much larger factory to keep up with the customers’ demands, and right now taking on a new premises may not be economically viable.
At least he has his taxation situation worked out, you know how those smart people game the system right? Well Dad knows what he is doing in that regard, don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think he has paid a cent in tax for years!”
When it’s phrased that way, he sounds like a real hot shot hey? I wonder if my friends could have made their dads sound so sophisticated.
One thing that I have noticed is that everyone has a particular smell about them. Often it comes about from their profession or from the perfume they wear. You know how you can tell it’s them before they enter the room? Or how if you hold an item of their clothing you are filled with memories and associations of the person?
Well, my dad smelt like weed. Always. It was his unique odour. Honestly, it took me a while to click that it’s what constituted the lion’s share of his smell, I figured that was just what he smelt like.
One time when I was quite young, I was walking with a friend and his mum to the local shops to get some food. When we went past a particularly derelict house in the neighbourhood, I remember innocently exclaiming to her:
“Oh my God that place smells exactly like Dad.”
The look on her face was priceless. Following that interaction and other instances like it, I started to truly understand the differences between my friends’ dads and my own dad. At first I only noticed the small contrasting characteristics, but over time as I matured it became more and more clear that our dads were seemingly a different species.
Without exception, my friends’ dads all worked. The jobs were different of course, but the thing that held true was that they all had long term steady jobs. Over all the years, I never once knew Dad to have any legitimate employment beyond helping a friend here or there as a labourer. He earnt his income through the Disability Support Pension with heavy supplementation from his dealing. He had many schemes and get rich quick ideas, but they were mostly half baked and completely unsustainable in the long term, particularly as there were kids involved.
Some notable attempts included prospecting with a metal detector. At some point Dad believed that if he could just strike gold everything would be set. He took us into the bush with him to search that one big find. We found such a miniscule quantity that the value couldn’t even cover the cost of the metal detector, let alone all the time and effort we put in. After a couple of years Dad gave up on his gold quest and his equipment was sold. Gone in a literal puff of smoke along with the many other dreams that he had.
At one stage he thought he could make it big by growing and selling cactus plants. Following that was the worm farm, because there is big money in the worm industry didn’t you know? Then there was his accumulation of, for lack of a better word, junk. Dad would always be telling us:
“When I die, search through my house, because you never know what kind of valuable things you may find.”
Search we did, and to his credit there was some valuable jewellery and other interesting knick-knacks. Unfortunately, this relatively small amount of treasure was completely overshadowed by the mounds and mounds of worthless junk that he had accumulated over the years. I can’t work out how he could have afforded all the stuff that he had, I mean furniture is expensive, even from second hand stores.
Perhaps a sound savings plan and budgeting advice would have been all that was needed to lift him out of the poverty slump that he found himself in. That and somebody to realistically tell him ‘No’ when he proposed another crazy money making scheme.
“Hey I have this amazing idea to make a bunch of cash!”
“Here we go again…”
“No, no hear me out… Stamp collection! First we get as many stamps as possible, then with this book (hands over a guide to stamp collecting that was made in the early 70’s) we look through all of our stamps and match the ones that are in there. Then we find a buyer and bam we are making money!”
“I’m not sure about that one …”
“Ok okay. What about a coin collection? Brass statues? Antique furniture?”
“(Sighing) Why don’t you just return to your hydroponic plant set up, the new batch is really coming along!”
I wish that was a joke, I truly do.
In my mind the only real chance he had of making something of himself was with his artwork. He would spend hours upon hours drawing, painting and sculpting. By the end he was quite proficient across a number of mediums, he even got some of his work sold in a gallery. Maybe he didn’t have the confidence in his ability, or the desire to put the work in, but given his natural talent and relentless pursuit of creative expression, perhaps he could have made something work. I was regularly amazed at what he could produce, he had artistic talent beyond that of most people.
Another major difference between my friend’s dads and mine, was mental health. Sometimes my friends would say that their dads were stressed or angry. One even mentioned that his dad was looking for a new job because he:
“Hated what the job was doing to the family.”
But from the outside, they all seemed relatively normal and healthy. Some of them had interesting and abstract hobbies and they all had a variety of personality types. But by and large they were all mentally stable.
I am not sure when it happened, but at some stage Dad was diagnosed as having ‘drug induced schizophrenia with an insidious onset’. Basically this meant that he had developed the symptoms of schizophrenia slowly over years and years, caused by his continuous heavy drug use. Looking through a symptom list, a lot of what I am reading seems to fit. He wrote in his diary about ‘hearing voices that would never go away’, as well as describing various visual hallucinations of a demonic nature. Looking over his artwork it seems clear now that he was using it as a way to express what he felt inside. It was all emotionally poignant and a lot of it did seem fairly demonic in nature.
His affect was also fairly consistent with that of someone diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was quite underactive and slow to speak. He had low motivation levels and was for the most part extremely socially withdrawn. This factor really made up a significant proportion of my experiences with Dad. More than anything, life at Dad’s house was extremely boring. He was quite catatonic in his demeanour, rarely sharing emotions or much personality at all.
Days would go by where he would only leave the couch to sleep and urinate. Most of the time we were left to our own devices and when we couldn’t rouse Dad, we just watched television or played video games.
He also had significant levels of self-neglect. A person’s appearance and hygiene is a strong indicator of their internal mental state. If somebody is looking after themselves, are well dressed with styled appearances and are clean, you can assume that they are in an okay place. By this scale, my dad was rarely in an okay state of mind.
He would seldom be clean shaven or have his hair done. Often he would wear the same clothes for days on end and fail to wash them or himself for weeks. One time when I was driving him to a family gathering, he smelt so bad that I literally had to drive with the windows down just to escape the repugnant odour emanating from beside me.
Schizophrenia is often co-morbidly diagnosed with a variety of other mental health conditions of which Dad fit many. It seems likely that he would have, at a minimum, qualified for a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. At one stage, he was even diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder, however, I am not convinced that his personality fitted the traits required for that diagnosis.
Towards the end of his life, Dad did not go out much and there was little variation between his days. Most of the time he would wake when his body wanted him to wake, then he would immediately go to his bong to inebriate himself. Not to a level that he couldn’t function, rather to a level that allowed him to function. Consuming just enough to take the edge off the anxiety that was creeping into his mind and to silence the voices that would start talking incessantly.
Typically, an instant coffee with three sugars would serve as a suitable accompaniment to keep him awake. He would repeat this ritual of inebriation and caffeination every two hours for the rest of the day. Averaging seven to eight cups of coffee and quite a substantial amount of weed, it wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle to say the least.
He wouldn’t eat much, but what little he did was often given to him by his family in the form of donations or left overs. Besides, he always had quite a small appetite. Favouring a more piecemeal approach to food consumption: an apple here, piece of toast there, some cucumber and tomato later and then perhaps some of last night’s leftovers.
Most days he would spend with his neighbour Jackie, often just sitting on the couch talking, getting high and doing art together. He would always have his little dog curled up on his lap waiting for pats and love.
Intermittently his day would be interrupted by the many knocks on the door from his clientele. I don’t think they called ahead or arranged meetings, rather they would just turn up and deal on the spot. Annoyed, he would sell them what they asked for and hurriedly shoo them away from his house. Then he would return to one of his various art projects. Towards the end of the night, he would take his various medications and head to bed. This was his daily ritual for the last few years of his life. He would repeat this process until he was too sick to do so.
I am quite saddened by how Dad’s life turned out. Here was a man with such potential and ability, who, due to a variety of reasons, let it all slip away. I can’t pinpoint exactly where his life went off track, but there are some significant landmarks. Most likely it started when he was young and was sexually abused by an uncle. I am not sure of the full story, but I gather that it severely rattled his young psyche. Maybe it was the culture shock that comes from being raised in an ethnic family and subsequently starting school without the ability to speak a word of English.
Perhaps it was the family pressure that kept pushing him down a line of study that he just couldn’t connect to. Maybe it was because he never accepted the divorce from my mother. Feasibly, it could have been the repeated and failed attempts to buy a property and not receiving the small amount of support from his family that would have just pushed him over the line. For all one knows, it could have been his perpetual drug use and the slow and steady distancing from him by his children.
Probably it was a combination of everything, adding and compounding on itself. Becoming more difficult to bear as each day passed, and each new event conspired to taint his life further. All I know was that at one stage he was a man capable of designing the family home that we lived in for years. He was able to not only draw up the blue prints, but source the material required for construction and liaise with the builders.
In a time before the internet and smart phone apps, he was able to work out the maths required to track the rotation of the sun in a way that ensured optimal lighting all year round. Somehow he managed to calculate where the sun would be in the sky, the maximum growth height of the trees, the distance they were from the house as well as the subsequent required length of the eaves. This was all to ensure that the trees that he planted in the yard would provide just enough shade in the summer but not block out the sunlight in winter.
Sadly, by the time I came around, this man was slowly fading away, leaving the shell of a person that I came to know as my dad.