My father was 53 years old when I had my breakdown. He had retired from the FDNY after 20 years as a firefighter, and obtained his RN license to practice as a nurse. He spent 10 years as an overnight supervisor at the VA hospital so he could manage and grow his landscape and garden center business during the day. In the 1970s, still one of New York City’s Bravest, he started the family business out of a two-car garage, and 35 years later it’s one of the largest of its kind.
Dad is an entrepreneur, and I do believe I inherited his ambition. I’m also a City employee who’s building up her beloved passion, writing, as a second career. It can’t be a coincidence that his success has become my success. If this is any indication, I urge all fathers out there to lead and inspire their children by example.
He was a nurse on the alcohol ward when I got sick, so he knew I needed to get help right away. After I got out of the hospital, he bought me a computer because I had wanted one to do my writing. I was overwhelmed by what happened; it was all too much, and I rarely used the machine except to play Wheel of Fortune, and compose one short poem, “Bounced Back Blues.”
When I bombed out of journalism school a year later, he told me, “That’s okay, it could be ballet, as long as you find something to do with your time.” He expected me to get off the couch, even if it meant I had to crawl to the door.
My father always wanted to be a writer, but after an agent at William Morris rejected him, he never took pen to page again. When I was 12, the year the neighborhood girls were cruel to me, he gave me the gift I treasured most: the loose-leaf binder with the sky-blue cover in which he had written his manuscript. A few empty pages remained for me to continue the journey.
Growing up, I didn’t know that things would turn out better when I was an adult. I had the idea that it would be possible, but I hadn’t “collected the evidence” that it would happen until much later, when I became a public service librarian. I had a hard life up until the time I was 32. Dad has made his peace. I’m convinced he’s not disappointed in me. Early on, he accepted that I got sick, but I know he wouldn’t accept it if I didn’t try to work my recovery. The not trying would’ve been my only sin.
That’s the distinction I make. Too many fathers and mothers abandon their ill loved one, and that’s the prime reason a person won’t recover as fully as he or she could. It goes back to the roots: how you express your love to your child, not that you express your love, makes all the difference. Children don’t know a new toy means you love them; they have to hear “I love you” as often as possible. When your actions or words or tone of voice is at odds with a loving message, your daughter or son won’t feel loved.