A tale of two men – Robin Williams and my pop

I was devastated to learn the passing of Robin Williams yesterday. He has been a mainstay in my life of TV and movies for as long as I’ve lived. To hear that he was suffering so much that he felt there was no other way to end his pain, is so awful I have no words to explain. As I watched the news casts and listened to those that knew him, remember his life, and attempt to make sense of his passing, I sat on my couch alone and cried.

I hope I can explain why in this post, sometimes even in my head it doesn’t make a lot of sense but for the sake of getting it out in type and out in the open, I am hoping to set these feelings free and move on.

My Bio dad is going to be 62 this year, he was born and raised in the Bay Area, a Native to the T. He was the epitome of a Berkeley hippie, he was a stoner with long hair that smoked pot and fully believed that recreational drug use was a way to free your mind (or escape from it), In the 70’s he worked for Bill Graham and delved deeper in to the drug craze that ravaged the decade and beyond. By the mid 80’s my mother and I had left him, she firmly believing he was going to end up dead in a gutter somewhere, but not before he dragged us both in to the pit he was sinking, and for a time it seemed that, that shocked him back into a sense of reality. He got off the “hard” drugs and sobered up enough to find a steady job. Over the next 10 years he slowly replaced all of his “unaccpetable” addictions into acceptable ones – Alcohol, Cigarettes and quietly still his “mexican” cigarettes. But as with all things when you know an addict something creeps up on them, some memory, some trigger, something…….and they fall down the rabbit hole and drag everyone down with them.
Just before my 15th birthday, after a drunken weekend spent with me trying to keep him from killing himself on the road, I answered the door of his how to two officers doing a wellness check. He had gone into work drunk (he was a mechanic) when his boss confronted him about it, he had walked off tossing veiled threats on everyone around him and his family – his boss took them seriously, knowing I had been staying with him. As they searched the house for anything “out of the ordinary” my pop came home and lost it – one man took him into another room to talk to him, while the other escorted me outside and called my mother. I can still hear him scream as he went into a psychotic rage triggering an epileptic siezure. He spent two weeks in a psychiatric ward……two weeks after that he totaled his car (frighteningly not his fault) but it scared him enough to check himself in to rehab.

Up to that point aside from the very few that were close to him, no one knew. I’ll repeat that again, aside from a few, NO ONE KNEW. 20 some odd years later I still have people come up to me and tell me the didn’t understand why pop quit drinking or the drugs. “He was such a fun and funny guy, now we don’t even see him anymore”, “He didn’t really have a problem, did he?” I smile leaving their question unanswered, it’s easier to let them believe what they want to anyway. And that’s what he was, the funny guy, the one that could bend his body like Gumby when he danced. The one you could always count on to have a good story, and if there was a party going on, it didn’t really start until he walked through the door. When he was “on” the light seemed to glow around him, and people would be like moths to his “flame”. What they didn’t see was all the times he was “off” and would sink into despair that would last for days on end.

For a time after rehab he seemed to be able to keep his flame alive, even if it was a little quieter and reserved, he was always a good addition to a dinner party and still could find stories that were more appropriate for any event. But as time sailed on and the days of drugs and drunkenness moved farther into the past, he slowly stopped talking, and dancing, and the glow that seemed to emit from his skin dimmed. He battled illnesses brought on by a life of too much abuse, he battled depression and struggled with the day to day business of living, something he’d never learned to do without “help”. He retreated into himself and into the woods of Northern California. Slowly phone calls were every two months then four, then I realized I hadn’t actually spoken to him for almost half a year.

There were times during his “up” periods when I would think he was just like Robin Williams, his body movements, and way with voices were so close if you squinted you’d think they were the same. I laughed out loud when I watched The Birdcage the first time, realizing my pop would have been perfectly cast playing a gay night club owner. Watching the interview with Diane Saywer a ways back got me thinking about the correlations between his life and my pop’s, both Alcoholics, both depressed and maybe Bipolar and both trying so hard to be bigger than life when they were outside of the worlds they created. I wonder did Mr. Williams go into hiding sometimes? Did he have people bring him food, and supplies so he wouldn’t have to leave his house for days on end? I don’t really know for sure and honestly I’m projecting what I need to on this poor man and his suffering to try and make sense of my pop and his.

I do know this, 3 weeks ago I had had enough, no contact from pop since February, no response for Sabrina’s graduation announcement, and finally nothing not even his typical well timed card around the 4th of July for my birthday. I called left a message, called again a week later, still nothing, finally I called and told him if he didn’t respond I was sending the police to his house to check on him. He left me a message the following day when he knew I’d be at work, angry and put off, but alive.

And last night as I sat on the couch crying into my dogs fur, devastated by the loss of a man that I didn’t know, I realized how afraid I was that this could be my own father. Lost and alone fighting his own demons and potentially losing. Still in tears this morning, I spent the day in a fog, half reading the stories on Yahoo, half dreading even looking. I’ve sent a million silent prayers up today, half for pop, half for Mr. Williams and his family, and tonight after confessing my soul to you, I feel spent and hope for sleep.

One more quiet prayer – Lord please be with all of those that are suffering, and near the breaking point, please tonight keep them safe.

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