WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO …
MY dad was typically Italian. He had always been generous, especially with food and wine. He loved to see people indulging in the finer things and enjoying themselves. When he did something it was never by half – he took up karate around the age of 40 and reached 3rd dan, quite an achievement considering he was a family man and business owner.
I was 14 years old and focused on doing things I shouldn’t have been doing; alcohol and meeting girls. My first kiss arrived at a house party and was followed by four more in the same evening. I was the man – until my mum caught wind of the party and dragged me out. I woke up the next morning with the lingering humiliation of the night before but my adolescent ego was feeling good about at least making an impression.
I had no idea that one of the most profound moments of my life lay a few minutes away. I went downstairs for breakfast but was intercepted by my mum and given a rifle to hide from my father. I wondered who my dad might have been considering using the weapon on.
I found him with another firearm, ready to take his own life. A few words were exchanged before he let it go. My dad hadn’t been protecting us from an intruder, we’d been protecting him from himself. It took me a long time to accept that. No hand had forced him to pick up that gun and point it at his chest. It had been a choice. That knocked the wind out of my teenage rebellion.
He was 46 years old and his psychotic depression lasted for the next six to seven years. It was characterised by silence and long periods of sitting and staring, usually at nothing, sometimes at home, sometimes in a ward. At points he was able to return to work in his chip shop but he seemed distant and without warning a heaviness could return. The silence, the slow movements and the expression of a mind completely consumed by itself.
I remember walking through East Kilbride after school and starting to sob. I found a toilet cubicle and cried my eyes out. I’m not sure why. Rejection? Trauma? Compassion? I was confused. What was the point in loving people when, like machines, they can just break down? Was I faulty too? Would I break down?
My father died of cancer in 2011. For his last few years he was in a healthy state of mind. I wanted to
ask questions but didn’t. Asking about his illness while he was in a good state of mind felt selfish, like I was risking his wellbeing for the sake of my curiosity. Instead, I enjoyed his gregariousness, his sense of humour, and many a cappuccino together as we chatted away about martial arts and business.
Psychotic depression might have cast a shadow over his life at points but more than anything my father will be remembered for his warmth and generosity when he was truly himself.