Many of you know that my beautiful daughter has a mental illness and that her life, as well as that of my wife and I, has been a struggle for many years. She has Bi-polar disorder. It’s an medical illness not a choice.
Recently she got in allot of trouble in school. The result is that she is suspended, probably her 8th or 12th time this year, and the police are involved and we’re in the shit. Her school principle has worked hard with us, as has her EA’s and teachers but they have only so much patience and only some of them understand how hard it is to move forward or the context of mental illness and it’s effect on our girl. But because she can’t control her anxiety level and the way she feels when she’s anxious she can be at times violent and verbally abusive. She has little control of her emotional state when stressed.
So if you want to know what this translates to in real life read on.
My daughter never got to be in a school play. My daughter never got invited over to friends houses. My daughter never had friends in school. My daughter talks about ending her life and how no one in the world cares about her when she is in a heightened state.
But this year, her first in high school, she actually has some friends.. As a matter of fact one of her school friends felt so bad for my girl over what recently happened and wanted her to feel better and cared for so much that one of them came across town to give her a “feel better” gift. This is a good thing. This is an amazing thing. This is a new thing.
My wife and I have attended hundreds of meetings since she entered the school system, we have argued, advocated, pushed, cajoled, begged, and have never once stopped trying to make the people in our community understand what our daughter and by extension others need. We have also spent a huge amount of time advocating for other parents who have as bad and many times worse experiences with their child, school, service providers, because my wife and I made a promise to do everything we could so another parent didn’t have to go through what we did.
In Ontario there are more than 450,000 children and youth who have a diagnosed mental illness. Of this huge group only 1 in 5 are getting any help at all and suicide is the leading cause of non accidental death in Ontario. You can add up cancer, diabetes, car accidents, and everything else together and it does not add up to the number of young people in pain that end their life. We as a province fund helping parents and their children in as small a way as possible.
Today, this 15th fathers day for me, we had to talk to our daughter about how serious things have gotten at school. This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, it’s about the millionth, but this time the police have been involved and the stakes are higher. Our girl freaked out and was terrified. We talked through this, we had to all take a time out, but we came back together to come up with a plan. We’ll try this plan out and it might work or it might not. I hope it does. I always do.
Some of you have tried to be “helpful” and said to me “ well she just needs to be disciplined, your too easy on her.” Some of you have said “ she needs to learn the consequences of her actions and if she ends up in jail well then she’ll learn.” Some of you have said “ have you tried this vitamin or that miracle cure” or once someone suggested putting a collar on her and giving her an electrical shock when she’s “misbehaving”. Many have said that this is behaviour and behaviour needs to be addressed. It’s not behaviour. It’s a symptom. Any of these “suggestions” are the equivalent of saying to someone who is a paraplegic that “ if you wanted to you’d just get up and walk”. But because it’s a mental illness well that’s not the same. But it is.
The reason this is the best fathers day though is that fathers day, as every day for a caring dad, is about doing the hard work of raising your child so that they have the options to get to the place where their dreams lead them. For any parent it is never a straight forward process. There are always struggles, hurts, triumphs and worries. But for me is is a privilege.
It is a privilege to be a father. It is a privilege to have my daughter in my life. It is a privilege to struggle with her and to keep trying and trying, especially when things are hard and especially when were in the shit.
This is my best fathers day ever because I get to be a father to my daughter.