Love is Key

Love is Key

By Jeannette Petway

I am the proud daughter of a schizophrenic father. My father better known as “Pops” was diagnosed in 1988 with schizophrenia; I was only 4 years old. At this time my family had recently relocated to Las Vegas from Chicago. We were a very devout Catholic family. He would spend all his time and the family’s money at the church. We lived, ate, and obeyed as a family according to the Bible. This was the norm for us. Pops was on his own spiritual quest to learn what he calls “TRUTH”. Then the strange, (stranger than usual), behavior began.  He would leave for hours at a time off into the desert when asked to go get a gallon of milk. He began fasting, talking to himself, and talking to others who the rest of us couldn’t see. He claimed to hear the Voice of God.  Nobody knew what to think or what to do. My mother, Bonnie, began to see the man she knew as her husband slowly disappear.  After a few occurrences of my father’s eerie behavior she called the Mental Health Hospital. Since there was no way my father would voluntarily admit himself, they gave her the good ole’ “unless he is threatening to hurt himself or others, there is nothing we can do”. (The “Let’s wait, and see what might happen” is the first problem with America’s take on mental health).

Then one night my father in tears came to my mother and said “Bonnie, I know what we have to do, we have to sacrifice our youngest child, God knows we love her and He loves her, let’s give her to God!” (the youngest child being none other than yours truly).  For those of you who are not familiar with the Good Book, you can find a similar story in the Book of Genesis where God tested Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. My mother in a panic tricked my dad into thinking he was going to church and they got in the car.  With a violent fight and the longest, most horrific, drive of her life she got him to Charleston Mental Hospital. The orderly’s sedated him and he was admitted. Pops went on to recover in 11days. He was given his medication, Haldol, and the doctors said he only spoke of how much he loved his kids during his treatment. My parents eventually divorced, but have remained friends till this day. My mother made sure we knew love, and loved our dad.

Over the next 14 years my father went on to be the greatest dad any kid could really ask for. We, as a family eventually moved back to Chicago. He was a business man, he wrote children’s books and poems, and was always there to teach us the right thing to do and always spoke to us about the consequences of our actions.  Till this day I would put my father up against any dad in the world for the Greatest Dad Award. Pops was always there for us when we needed him. He taught me long division, consoled me through my first heartbreak, and went to almost every one of the hundreds of basketball games. He loved dressing nice and educated us kids on what was “cool”. He was always calm and collected. He only spoke harshly to us when we really needed it.  We were incredibly blessed to have a Father with schizophrenia that was functional. Many people who suffer this illness end up on the streets or in straight jacket. My sister, my brother, and I were the lucky ones.  Life was far from perfect, but it was good. To be honest, I didn’t find out that my dad had schizophrenia until I was 12 years old. He was just my dad. One day, I asked my father why he needed to go to the doctor. He replied, “I’m going to the head doctor, I’m fine”. My mother eventually told me the entire story when I was 19 years old, (the whole sacrifice thing) which being the baby of the family and Daddy’s Girl, this was a hard pill to swallow.

Then in 2003 my father had a relapse. A new doctor gave him the wrong dosage of Haldol. The doctor mixed up the medication from 10 milligrams to 1 milligram. I’ll never forget this time in my life; I was 18 years old. My siblings and I all started to notice Pops was not being the Pops we all loved.  He became a man we never knew. He stopped taking his meds; he stopped working, he no longer took care of himself, and confined himself to his bedroom for days at a time.  This new man would start speaking to us in different accents (French preferred) and wouldn’t even talk to us like we were his kids. My sister and her family then relocated to Las Vegas. Pops followed along with her. Eventually this new man had become very lost to us.  My sister, scared for her children for safety reasons, asked him to leave. This was the hardest thing she ever had to do.  He became so arrogant and difficult to help.  In his mind, he was fine and we all needed to take our medication.

He fled to the streets and made his way back to Chicago.  He was homeless living in shelters for about a year. We couldn’t find him. He eventually showed up on my doorstep one day and my brother would then take him in. My brother, then nursed our dad back to mental and physical health. He would sneak medication in his food, monitor the dose, and make sure he would not get into any type of harm. He was now the parent to his own father. He was crushed.

Two years of a lot of effort from my brother Eric, sister Jennifer, and myself, Pops was back to being stable. He never quite came back how we remember him but we never quit on him. I am forever grateful for the time I had. We never stopped loving our father.  The act of love is the key. Today Pops lives with my sister in Las Vegas. He is happy and the best grandfather to her four children. Pops still writes books, songs and poems.  He recently wrote a rap song with a good hook to it! He is so smart and talented with a pen. If you were to ask Pops today if he had any advice for anyone who has a family member or who suffers themselves from mental illness he would answer “it took a lot of love and a lot of patience from my family”. I hope that by sharing this story I am able to enlighten the many people that have a narrow view of schizophrenia. Also, with proper treatment and a strong support system those living with mental illness can continue to live out their lives with a sense of normalcy. I hope you’ve gained something from  my family’s story about life in the lime green lane. I am the proud daughter of a schizophrenic father and I am blessed to have him.

Jeannette currently owns and operates a Personal Training Center in Lakeview Chicago. She is engaged to be married and has dedicated her life to serving others through health and fitness over the last 10 years.

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  • DeWayne DuPree

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is just more confirmation that I have to do everything in my power to prevent my illness from getting worse. I am 32 and have lost my family, but I know if I sustain my health I will be able to reconnect with my 3 children. I hope that I can carry on “Pops” legacy and become a father my children love and respect.

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