Note: For Father’s Day this year, I decided to have my mom share some memories of her father (my grandpa). My dad wrote something a couple years ago about growing up without a dad and you can read what he wrote here. You can read about my own dad in last year’s post: My Awesome Nerd Dad
by Jacquelyn (Vestal) Tenny
I miss my father as he spent more time with me than most fathers of his time. As a farmer, he gave me joy as he let me ride down to the ranch where he worked the field and in the shop as well as to the tractor and hardware stores for parts. He took me to the train depot where loads of peaches were ready to go on trains all over the country, Canada, and even on one of the last treks to Cuba.
He took me to sheds where boxes of peaches were cut, put on trays to dry in the field. In fact, my first job was cutting peaches when I was 11.
We went to the slaughter house where he checked on the operation there as well as the family meat market where we were treated to ice cream bars and saw meat carcasses hanging.
Dad loved his family and often surprised us with family rides to Lassen Park, Mt. Shasta, Shasta Dam, and fishing treks for which Mom prepared us picnics.
Visiting his parents and Mom’s parents were also special times, especially during the holidays.
We sometimes visited San Francisco where we rode the train to Stanford to attend east-west football games. He also took me, Mom, and my brother and sister to our first professional stage-shows in San Francisco: The Miracle Worker which was about Helen Keller as well as the Gay Nineties and Forbidden City night clubs.
We went to Red Bluff rodeos as young children as well as the Bull Sale and Bull Sale Show at the local theatre where Nat King Cole, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Patti Page, and the Mills Brothers performed.
Vacations were usually Easter break so we went to Santa Cruz for the week, stayed in a motel walking distance from the beach and boardwalk where we’d spend the day. There were side-trips to Monterey and Carmel areas as well because Dad loved to drive.
One year he drove us through Oregon, Washington, and up to Vancouver, B.C.. When we were teenagers he took us on a fabulous summer adventure through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and the Grand Tetons where there was a beautiful little church with a window behind the alter where you saw the Tetons. But Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Banff, Lake Louise, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Washington, Oregon and home – all beautiful.
Dad let Mom and me go on the train to meet Uncle Jack for the opening of Disneyland – my first trip to Southern California and a dream-come-true! One year he took all five of us to Southern California where we did a lot of sight-seeing. I got a special surprise when he had to drive the last batch of peaches to the market place in Oakland! I was up late for the first time and we had a late dinner, spent the night at Fielding Hotel in Union Square where I saw my first real fashion show!
*Note: The video above was filmed by Clara’s grandpa (and edited by Clara). So even though you can’t see him, he’s very much present in every scene.
I always loved adventures Dad would take me on: helping him pick gifts out for Mom; eating in nice places; going to see first-run movies in Chico or Redding. There are so many memories that I treasure because I could talk to Dad more freely about a lot more than I felt I could talk about with Mom. He loved his wife and family. He had a good heart. I miss him!
Whovians leave their mark everywhere, including Point Loma University in San Diego, CA.
They’re everywhere! Just over a year ago I had no clue who this “Doctor Who” character was and now I’m a die-hard fan, one of those affectionately known as a “Whovian.” How did this happen?
The origin of my story probably dates back to a lifetime fascination with science fiction/fantasy movies and TV shows. For example, gathering in front of the TV with my dad and sister once a week to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation was a regular ritual for us three. Anything on TV that involved magic and mystery would captivate me back then, from the cheesier shows like Out of this World and Bewitched to the more dramatic shows like Lois and Clark andEarly Edition. If I were going to escape into an imaginary universe, that universe would look nothing like the reality I lived in (other than the human-like creatures dwelling there).
The BBC , however, was a bit out-of-my-reach since my parents didn’t have cable while I was growing up and about the only TV shows from the UK that were accessible to me were the ones airing on PBS. I wasn’t introduced to Monty Python or Mr. Beanuntil some friends told me about them when I was in high school. My dad had a thing forKeeping Up Appearances and it seems there was a show about a gourmet chef as well (was it called Chef, maybe?). That was it.
When I left home for university, television lost it’s draw for me. I studied political science at the time and my more serious classmates were adamantly against the very idea of television. I didn’t want to watch TV either because I hated being subjected to all those pesky commercials. So from the time Star Trek: TNG ended until sometime after university graduation, I shunned the very idea of television. Television, I believed, made people stupid and hindered any possibility of genuine interaction with other human beings. In my inner-circle of friends, television was terribly un-cool. If a TV was in any of our possessions, it was solely for watching DVDs. But, for the most part, computers rendered the necessity for TVs nonexistent.
No need for TVs to watch Doctor Who these days.
But with the advent of Web 2.0 facilitating the successful launch of sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu, the nature of television forever changed. Suddenly I could watch innumerous TV shows commercial-free whenever I wanted. So I began by catching up on old sitcoms from the 1990s and early 2000s. But then I stumbled upon a podcast hosted by Chris Hardwick known as The Nerdist. Chris was passionate about this British show called Doctor Who. I’d been catching up on a few BBC shows like Black Books, The Catherine Tate Show, and The IT Crowd. But Doctor Who was still quite foreign to me.
Nonetheless, I attended my first Phoenix Comicon in 2011 where some of my favorite actors from Star Trek were signing autographs and the great Stan Lee did a Q & A to a completely filled auditorium. I took lots of pictures of young people in cosplay and so enjoyed myself that I came back the following year.
I had the good fortune of meeting an old classmate last year entirely by chance who, like me, was attending comicon alone. So we did a little wandering together and I asked him where to begin if I wanted to start watching Doctor Who. He recommended I begin with the new stuff because it’s easier for someone who’s accustomed to the awesome storytelling and visual affects of today to get into. I took his advice.
With this sign on my door and a lock, no one interrupts my Doctor Who time.
The first episode failed to hook me in, but I knew better than to give up right away. So then I watched another episode and another and I began to finally transform into the Whovian I am today.
There was a time I would pride myself in how little I knew about pop-culture. To focus my mind on what I felt were more important things was a badge of honor, so to speak. Our clothes were being made by small children working under horrific conditions in countries far from here yet we turn a blind eye and escape into a world of fantasy that doesn’t seem to add value to our lives at all…(or does it?)
We want to be the change we want to see in the world but if other people are unable to relate to us because we choose to look down upon the masses instead of trying to understand them, nobody will jump on board with our cause. To change the world, we cannot sit on high hoping the rest of the world will climb to our way of thinking. To change the world we first have to learn to love the people who inhabit it as they are.
Doctor Who sticky notes are a great way to meet other Whovians, I’ve discovered.
A barista told me about these awesome fan-pages he helped create.
Doctor Who is a kind of British-homespun superhero who captures the heart of the entire English-speaking world. Is he perfect? Not at all. In fact, for an alien, he’s very human and I think that’s why we fans adore him so much.
Here are some things the Doctor has taught me:
It is more harmful to feel nothing than to feel any kind of pain or sadness.
It is possible to feel lonely even when you’re not alone but it’s better, just the same, not to be alone.
Humanity, despite all our rage and fury, is uniquely beautiful and worth protecting.
Along with the ups and downs of life, there’s ample time for whimsy and childishness.
No weapon is any match for a sonic screwdriver.
Don’t judge by appearances. Remember, the T.A.R.D.I.S. is bigger on the inside.
Friendship is comprised of unconditional love and emotional vulnerability. Though we will mourn the loss of our companions, we won’t regret knowing them nor will they fade from our memories.
Initially I was going to write something absolutely brilliant to go with this, and maybe I’ll still do that later. But several years ago, a friend of mine and former colleague told me we’re supposed to have relationships with books. Although I’m not sure if this is what he meant, I interpreted his words to mean interacting with books on the pages and margins. So when I picked up G.K. Chesterton’s classic collection of essays entitled Orthodoxy, I decided to make my reading experience like a kind of conversation. I had read Orthodoxy before, but it didn’t quite sink in the first time. However when I interacted with the book by underlining key parts and reacting to his writing in the margins, I was able to get beyond the chore of reading it I’d experienced the first time and it really enjoy it. Of course, this method of reading does take longer. I’ve actually started doing this with Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (in untranslated French, mind you). I’ll let you know how that turns out in about a year and a half. Anyway, here are some examples of the “conversations” Chesterton and I experienced. Enjoy!
From a very young age, Dad has cared little about conforming to social norms but has had a strong drive to excel academically. He’s long felt at home within the realms of math and science yet extremely awkward when expected to make small-talk in a social setting.
Prior to marrying my mom and becoming a father, my dad climbed the academic ladder with ease. He was admitted to a number of ivy league schools, but his final decision took him to arguably one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he’d been offered a scholarship. Later, an internship with Lockheed took him all the way to California where he was introduced to computers, fell in love with them, and pursued a Masters degree in the new and expanding discipline of computer science at Stanford University.
Then, of course, he met my mom, married her six months later, and welcomed my older sister and me into the world. Dad taught courses at a college in Potsdam, New York. Two years after I was born (1982), he received his PhD. in computer science – his passport to becoming a university professor.
Ultimately, the politics of academia chased my father back into industry where he spent the rest of his professional life as a software engineer.
Today he’s “officially” retired, but he still writes local hiking guides and shares is vast knowledge of the Goldfield Mountains and beyond to his fellow hikers through Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Stanford Alumni, and occasional lectures at local venues. Learn more about him here: www.mile204.us
So what’s it like growing up with a nerd-Dad? From time-to-time there are drawbacks, but nobody’s perfect. Today I prefer to honor my father by sharing some of the unique perks of having a nerd-dad.
First off, to give a little perspective, I was born in 1980 and my sister is 2.5 years older than me, so our childhood was basically the eighties and our awkward teenage years were the nineties. For the kids out there, that meant no cell-phones, no internet (and, when internet did arrive, painfully slow dial-up).
Some of Dad’s Unique and Innovative Ideas
When audio cassette tapes and tape recorders became affordable and commonplace, Dad sent tape recorders to a handful of our relatives so we could exchange “talking letters.” As a result, we now have several voice-recordings from mine and my sister’s childhood as well as recordings from loved ones who’ve passed away. Also, with the advancement of technology, we’ve been able to digitize them for preservation and (in my case) to create audio montages.
For much of the eighties, my sister and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma where, in the spring and summer, insect life was abundant. From walking-sticks, to ladybugs, to cicadas, to butterflies, to fireflies, there was much to discover. So Dad gave my sister and me butterfly nets and we’d go out and catch whatever we could. Perhaps it was a little cruel the insects, but putting butterflies and ladybugs in ventilated jars allowed us to marvel at them up close.
Kite-flying was a favorite activity and perhaps a key introduction to aerodynamics. My sister and I would go with Dad to the park behind our house, firmly grip the string, and watch our kites dance in the wind. Then we’d sing “Let’s go fly a kite,” from Mary Poppins and skip home.
Dad listens almost exclusively to music composed before the 20th century. He used to play the violin in his school and university orchestras as well. But on occasion happily takes in musicals like Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Les Misérables, and Into the Woods. Musicals were a treat he and my mom could enjoy together, so it’s no surprise I developed a fondness for them too. At age 10, I expressed a strong desire to learn to play piano. In response, my parents bought me an upright and paid for lessons. Later they paid for me to have voice lessons as well. I was never discouraged from playing piano or singing. I could pretty much sing and play piano whenever I wanted.
Dad has always helped me build things. When we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, there was a tree in the backyard perfectly suited for a swing. So Dad and I worked together to securely attach a rope around the largest, sturdiest branch so my sister and I could take off on magical flying adventures without leaving home.
When I played Super Mario Bros. for the first time at a friend’s house, I begged my parents to let me have a Nintendo of mine own. But they saw no value in it and instead purchased our first computer: an Apple Macintosh. The machine was very primitive by today’s standards, but it could run learning games like Word Blaster and Math Blaster as well as the classics Oregon Trail and Where in the US in Carmen Sandiego? Then, of course, there was the fun script called Eliza who was a fake “therapist” and basically spat your problems back at you in the form of a question, for example: “That’s interesting. How does that make you feel?” Finally, Dad’s pride and joy, The Rabbit and the Hound, a game of chance he’d cleverly programmed on his own.
Science fiction entered our world through Dad’s love for Star Trek (the original series) and, as I began first grade, a new series began to air: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Soon it became a Sunday night ritual for my sister, Dad, and me to sit spellbound before the TV while Cpt. Picard, Commander Riker, and Counselor Troy helped navigate the fate of their ship and crew on the USS Enterprise.
The importance of education has been emphasized in our home as long as I can remember. Of course, my sister and I weren’t gifted enough to earn full scholarships to the university of our choosing like Dad had been , but he never held that against us. There’ve been times I’ve praised him for his vast knowledge and he humbly reminds me of his almost 35-year head-start on me. In other words, the only difference he saw between him and me in the pursuit of knowledge was the additional years he’s been on this earth to learn.
Dad saves handwritten letters and other papers that are historical or even just paper records of times worth remembering. His mother saved things too, as did many of her sisters. My mom also has letters and other tangible memories tucked away, often written by loved-ones who left this world long ago. I carry on this tradition and so does my sister. The written word is priceless and so is our history.
I cannot tell a lie – at least not convincingly. My dad isn’t one to put on airs. I don’t know and I’ve never known how much money he makes. He could rightfully call himself “Dr.” because he has a PhD, but that title’s always felt a bit too formal for him. Besides, even if he had all the gold of King Midas, he’d still prefer to live in this house he’s had for nearly 20 years, with his own homemade bookshelves. But beyond all this, he is a man of integrity. He has taught my sister and me integrity as well. It’s virtually impossible for either of us to tell a lie.
When I was growing up, I always thought my dad was the smartest guy in the world. I’d ask him questions about the universe and about God and heaven and even if the answer was nowhere to be found, he’d acknowledge his intellectual limitations but always leave room for imagination and wonder. My dad is a man of a science and a man of God. He’s read the Bible and much of what Carl Sagan had written. He doesn’t see science as a way to disprove the existence of God nor does he see atheism as any less a leap of faith than theism. You can argue all you want, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to say that my dad is the best dad I know!
I don’t remember the existence of comicons when I was younger. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation which historically has had its own brand of fandom known affectionately as Trekkies.
I loved Star Trek: TNG, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure if my admiration for it was enough to call me a “trekkie.” I had wanted to go to a Star TrekConvention when I was younger, but my interest didn’t go much further than curiosity. I hadn’t the remotest interest in learning Klingon or becoming a member of the artificial hierarchy of Starfleet. I would not break the barrier between science fiction and reality to the point where I’d be a member of an inter-galactic organization still pathetically earth-bound.
My best friend in fifth grade had recently developed a bizarre obsession with Star Trek – most notably Gates McFadden, the red-headed actress who portrayed Dr. Beverly Crusher. She and I began collecting and exchanging Star Trek trading cards. There didn’t seem to be anyone else interested in joining us, but we didn’t care. We followed our singular passion regardless of whether or not our other friends joined in.
Then, in almost no time flat, my family and I moved from Texas to Arizona. There, aside from the occasional Star Trek novel, I began to feel my interest waning. I still caught the newest films from Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country to Star Trek: Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection. Catching the latest Star Trek film in theatres became a time-honored tradition.
In November of 1998, I’d been working part-time at B. Dalton’s bookstore in the mall when I began to develop a crush on my coworker. I sensed he felt something for me too. He loved books, particularly anything featuring a superhero or Tolkien-style fantasy. He was a gamer as well and could easily spend hours on end engaging in the quests and battles of the virtual realm.
In sum, I was falling for a bona fide geek and I knew it. Because I was well-aware of a chemistry between us, I began dropping not-so-subtle hints about how much I’d love to see Star Trek: Insurrection with him. He took the bait and in no time we were on our first date together.
This boy had “fanboy” written all over him. His bedroom was a tribute to every superhero from every comic book ever created, it seemed. He still played with his toys as well, willfully engaging in child-like fantasies. His imagination knew no bounds.
He was the one who introduced me to superhero comics. His favorite was Spiderman because Spidey was a tragic hero, morally driven to fight crime, yet perpetually misunderstood and hated by the very people he labored to protect.
Because of my fondness for this boy I’d been dating, I allowed him to guide me through his fantasy-world. Because he loved me, he allowed me to stand by his side despite my ignorance.
In the end, all our fantasies vanished and we were forced to see the reality of our incompatibility with one another. We broke up and never saw each other again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I am for the things he taught me.
So my interests in comic books and science fiction have been mere flirtations or, at most, on-and-off-again romances. But beneath the multi-faceted surface of fandom are the hearts of people – people from all walks of life trying to make connections with one another and find validation for their own uniqueness.
That’s where I connect: in a sea of misfits, outcasts, freaks, and geeks, I feel a peculiar sense of camaraderie. I don’t need to bond over video games and comic books. I bond over being an odd-ball in this world and knowing I’m not the only one.
Perhaps the perfect “con” for me would be something about book-musicals or simply the art of story-telling through music. But my interests really cannot be confined into a single convention. Nonetheless, I have come to enjoy Comicon and will do my best to make it back next year.
After my first “Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to suck” chat, I went to sleep and dreamed I was in a shop belonging to TWLOHA, looking for things to purchase so that I, too, may spread this powerful message. The woman behind the counter bared no physical resemblance to anyone I know in real life, but she was kind and welcoming despite my obvious timidity about revealing my own history of self-harm. On the other hand, the fact remained that despite the self-hatred and chronic feeling of worthlessness I’d had in my teens and twenties, time really had healed those wounds and I was no longer a slave to the self-abuse I’d been afflicted with for so long. The truth was, my shyness lay in conveying how much I wanted to be a part of the TWLOHA team – not for any sort of monetary sum – but for the gratification of knowing the suffering of my younger days actually did – and still does – have a purpose.
As I stood talking to the extremely kind and hospitable woman behind the counter, a beautiful, young, flaxen-haired girl walked in, slightly out-of-breath, but sporting a smile just the same. She would’ve seemed perfectly normal were it not for the fact that her naked arm still bled from fresh, self-inflicted wounds.
The woman behind the counter and I immediately snapped into “rescue mode” and expressed our genuine concern for the young girl’s safety. But the bleeding and blatantly suffering girl carelessly brushed aside our worries and insisted she was fine and that everything was under control. In fact, she didn’t even realize she was at TWLOHA. Apparently, a worried young man had seen the blood dripping from her arm when he’d pulled into a neighboring service station. He wanted to help her and he knew there would be someone at TWLOHA who could help her. But she was sadly unable to admit she needed help. She insisted she had everything under control.
I was all too familiar with her kind of façade. When I was in my twenties, I went to school and then work with an ever-expanding wardrobe of long sleeves to cover up the pain. My scars, though, were not so typical of a “cutter” in that they were intentionally aimed at the arteries in my arm. At night I would find a secluded place and pray to God for forgiveness for what I was about to do. Then I’d wince with pain as I sliced through my skin with whatever sharp object I could find. A couple times I successfully struck the big artery and it was in those moments I feared and longed for someone to find me. It was painfully like the Avril Lavigne song I’m With You.
The first time I struck the artery was in my college dorm. Strangely enough, I didn’t have a roommate that semester. Nonetheless I had accepted a dinner invitation from some friends. When I didn’t show up, they called me to see what the hold up was. I let the machine take the call as I lay on the floor striking violently and somewhat pathologically at my wrist with a kitchen knife. Then a thin fountain of red liquid squirted out from my veins. I stared in shock at what I had just done – what I was actually capable of – and thought maybe this was the right time to die.
What did I have left to live for anyway? I was nearly twenty-four years old, I’d been involuntarily hospitalized a year before while studying abroad in France and had been repatriated to the US early in a shroud of stigma and emotional pain. There was no way I could ever fulfill my dreams of living in an under-developed nation as a missionary or humanitarian. There was no way I could escape myself other than denying myself the right to live.
Upon further prayer and reflection, I decided to call a friend of mine – an international student from Cyprus who was living in the same building as me. I timidly dialed his number and politely asked if he would stop by my room. There wasn’t the slightest hint in my voice of urgency or desperation. When he knocked, I told him to come in as I stood over the sink with my open wound spewing blood in all directions.
“Please don’t freak out,” I pleaded, as if my words would somehow blind him to my actions.
To my surprise, my friend from Cyprus had served his obligatory two years in his country’s military and had been trained as a kind of orderly during his service. From the moment he saw me, his first-aid training instinctively kicked in and he worked quickly to stop the bleeding.
He then gazed at me with a combination of sadness and perplexity . “Why? Why do you want to kill yourself?”
I froze. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know why.
I’d always been a sensitive and emotional person too. But for some reason I couldn’t shed a tear that night. If I hadn’t been bleeding on the outside, my friend would have never known how much my heart bled on the inside.
For the next few years, suicide attempts and self-injury plagued me. It was like my open wounds conveyed the message words alone were unable to. I once came straight out to an old friend who’d been accusing me of selfishness and manipulation, scratched a superficial cut on my wrist, and shoved it in her face crying, “You can’t fix my emotional pain? Then fix this!”
My self-injury years had me hospital-bound at least once a year for about six years. During that time I tried to live a “normal” life. I finished college. I worked at a bookstore coffee shop where I had wonderful report with my regulars as I endeavored to remember their names and greet them by name as much as possible.
The scars on my arm began to multiply and occasionally required sutures. I even took to stabbing myself sometimes with a sort of Romeo and Juliet romanticism. I wasn’t immune to the pain nor did I enjoy it. But the wounds never had the precision or severity to really kill me. Often I would come to work or school injured, feeling both physical and emotional pain, but too afraid and ashamed to confide in anyone. TWLOHA didn’t exist back then – at least I wasn’t aware of its existence.
Returning to my dream, I realized the young, blonde girl was me. Of course, I’m a redhead but when I wrote fictional adventures for myself and my friends to escape into, I would always disguise myself as a blonde so no one would know it was me. This, of course, began in fourth grade when, after seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid featuring a fiery redhead, I’d written and illustrated a picture book as a class project called The Girl Who Wanted to be a Mermaid. Truth was, that little-girl version of me wanted to be the mermaid, floating on the waves and singing sweet ballads to sailors sailing by.
In my dream, I showed the blonde girl my multitudes of disgusting scars protruding mercilessly from my left arm. I no longer wear long sleeves to cover my painful past because these scars not only symbolize pain – they symbolize healing. I once thought I’d ultimately succeed in killing myself before the age of thirty and so I never made too many big plans for my life. But when I turned thirty in 2010, I joyously threw myself a party in celebration of a new chapter in my existence.
I think my message to the younger generations, then, is this: Yes, there’s going to be pain and loneliness in life – but keep living. You never know what God may have in store for you unless you give life a chance.
I mentioned Jamie Tworkowski in a couple of posts already. His visit to my hometown left a huge impact on me. So I was very happy to find this video of Jamie when he came to my church. It is a bit longer than normal, but I hope you can manage to find the time to watch it. The depressed, the self-harmers, and the suicidal feel stigmatized and muted. Those who are not suffering can learn to be there for their loved-ones who are. Begin by learning to listen and understand. Don’t stifle their voices. Let them speak; let us speak.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch a screening of the film Absent, a documentary about absent fathers. My dad has been the best dad anyone could hope for, but his own father didn’t take any interest in raising him. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what it must have been like to have grown up without a dad.
My father, Ted Tenny, is an accomplished author, engineer, and computer scientist. He married my mom, Jacquelyn, in 1974. My sister was born in 1977 and I was born in 1980. In my lifetime, he’s been (among other things) a university professor, a software engineer, and a hike leader. He is now retired and has written a hiking guide for the Goldfield Mountains located just outside Mesa, Arizona, entitled Goldfield Mountain Hikes. You can learn more about him at his websitewww.mile204.us
By Ted Tenny
Since I grew up without a father, my mother and I never made a big deal about Father’s Day. My friends would celebrate, the preacher would preach about it, but for us it was just another Sunday of church in the morning and taking it easy in the afternoon. But I made a promise to God and myself that if I had anything to do with it, my children would not be without their father.
Years later I met my true love, Jacquelyn Vestal. We were married in 1974 and later became the parents of two vivacious daughters, Beatrix and Clara. Father’s Day actually became meaningful. Now we celebrate by going to church in the morning and then barbecuing in the back yard (usually). It’s a celebration of the greatest blessing God has ever given my — my family.
“What I discovered is, heritage doesn’t puff you up with pride.It really humbles you.If you look at the lives of the people you have come from, you kind of go, ‘If they had married anyone else, if they had moved anywhere else, if their lives had been one iota different, I wouldn’t be here.’And so you have, not a big debt, not a crushing debt to pay, but you are part of an ongoing thing.You are not alone in the world.You are part of an ensemble”~Rich Mullins
What went through my mind after being diagnosed with a mental illness was the same thing I think many of us who coast through roughly 22 years of life believing we’re normal only to be confronted with the undeniable realization that there’s something wrong with our brain.I understand bipolar disorder and depression are being diagnosed now in children and adolescents.For whatever reason, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was overseas and putting my life in danger during a textbook manic episode.
To my knowledge, no one had been hospitalized for that kind of thing in our family.Like my red hair and me being the tallest in my family, it was kind of hard to see which side of the family it came from.But it probably came a little from both sides.
For many years I’ve romanticized about the lives of my ancestors.They must have anticipated someone like me coming into the world for they saved volumes upon volumes of letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other valuable artifacts.About a year ago, I embarked on a massive preservation project which, with all the hours I’ve put into it, I’ve only managed to make a small dent.
But this was more than a project to preserve my heritage.Ultimately it was a quest to see if there was anyone in my family like me.
To call this detective work would be an understatement. The relative infancy of psychiatry, the cultural association with insane asylums, lobotomies, suicides, and bizarre behaviors involving hallucinations, hyper-religiosity, delusions, and euphoria, are just a few of the reasons our culture fears talking about it.
I think our lack of understanding about mental illness (over the past 150 years or so) has also left stories of people like me buried in the sea of forgetfulness.So the quest to find genetic links even a generation or two before me are stifled.Older relatives don’t want to talk about this embarrassing and shameful part of our family.But you know what, my family and friends?If you had been more open about this with me and with each other, maybe I wouldn’t have feared my diagnosis so much that self-inflicted scars have been permanently left on my body.I don’t blame you, my family.I realize you are a product of your own world too.
Ada Goff (Tenny), my paternal grandmother, received a Master’s in psychology and, I’m told, filled her bookshelves with the latest psychology texts of the day.Beverley Vestal, my maternal grandmother, turned her back on the idea of sending any of her children to a psychiatrist when it was suggested to her and did not speak much of her sister-in-law, Mary, who was institutionalized for a large portion of the 1950’s and then spent the remainder of her life in a group home.Her medical records are heavily guarded making it extremely difficult to know how similar her condition was to mine.
That was how it was.When I fill out forms in the doctor’s office documenting different illnesses in my family, I can easily find the information for those who’ve suffered from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, etc.But depression and/or bipolar disorder – nearly impossible.
How does your family deal with the subject of mental illness?Do you or any of your relatives suffer from mental illness?How willing is your family to discuss the issue when you’re gathered together?
“The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart – it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that befits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice – it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.” ~ Rich Mullins
My mom loves to read biographies, particularly if they’re stories of public figures she grew up with and admired, politicians, actors, musicians, and more.I didn’t inherit that trait and so I haven’t read many biographies or autobiographies at all; a few memoirs, but that’s about it.
Rich Mullins devotional biography, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, was among my exceptions.Rich was one of the bestselling Christian artists in the nineties.His most well-known songs include Awesome God and Step by Step.I knew several of his most popular songs from listening to the Christian radio station.But it wasn’t until after he died in 1997 that I actually bought one of his albums.
In ’97, Rich Mullins died instantly in a car accident when he was only in his early 40s.My sister purchased 20 the Countdown Magazine’s radio tribute to him on CD.The tribute was a mix of Mullins’ words and music and it has so touched me over the years, I’ll still play it when my heart feels compelled to.
During Contemporary Christian Music’s heyday in the ‘90s, there was a Christian sub-culture who followed Christian bands and singers like they were rock stars.The lyrics were clean, earning them the parental stamp-of-approval, and they were beginning to make Christianity cool.But ultimately, people like me, who were teenagers during that era, became disenfranchised by the hypocrisy that had infiltrated the Christian music industry.
Rich Mullins was the exception.When the “industry” told him how he should dress and do his hair, he refused to conform.While other songs on the Christian radio station sounded increasingly superficial and shallow, his songs maintained their integrity.But the extent to which he served God would not be revealed until after he died.He was not one to boast of his accomplishments and even entrusted his income to a church, asking he only be paid a “working man’s” wage (about $20,000/year).He went to school and studied music education and spent the last years of his life teaching on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.
His biography is hard to come by these days.You’ll probably have to special-order it.But I highly recommend it.
A few of Rich’s songs I’ve felt a close connection to: (available at Amazon.com or iTunes)
We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are
Hold Me Jesus
Sometimes by Step
I Will Sing
I See You
Bound to Come Some Trouble
The Love of God
Ready for the Storm
Be With You
The Color Green
The Just Shall Live
What Susan Said
Hello Old Friends
You Did Not Have a Home
Hard to Get
Nothing is Beyond You
Man of No Reputation
Heaven in His Eyes
That Where I Am, There You….
Land of My Sojourn
Included in this are a couple of clips from Rich’s last concert.Among the standard instruments pop musicians know (piano and guitar), Rich also played the hammered dulcimer, a folk instrument from his father’s place of birth in Appalachia.Anyway, the last concert you can watch in 10-minute intervals entirely on YouTube, so I’ll just but a single clip here and a clip from a documentary about him as well.