I have always had a strong relationship with my dad. When I say a strong relationship, I mean we are closer than any other father and son that I know. We have always done everything together. We hang out together, we play sports together, we play video games or just sit back and watch TV into the early hours of the morning.
My dad is everything I aspire to be someday. If I can be just half of the dad to my children that my dad has been to me, I truly believe I will be the world’s second greatest dad.
Aside from our strong friendship and similar hobbies, we also share one other similarity. My dad and I have both battled with severe depression.
While I recently talked about my depression with my mom, I wanted to put a different twist on the conversation I had with my dad. I wanted to narrow it down and ask him what it was like parenting a child who experienced depression while having gone through similar struggles himself.
Here was our conversation:
Q. When did you first know that I was struggling with depression?
A: I would say end of your junior year of high school. You became frustrated, withdrew from everything, and it became readily apparent that something you had spent 13 years finding joy in [the game of hockey] was no longer worth your time and effort. While I realize there was some hazing that played a role, normally that wouldn’t have been sufficient for somebody to just give up something they were once that passionate about.
Q. We have always had a close relationship, like closer than most fathers and sons. What was the hardest part about seeing me struggle and how did it impact your life?
A: Without making it my own, having hone through it twice and never wishing that on anybody, much less somebody I love. I firmly believe that it is a genetic part of family history that has primarily been diagnosed on my side of the family. So it just made the burden of knowing that while there were things that were happening to you, that there was a predisposition for it because of what I and others had experienced. It was gut-wrenching, but it’s never a reason not to have kids. By the time I was first diagnosed I had three kids. And despite knowing what each of the three of you had gone through, it’s never an excuse.
Q. Having experienced similar challenges (depression), what do you want others to know about depression and mental illnesses?
A: That it’s just that – it’s an illness, not a stigma. It’s not something to hide. The more we give voice to something that afflicts us, the more we bring understanding to the issue because while I have seen many people struggle through depression, I have also seen “normal” people who are nothing more than undiagnosed.
No matter how deep or dark my thoughts ever got personally, I guess I’m thankful that I had the ability and the grace to see out the other end. But I also have more empathy for those who don’t see a way out just because of how hard I know it can be.
Q. What do you think has helped me the most in battling with my depression?
A: Routine. Work ethic. Overall, the simple realization that it’s okay to give voice to what you struggle with. The more times we say something out loud, the less power we allow it to have over us.
Q. What is the one thing you think I still struggle with the most?
A: OCD. A rigid structure. It’s like the routines have to be so consistent that any variance, I think has the potential to throw your day. I was the complete opposite, but with that said, there is no one right way to deal with things. That’s what makes us all individuals.
Q: Was there ever a time where you lost hope or ever feared for my life?
A: No. Your mom did and thankfully she went back, but to me, you always had the grounding that taking your life was always a long-term answer to a short-term problem.
Q. How do you think I fair today compared to where was I in the midst of my struggles?
A: Oh, I think it’s night and day. You have a whole world of opportunity ahead of you. I know you have come out of it stronger and determined, and you are now aware of the tools that you have should you ever struggle again.
Q. Men tend to have a difficult time admitting their weaknesses. What do you think needs to happen in order for that to change.
A: We just need to continue to give a voice that it’s not a weakness and that in many ways, people that I have been familiar with have come out the other side of depression and are some of the strongest people that I know. They have literally had to fight for each breath that they take. Through adversity comes strength, and if we would look to biblical language, there is a saying from Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so shall one person sharpen another.” The more we tell our story, the more we allow others to learn from our trials and tribulations.
Q. From having past struggles of your own and seeing me struggle, what is one thing you want other fathers out there to know?
A: Love and grace. You have to love your children unconditionally and even though you don’t can’t, or are unwilling to understand what they are feeling, humble yourself instead of telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps because depression can be a debilitating illness.
My purpose for this isn’t for others to feel sorry for me. My purpose for this is to bring awareness to a silent illness that is taking far too many lives – one in which we all need to do our part to bring awareness to.
There are so many out there who keep quiet because they are either scared, ashamed, or just don’t know how to get help. Honestly, there is no one right way to get help. All that matters is that you speak up for yourself or a loved one and seek help immediately.
It does nobody any good to wait, because unfortunately, it may be too late.
If you or somebody you know is going through depression, seek help immediately. You can visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.