By David Haldane
June 21, 2018
The message was simple, but it took me by surprise. “I love you, Dad. I just called to tell you that.”
The voice at the other end of the line belonged to my 30-year-old son, Drew. The last time I’d seen him was a few days earlier at the Alpine Special Treatment Center, a facility near San Diego that, according to its website, provides “rehabilitative and transitional care to adults suffering from serious mental illness….”
It was not unlike the places in which my son has spent much of his adult life, and as happens too often, the visit wasn’t pleasant. Drew – suffering from what those unschooled in the fineries of clinical politeness call “paranoid schizophrenia” – had seemed almost catatonic. While we tried to make conversation, he avoided eye contact and said very little. And as soon as he’d eaten the chicken nuggets we’d brought as peace offerings, he grunted “Ok gotta go,” and was gone. That was fine, though; at least he hadn’t cussed us out as had occurred on other occasions.
Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to Drew’s ups and downs. In his late teens, they manifested themselves in several suicide attempts. Later the hostility turned outward as, randomly and without warning, he began exhibiting threatening behavior towards others. And, finally, through years of unrelenting intervention by his mother – to whom I am no longer married – and myself, we were able to get him conserved, i.e. assigned to a protector in the county Office of the Public Guardian with legal authority to confine him in institutions such as Alpine.
None of it has been easy. We, like many parents, have agonized over the state of our son and wondered whether we were doing the right thing. In the end, though, we felt satisfied that ours was the safest solution not only for Drew but for those he might encounter. And, of course, we were happy to resume our lives knowing that he was in good hands.
Contrast that to the way such things are handled in the Philippines. The difference struck me like a stray bullet during a recent discussion with Ivy, my Filipino wife. She has an aunt, she tells me, much like Drew; with a history of grave mental illness. There are, to be sure, major differences between the two; my wife’s aunt is older, female and has never shown an inclination towards violence. But there are similarities as well; she admits to hearing voices and has been known to wander naked on the beach.
And yet, she – unlike my son – has also been able to marry and beget several children. And, though she has, in the past, been briefly incarcerated in locked mental health institutions, she has spent most of her life basking in the company of relatives and friends.
What is the major difference between the two situations? In a word, I believe, it’s family. Back in the States, mine is emotionally distant and geographically dispersed. And even on the rare occasions that they occupy adjacent spaces, there is very little of the kind of melding of identities that I see among Filipinos.
Ivy’s family, on the other hand, is more like a tribe. It is everywhere, and yet pervasive in the same little island town. When one is broke, the others lend. When one needs help, the others pitch in. And when one is sick, the others take care.
In the auntie’s case, the family has housed, fed and educated her children as well as taken her in when the need was there. Ivy tells the story of how, when her aunt is feeling desperate and out-of-control, she begs relatives to tie her down. And, on more than one occasion, Ivy herself has sent funds to provide the vital medications that substitute for handcuffs.
The bottom line: a few years ago, when Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “It Takes a Village” she could have been talking about the provincial Philippines.
Back in America, we take solace when we can. A loving phone call from Drew, we have come to realize, is a small gift often quickly withdrawn. A few days after that first call, I got a second. “Dad,” he said, “I don’t want you to visit me anymore. I don’t need you and I don’t need chicken nuggets.”
Ahh, but experience tells me that one day his hunger will resume.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.
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While Drew’s experience is a bit more extreme than my own’ I can attest to the differeces between the two countries. I’ve spent time in institutions in both countries and here, in the Philippines, my family rallied around and took care of my wife and daughter.
Great post. I hope it helped to write it all down.
It certainly did help. Thank you…
I cannot relate to your situation, as I’ve never experienced anything like that. But a man up the street is affected with some form of mental illness.
While building our house in 1999 he would walk down and sit on the wall with me and talk about everything under the sun. He was most pleasant and had an excellent command of my language, whereas I have little to none of his.
He was well cared for by his family, and at dusk his father would come down and take him to supper. He seemed very interested in the ships I worked on so I gave him framed pictures of most of them.
On my next trip home I found that he was in the hospital for care as he became uncontrollable.
He would be furloughed on occasion and would come to my house to see if I was home. So back to the wall with more pleasant chats, with the no longer young man. When I retired from sea I noticed his absence from the purok and found he was in the hospital full time at the hospital.
His family thanked me for spending time with him, but I enjoyed his company and visits.
The Philippines has facilities, but most families (As you said) would rather care for their people at home with love.
With Gilbert the courts stepped in, but no one ever told me.
Don’t sugarcoat the Philippines. Mental health care is virtually non-existent. Superstition and ignorance is prevalent. Tens of thousands of mentally handicapped persons are poorly cared for and mistreated. Many are chained and kept in makeshift jails. Yes, there are loving Filipino families who do their best to help, but too many are unable to cope with the difficulties of caring for these seriously ill persons.
You do have a point. Reminds me of something I saw some years ago during a tour of what was left of Vietville in Palawan; a poor insane Vietnamese man who had arrived as a boat person during the Vietnam War and spent the next thirty years living naked in a small concrete cell mumbling to himself and fed by the local nuns. I think a lot depends on the family: if you have a large supportive one, as many do, you will fare far better than if you’re alone or, as in the case of the poor man I saw, a refugee from abroad with no money or friends. In that respect, I sippose, it’s not that different from the way it is everywhere.
Wow!, I’m sorry, I know what you are talking about, mine and many family I know here in the states, have gone through this,,.I do also see all the family support from Filipino family, my wife has so many family, we always try to help when needed, but we found uout several took advantage of us and lied to my Filipina wife
“assigned to a protector”. Please explain what that means
That means a court-appointed guardian who is legally responsible for someone who is incapable of taking responsibility for him or herself. It could be a family member or, as in my son’s case, a professional who works in that capacity and may have several cases.
DENNIS, I believe the author is referring to his Son’s conservator who is usually a social worker/case manager responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the client
David, my old friend. As usual, your superb writing skills demonstrate the heart and soul of your family’s experiences, compared to Ivy’s. As you know, I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by family, at least some of them. Remember the ride through Amish country? They are the ultimate example of family togetherness. There certainly are others, but I find the Amish families are welded together. Hope you are well, and that your home on the hill is soon finished. The Amish are building our new home on my hill! Finally! Stay well, be well.
Wow, Dan, such a pleasure to hear from you, as always. You do have a wonderful family, and are fortunate to come from a part of the country where that sort of thing is more prevalent. And, yes, I do remember our visit with the Amish who seem, as you suggest, to have an incredible family structure that served them well for hundreds of years. I’m glad to hear that that are building you a new house on the hill; it’s bound to be a very sturdy one. Our own house on the hill is nearing completion and we have decided to move across the big water the last week of July, whether it’s ready or not. You and the missus must come and visit us there…
Hi david! Ive experience depression when my dad past away.i feel so alone so distant.i deactivated my social media account uninstalled messenger and viber..couldnt help but cry at night..after 8 months with the support of my family and the job offer im in now was able to recover slowly as time goes by..
I’m so glad that you are recovering, Cristy. The love of a good family can do so much…
Thank you. In the US, most people like that are eventually arrested and sent to jail, which doesn’t help them much but does keep then out of sight, at least for a time. My own son has done jail time for various offenses over the years. What he has that most don’t are advocates who speak up on his behalf, but even that, obviously, is far from perfect.
It’s all fine and good to do what one possibly can to help, but there are limits, in short, I am NOT “Banko Central” and am prohibited by law from forging currency (printing ‘money’). Expenses increase daily. Income drops daily. Being the sole supporter of my “loving” Filipina wife who refuses to learn simple grade-1 arithmetic and our normal 5 kids 10yrs-and-under isn’t all that easy.
My wife as usual and again took everything she could get a few days ago on her way to the “bundok” for her usual few days away. She had “arranged| with a tricycle-driver neighbor to take the kids to-and-from school for 2000pesos/month which I prepaid last week for the next 4 weeks (about 20 or less school days). Come 6am this morning he shows up at our gate and asks me for another 3500 pesos, crazy expecting that I have BIG MONEY and even more so just lying around the house. NOT! I told him that I can help with 35 pesos, that I have. Maybe I can scrape together 3 hundred and fifty and I’ll explain to the family why there’s no “ulam” today, only rice? But Three THOUSAND five hundred? How the bejeebers is that supposed to magically drop down from heaven on demand? Crazy!
Who has that kind of money just lying around? Does he normally have such to just toss around? Crazy!
We do what we can, but we must ask everyone to PLEASE DON’T ASK THE IMPOSSIBLE each and every day