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Voices from Nowhere

By David Haldane

June 24, 2024

 

 

It was just a voice on the phone. And yet it not only made my day, but my entire week. To be honest, it probably even brightened my year.

“Hi dad,” my 36-year-old son said from Southern California. “I’m calling to wish you a happy Father’s Day.”

To most dads most of the time, of course, hearing from a son on Father’s Day is not a life-changing event. And, seen in the broadest context, it probably won’t be for me either. Yet, in my case, such calls are grand occurrences well worth sharing, and here’s why.

For a number of years, my son, Drew, has been confined to a mental health treatment facility near San Diego, California. The last time I saw him was in 2023 during a short and well-monitored visit. And the last time he called me was…well, frankly, I can’t remember.

The trouble started in his late teens when he began hearing voices from nowhere. Voices that made little sense and only he could hear. Eventually, Drew attempted suicide. Later, his violence turned outward, threatening the safety of others. Until, as a young adult, he’d spent time languishing in jail, wandering homeless in Hollywood, and lying unconscious in a hospital’s critical care unit after picking a fight with the wrong guy.

It only stopped—or, should I say, he stopped following the voices’ commands—when Drew’s mom (my former wife) and I finally got him admitted to a locked facility after years of unrelenting effort. The diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia with bipolar disorder. The prognosis: incurable, though its symptoms can sometimes be mitigated by certain prescribed medications.

The problem is that medicating oneself requires discipline and a basic cognizance of one’s condition. Neither of which we’ve ever seen in Drew. On the few occasions he’s been released, in fact, his primary means of self-medicating has consisted of consuming dangerous quantities of illegal drugs.

And so we’ve gotten on with our lives, sometimes anguishing over whether what we did was right and if we could have done better.

Which brings us to my main point; how different it is in the Philippines. That reality struck me during conversations with my Filipino wife, Ivy, who has a relative with a grave mental illness like Drew’s. There are, to be sure, major differences between the two: my wife’s kin is older, female, and has never shown an inclination towards violence. But there are similarities as well: she admits to hearing voices and has sometimes wandered naked on the beach.

And yet, she—unlike my son—has also married and begotten children. And though she has, in the past, spent brief periods in locked mental health institutions, she has spent most of her life basking in the company of loving relatives and friends.

The difference, in a word, is family. Back in the US, mine is emotionally distant and geographically dispersed. And even on the rare occasions they occupy adjacent spaces, there is very little of the melding I see regularly among Filipinos.

Ivy’s family 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.

All of which, of course, constitutes a sharp double-edged sword. Because, in extreme cases like Drew’s, taking care of someone usually requires someone else to sacrifice their life’s aspirations. And that is something few Americans are willing to do.

And so we take solace where we can, sometimes in the distant voices coming from nowhere. “I love you,” I told my long-lost son as he prepared to hang up on Father’s Day.

“I love you too, Dad,” my dear boy said.

And that, I confess, was everything I needed to hear.

 

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David Haldane, a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times where he contributed to two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, has homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. His latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

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