Kendall New SpeaksUp

My name is Kendall. My father, Clark, has had bipolar disorder since childhood. It was a big player in the calamity of stress that caused my parents to divorce as my mother tried to care for three young sons and a husband battling a significant episode of depression and anxiety. As the story goes, my father told us that they were getting a divorce. My younger brother was still an infant. My older brother defiantly turned away and said, “I don’t care.” I, on the other hand, looked right at my father and with longing in my eyes and said, “I care, you’re my daddy!” 

Throughout my childhood, I lived with my mother and would visit Clark in Charlottesville every few weekends. We never noticed the irregularity of jobs he held, or the Christmas tree painted on the wall with presents strewn beneath that we later found out were purchased through the generosity of a stranger. We loved our dad, and were enamored with all his peculiarities. 

There were hard times too. We knew there was cause for concern when he was hospitalized once or twice during our formative years, but as best we understood, the grown-ups had everything under control. Dad will be ok… right?

Fast-forward 15 years. I am a 27-year-old young professional with a relationship with my father that exists outside of the lens of my mother. I have plunged into adulthood, and learned that just like me, all the parental figures in my life are trying their best to find love, fulfillment, and lasting joy.  We're all fallible. We all have highs and low, and we're all doing the best we can in this life, while leaning on the people that care about us, however complicated those relationships may be. Just this year, I have lain in a hospital bed with my father as he courageously faced another series of electroshock therapy treatments. It shakes the deepest part of me to see the worry in his eyes, and we both wish we could say for certain how and when this bipolar episode will resolve. Nearing 24 months, it has been the longest hospitalization of his life. On rough days he will admit to feeling like he has let us down. In response, I say to him, “You are strong. You have experienced more pain and trial than anyone was designed for, but I have never seen anyone fight so hard to get better. I love you, and I am proud to be your son.”

Clark with Kendall and his brothers.

Clark with Kendall and his brothers.

Katherine Cook