When Dad is Mad

Some dads get mad. They have short tempers. They shout and make angry faces. Mad dads sometimes spank to get their point across. Mad dads don’t like to be crossed.

Some dads get mad (as in angry) while they are also mad (as in crazy.) This would be my dad.

The thing is, to be fair, my dad is dead. So he can’t defend himself. And in my effort to uphold the Ten Commandments, I will honor my father by saying that he did the best he could with what he had.

And that last part is critical because what he had was multiple mental health diseases.

My dad’s being mad made him even madder. And he was like this my whole life.

It wasn’t until I was away from home and a freshman in college that I realized my dad was mad because he was sick. One sibling (who shall remain nameless) says that our dad was just an a**hole on top of being crazy.

Twenty years ago people didn’t talk openly about mental health. Not understanding the way that his brain worked (or didn’t work), I thought my dad was mad because he didn’t love us. I thought he was mad because it was so hard for us to love him back.

Somehow as a kid, I thought it was my fault.

How does the happiness of a parent become the responsibility of the child?

Looking back, through the years and tears, there is healing that comes with understanding that dads (or moms) with untreated mental health diseases have a hard time showing love. They are so broken by their own untreated disease that they are often unable to be in loving and healthy relationships with others.

Kids of mad dads are like kids of alcoholics, there is the same uncertainty and instability. We never know “who” is going to show up or how. It’s unpredictable, often painful and disappointing.

Yet healing is possible, even if the mad dad refuses to get help, as my dad refused to seek medical treatment. He denied he had a mental health problem.

Healing comes when the wounded child hears and believes that she *is* loved and that she *is* lovable.

Healing comes when the child experiences healthy relationships where she can love and be loved in return.

My mad dad died while I was still a newlywed. I now know that he loved me the best that his broken mind let him.

I know that I loved him the best my broken heart let me.

One of the most painful parts of being the adult child of a parent who has a mental health disease is coming to terms with how the illness impacted our childhood and with it, our understanding and experience of human love.

It is a brave person who opens her broken heart to love. And it’s by God’s grace that love comes, like the morning sun, love comes.

Published by Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

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