Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues around suicide and could be triggering for some readers.
The email was brutal, breathtaking, and brief.
Paul Spicer – our kind, generous, loving father – was going to kill himself. Like everything, he planned it well, connecting a hose from the exhaust into the car in his garage.
Quick. Simple. Deadly.
Dad had always loved cars; my sister and I had petrol in our veins. He knew it would work because the vehicle was pre-1986, prior to the reduction of carbon monoxide emissions. When we read the email – 12 hours later, around nine o’clock the next morning – we thought he was dead. Frantic phone calls followed. Fortunately, Dad answered. But he sounded defeated.
“In the end, I just couldn’t do it,” he said, exhaling.
Desperation had led to despair.
“It’s a terrible thing,” he said. “Some days, really, I don’t want to go on. It’s so dark. I can’t explain to you how it feels.” Unlike many men of his era, Dad always communicated openly. A true family man, he worked odd shifts to spend more time with his kids. It was a time of change in the workplace: under economic rationalism, employees did more for less. For many, it was too much to bear.
One night, Dad had an epiphany.
We were watching a TV show about legendary actor and comedian, Garry McDonald, speaking eloquently about his ‘black dog’. Dad looked at us, sadly: “That’s what I’ve got,” he said. Of course, he couldn’t talk about it at work. This was a time when men were men, lunches long, and weaknesses exploited. Soon, it all fell apart. Dad retired early. And turned to drink.
My sister Suzie and I tried to commit him to an institution. During this time, he was a danger to himself and others. But the law wouldn’t allow it. This is what is left unspoken, in the discussion about depression. Diagnosis is important, but what’s next? Dad wasn’t one for ‘head doctors’. He laughed about a workplace psych test, in which employees were asked whether their, “left arm was a monkey”.
However, he had a great relationship with his GP. ‘Dr Ralph’ had been our family physician for as long as I could remember. Clever, caring, and no-nonsense, he put Dad on anti-depressants. I’m pleased to say Paul Spicer has never looked back. He’s systematically stymied his addictions. The two-pack-a-day habit? Extinguished. The four-litre goon sacks? Down the drain. The sugary soft drinks? Lost their sparkle.
He’s replaced these addictions with a new one: repairing second-hand toys for his beloved grandkids. Dad’s house is like a play centre with remote-controlled cars, bikes, books, colouring-in, craft and – well, why don’t I let nine-year-old, Grace, describe it for you…?