It always seems to rain whenever I’m in Munich, but the drizzle didn’t dampen my spirits. The Neues Arena was nearly full with a very interested crowd, mostly over 50. That seems to be the age of the viewers who can relate best to the film – people old enough to have adult children, and to be able to sympathize with both my father and the attempts of his children to come to grips with what has happened in our family as a result of his amnesia.
The Q & A, which extended into a small group discussion at the Indian restaurant across the street afterwards, continued the dialogue that began in Weimar last night, and cast further doubts on how my father was treated, especially when it comes to his relationship with Dr. Karen, a.k.a. ‘Mom’. A psychotherapist in attendance told me about the black sheep in the therapy world see dollar signs whenever someone like my father crosses their paths. They know there’s settlement money, and that all they have to do is comfort the patient a bit, and they’ve got a steady income for years and years. When I discovered in the courthouse documents that Dr. Karen’s husband wrote the one report for the court case, the whole set-up seemed even fishier.
Maybe I’m getting a bit cynical in this regard, but I met Dr. Karen on two different occasions at very different stages of Dad’s life as ‘New Richard’ and felt really uneasy about their peculiar relationship in which Dad seemed to be unable to make any decisions on his own without consulting with ‘Mom’ first. Surely she helped him a lot in his daily struggles to adjust to life as a kid in a grown-up’s body in a very strange world, but now it seems quite certain that she wasn’t terribly interested in helping my father find his way back to his former life as ‘Old Richard.’ She certainly never made much of an effort to contact members of Dad’s family to learn more about ‘Old Richard.’
Sadly, nothing can be done about any of this now. I only hope that the film continues to be seen and gain attention, and that people in similar situations have better luck coming to terms with the challenges of mental illness than my family has. It would be great if mental illness were demystified, and if more people would talk openly about it. Many forms of mental illness are treatable, but that treatment requires good professional care, better awareness of the situation, time, and a lot of love and caring from family, friends, and colleagues. Sadly, in most case the person suffering is too frightened or ashamed to reach out for help, fearing that everyone will see the illness as a weakness. But I’ve now come to believe that the experience of going through mental illness and learning to cope with it can be a tremendous learning experience for everyone involved and can actually strengthen family relations. Bringing my extended family a bit closer together through the making of FORGETTING DAD has been a deeply rewarding experience for me, and I continue to get great comfort out of having such a large, very diverse family I can call my own.