Creating In the Wake of Heartbreak
By Brittany Wagner
My dad killed himself 4 months ago. Nothin' about it feels right, but it's important to share.
A single father to two girls, who figured it out & got shit done. He made us breakfast before school and every hungover weekend after. He cared for us when we were sick or simply on our periods. He played Dad and Mom and did whatever he could so we’d never feel without, including the sharing secret we kept ‘til college that he was, in fact, gay and his girlfriend, Barbara, wasn’t Barbara, he was actually Bob.
That’s a lot of trust for a 10-year old.
He listened to all our boy-woes growing up and shared some of his own - blowjobs being a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner table (much to my sister’s mortification). He was the man in my life, the fag to my hag. The man who called me B (and not for ‘Brittany’), who raised me on four letter words as well as ‘common motherfucking courtesy’. He did everything in life so we could get by, until he just couldn't anymore.
Two years ago I decided a make a show, Raising Adults, to exploit it all - our delightfully dysfunctional family dynamic and our struggle to pursue Social Security Disability support for my dad after a crippling construction accident landed him a fused spine. It just so happens, I made a friend who experienced an equally unconventional upbringing with her Mom, setting off on the same pursuit. It was then we realized we had something here.
Think Broad City meets the depravity of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with the family struggle in Shameless. That’s us!
I share this because my dad was a part of this show. His struggle as a gay, disabled, chronic pain patient is a part of the show. Though not actor, he even acted in it to help me out. And, the bitch had a lot to say about not receiving scripts soon enough, if that tells you anything about his commitment. #diva
My dad took his life due to the very issues our show highlights. He was in severe chronic pain which hindered his quality of life and contributed to a lack of hope that formed over 17 years of being kicked when he was down. Hurt on the job just doing what he loved – and with a nickname like ‘Mad Dog’ you better believe he was good at it.
And, I’m sad because he was a good man who tried and it could have been helped.
Instead, he was ignored by a system designed to care for your health, only pushing you ‘til you can't take it, so you take care of it yourself. Sure, they see you stand, but they're not around when you fall. They see a family take a hand and assume all they want is a handout. So, they turn the other way.
This isn’t about playing victim, but it is about gettin’ real. Our show goes there.
And, it isn’t a ‘look at me persevering moment!’ because I have no idea what I’m doing.
My heart is broken.
I don’t know how I’m going to be tomorrow, today, hell, even 5 minutes from now. And, while I know that’s OK it’s unnerving as hell. Many people in my life have semi-reluctantly told me, “Of anyone I know, if this were to happen to anyone, it could only be you”. I understand that’s a compliment to my strength, but I feel undeserving. I’m moving forward only because I don’t know what else to do.
All I ever want is to simply be OK.
And, my Dad? He wanted to be happy and he created that happiness even when life didn’t make it easy. He was generous more than he could spare, he was kind even when he couldn’t muster, he was honest and he was real. He only ever wanted to be a good uncle, brother, son and father, he said it himself in one of 697 videos he left for my sister & I to share with the public. (Don’t worry, I’m seeing a therapist!)
His last text to me read: “damn the torpedoes! full steam ahead!”
He was and will remain the strongest person that I know - always moving forward despite what he endured. So, I guess it’s all I’ve ever known.
With Raising Adults we decided to move forward, to continue sharing our story. And, more than sharing our story, we want to tell the story of unconventional struggle from unlikely places. Life’s not a pissing contest. And, we’re not trying to check off any boxes.
We are, however, looking for a shot to share what we haven’t seen out there. We’re looking for a chance to connect with and relate to those who get it, even those who don’t but sure as hell want to laugh.
Everyone’s got their own shit. We’re just here to tell a different kind, in a different light while challenging ourselves to be vulnerable, to learn and grow but most importantly - to keep moving forward.
In one of his final videos, my dad said, “If you girls are sad about this too long, I’m gonna be pissed! Keep movin’. You gotta do what makes you happy. To hell with everything else.”
So, I do and I will because that’s what he’d want and what’s gotta be.
Brittany is a Chicago-based writer/ producer following her love of television & film beyond the comfort of her couch (often with no pants). From award-winning independent short & feature films (like Reversal, Miriam is Going to Mars and Two in the Bush), music videos and parodies to web series, commercials and more, including her own darkly comedic web series, Raising Adults, which follows two girls raising their crazy, disabled parents just trying to grow up themselves. Currently in post-production and crowdfunding here.
Likes: intensely detailed stories, manners, movie-quoting and the cold side of the pillow.