A Father Bounces Back

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After combating depression and rebuilding his life, a middle-aged father reconnects with his adult daughter. They found a common connection through yoga.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

New parents hear this a lot, `Enjoy your kids while they're young because they grow up fast.' Still, sometimes the rewards of fatherhood come much later. That's the case with one 55-year-old dad who's back on his feet after decades of struggling with depression. The technique he used to rebuild his life is something he never imagined and he's sharing it with his daughter. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY reporting:

Every Wednesday night Michael Smith meets his grown daughter Stephanie after work. They take a 6:15 yoga class. Stephanie's usually late, so by the time she rushes in, the music's going, the candles are lit and their weekly date begins with a quick silent glance. They make eye contact. Their instructor, Andi Franchini, begins the class.

Ms. ANDI FRANCHINI: We're going to inhale, we're going to take the right arm up and exhale, send that arm through the space between your left arm and your body, putting your whole ear and shoulder on the ground.

AUBREY: Father and daughter are at opposite sides of the room. They're moving separately but breathing in tandem.

Ms. FRANCHINI: Remembering deep inhales and exhales.

AUBREY: Class lasts about an hour and then the two go to dinner.

Ms. STEPHANIE SMITH: So where do you feel like going? Your choice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MICHAEL SMITH: Let's go to Colsie's(ph) and have a smoothie and talk.

Ms. SMITH: That sounds good.

Mr. SMITH: OK?

Ms. SMITH: OK.

AUBREY: Michael Smith never imagined he'd be a close friend of his daughter's. A lot of the time she and her brother were growing up, he was losing one job after another. The first time it happened, he was working as a reporter for a newspaper in Peru. Early on in the job, he thrived.

Mr. SMITH: And then suddenly something snapped and I wasn't able to finish anything.

AUBREY: He was a writer unable to write.

Mr. SMITH: I felt completely incapacitated and I didn't know how to change myself.

AUBREY: Years passed. He had a few more breakdowns and lost a few more jobs. Finally he had to bring his son and his wife back to the States. They moved into his parents' basement. Stephanie was away at school but her dad's collapse would change her life, too.

Mr. SMITH: She had to stop going to college because I couldn't put her in school anymore, because I didn't have any income. I was--we were basically dirt busted and had to pull her out of school.

AUBREY: Stephanie Smith came home to work and pull the family out of debt. Her younger brother got a job, too.

Ms. SMITH: I was angry that I had to stop going to school and then I had to--it became really hard because I had bills to pay and then I had like $3 at one time and I had to go to school and it just like--I became very angry.

AUBREY: At this point Stephanie and her dad weren't talking much. Michael Smith was busy trying to think his way out of depression. He had no health insurance so he couldn't afford therapy. He did manage to get a prescription for an antidepressant, but it didn't work immediately.

Mr. SMITH: When I was in my worst point of depression, I was basically at the mercy of others. I was waiting for my medication to kick in. And I felt helpless. I was not able to do anything to turn around my situation.

AUBREY: Then one day in the library, where he was researching his condition, he stumbled on a book about yoga and depression.

Mr. SMITH: What I found in yoga is that it allows me to do something to improve myself, to actually change my mood, increase my energy and then also the classes are kind of like a purifying experience.

AUBREY: Stephanie noticed the change in her dad right away. He'd always been such a bookworm, not an athlete or even an exerciser. Now he was learning to use his body.

Ms. SMITH: It makes me really proud of him. I've always looked up to him like since I was a little kid.

AUBREY: Now that her dad is doing well, she remembers the early years, before he was depressed, when he used to read to her at bedtime.

Ms. SMITH: I still learn from him. I think now we learn from each other and he's always been like my hero and I want to be like him, and still--like I'm 28. I still look up to him.

AUBREY: Stephanie Smith walked into her first yoga class about a year ago. Now she and her dad talk the jargon as they walk out of the restaurant.

Ms. SMITH: A lot of what yoga does is it makes you be present on now and not worry so much of what could be and what should be and what was. But...

Mr. SMITH: More acceptance mainly. You accept your...

Ms. SMITH: You accept a lot of things now in your relationships, of how they are now, instead of wishing the person was different, but instead of accepting them as they are. And accepting yourself as they are is a first step--as you are is a first step. So I think that changes a lot of the way you relate to each other.

Mr. SMITH: But it also means accepting that you and the other person are also changing at the same time.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah. It's...

Mr. SMITH: So it's back to the idea of flow.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah.

AUBREY: So they each head home, Michael to the suburbs where he lives with his wife, Stephanie to her apartment in the city. At age 55, this dad has found a friend.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

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