Observations of Life

While my Dad was away, I thought I’d hijack his blog this month to offer some of my thoughts.

2020 was a year that COVID-19 wreaked havoc on all our freedoms.

Everyone has been confronted with difficult times, but as a teenager the stress of lock-downs came at a time when I was already trying to cope with something that’s affected me all my life. As an adolescent, I thought the mood swings and irrational behavior resulted from a neurological mis-wiring of sorts, or maybe “being on the spectrum”, or perhaps even a kind of generalized seasonal disorder. Dealing with it left me overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration and despair. Over the years it became clear that my issues were the result of something worse. Much worse.

You see, my dad is a birder. He watches birds. Who knew that was a thing? It’s an obsession but it looks like an addiction. Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand the toll it takes on those closest to him. He’s had this horrible affliction for as long as I can remember and apparently there is no cure. From the outside, you’d never know he has a terrible disease based on his physical appearance. Aside from making soft grunts every time he moves a little too quickly, he has a full head of hair; exercises regularly; and looks generally healthy (well, as much as a 50something desperately trying to pass for 40 again can look healthy). People who know my Dad ask me what it’s like to have such a “charming and fun father”. If people only knew the degree of mental suffering that lay beneath that self-appointed façade. He tells me that many of his close friends have the disease too. Many of them occasionally visit our house and knowing that now helps explain a lot about his friends. I think that knowing there are other people suffering the same malaise makes him feel less alone.

There are times when my Dad is a functioning member of society, but seasonal fluctuations in behavior, particularly in the first two weeks of May, or from mid-August to early November, make living with him particularly intolerable. Siblings, parents, partners and friends of birders all know what it’s like to live with them during these tough times. I try to be understanding and patient. I really do. My Dad is wonderful and caring, but he just gets so self-absorbed.  It’s hard to connect with him sometimes. When he’s going through seasonal withdrawal symptoms, he paces around the room and just stares out the window, mumbling despondently to himself about, “Where are all the cold-fronts?” or “Will it ever go North-west?”

After all these years I can often predict when he is about to have a full-blown meltdown. The trigger is multiple phone messages usually in short succession. He disassociates from reality and his eyes glaze over while he reads the incoming texts.  I don’t know where he goes in that moment. It then abruptly shifts into frenetic running around the house, interspersed with a lot of Tourette’s-like outbursts. He doesn’t usually swear in front of me, but when he does I know it’s a big deal.

“Where the @!!*##$$! are my @!!*##$$!  keys?”, is quickly followed by the always predictable yelling of, “Alex, get your shoes on! Turn that computer off! Get in the car. Now! What are you doing? I asked you to do ONE thing! For the love of God, why are your shoes still not on? COME ONNN! We have to go. NOW!”  

In those moments, he turns from being the most attentive and loving father to an impatient, maniacal asshole. I start to get anxious. I try to escape to my room to play Minecraft before he can force me into the car to drive hours to some shithole sewage pond to look for a “Mega” or a “Crippler”. I have no clue what those are, or what it all means. It’s like he’s suddenly talking in tongues.

Kidnapped for a twitch to see a Gyrfalcon (for the third time!) and made to hold up the book to feign interest.


I just want a normal Dad like my friends have: a Dad that wants to push me on the swings; a Dad that will chase me around at Tag; a Dad that wants  to take me to the park to bond with me (and not just because the park is next to a good gull spot). I remember walks where I would run around, playfully kicking up fall leaves into the air while he often seemed uninterested and distracted. With his head tilted skyward, he would ask in a quizzical manner, “Alex …Do You hear that?“
Sometimes I want to scream, “No! No, Dad, I don’t hear that {F@!!*##$$! } Blackpoll Warbler”. I say the word “F@!!*#$$!” in my head, because he doesn’t like me swearing. I know F@!!#$$!  is a bad word, but he is F!!*##$$!  making me say it. I don’t like to go outside. I don’t want to look at gulls. I don’t want to walk down the beach for owls. I don’t care about the best way to tell “long-billed” juvenile Semipalmated  from Western Sandpipers. I just don’t. I love you Dad. I just don’t understand you.  


Seagulls suck! This trip to the park magically coincided with the presence of a Ketchup Gull, or whatever it was called, some seagull from Asia that looked like all the rest. Here’s me being made to point it out for one of his pretentious facebook posts.

While there is presently no cure for what my dad has, and I know he can’t control himself, it makes me angry when he loses sight of what’s important in the world. I wish he would love me as much as he loves birds. But I know that will never happen.

I know there are other kids out there suffering with parents like mine. My heart goes out to them and those selfless people that choose to live with these tortured souls that suffer with this lifelong addiction.

As a young child, I had no choice. No way out. But now, as a teenager, it’s time to stand up for myself. It’s time to set some boundaries. I will no longer be tricked into going out with him for “just a little while”. I can stay home alone now. I offer this letter as hope to others. Just know you are not alone and there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to stand strong and take your life back.


2 Responses to “Observations of Life”

  1. Chris Wood Says:

    Touching story, Julian. But I’m sure Alex will not only grow to appreciate your dedication and passion even more, but in one way or another emulate it. Thanks for sharing.

    • julianhough Says:

      Chris – thanks! I wrote it as a self-deprecating piece in response to a friend whose kid was really into birding and mine…well…not so much! Thanks for taking the time to read and reply!

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