For my money, Dr. Niles Crane is one of the greatest creations in the history of television. Just go watch the opening sequence of the Frasier episode “Three Valentines,” where he nearly destroys the apartment of his older brother, Dr. Frasier Crane, simply by attempting to iron a pair of pants. I don’t know if anyone could have made that sequence work like David Hyde Pierce. I’m simultaneously amused and incredibly impressed every time I see it.
Sadly, Pierce has been virtually absent from television entirely since Frasier ended its run on NBC in 2004. He appears to be spending most of his times these days on the stage, even picking up a Tony Award in 2007. As much as I remember Pierce for his work on Frasier, though, I think I will forever remember him equally for a comment I once heard him make during an interview concerning Alzheimer’s disease. Pierce’s grandfather and father both struggled with this form of dementia, and its spectre hangs over him still, as he continues his work as an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. Although I cannot remember Pierce’s direct quote, it went something like this: Every time he forgot a line or a cue, he felt fear rise up in him. Could this be the onset of Alzheimer’s? The history is there. Is it an inevitable outcome?
I read recently that only 10 percent of the people who report having an allergic reaction to penicillin are truly allergic to it. Well, meet one of the 10. And guess who now has two children who also appear to have had an allergic reaction? Whether they are truly allergic to Alexander Fleming’s most famous discovery remains to be seen, but for now we just assume that they are. I remember when we made this discovery, I made a remark along the lines of, “Good grief, why can’t I ever pass anything good on to them?”.
Now, there is nothing – short of completely altering my genetic makeup somehow – I could have done to prevent this particular glitch from passing from me to my children. There was no way my wife and I could have ever discovered this potential allergy without my children getting sick and, subsequently, having an allergic reaction to this drug. In short, there was no good and fair way to find this out. They get the crappy symptoms, and you find out you were probably the cause of it.
When you make your first discovery as a parent that you can pass down not-so-good stuff to your children simply by, you know, being you, the temptation is there to become hyper-attentive to other traits you may have shared with them. Now that I am trying to sort out what it means to be someone who has been diagnosed with dysthymia, the emotional states of my five children (Well, maybe not the baby. Little difficult to gauge emotions at a year old.) have become of particular interest to me. In fact, I think I’m about a hair’s breadth away from becoming so sort of weird amateur child psychologist.
Every flare-up of anger, every pouting frown, every appeal from one of them to not attend some class or gathering by themselves… What if I passed this on to them, too? I’m not panicking or lining them all up to be psychologically evaluated, but the thought that some dark seed from my brain might have worked its way into theirs does cross my mind. One of the hallmarks of dysthymia is feelings of guilt, and what better way to trigger those than the notion you could emotionally handicap your own children simply by just being the way you are.
Just as Pierce continues to fear Alzheimer’s while still working to derail its effects on others, I find myself in the strange position as a parent of working to unravel the mystery of depression in myself while simultaneously attempting to ward it off in the lives of my children. Also like Pierce, though, I am attempting to turn what could be a fear-inducing situation into a rallying cry for hope. If I can make some sort of sense out of what is inside me, I can pass on what I have learned to my children.
I can’t change the building blocks of who I am that get passed on to those I love. My children may have all kinds of allergies, skin problems, flat feet, and sensitive stomachs, but maybe they’ll also have access to a hope I didn’t always know how to tap into growing up. That’s something I would be proud to pass along.