Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s memoir is a reconstructed account of his father Charles’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia and Nathaniel’s inability or unwillingness to recognize his father’s need for help. After his father’s death, Nathaniel contacted many of the people who had known his father, both when he was a student and college professor and later when his illness forced him into mental hospitals, squalid apartments, and homeless living on the streets. Nathaniel’s search to understand his father after his death led him to interview the many health care workers, police, street people, restaurant staff, and others who knew Charles when he was very ill.

Charles was delusional, often hearing voices and talking to his mother, who had been dead for years. Typical of people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, Charles did not see himself as mentally ill. Therefore he did not like to take medications and would refuse treatments when he could, although his health care workers could see substantial changes for the better when he was on medication. He believed he was the victim of a mind control experiment, forced on him by his persecutors. He died out of touch with his family, having suffered almost twenty years on his own with his illness.


This moving memoir is told from the perspective of the only child, Nathaniel, who loved his father but could not understand him; and as his father’s illness progressed, complicated by alcoholism, Nathaniel grew to fear his father and tried to avoid him. At age 20, he cut himself off from his father, saying, "I cannot live in your world; you cannot live in mine." After his father’s death, he realized that he had abandoned his father, that he had neither understood how schizophrenia affected his father’s mind and behavior nor had he recognized his father’s suffering. The search to understand him and the book itself are a kind of expiation of the guilt he felt for abandoning his dad.

The book is also a testament to his father’s courage and an education for readers about how little we know about this disease or care about the people who suffer from it. Nathaniel questions the point where his own thoughts moved from caring about himself to feeling empathy for his father, from protecting himself from his father’s behavior to sympathizing with and caring about him. Sadly, he finds that his father had always wanted to be with his son, telling his counselor in the hospital how his son was "the one place in his life where he felt hope and a connection." Nathaniel also documents how our culture has criminalized the mentally ill, punishing them for their symptoms, especially the schizophrenics who do not know they are ill and often need involuntary hospitalization to get them medication.

The documentary film, Out of the Shadow, would be a useful companion piece; it concerns the interaction of two daughters with their schizophrenic mother (see this database).


Broadway Books

Place Published

New York



Page Count