It was a bright blue sky autumn day in the late fall of the year 2008. The month of November started out happy for Isaac Lincoln, with the election of Barack Obama as the US president, but the suicide death of his father in late November struck hard and cast a heavy lingering sadness. Both his mind and body seemed weighted down, his thoughts muddled, his physical movements slow and methodical.
As he stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs, he glanced up the riverbank at the office complex huddled against the bluff overlooking the St. Croix. He started up the concrete stairs, each step laborious. As he neared the top, he stopped, faced to the north and gazed out upon the mighty St. Croix River, recalling the words of his father: “This St. Croix Valley is one of God’s great masterpieces.”
As he looked out upon the mighty river, he recalled the shocking news that his father had taken his own life. Soon after, several of his friends, knowing of his close relationship with his father, became worried that his sadness might also drive him to suicide.
They strongly urged that he seek help. He smiled, pleased at having friends who cared. Because of them, he was now heading up the riverbank to the office of Dr. Howard.
His thoughts were about his father, who had been more than a close friend. Along with his mother, his father motivated him to seek greatness like his ancestor, Abraham. His father had told him: to be worthy of his heritage, he must first and foremost serve humanity.
Upon reaching the office building, he entered and approached the receptionist. “I’m here to see Dr. Howard.”
“You must be Mr. Isaac T. Lincoln.”
“I’ll let the doctor know you’re here.”
Before Isaac could take a seat in the waiting room, a man with bushy gray hair came forward, extended a hand and said, “I’m Dr. Howard. Pleased to meet you.”
After introducing himself, Isaac smiled while observing the doctor, then said, “Know who you resemble?”
“No. Tell me.”
“You resemble Albert Switzer, the great humanitarian.”
“He was an extraordinary man. How do you know of him?”
“I read about great men.”
Dr. Howard pushed his wire rim glasses up on his nose and scanned the patient history prepared by Family Services, an agency he hired to provide background information on his prospective clients. “Says here you’ve been a brilliant student.” He continued reading. “Seems some of your friends have been concerned about you, enough to encourage you’re being here. Can you tell me what they’re concerned about?”
“They didn’t exactly tell me. Guess they were worried that I was off by myself so much.”
Dr. Howard studied Isaac, then said, “I’m curious, how did it come about that you got the name Isaac?”
Isaac calmly scrutinized the doctor, responding, “I expect you know my ancestor, Abraham, had a Biblical name.” Dr. Howard nodded. Isaac continued, “As the story goes, Abraham of the Bible had a son whose birth was seen as a divine promise.”
Dr. Howard continued to study Isaac. “You saying your birth was also seen as a divine promise?”
“My parents were not so presumptuous, although they did have high hopes for my future. My mother seeded my mind with stories of the great men of the Bible.”
His eyes revealing curiosity, Dr. Howard asked, “Didn’t God command Abraham to sacrifice his son to test his faith?”
“That’s correct. I commend your knowledge of Biblical history, but maybe we should turn our discussion back to why I’m here.”
Dr. Howard leaned forward to resume review of the social history. “I apologize for the diversion,” he said, while scanning the report. “As you said, your friends have been concerned about your withdrawal and silence, assumed to be an emotional reaction to your father’s suicide.”
“My father took his life because he felt betrayed by men he considered his friends.”
Dr. Howard’s eyes glared in reaction to the intensity of Isaac’s voice. “Who are these men he considered his friends?”
Isaac’s eyes glared, his hands squeezed the arms of the chair, his posture stiffened as he spoke with quiet determination. “One day short of eight years, my father worked for Becker and Thoms. His so called friends, men in positions of power, made a joint decision to end his employment with the company, one day before he’d have been vested in the company’s retirement plan. It was a brutal deliberate betrayal.”
“One more day would have qualified him for the company’s retirement plan?”
“It’s hard to believe they could be so cruel.”
“They said he was a disruptive influence.”
“I read in the Stillwater Gazette of your father’s strong support of the employee union?”
“That’s right. I was proud of him. He was the only member of the executive staff to support the union cause.”
Dr. Howard observed Isaac and said, “You had great respect for your father.”
“Yes, I did, and he taught me how to be respectful. Being his only son, I was special to him. He had respect for all of humanity.”
Dr. Howard sat quiet, stroking his mustache with thumb and forefinger. He’d seen Bruce Lincoln, Isaac’s father, ten years ago for depression. Bruce had emphasized that he wanted his doctor visit to remain confidential. Dr. Howard had assured him he wouldn’t share information with anyone, nor would he initiate any clinical file.
This was a practice Dr. Howard had utilized on several occasions throughout his career. He took serious his responsibility to his patients and when he believed giving them a DMS label had potential destructive implications for their future, he ignored initiating a permanent file. He believed the phony pseudo-scientific generalizations of the DMS categories could stigmatize people unjustly.
The promise he’d made to Bruce Lincoln was absolute. No one but himself would know of Bruce Lincoln’s diagnosis, not even his son, Isaac.
Isaac sensed the doctor’s reluctance to talk about his father. “Maybe we should get back to talking about me and why I’m here,” Isaac suggested.
“You say your friends advised you to come here?”
“Apparently they’ve been concerned about you?”
“They see my sadness, but there’s no need to worry that I’m suicidal.”
“I’m happy to hear that,” said Dr. Howard, then added, “Traumatic events have a way of knocking us for a loop. Subtle changes can happen and go by undetected.”
“You think I might have changed?”
“Changes could be expected, both good and bad. We need to take a close look.”
Isaac smiled. “Don’t worry, Doctor Howard. I’m fine. The death of my father makes me more determined than ever to work toward the ideals he valued.”
“You’re determination is admirable.”
“Thank you, Doctor Howard.”
“Tell me, Mr. Lincoln. What are your future plans?”
Isaac smiled. “How much time we got?”
Dr. Howard stroked his mustache. “You must have some big plans.”
With a quiet seriousness, Isaac responded, “My parents gave me the incentive to be a great leader. I intend to become president.”
Dr. Howard’s body tensed, his eyes evasive, attempting to hide his immediate concern about Isaac’s exalted ambition. He said, “That’s a lofty dream for such a young man.”
“It’s no dream. I have definite plans.”
Again Dr. Howard stroked his mustache, asking, “What are your plans?”
Isaac quietly studied the doctor, and then said, “I expect you’d consider my plans unrealistic, even crazy.”
“Constructive fantasy can be healthy.”
With determination, Isaac responded, “There’s no fantasy about my plans. You asked a serious question and I gave you an honest answer.”
“I apologize for taking your comment so lightly.”
Isaac again studied the doctor, admiring his talent in knowing how to say the right thing. “I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you, Dr. Howard. It’s the first time I’ve talked openly about my future plans.”
“Your father’s death was tragic. It’s natural that you would respond with emotional intensity. Your high ambition is commendable, but if such thoughts should obsess your thinking, it could lead to an illusive pursuit of unrealistic goals. It could dominate and prohibit a productive life.” This brought heavy silence, each observing the other.
Dr. Howard recalled the bi-polar, manic-depressive tendency of Isaac’s father, a condition that could be hereditary. Although blood and urine tests on Bruce Lincoln ten years ago only mildly suggested a bi-polar condition, he had advised a low dosage of lithium. This information could be valuable to Isaac, but his commitment of confidentiality to Bruce must not be violated. Yet, he had a responsibility.
“I’m thinking it would be wise to check your blood and urine,” he said to Isaac.
Isaac studied the doctor with undaunted intensity. He responded, “I thank you for your concern, Dr. Howard, but I assure you, I’ll be fine.”
Just like his father, Dr. Howard thought. Father and son, both self confident ambitious men, but Isaac’s ambition was excessive, fraught with potential for tragic failure. The only difference was that his father had experienced a depression that motivated his seeking help out of his own volition, a depression that had motivated his recommendation that Bruce have blood and urine testing.
Colleagues in his profession might be aggressive in pressing Isaac on this issue, but he considered such professional practice to be overbearing. In the case of Isaac Lincoln, with borderline symptoms appearing to be brought on by a severe situational stress, to stigmatize him with an unnecessary mental health implication could in his view be malpractice. Isaac’s presidential dream may be far fetched, but who was he to play God and predict that it could ever happen. The mere fact that Isaac came to see him today could eventually be the straw that might some day destroy his political ambitions. Like he’d done with his father, he wouldn’t open a file on young Isaac, nor would he press for blood tests. He’d avoid leaving Isaac with any impression that suggested possible mental illness.
Although mental illness was well recognized by mental health professionals, in the real world any mention of mental illness could spell doom for a candidate in quest of political office.
Dr. Howard stood and said, “I’m glad your friends encouraged you to come here. I’m honored to have met such a fine young man.” He reached to shake Isaac’s hand, “I wish you the best for your future plans and remember, should problems arise, I’ll be here to help.”
With a twinkle in his eyes, Isaac responded, “I thank you for your wise counsel.”
“I’ll be very interested in your future.”
“Thank you, Dr. Howard.”
As Isaac rose from his chair, Dr. Howard smiled, thinking, this long legged, long armed young man physically resembled our nation’s sixteenth president, the great Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, Isaac Lincoln had made a considerable impression on him. He had to believe he’d hear more about him in the future. Hopefully, good things would happen for him.