The Father Who Might Have Been

(The following is a reprint of an article written about my son and I by Brain And Behavior Research Foundation May 27, 2014.)

Holidays are sometimes very hard for those with depression and other forms of mental illness, so I wanted to share our story again to give hope to families who are in chaos due to mental illness to give them hope that research and cures are our biggest priority. We care about you.

In Schizophrenia’s Wake, a Son Laments the Father Who Might Have Been

IMG_0693.JPG
Sandra and Emerson Hart, Professional Actress from “Romper Room” and Grammy-Nominated Singer/Songwriter, Lead Singer of Tonic
Sandra and Emerson Hart

Emerson Hart is a singer-songwriter. In the 1990s, he co-founded the Grammy-nominated rock band Tonic and, as the lead singer, has written hit songs for the band’s multi-platinum albums. Emerson credits his mother, Sandra Hart, an actress and writer, for his love of language and performing, and his late father, Jennings, a singer in his youth, for handing down his musical talent. But Jennings also bequeathed to his son a darker legacy.

The most salient fact of Emerson Hart’s life from earliest childhood, one he kept hidden for years, was his father’s mental illness. Untreated and only belatedly diagnosed as schizophrenia, it manifested itself in abuse and rages that cast a shadow of unrelenting terror over the family, which included Sandra’s two small daughters from an earlier marriage. A decade ago, Emerson began confronting the family “secret” with the release of his first solo album.

IMG_0694-0.JPG
Emerson Hart, singer/songwriter

“I love kids and I wanted to be a father,” he says, “but I felt that if I continued to keep that stuff inside, it would poison my relationship with a child.” (He now has a daughter, Lucienne, age six.) Since he has gone public, many fans tell him, often in tears, that his story is theirs. This is a main reason he and his mother so strongly support the work of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation—there should be a way to diagnose and treat these illnesses before havoc is wreaked.

The story began in 1968 when “Miss Sandra,” then the Baltimore-area hostess of the children’s television show “Romper Room,” found “the perfect husband.” Jennings, she says, “was handsome and charming, had his own business, lots of friends and a beautiful Irish tenor voice.” He also, she was to learn, had great skill at hiding the symptoms of his illness.

IMG_0695.JPG

After Emerson’s birth in 1969, Sandra struggled to keep the family functioning. Then came a night when goaded by inner voices that told him she was unfaithful, Jennings, brandishing a screwdriver, lunged at her. She was somehow able to knock him off balance long enough to grab the children and flee. Arrested and hospitalized, Jennings was finally diagnosed and treated, but as soon as he was released and returned home, he stopped his medications and the violence resumed.

Unable to help him and increasingly concerned for her family’s well-being, Sandra divorced Jennings in 1977. Then, she says, the stalking began. “He stalked and threatened me constantly. I was certain he would kill me.” Instead, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, Jennings was killed, or so it is presumed. In 1980 he vanished without a trace, believed murdered by a jealous husband.

Sandra Hart – “Behind the Magic Mirror”For Sandra, Jennings’ death brought relief, but closure came slowly. Although she married again, happily, and resumed a career as a television and film actress, it took her decades to exorcise the past. She did, finally, by writing about it in the book “Behind the Magic Mirror.” (photo above) (Romper Room fans will recognize the allusion to the show’s “magic mirror.”)

For Emerson, the death brought nightmares. “To this day,” he says, “when I’m under great stress, my father will appear in my sleep, sometimes alive, sometimes dead, smoking a cigarette and staring at me.” Because of the unresolved circumstances of the death, Emerson long feared his father might return. Another “hammer over my head,” as he calls it, was the worry that he would inherit his father’s illness.

Ultimately, however, his deepest feeling is sadness. “If my father had had the right diagnosis and medication early on, if treatment had been possible, with all the good qualities he had going, I know he would have been an awesome father.”

IMG_0695.JPG.

Bedtime Stories

 

Her white hair was pulled so tightly away from her face and knotted on top of her head, stretching her wrinkled skin so that it morphed her face into something scary. Her high collared black dress disappeared into the colorless quilted cover that fell to the floor from her throne – the fourposter bed on which she lay against a mound of pillows. I stood there looking up at my grandmother, not moving. I was afraid. She looked like the witch I had seen in Snow White. This is the only memory of my father’s mother that I have stored. I’m not sure where those impressions are kept and what neurons are fired in my brain, but that is all I have saved. That one experience, that one moment in time, the snapshot saved of my father’s mother when I was four.

Maybe in reality she was not at all what I remember, but somehow a child’s eyes can be clairvoyant, more often than not. Stories I have heard since about my grandma fortify that perhaps I was able to see things as a four year old more clearly than the adults around me realized.

Seventy years later, my scary grandmother lives on through me in several ways. I have inherited the gene for her white hair and I also have her bed. My life has unfolded, year after year, while sleeping in the comfort of that big cherry fourposter. I have nursed three children, cried myself to sleep when I lost a husband, then my parents, and throughout many nights have kept my grandchildren safe from their ‘boogeyman dreams’ in my scary Grandma’s bed. And from the comfort of that old bed I have been blessed to have been awakened slowly by 15,330 beautiful Eastern sunrises popping over the New Jersey Shore hills.

IMG_0275.PNG

My ancestors supposedly bought the German bed made of Kirscholz when they traveled from England to America. Large slats with high posts secured by substantial wooden screws hold the bed together, the horse hair mattress laid across the slats, provided them and the generations to follow, comfort fit for a king.*

IMG_0276.PNG
I was told by my father that William Tecumseh Sherman, a relative of my great, great grandmother Sherman has slept in my bed. Whether this is true or not, I have no proof, but my father, a southerner, always called it “The Burning Bed,” referring to Sherman’s march through Atlanta. I have a suspicion that is why the valuable bed that my Ohio mother loved, in his eyes, was not so valuable to him and therefore, his Yankee daughter was more than welcome to it.

So I guess what it all comes down to is the eye of the beholder. My scary grandmother through the eyes of a four-year-old, maybe wasn’t so, so scary after all, but just very ill, and the ‘Burning Bed’ through the eyes of a southern gentleman was really just a beautiful work of German craftsmanship. In most things in life, it comes down to one’s interpretation. Our brain gathers the information, maps it, and then we interpret it in our own way because of prior impressions.

IMG_0279.JPG
My son will get the poster bed this summer and it will begin a new life with another generation. Yankee based since 1949, she will travel to Nashville to live in a bedroom in a lovely plantation house in Confederate country. She will be loved and well taken care of. I think that will suit her just fine. General Sherman may roll over in his grave, but that is another story for another time.

* Horse hair mattresses priced in six figures last for years and years and are now owned by mainly royalty and billionaires.

Copyright 2014 Sandra Hart. All rights reserved.

IMG_0269.JPG

Facebook Friends: I Know You-I Met You Not

IMG_0124.JPG

It is no hidden fact that social media has changed the world, has changed our lives and how we connect to people. I have been thinking about this lately, and more so after I recently posted a blog regarding Kosovo and my son’s band tour there in 2000.

I know there are people who have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but I am very selective about whom I bring into my inner social circle. I have no strangers within that group, but I do have a few people that are connected to me by others and I also have a few people who I’ve known, or feel that I have met, because the connection through mail, email and then Facebook has been consistent throughout the years.

One Facebook friend in particular I have electronically known for 14 years, but never have met. His name is Bill Putnam, a photographer and journalist whom I first interacted with when he took pictures of and also wrote a very nice article about the band Tonic’s stop at Camp Bondsteel where he was stationed in 2000.

Since the lead singer/songwriter of that band just happens to be my son, Emerson Hart, the friendship began when Bill offered to send me some of the pictures he had taken of Emerson and the band during their visit during their performance at Bondsteel. Ever since that kind gesture, from time to time, I have been in touch with Bill, following him through the various phases of his life and career, both in and out of service for our country.

Bill has evolved from email-sometimes-friend to Facebook friend and has attended a few Tonic Concerts and generously taken pictures he has shared with this Tonic mother.

Electronically throughout the years I have witnessed him grow as a person, evolve, as my own son has done, and always enjoyed his photo journeys. I have invisibility watched him become a very competent photojournalist who is not just satisfied with standing still in his craft, but always experimenting, learning and challenging himself.

From his postings I gather he likes a good beer now and then with friends, loves certain sport teams, has a good sense of family and most of all, has an eye for what we want to see in the world.

Although I may never ever meet Bill Putnam in person, (the percentage chances of that unfortunately probably are pretty high), I feel I already have had that good fortune through his photography and photo posts. Bill is not afraid to tell it like it is. He crosses the lines for us. He is an interesting and talented guy, indeed, who years ago I “met” because he was a kind enough kid to send me some photos of my son in concert at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.

PS. You can find out more about my Facebook friend Bill Putnam at http://www.billputnam.net

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Photos Copyright Bill Putnam 2000/2014. All Rights Reserved.

IMG_0126.JPG

IMG_0127.JPG

IMG_0131.JPG

IMG_0125.JPG

Who Knew?

20140328-122416.jpg

Break dancing? Who knew? In 1984 my then almost 15 year old son and I traveled through Egypt and Israel. We were fortunate to have been invited onto to a secret underground air base in the Israeli desert. The pilots and their families gave my son a birthday party while there and he was the hit of the party break dancing for all of them. They had never seen anything like that in person before and were taken with my young sons moves. (Ahhh…the days before everyone was on the internet and social media).

Little did we all know that my son, Emerson Hart, would grow up to be a twice Grammy nominee, Billboard awarded for the most played radio rock song, ASCAP award for the best television theme song, movie theme song writer (including hit film “American Pie” multi platinum artist, lead singer/ songwriter for the band Tonic.

It is against this remarkable backdrop of self-achievements that my son will release his second solo album, “Beauty in Disrepair” on April 15, 2014, “Beauty In Disrepair”, a follow up to his last “Cigarettes and Gasoline” solo effort that garnered two top 20 singles.

emersonhart.com. .

20140702-151230-54750359.jpg

Mazel tov, Salude, Bravo, Congratulations

Sandrashart is closed today and until after Labor Day. My son, Emerson Hart, the lead singer/songwriter of Tonic, is getting married this weekend and we will be closing up shop and celebrating this wonderful occasion with close friends and family.

Jersey Pride

Great news this past week. Last season of the awful Jersey Shore series. I have never met anyone like them in the 40 years I have lived here. Nor The Jersey Housewives. Have I been living under a rock?

New Jersey has miles and miles of beautiful beaches, more horses here in Monmouth County than Texas with miles of great riding trails, farms and the best tomatoes in the world (after all we ARE the Garden State), and beautiful mountains for skiing in the winter. And the best of all we are 14 miles by water to New York City.

In addition Red Bank is the birthplace of Count Basie and this state has given us Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Emerson Hart, Tom Cruise, Queen Latifah, Susan Sarandon and the great genius Thomas Edison just to name a few. Not bad for a state the size of Israel. We hold our own. Just saying!
Things To Do In NJ

20120713-113412.jpg