NC author tells story of mentally ill father
For most of his life, August Hohman lived with an invisible illness.
The Nebraska farmer’s injuries couldn’t be seen with the naked eye or felt with the touch of a hand. There were no bruises, no open wounds, no nagging physical pain.
But in the decade beginning with the Great Depression, Hohman and his family members suffered a depression of their own, one that nearly ruined his nine children as they struggled to understand their father’s mood swings and aloof behavior.
Helen Shoop of Nevada City lived with Hohman, her father, until she was 9, when he was arrested by sheriff’s deputies after he had escaped from jail and, in a rage, broken down the door of the family home and threatened to kill her mother and siblings.
Shoop, 86, recently published a book, “My Father Was Bipolar,” which recounts her family’s life in the rural Midwest, dealing with a man who had a disease no one could cure.
The book is told from Shoop’s point of view, though her name and the names of many of her relatives have been changed to protect them.
“My brothers and sisters told me to write this book as an apology to my father,” Shoop said Tuesday from her home just north of Nevada City, where she moved 12 years ago. “He was ill, and nobody knew it.”
If he were alive today, it’s likely August Hohman’s treatment might have been as simple as a prescription.
In the days before the illness was known, Hohman’s treatment consisted of little more than a jail sentence, which he received twice before the rural Nebraska authorities allowed him to return to his native Baltimore with his cousins – never to be seen by his family again.
When he was home, Hohman quarreled frequently with his children and wife, often engaging in violent fights, in which dishes would be thrown and harsh words exchanged.
Shoop can recall only one instance of her father expressing affection for her. She was 9; it was just weeks before he’d never see her again. She would be attending her first communion in less than a week, and she asked her father for a pair of white slippers. He said he would purchase the slippers and smiled.
“I felt lighthearted and gay, and ran to Mama as soon as the car stopped in front of our house,” Shoop writes. Immediately after she and her father returned home from buying the slippers, he began yelling at her two brothers.
His yelling and being away from his family for weeks on end without any explanation wore down August Hohman’s daughter.
When he left, Shoop’s mother, Sybilla, told the children they would live better lives.
“My mother blossomed after he left,” Shoop said. “Her exact words were, ‘I can’t thank God enough for this turn of events.'”
It wasn’t until decades later, when four of her siblings were diagnosed with the same bipolar disease, that Shoop began to understand what her father went through.
“As children growing up, I thought we were just like everybody else,” she said.
Shoop is the last surviving member of her immediate family.
She wrote the book in part to help others understand the disease. “I was nervous about writing this book … I had to dig deep into my psyche.”
Shoop’s grandchildren have read the book, but her daughter has not.
“I hope this book will be a benefit to someone,” said Shoop, a retired secretary. “He was sick. There’s no other word for it. It was the disease that ruined him, and I just wanted to tell him how sorry I was for what happened to him. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
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“My Father Was Bipolar,” available at
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