When I was in high school, and for years after that, I had a good friend I'll call Danny. He was probably fifth generation in America, but always thought of himself as an Irish-American. In Syracuse you were either Irish or Italian, with others of us thrown in to complete the population.
He was a wonderful person, with a great heart and deep feelings. His father, who was an important man, walked out on the family when Danny was young. Danny would sometimes go into a funk and his mother would have to leave his dinner outside his door. However, Danny was very smart and great to talk to.
When he was in college he trained under a world-famous boxer and that was when he got tough. He always won, but he got into a lot of bar fights. Oswego, New York had him barred from entering the city.
After college, he married a wonderful woman who was one of the best wives and mothers I've ever seen. She really cared about Danny and could usually calm him down. He was a detail man, and decided that he was drinking too much, so he began taking a prescription drug. He was really an intellectual, but back then in northern New York the doctors only wanted to talk about fishing and hunting so his daily conversations never explored the deep issues he wanted to talk about.
I would call and beg him to get off the drug, but he always told me he could handle it. One day, after being institutionalized for a while, he died in a head-on collision somewhere in the South. His wife called me and broke the news. I was upset for quite a while but I was young and moved on. It was later, as I thought about all his potential and his wonderful heart that I regretted so much that I never would see him again.
What really drove him, I never completely knew, but when I taught at an urban university, where the fathers of many students had disappeared before they were born, I started to put it in perspective. My father had died when I was seven and I found that being a big brother or foster something was truly rewarding. But nobody stepped into Danny's life and provided a role model. I guess everybody figured that because his father was an important man that it wasn't necessary. However Danny didn't see his father for years on end and his very Catholic family lived in an old apartment.
Danny was something special who could have had a very positive impact on the world he lived in, but the demons wouldn't let him.