COLUMN: The man who had everything? Well, not quite.

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By John Lapp

When I responded to a man’s request to visit him in the hospital, I received one of the biggest shocks of my life. I had recently moved from Michigan to Florida to begin my first opportunity to develop my own private mental health practice with children and families. He had entered the hospital having purposely shot himself in the shoulder with one of his pistols. After a few introductory exchanges of trivial conversation, I inquired why he had done this. His response to this question was the shock. His response was “so I could feel what it would be like when I put the gun in my mouth.”
At that time he had been in therapy for many weeks and seemed to be making some progress, statements made by both him and his wife to confirm this assumption.
The full story of this man could consume more space than this column can afford. A few areas of his life will give you some reason for the heading of today’s column.
Yes, in life’s consumer goods, along with the collection of his many toys, he lacked for nothing in his accumulation of stuff. He had under his employment several hundred employees, located in several locations in several states. He had accumulated massive wealth, far beyond anyone I knew personally. He lived in a house that would be the envy of what any family would have ever wanted.
His first marriage, which he described as “the happiest time of my life,” also produced three children, all three of which were young adults at the time of our acquaintance.
His business was in the very beginning stage, and his wife helped contribute to the success experienced at that time. As he eventually grew his wealth, they soon divorced, although he had stated, “she’s the only wife I have truly loved.”
He was now in his seventh marriage, all the successive marriages to women much younger than himself. Of course, he had accumulated many of the aforementioned toys of life — the finest of cars, several of them luxury vehicles; several properties in and out of the country, places he could go to for occasional visits; a cordial visit to his home revealed a very large closet with 50-100 custom-made suits, and several dozen designer shoes and boots.
Now, was this man selfish? Not even close. His present wife told me that he loved lavishly tipping those who waited on them when they ate out. He would even leave a nice tip to an attendant at a local service station when they had stopped for gas. He also purchased the finest of clothes and/or jewelry for her, although at times with a great cost to her.
A brief childhood background; he had dropped out of school after finishing the third grade, at which time he had already developed a way to make a living. His mother had already died, and he was the only child being raised by his father and other caretakers. Both of his parents had reportedly been alcoholics.
During our many sessions of therapy, this man would suddenly burst into tears, expressing that he wished he could be as happy as me. Well, he had some of this world’s goods that I had wished I could have had, at least some of them. Although he viewed me as a “smart” man, and he saw himself as “stupid.” This, was mostly based on years of education, which I had already surmised doesn’t make a person smart, or even smarter, but is based on the misbelief that those who have more education are the “smartest” ones in our population. (If “smart” is associated with “wisdom,” then I’ve met too many well-educated people who could take some lessons from those who have less education but have an abundance of wisdom.)
When I asked him why he saw himself as so unhappy, he presented the following: “You are always happy; you live in a mobile home (one of three we had lived in at that time); you love and seem close to your children (he was not close to his); you talk lovingly about your wife who you met when you were both teenagers; you have a deep and profound faith in God and seem happy with your faith” (and what followed were many other things that he had envied about me and my life).
Why did I go into such detail about this man in a column of this size? It’s about what really matters. He had everything. Really?
In the accumulation of these things, none of which are evil in and of themselves, he had lost what he had in the early stages of his life during his first marriage. His life had taken him away from what really mattered, and apparently still mattered, although he was now in the sixth decade of his life.
No matter what I offered to help him develop a different pattern, a overall healthier pattern of life, he was unable, or unwilling, to give up his present pattern. He was never instructed to give up this pattern, but to develop his life to its fullest, at least as full as he wanted to in order for him to again be happy with himself and with life, in general.
The point of this column today: It’s not wrong to try to make your present life more comfortable or a little bit easier than it has been. But, in so doing, you may have gained some things, maybe some “toys,” but during that process, you may, unwittingly, have lost some of the things that are presently enjoyable — the closeness of a warm and pleasant marriage, the love being expressed to/with your children and other members of your family, the “joys” of these, without all the accumulation and what may end up being much wasted time and years of your life to get some toys.
In conclusion, I know that most of you while reading this week’s column wonder what happened to this man. Well, several years later, after moving to another location in Florida, the local newspaper in that city reported that this man actually did end his life the very way he stated that day I visited him in the hospital.
Yes, he had also been seeing several different medical professionals over the years, but apparently with all the help he had sought, he was never able to find the different ways you and I can experience the joys of life, even though you may have, or have not, been able to have some of the toys. That’s all they really are ... right?
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May God bless you as you become increasingly more thankful for him and for each other.