My Father Is My Monarch Butterfly: "Dougie's Story", As Told By His Daughter To PTBOCanada

Doug Johnson—aka "Dougie"—has been a staple in downtown Peterborough for many years. He is a kind and generous homeless man who has endeared himself to so many with his smile, kindness and gentle nature.

Up until recently, not many people knew his story—as they don’t with most homeless people, all who have their own unique backstory. They only knew fragments of what had been cobbled together from those that know him.

Photo of Doug via Dana’s Facebook post

Photo of Doug via Dana’s Facebook post

But that all changed on May 1st, when his daughter, Dana—most people weren’t aware Dougie had kids—did a heartfelt and brave Facebook post (see below) after how his mental illness has, in many respects, robbed her of her father—an “incredibly unique human being,” she says.

”Schizophrenia and addiction took our true connection,” she writes in the Facebook post. “This is something I struggled understanding as a little girl, and even now as an adult. As much as I recognize this is the journey his spirit was meant to take, it has always been hard for me to admit to just anyone… It’s hard to love someone with an illness, it’s exhausting emotionally. When I’m near him I melt, I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m protective, I’m reactive, because there is so many emotions I’m making my way through it’s like my heart and head are in overdrive.”

Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)

Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)

You can read her entire Facebook post embedded below which received hundreds of shares on Facebook (after all, everyone knows Dougie and have been touched by him in some way) and then her story for PTBOCanada which traces more of her journey with her Dad, and the tremendous impact her social media post has had on so many.

MY FATHER DOUG: IN DANA’S OWN WORDS FOR PTBOCANADA READERS…

My recent post about my dad Doug Johnson got a lot of feedback on Facebook, and since then I’ve been asked to elaborate on who I am by PTBOCanada, and why this was something I decided to bite my lip, hold my breath and post.

Trust me, it was not easy.

I am Dana Johnson, born in Peterborough on June 25th, 1986. I currently live in Calgary, Alberta where I drive a truck for the City of Calgary and where I’m also an artist with Maskcara.

From the time I was 11, I sang across Ontario and a few times in Nashville. Jobs were sparse for me and most day-jobs don’t love when you take weekends off for music endeavours.

I chose to move to Alberta to make a life for myself here. A lot of my mother’s side of the family had moved west, and moving to Alberta brought me closer to my brother in Victoria. My brother is an EOD in the Canadian Navy and travels the world, doing very top secret Navy stuff! (Which is the coolest thing ever.)

Doug in happier times with his children (Dana at right)

Doug in happier times with his children (Dana at right)

I met my husband when I moved to Calgary, and he has two beautiful children. We got married in October of 2017, in Fish Creek Park. It was a small ceremony, in the woods with our mothers, the children and two friends. My brother was in between Victoria and Ontario and made a quick weekend stopover. It was always my dream to have him walk me “down the aisle” as he is one of my heroes in life.

When my dad, Doug, was 28, he fell ill with a cold from what I understand—and that together with working hard, enjoying his evenings at parties and recently having his first born caused something to snap in him. Still, he would lend a hand to anyone who asked.

The loss of his grandfather was likely the final straw, and something happened in his mind. Nobody really knew what it was; it was just speculated that he had a mental breakdown. However after he was monitored for a while, the doctors deemed the mental breakdown as a meltdown which was a result of no rest. Some would call it burning the candle at both ends. Somehow schizophrenia had paired with it, which explained why he was acting euphoric.

Doug in his younger years (photo courtesy of Dana for PTBOCanada)

Doug in his younger years (photo courtesy of Dana for PTBOCanada)

After that incident, he got better with the help of amazing doctors. They found a medication that worked for him. He was doing really well and that’s when my parents decided to have another baby. That baby was me.

However with schizophrenia, you have to take your medication. That didn’t always happen. My dad continued to work hard, play hard and things went down hill for a while.

My mom decided she needed to take care of herself and their children. Her father was worried for her safety, and had offered his support to leave after my dad was found in my mom’s parents house, trying to light a fire in the corner of the kitchen. My mom’s family loved my dad, he was respectful, kind and caring. He was exactly who he is today, without his mental illness.

Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)

Dana with her Dad Doug (photo for PTBOCanada courtesy Dana)

Since then, I have watched my father go from having a beautiful family, and then through another divorce, to living on the streets. 

It’s never been easy, but every time I had the chance to spend time with him, I wholeheartedly opened up and loved on him—from Christmas dinners, weddings, funerals and running into him on the streets.

My father is my Monarch Butterfly. Why? Because growing up, spending time at his home, he always had them, dehydrated in coasters or sitting in his china cabinet. So anytime I see a butterfly, he is on my mind.

Photo via Dana’s Facebook post

Photo via Dana’s Facebook post

On my 21st birthday, I was at the beach in Cobourg near Peterborough where I lived at the time, and a flock of Monarchs swarmed me and then flew off. In my heart, I knew that was my dad wishing me a happy birthday.

That same day I went to Peterborough for a birthday dinner, and as I was jumping out of my boyfriend’s Jeep running into different restaurants to see if they had any birthday specials, I saw him.

It was the first time I ever saw my dad on the street. As I walked towards him, with open arms, I said, “Hi dad”. We hugged and awkwardly made our way through a conversation to which I explained it was my birthday. 

Looking down at his plastic container, with the contents of change and cigarettes, he raised his hand and offered me a Pixy Stix and said, “Here, have this. Happy birthday.” I declined, which was difficult. Instead I hugged him again and waved goodbye. As I got into my boyfriend’s Jeep, I was overcome by emotion and broke down into tears. I still to this day regret not inviting him to eat with me.

Since the authenticity post I made on Facebook, I’ve had so many people reach out. The one thing they all have in common is how much he is loved by his friends and the community in Peterborough. 

People have opened up to me and shared their personal journey as a daughter or son, mother or father expressing the feelings associated with learning how to deal emotionally with mental illness.

Photo via Dana’s Facebook post

Photo via Dana’s Facebook post

What I’ve learned from being vulnerable is we are not alone, we are all different, and we all desire to be accepted and accept ourselves fully in this journey we call life.

No one is perfect. We will fail, but how will we get up and dust ourselves off to make amends?

Taking care of our needs and mental stability is so important. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to not feel ashamed to ask for help, not to hide, or stuff all the feelings way down deep. Because when it blows up, it could be life changing.

At 32, I can honestly say, growing up, I was afraid to “catch” this mental illness, not ever truly knowing why my dad did.

Today I recognize how important it is to step back, take a deep breath and lay down my cards. Because we aren’t playing life, life plays for us, it’s how we overcome our obstacles. 

I am honoured to hear all the love Peterborough has for my father, the way I have that same love for him—not in spite of his illness but because he brought me into the world and he is a part of who I am.

This situation is very unique, as some people are faced with this illness at a very young age. My father had the good fortune to have a healthy adolescence. He was a social director for his high school, where he would scout bands to play at dances.

After high school was over, he had many jobs: He worked at a slaughterhouse; as a contractor building fences in new subdivisions; and at the GM truck plant. He worked for his dad his whole life helping at his farm, and he got married and started a family before he was diagnosed.

I appreciate the love and support everyone has been so kind to give to me. This is something I have worked through my entire life, and I don’t feel the need to hide it anymore. It will help more people if I’m honest and transparent then keeping it tucked away.

If you have questions or concerns about a loved one, or about yourself, please send me a DM on Facebook. I’m here for you, as you have been here for me.

—guest post by Dana Johnson

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This One Is For Dougie

Doug—aka "Dougie"—has been a staple in downtown Peterborough for many years, a kind and generous homeless man who has endeared himself to so many adults and children with his smile, kindness and gentle manners.

Which is why a Facebook post by Peterborough's Samuel Milne resonated with so many who know of and love Dougie. In the May 29th post, Milne said, "Yesterday I ran into some luck. So I thought I would pay it forward and give Doug some luck too. This guy is an absolute beauty and makes me smile everytime I see him I hope he enjoys his 50$."

This was the post that is getting hundreds of shares...

Milne tells PTBOCanada what prompted his kind gesture:

Samuel Milne

Samuel Milne

"My whole family grew up in Peterborough and for the last 14 years I have always seen Doug around town asking for change. I have just always wished I could do more for him and others in his situation. So I have been really thinking of ways to help out more and get others to do the same.

The day I gave Doug the money, I had received a large amount of money myself that I wasn't expecting and I was in the best mood ever. So when I saw Doug at the corner with a big smile on his face, I thought, I'm going to make Doug have an awesome day, too! I shared the picture on Facebook to maybe spark some more people to do the same type of things around Peterborough and help out the community!"

Read all the amazing comments on the post about Dougie on Milne's 21 Jump Streets post here.

Read more comments on our Facebook post.

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