Bill Martin portrait by son Clancy Martin
Credit: Courtesy Clancy Martin
In the early 1990s, I left my studies as a philosophy graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, and I went into the jewelry business with my older brother. Our dad came to visit us – "You need to finish your PhD, C.W.," he'd tell me. "You're not cut out for business. You're a seeker, like your old man" – but each time, he seemed less and less in touch with reality. His churches had, by this point, started to close down. Soon he was living off the gifts of just one of his oldest students, a wealthy widow who lived in Sarasota. Then even she cut him off. He borrowed money from my brother and me, and he suggested retirement to India. We sent him there, but soon he was back, with plans for another church. Only now he was rambling and incoherent, and he seemed to be losing his mind. He believed he was on the verge of enlightenment. "It's going to happen this year, son," he said. "I've seen it in a vision. And then I won't have to come back again. Or I may come back, just one more time, as a bodhisattva. I haven't decided yet." I was afraid he was going the other way.

My father always had visions. They began in his teens, as dreams about beings coming from other planets to teach him. In his twenties and thirties, as I was growing up, he often heard voices. They gave him spiritual instructions. He called them teachers from "the Great White Brotherhood" – a well-known New Age belief in mystical "ascended masters" – but he said he was not allowed to explain to me who they were. Eventually, these teachers, and others – also from different planes of existence – became visible to him. "When my third eye opened, C.W., I could finally see them, as clearly as I can see you." They would show him the future and events happening in other places in the world (usually, sacred ceremonies that were taking place in India while he was sitting with me at breakfast in a Denny's or while I was driving his car). In his fifties, he lost the ability to discriminate between these people and events the rest of us couldn't see and "real people" in "the real world." He would go in and out of ordinary consciousness.

In 1997, he came to visit me in Texas, and we went out to breakfast. At Denny's, as we ate, he had a long, detailed, angry conversation with people who were not there. My brothers wouldn't see him. They wouldn't even take his calls. His parishioners had all long since given up on him. He was living in his car. "I'm headed back to Florida, son," he told me. "My work still isn't done."

About a month later, the bank found him and took his car away, and then the cops put him in the psychiatric ward of a hospital for indigents.

He called me collect from the hospital pay phone.

"You have to get me out of here, son," he said. "If you don't, I'll die in here."

He needed me to wire him $500 for a Greyhound bus ticket. They wouldn't release a patient unless he had a place to go.

"I think you're in the right place for now, Dad," I told him.

A few days later, the doctor called. He was dead.

Not long after, I quit the jewelry business and went back to graduate school, finished my degree, and took a job as a professor. I didn't study Hinduism or Buddhism, and I no longer meditated. I even resented people who did yoga. But then last year, my second wife divorced me because of my infidelity – during my recovery from alcoholism, just like my father. I thought about him constantly. About how I'd let him die alone in that psychiatric ward. About my karma. I was afraid. It was time to go to India.