Every family has one. The black sheep. The skeleton in the closet. I’m going to tell you about ours. Because until now, I’ve felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. Like I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. But it’s a pain that I’ve tried to cover for too long, and at some point you just want people to know what’s really going on. So here’s my story.
There’s a handful of people in my life that are fully aware of the family situation involving my dad. That situation being that he has been an alcoholic for a good portion of my life. I would say it got bad sometime during my high-school years, got pretty bad when I moved away to college, got really bad about 2 years ago, and got completely out of control in the last several months. But let’s start with the good things about my dad first, because that’s how it used to be. He and my mom met in high-school, and then both attended the University of Alabama. They started dating, and then they got married. My dad graduated law school, and became a very successful lawyer. He became the father of three daughters. He could cook a killer fettuccine alfredo. We used to have family game night every Sunday night playing UNO around the kitchen table. He loved to play golf, and would take us to the Bruno’s Memorial Classics. But after a long day at work, he would come home, and pour himself a drink. Sometimes just one. Then later another. Then over the years he started distancing himself more and more.
By my high-school years, it had gotten beyond the “occassional drink.” Too many drunken nights at home, and it was time for help. But treatment didn’t change anything. After a few months of being “clean,” the alcohol slowly crept back in, pulling him further and further away from his family. He was never physically abusive, and that I am thankful for. He just became absent from his family, choosing to close himself off from everyone one by one. He lost interest in his job, and decided to seek private practice, which only allowed him more and more flexibility to escape from the real world and give in to his disease. My mom is the strongest woman I know, and for years did everything she could to make him sober. But only an alcoholic can truly make themselves sober. He and my mom separated soon after I went away to college, and were officially divorced by my senior year. Out of myself and my two sisters, I kept the most in touch with him, but even that only consisted of a phone call every few weeks to chat and then a lunch date here and there to catch up. My aunt explained it wonderfully to me in an email this week. She said, “You all loved him as much as he would/could allow you to love him.” She also said, “alcoholics ‘leave’ us emotionally much earlier than they leave us physically.” Those words could not be more true. Yes, my dad loved us. But it was a distorted love. Because the love of alcohol was stronger. So strong that he allowed it to eventually imprison him beyond his control.
Back in January, when the rest of my family and friends got back into town from our Disney World trip, I called him and told him the news of my engagement. He was very happy for me, and being the emotional guy he was, broke into tears and said he really wanted to get to know Greg more (since he’d only met him once at the time). So we made plans for the 3 of us to have lunch on a Thursday afternoon. That morning I couldn’t reach him on his cell phone and never heard back from him to confirm the time I had specified in a voicemail, and he never showed up for the lunch. I found out the next day he had been admitted to the hospital (for the second time). Alcoholism was taking over his life. In October he was admitted to the hospital, suffered from severe withdrawals, was on a ventilator for a little while, and by early December was finally released. Then mid- January he went into the hospital again for about a week, and then again in mid-February. He had completely lost control of his life, and was losing his battle to alcoholism, unwilling to seek help to make a change, even though all of his family kept telling him over and over and over, “you are going to die from this.”
Monday night my mom showed up at my house with the news that my dad had been found dead in his home that morning. Although he used a walker to get around the house (due to his weakness and frail state), he had fallen in the hallway and eventually died. His co-worker/friend found him. Unfortunately, we don’t know if he had a heart attack, a seizure (which he took meds for), a blood clot (which he also took meds to combat), or what. We don’t know how drunk or sober he was when he fell, or how aware he was of his situation. I can only hope he was too drunk to really grasp it all, or that it happened so fast he wouldn’t have known the difference.
Tomorrow we will have a service to remember my dad. I only wish there were more good and happy memories in my head, rather than the painful ones that have built over the last several years. As much as we hated the decisions my dad made, and resented him for not being there for us, it’s hard because he was still family. And like my aunt said, I loved him as much as he would allow me to love him.