Sunday, June 19, 2016

It's Complicated...

...this Father's Day thing. 

It's complicated because for most of my life, my father, who's been dead now for 23 years, was an alcoholic. 

Not a mellow alcoholic. A mean binge-drinker. Who had a foul mouth, an even more foul temper, and was physically and verbally abusive. 


It's Father's Day. 

I'm an adult child of an alcoholic. 

And you might think, "Well, it's been long enough."

Sometimes, it's never long enough. 

As an adult child of an alcoholic, on my bike ride today, watching the families gathered under the park pavilions with their grills, burgers and coolers, I remembered. 

I remembered driving to the cabin my grandparents owned. While he was drunk. Or, maybe if we were lucky, he was sober. Then. Drunk came after. 

Or maybe, it was a good year, and nothing untoward happened. Those were few and far between. 

My father was a complex man. As we all are, I suppose. He grew up with a single mother - my grandmother was a widow with 4 young children; she never remarried, and worked in a laundry at a local hospital to provide for her kids. 

It wasn't easy. My father didn't have a lot of luxuries. He never graduated from high school. He joined the Marines, spent time in San Diego and missed action in Korea by a hair. He came back home, met and married my mother. 

I'm not sure when the alcoholic behavior started, though I can bet, based on some tattoos, it was in the Corps. I know he told me he started smoking before he was 10 years old. 

He was a talented cook. He was a mechanic. He got his GED. When sober, he expected us to do our school work, be polite to others, and have a good work ethic. He grew roses. He brought home a little sapling and it grew to be a magnificent maple tree behind our garage. 

When he was drinking, he was mean. He used language that kids shouldn't be exposed to, even by today's lax standards. And he used his hands and a belt. 

I was shipped off to my grandparents a lot of the time, growing up, just so that I was out of the way - which I wanted with my whole heart. I couldn't understand why my grandparents couldn't adopt me. I couldn't understand, as I got older, why my mother wouldn't divorce my father. Divorce would've been preferable. 

Adult children of alcoholics have a lot of issues when these "parental" holidays come along. I look at Facebook and see all the loving posts. I can't in good conscience do that. 

My father did get sober - about 8 years before he eventually died of cancer. 

He did teach me a lot. I can cook like anybody's business and I'm good at it. 

I'm enamored of old movies - you know, the ones which actually have plots and great acting. 

I read - he didn't teach me that, but it was my only escape. 

He also taught me the other stuff: I can come into and go out of a room, and nobody will know I've come or gone. I can't abide people drinking to excess. Seriously, Hubby really likes a particular winery/restaurant. I can't. I just can't. 

I know that, when you're driving with someone and you don't trust their driving, you shouldn't look directly out of the window (either the windshield or the side window). Look ahead, sort of sideways out the passenger side. It makes it seem like they're not as reckless. 

Yelling doesn't bother me. Yelling was my normal. Cruel comments bother me. The comments he made about me still resonate (hurtfully) when I see myself in a mirror. 

Never having friends over? Check. I rarely have friends over. Comes from the days when I never knew (yeah, I really did know, but I lied) how he'd be when he was there, or when he came home. 

Not liking parties where alcohol is served? Yep. Not a fan. 

Not drinking. Double-check. Even if I didn't have the medical conditions I have which prohibit drinking, I'm scared of the potential for alcoholism to be inherited. 

Control-freak? Yep again... I want things done my way. I'm the one who knows how to do it. 

Oldest child always in charge? Uh-huh. Goes without saying. 

On this Father's Day, I want to encourage adult children of alcoholics - or indeed any adult children of a parent with an addiction - to go easy on yourself. 

No, you probably didn't (or don't, if the parent is still alive and addicted) have the typical holiday. But it's not you. Truly, it's not. 

Don't let their addiction control any more of your life than it already has. 

I never fully repaired my relationship with my father, though I know he tried more than I did. I never truly believed he was "done" with booze. He'd made that promise too many times in my life. 

Perhaps that's harsh, but one thing this kind of growing-up does for you is this: you lose the rose-colored glasses quickly. If you ever had them. 

And I don't think I ever did. 

Happy Father's Day to those folks who've managed more than I have. You're lucky. You should know that. 

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