One year ago today my father passed away. He was 61 years old and died alone at his house from heart related problems. He was also an alcoholic. I don’t dare omit that information because it’s important. For most of my childhood my dad was sober. For the last five or so years of his life, he was in a cycle of active alcoholism, treatment/rehabilitation, being sober and returning to active alcoholism. At the time of his death he had been sober for a brief period.
I loved my father. He was the person I most looked up to. I tried to help him. I drove him to hospitals. I offered my support. I called to check up on him and to help him with anything he might need. But, here’s the thing that I feel those who have not directly dealt with alcoholism/addiction may not understand: Only the person using (alcohol and/or drugs) can decide to get help. Family and friends can assist in creating conditions that may make that decision more attractive.
I know my dad knew I loved him. I don’t have any guilt over how I acted towards him. I feel no regret that I didn’t do enough for him, because there was nothing more that I could have done. I felt I needed to set boundaries to protect myself and my children. I don’t feel bad that he didn’t see them more, because when my daughters saw him, he was well. He wasn’t falling down drunk and they will never have those memories of him being like that. Instead they have memories of a papa who made them fairy houses and brought them presents from the festivals he had been to and who dressed up on Halloween like a fisherman.
I refuse to let the years when my dad was an active alcoholic cloud my memories of him. Instead I’ll focus on the years prior, when he was the dad I looked up to, who believed in me, who understood me, who was my hero. That’s the dad I’m going to remember.
I’ll remember the dad who I could call when I locked my keys in my car for the 5th time – an hour away. I’ll remember when he would take me fishing. When he took me to pick fiddle heads and dandelion greens. I’ll remember his obsession with the Iditarod. And the presents he would make me out of wood. The time he taught me how to weave a basket. And when we would find him on his mail route and have lunch with him, car-side. I’ll remember going camping and walking on the beaches. The time he took me out in the boat on the lake, gave me a canvas and paints and told me we would both paint what we saw and then compare it. I’ll remember all the times he helped me get my cats down from trees they had climbed and become stuck in. The 4th of July parade. The times he snuck my brother and me candy and drove us around looking at holiday lights, so we could finish it before we got home. Canoeing. All the talks with him about anything and everything. The lasagna and soups he would cook. His tattoos. I’ll remember how he taught me about gardening and flowers. His love of animals. Bob Dylan songs. And trips to Vermont and the cows…
Despite the sadness, I honestly also feel relief that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He wasn’t perfect but he understood me more than most people ever have. He shaped me so much in my love of nature, animals and literature and, most importantly, in believing in yourself. I love you dad and I miss you.
Resources on alcoholism and recovery:
Resources for people affected by alcoholism of a friend or family member: