Friday, September 27, 2019

We Expected Very Little From Dad and He Always Delivered

I can't get him out of my mind.

In July, my father passed away. He was one of those guys who could do anything. Private pilot, fantastic carpenter, excellent accordion and fiddle player. He was a very good skier and at one time a pretty fair golfer. He was also an avid hunter. I spent the last few years pheasant hunting with my father. It was an impossible task made even more difficult by my father's selfishness. 

Dad just sucked at being a dad. Maybe he wasn't prepared for fatherhood or maybe he had used up all of his talents accomplishing all those other things. He tried being a dad once. He coached baseball, took me hunting and fishing, took me with him when he left the house. I know he tried. I was about 15 when he officially threw in the towel. For all of my father's efforts he just couldn't figure out how to be a family man. 

My father was an alcoholic and that certainly stood in the way of being a good father. He was one of the good drunks. One of those guys that could have 10 or 15 drinks and still behave rationally and come off somewhat sober. Drove like a straight arrow, obeyed traffic laws, drove drunk a thousand times and never got pulled over. Not even once. Dad's first love I think, was always booze. 

So around dad's 37th birthday, I think he just gave up on this whole, "raising kids" idea. By that time he was fighting with my mother on a daily basis and drinking every night. This is the chaos that an alcoholic brings with him. I certainly was no peach either. So it was that my father ran away to another town and another woman. A woman that would let him drink. 

I continued to try and have a relationship with my dad. It never worked very well. He re-married and I think his new wife resented his kids. He didn't invite any of us to his wedding. I didn't even know he had gotten married. By the time the 80's rolled around, we laughed when we spoke of dad's house. Not one picture of any of us, anywhere. We got the message. We were slowly being erased. 

Alcoholism and the self centered thinking that comes with it- baffles most normal people. As the years rolled by, my father drank more, resented nearly everyone that didn't agree with him and he could become very angry just watching the news. He learned to hate his wife and his life. He ran away for one last fling, one last time, and that proved to be the beginning of the end for dad. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure brought on by cirrhosis of the liver and he very nearly died in 2011. He came home to an angry and resentful wife. The two of them were so miserable together that I simply couldn't bring myself to stop by their house. I felt sorry that they both had to live that way. The things they said to each other actually embarrassed me and made me feel uncomfortable. Both were unrelenting.

So in those last years, I tried to put up with my father's bitterness and anger. I tried to ride shotgun while his untrained, schizophrenic dog slobbered and climbed all over me. It cost me 50 dollars just to have the dog hair removed from my wool coat. Once when I asked him to kennel the dog for the two day trip, he looked at me and said, "why?" That's how he was. And so you get to suffer that level of abuse for two days or you draw boundaries. The next year, I told him I would not ride with him but that I would travel the 1000 miles to the hunting grounds in my own car. He didn't ask why. I never made another trip with him.

Alcoholics often don't ever see themselves as the problem. They see everyone else as the problem. They make up and carry resentments. Often they become bitter and angry. In my father's case, he simply couldn't understand that he had caused all of the problems in his life. He had scarred, resentful children, one bitter ex wife and one bitter but current wife. In his mind though- it was all just bad luck. He even told me that a couple of weeks before he died. He couldn't figure out why both of his wives were so controlling. I wanted to tell him the truth- that he had caused much of it but it wasn't worth the effort. I did note that level of unconscious thinking and found it absolutely astounding in size and scope. 

The last couple months of his life were horrible. His legs were so swollen he couldn't walk. He fell frequently. There were other distasteful things. Catheters, operations, intrusions. I took my dad to every appointment, picked up prescriptions, dragged out the trash, ran errands. I did this because he was my father. I did this out of a sense of loyalty because children are supposed to help their parents. 

I wish that I could tell you I loved him. But I can't connect those dots. I don't suffer from Stockholm Syndrome or any other condition where the abused loves their abuser. 

So when he died, I  helped move his wife to a new place, cleaned (found a hidden bottle of whiskey) his house, made the funeral arrangements, wrote the obituary and attended his graveside service with a headstone. His wife and her kids did not attend. I understand that. A big part of me didn't want to be there either. But I got it done- not for him but for me.

Maybe that's why I can't stop thinking about him. In the court of Del, the defense wasn't able to present their case.

Love is something you feel. I felt it with my mother, with my siblings, with my wife. I don't have children of my own but I feel love with my wife's grandchild. I never felt love for my father. In the few times that he ever said "love you" it just rang hollow, insincere, and forced. Perhaps I would feel differently had he displayed a photo of us, kenneled a dog out of respect when we traveled, or mentioned that he was proud of any of us. He talked that way about others but never us, his family. Those are the little things, the brush strokes. That's how the bigger canvas of your lives gets painted. I think you have to demonstrate some love or concern for others. Some empathy for others. People have to "feel" love. So it's a tough sell for a few of us that dad ever loved anything beyond booze and doing what he wanted to do. Dad took care of dad. Any suggested deviation from dad's chosen course was always met with an icy stare with a fair amount or derision or ridicule thrown in for good measure. So we gave up. It was easier. Those were his terms.

I miss the father of my youth. The father I had for the last 45 years or so, simply wasn't the same man. I think things had to break the way that they did and honestly, I'm not sure they could have gone any other way. I accept that in God's world, everything is exactly as it's supposed to be.

There is some value in sharing that despite our best efforts, things don't always turn out like some episode of the "Waltons." Sometimes, our relationships are doomed right from the start. Nothing could have changed things. I believe that.

My siblings and I like to say, "We expected very little from him and he always delivered." 


JohnM said...

Alcohol has caused immeasurable suffering and chaos in my family as well. I had the misfortune of finding my little brother dead from cirrhosis at 41. I'm sure it would've taken my dad as well but a near fatal aortal aneurysm dried him out a few years before he passed. Anyway, that was an excellent, thought provoking post. Great to see you back. Would be fun to pheasant hunt with you sometime. Promise I wouldn't be as much trouble as your old man. Just let me know where and when! :)

Brian said...

Thanks John.

MMinLamesa said...

Well haven't been here for years and this is what I come back to. That is a very thought provoking piece as my father wasn't one for another addiction, gambling. Yeah he sure could drink too, a bottle a day of Canadian Club but never saw him even slightly drunk. He was kicked out of the house when I was 5 for stealing my mom's tips and I guess pretty much anything he could get his hands on. He attempted a reconciliation when I was 12 or 13 but by then it was too late. I remember one time him telling me to do the dishes and I told him to "fucking do them yourself" He was gone the next morning.

He visited me once in Denver and wanted to set up a bookie operation in my apartment. Fucker. He said to me, when talking about my mom, well you know the way women are. I told that was my mother and he could fuck off. He packed up and split.

He suffered a stroke when he was 77, called me and asked me to come to Philly and help him. I told him he was never there for me and hung up. He had the nerve to die on my mom's BD.

I'm jealous of the head start a good father can give his children, you can avoid many mistakes or at the very least, be aware of the traps. I also had an older brother who passed away before I was born who might have provided some of that cover. Oh well, had to learn some shit the hard way.

Aside from a child a one night stand produced, who I now love dearly, thank you Chris for doing that, I never had children. I think because of the awesome responsibility. Guess I'm a chicken shit(my sister also is childless) but I didn't want to come anywhere near doing to a child what was done to me.

Anyway, you always could express yourself fairly well, good piece Brian.

Brian said...

Thanks for stopping by MM. A couple of thoughts here from your comment...

My sister and I also did not have children. I believe that was the result of unconscious thinking regarding our childhood. I simply think growing up in a family war zone and blaming your children for all of the problems- had that effect on us. Of course he blamed everyone but himself and so I think we believed him. My little brother, 13 years younger, is having his first child like (not kidding) today. I am proud that he has shaken off those chains that bound my sister and I.

Many years ago, I was listening to a world renown horse trainer talking about how human beings imprinted themselves on young horses. Young horses never forget how they were treated and if treated poorly- they become unruly and difficult to train as adult horses. I think there is a huge science experiment awaiting social scientists in the decades to come regarding the imprinting of young people with regard to criminal behavior. I think it is HUGE and gone largely unexplored.

Lastly, I became good friends with a Catholic Priest in New Orleans. He was from Ireland. Very angry guy. Always willing to argue. One day he was telling me how his alcoholic father used to beat him on a weekly basis. About 8 years before he died, his father sobered up and wanted to have a relationship and make amends. Father Des told him to fuck off. Eight years later when his father died, Father Des still hadn't forgiven him. He traveled back to his grave in Ireland, made graveside amends, grabbed a few small rocks from the grave, and carried them in his pocket until the day he died (Feb 6 2008) during communion at the Wednesday Mass.

He always told me that you can never understand what someone goes through and you can never tell them to forgive. You have no standing in the matter. Interesting coming from a priest who practiced "forgiveness."


Unknown said...

I've been guilty of expecting to much from certain people who for whatever reason did not have the capacity to meet those expectations.. I did not understand that at the right time in my life.. I do now

As you stated your dad did not start out as a creep, he started out as a good man, perhaps he went into early immature midlife crisis syndrome, and likely a mutation in one or a couple genes in his head altered by the chemical substances in the booze, or over usage of the booze chemically altered him for the rest of his meat life ride.. My grandfather unfortunately fits this description..

I was amazed at how he could drive perfectly while drunk.. I experimented with bear and booze briefly many many years ago.. It's poison period.. I've seen it destroy family and friend alike.. I've often pondered the State booze outlets.. Pushing one of the most destructive substances consumed by people out there.. Even the dried up ones I've encountered over the years are not who they were before they over did it with that poison..

Perhaps we should better understand the risks around us..Booze being one of them.. Which is why I NEVER financially support such a damnable product that does so much harm to others who do not understand it..


Anonymous said...

He was,highly intelligent,funny,sarcastic, injured, alcoholic, volatile,angry,sad,an honored veteran and my father. Ended it all with a shotgun.

Brian said...

Thanks everyone.