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."