Dad at Joshua Tree 1997ish
I know I’m a little late, but Father’s Day was this past weekend and I’ve been thinking about doing this blog post all week. This post is a little sad, but has a really good message and I hope you enjoy it.
My dad was an alcoholic and drug addict even before my mom met him. He was so charming and so handsome that my mom overlooked his demons. Plus when he was sober, he was one of the coolest guys ever. I know almost everyone says that about their dad, but really, it’s true. He was funny, told really cheesy jokes, loved the outdoors and animals and especially loved my mom and his kids (even his two step-daughters)! His parents both died from complications of alcoholism, his sister (my Aunt Gretchen) was killed in a alcohol craze by her husband, and his other siblings fought with alcoholism and drug addiction as well – some are still wrapped up in it. He didn’t have it easy, to say the least. I think the death of Gretchen really took a toll on him. He felt responsible and would talk about her almost every time he drank. (By the way – I never saw my father actually drink anything other than O’Douls. He kept his drinking hidden.)
Growing up in this kind of situation wasn’t ideal, obviously. My mom realized that she couldn’t legally stay married to my father around the time I turned 5, so they got a divorce. I didn’t really even realize what was going on (except that all they did was fight – loudly) because he still lived with us – until I was 17 years old. What a bummer that was. My dad was a violent guy when he drank. He tried to strangle my mom, he hurt my sisters, and even tried to chase my brother around. Thankfully he never tried to do anything to me. I think he knew better. I kept to myself, did my homework, read books, listened to music, and generally stayed out of everyone’s way. To outsiders, I was a big dork. In high school, I joined the marching band and got good grades. My brother was a football player, baseball player, and pretty popular. Polar opposite of me. I just wanted to keep to myself. I didn’t really want anyone to know what was going on at home, although my best friends knew, and were such a great support system. Thanks Kimmi & Mandy. Love you!
When I graduated from high school, my mom realized that she had to let her relationship with my father go. She wouldn’t allow him to come over anymore (although one night I came home from hanging out with my friends and I heard rustling in the garage – he broke in and was sleeping under a kayak-OY!). She really loved my dad and was really heartbroken that she couldn’t fix him and that those 20 years of her life were gone. So, my dad found another person to take care of him. Really unhealthy relationship, to say the least. He married this person and took a nosedive. I don’t care to get into the reasons why that relationship was unhealthy because all I know is here-say. I wasn’t a part of the relationship, but all I can tell you is that it wasn’t good.
After a lot of therapy and a lot of really good talks with people who had been through things like this before, I came to terms with my life. I stopped blaming my parents for how I felt. I would no longer be a martyr. I realized that I was in charge of my life and I was ready to let go of my past and move forward with a positive outlook. Everything that happened to me happened for a reason and made me who I am today. My father loved me. He took care of me the best way he knew how and I can’t blame him for any of that. He had a disease that he wasn’t ready to deal with. He made me laugh, he made me mad, and he made me want to be a better person. At 25, I was at peace with my life and with him. I had moved to Northern California by this time and was in Orange County visiting friends and decided I wanted to see him and give him a big hug. It had been a few years since I’d seen him (The last time he was in jail and looked so old!) and I missed him. Unfortunately he was out of his mind on drugs and alcohol, but we had a really good talk on the phone. I told him how much I loved him and how life wasn’t fair, but we’re supposed to make the best of what we have. He told me how much he loved his baby girl and how much he missed me. It was the best phone call I had had with him in over 10 years. I didn’t fight with him, I didn’t call him names, and I was calm. It ended on a positive note with him telling me that he wanted to come up to Marin and do the Dipsea Trail with me from Mill Valley to Stinson and that he loved him more than I knew. Three days later he died from a prescription pill overdose while camping in San Juan Capistrano.
My dad said really hurtful things to a lot of people and physically hurt a lot of people, including himself. He treated himself and others with disregard and disrespect, but he didn’t know any better. He was just living life the only way he knew how. I didn’t talk to my dad for a really long time because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. Not that I wanted to completely break our relationship off, but because I had some mending to do with myself before I could deal with the situation. I absolutely love my dad and wouldn’t change anything about how I grew up, because I wouldn’t be who I am today. I miss him every day and am so grateful for that 40 minute conversation I had with him a few days prior to his passing. I never would have forgiven myself if he passed away and I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much he meant to me. It isn’t okay to treat people poorly and it isn’t okay to be hurtful – on either side of a relationship. As my kind and loving fiance says: Accept, Adapt, Move On.
James and I are going to honor my father at our wedding. There will be an empty chair with a flower next to my family during the ceremony, and my brother and I are going to dance the father-daughter dance together to one of his favorite songs. He’s going to be there with me in spirit since he’s no longer occupying his physical body and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you.