I’ve gotten behind in posting my latest articles to my blog! Without further ado, here is a researched piece from last month. I interviewed four women about their experiences with an alcoholic parent, if the parent was able to get sober, and if they were able to reconcile with their parent. This article was inspired by feedback I got from a father in recovery who wanted to know how he could reconcile with his daughter the way my father and I weren’t able to.
On Reconciliation With an Alcoholic Parent
For many parents who struggle with addiction, getting sober is only half the battle. Children often become “young soldiers” in an effort to protect themselves and those they love, including the parent. As the child gets older, forgiveness and reconciliation can become more difficult, even long after the parent has stopped using. My father never stopped using. My mother read an article recently in which I discussed the “demons” my dad saw as he was dying of lung cancer. “He was probably going through withdrawals,” she said. In the fifteen years since his death, I had never made that connection.
When my dad died, it didn’t feel like he went to heaven or hell, or to any other afterlife that man could imagine. Instead, it just felt like he ceased to exist. That in his last breaths, he just vanished. A man who once was and would never be again.
In the years since he’s been gone, though, I’ve felt him closer to me, even closer than he was in life. I don’t expect anyone to really understand what I mean, unless they too have lost a parent. Sure, we say things like, “He knows,” when someone wishes her father had been alive to watch her graduate from college. We say, “He’s still with you.” “He’s watching over you.” But I never could have understood the depth and truthfulness of these statements until I was the one who was experiencing them.
Things hit me now in a way they never would have previously. At the end of Flight, I broke down in tears in the middle of the movie theater. At the end of Interstellar just now, I did the same thing. I won’t give away either of the endings, for those who haven’t yet seen these amazing movies, but let’s just say that they touched a chord in ways they never would have had my father not been dead, even though I’ve been extremely sentimental my whole life.
When my dad died, I felt nothing, even though I felt like I should. I was too close to our disconnect to really appreciate and understand the man that he was. I was 24 at his funeral, which I organized and put on myself. I hardly knew the man I was saying goodbye to. Over the next 15 years, I slowly began to uncover who my dad was, largely through my mom’s memories of his memories, even though they hadn’t been together since I was three. I’ve also uncovered the man he was through his various paperwork throughout life that I’d tucked away after his death and then forgotten, probably in a way to protect myself from grief. Newspaper clippings, essays, letters to me… All artifacts that describe a life forgotten, or a life never fully known.
As each year passes, I become even more obsessed with connecting with my father, and with each passing year he feels closer to me than he did the year before. It’s almost as if I could reach out and touch him, or as if even that would be too limiting, because his presence is more palpable than anything related to skin or bone.
When I was about 11, my dad almost died of stomach cancer. After his recovery, he recounted an out-of-body experience on the operating table. He remembers the pads shocking him back to life, and he remembers watching himself from a corner of the room and wondering whether to return. My dad returned because he felt like his life was destined to be great.
My dad died on Section 8 housing and he hadn’t paid rent in about three months. His death would be swift but painful… There were only three weeks between his lung cancer diagnosis and his last breath. He died in a nursing home after reaching for his urinal which was placed a little too far away. My dad, the fighter, died after falling out of bed, just because he needed to pee.
My dad never reached the greatness that he felt he was destined for. But, maybe, I was his greatness. Maybe my half-brother Robert, and my half-brother Marc, are his greatness. Maybe his greatness is in the siblings we’ll never know and the ones we don’t even know we have.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t really exist. It seems impossible somehow to really be somewhere when my dad has passed on. How can I have arms and legs and words and breath if my dad has none? How can I wake up every morning if he never can? It’s not that I think I can’t live without him. Rather, it’s that it just doesn’t make sense. If he’s not really here, how can I still be?
My dad gives me little clues that he’s still around. I won’t even mention them here, because a blog post can’t do them justice. Let’s just say he’s still looking down, not from heaven, but from love, and it’s a love that transcends words and time, and instead exists in a higher dimension.