The Death Of My Alcoholic Father Made Me A Better Mom

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alcoholic father
I didn't inherit his love for bourbon, but I did inherit his inability to be content.

My father was hilarious and creative and the best friend that a guy with a truck stuck in a ditch at 4 am could have. He was intelligent and hard-working and the life of the party. He could strum a guitar and build a tree house and fix a satellite dish. He was a great friend and employee, and I thought he was a great father.

It wasn't until I grew up that I realized he was a crappy dad and husband.

My father, like his father before him, was an alcoholic. His drink of choice was Jack Daniels and Coke. I distinctly remember the smell. For so long, I thought my dad's natural aroma was the sweet scent of Tennessee whiskey.

Daddy wasn't some deadbeat drunk, though. He went to work every morning, without exception. However, when his work day was done, he didn't come home. He drove right past our house and went to the country club for a late round of golf, a poker game and a trough of Jack and Coke. My mother and I rarely saw him, and when we did, he was usually too drunk to carry on a conversation that didn't somehow reference the Beatles.

My father finally got sober when I was 10. During that time, he regularly repented for his mistakes and wanted to make up for his absence. He took my mother on dates, me to the movies and his mother to brunch. But that recompense was short lived. He fell off the wagon one cold, November night when I was 11 and passed away from a heart attack the very next day.

When I became a wife and mother, my father had been buried on a cool hill overlooking the countryside for over a decade. I had no idea that our relationship and the dysfunctional bond that he had with my mom would affect my roles as wife and mother.

I often watched my parents argue. I didn't know why they fought so much, but now that I'm an adult, I'm guessing that my mother wasn't too fond of him hugging a bottle of whiskey instead of her. I'm now certain that arguments escalated because he was her primary source of worry, the subject of her many prayers. I never saw them act affectionately toward one another or work together as a team. As a child, I thought it was normal for the man of the house to stumble in late every night, warm his dinner in the microwave and sleep on the couch.

My mother bore the role of both parents. She alone made up the rules, dished out the discipline and provided the answers and advice. I subconsciously absorbed that she worked alone, and when I became a wife and mother, I instinctively pushed my husband aside and tried to rule the roost.

The thing is: I have something that my mother didn’t. I have a husband who views parenting as a team effort. Our children have a responsible and ever-present father who is capable of guiding them and confiscating the iPod when necessary. I don't have to work alone. I don't have to be the strong leader. I can safely be one half of our household's parenting unit. I have a real relationship. I'm not married to a man like my father.

My dad didn't just have a drinking problem. He also had a patience problem, as in, he didn't have any. I didn't inherit his love for bourbon, but I did inherit his inability to be content.

I remember the only time my daddy took me to the zoo. He hurried me through each exhibit and I didn't even get to feed the giraffe or watch the zookeepers scoop up a mountain of elephant dung. The entire afternoon, like each of the few "family trips" that we took together, was rushed. When he went to rehab several years later, he wrote me a letter and explained the reason for his eagerness to cut our quality time short.

"The zoo didn't sell alcohol. So I didn’t want to be at the zoo."

No, I'm not addicted to alcohol, but I am addicted to impatiently completing tasks. That's not really a fault unless you're like me and view moments that are meant to be relaxing and enjoyable as tasks.

I thought of my father's written explanation the last time I took my kids to the zoo. I didn't have the need to grab a drink, but I did have the need to hurry my kids along so we could see the polar bears and the pandas and still have time to pick up the dry-cleaning and start dinner and get everyone in bed before 9PM.

Thing is, my kids were completely content watching the meerkats. And I ruined it for them.

"We've seen the meerkats, okay? They aren't doing anything but popping in and out of dirt holes. There are 1-ton polar bears just around the corner. Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!” I nudged them along as they licked melting ice cream cones and told the meerkats goodbye.

I remember my father saying, "Let's go," when it wasn't absolutely necessary for us to go anywhere. His words made me feel nervous and anxious, as if my idea of enjoyment and contentment was stupid.

I never want my children to feel that way.

I loved my father, and I know that he loved me. I know that his disease prohibited him from being the family man that he truly desired to be. His poisonous issues spilled onto me and tried to spill onto my relationship with my husband and my children.

If he was still alive, I know that he would adore these children that I named after him, the same way that he adored me, but would his addiction still take precedence in his life? Would alcohol dependence prevent him from being not only a good husband and father, but a good grandfather? Would my parents be divorced? Would their dysfunctional relationship constantly distort my views of marriage?

I think so.

Would he nudge me and the kids along on the rare occasion that he accompanied us to the park or the zoo? Would the sweet smell of Tennessee whiskey permeate from his truck if he came to pick them up for the afternoon? Would he spoil them with presents, as he did me, just to make up for his physical and emotional absence? Would I stay awake at night worrying that he crashed his truck on the way home from his nightly whiskey binge at the country club? Would my alcoholic father be not only a burden to me, but to my kids?

I think that he would.

Although his death was incredibly tragic and left me broken, his life may have done the same for my marriage and my children. And like any good spouse and parent, my family’s happiness trumps all.

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