Forget Father’s Day | Honoring My Bad Dad’s Legacy

old hand holding a child's hand
Creating new bonds…my father holding my youngest daughter’s hand during his final days of life.

Father’s Day just passed and I just realized that I went through the entire day…and the rest of the week…without one single mention of my dad.

That’s nothing new.

I rarely mention him on father’s day or his birthday. I’ve always figured I wouldn’t know what to say about him to honor his legacy.

He wasn’t a great dad. He wasn’t even a good dad. Or a decent dad. He was mostly a bad dad.

I spent part of my childhood watching him lash out against other human beings, directing his hate and pain onto so many people who loved him. As a result, I spent many years estranged from him throughout my life.

But then today it occurred to me that in fact, my dad is the one who gave me a huge gift that eventually changed the path of my direction in life. And THAT is a life changing legacy that only he had the ability to give me.

His legacy is alcoholism.

He was around 13 or 14 when he began drinking alcohol. I have no idea where he got it from, but that was the 1950’s. His love affair with alcohol grew and grew over the years, although I don’t believe he realized how bad it was.

Alcohol made him mean.

But when he was sober, he was great. Except he wasn’t sober for very many hours out of each day. I remember he and I doing very few things together which were bonding activities. One time he took me shopping for school clothes. And he’s the one who got me hooked on eating raw oysters when I was five years old.

One bonding project (honestly, it’s the only project) we worked on together that was fun was building a bar.

I was about 15 when I helped him build his personal drinking oasis inside a building on our property. For a few months that year, it was just him and me at our house because the rest of the family got tired of his behavior and they left.

My dad and I celebrated finishing the project by drinking a beer together at our newly constructed bar.

I have to laugh at that now. It’s just absurd to think I hated how alcohol destroys families and relationships, yet I had no problem drinking it up myself.

After the bar was constructed, he practically moved into it. And I became desperate for him to be a real father to me.

Alcoholism takes away so much from a person’s life. Relationships become harder and less peaceful. Families disintegrate. It happens so slowly that it’s truly hard to see it and to put 2 plus 2 together.

So one night I sat him down and had a COME TO JESUS heart to heart with him. My teenage attitude was probably a lot more developed than my articulation skills, so I straight out told him I needed him to be a dad to me. And I don’t think I said it with a gentle, loving tone.

It was more like a demand. I demanded his love and attention. I demanded for him to step up, stop drinking and be a real dad.

His response is what would ultimately change my life forever. His words that day have also been the most impactful words for my children in their childhoods as well.

His response: “Sharon, I’m not going to change for you or anyone else.”

I moved out the next day. No way was I sticking around for more of his absenteeism and drunken behavior whenever he was around. Now that I think about it, it was pretty bold of me to bolt on him like that. But even as a teenager, I knew I needed to seek healthier circumstances.

It was a hard decision because I had been selected to go meet the President of the United States through my school. I knew I would have to miss that because moving out meant moving AWAY. That’s the only regret I have about leaving.

To this day, the words he spoke are the most painful words that anyone has ever said to me in my entire lifetime.

So right when he told me those words, I made a vow to myself that if anyone ever in my lifetime told me that I had a drinking problem, I would stop drinking.

I was already pretty knee deep with drinking alcohol as a teenager. Then year after year in adulthood, nobody told me I had a drinking problem.

Since nobody told me to stop, I had no reason to quit!

Until about 15 years passed. One day I was particularly inebriated and acting ugly.

That’s when someone told me I had a problem. And that’s when I asked for help.

The conversation started like this:

Me: “I need help with drinking. Like some tips to help me drink better.”

Response: “Oh, we’ve got exactly the help you need. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…”

I have never taken a drink of alcohol since that day, but I really was hoping I could just be a better drunk. That was almost 20 years ago and I sure got a lot more than I asked for.

At first I just felt like I was getting stuck with a negative label and that my life was over.

Little did I know, my life was just beginning!!

What I got was sobriety. What I got were tools to help me cope with stress instead of drinking to forget, to relax or take the edge off….because we all know that drinking one or two or three or ten just isn’t enough.

What my kids got is a completely sober mother. They got a real childhood. A clear-headed, present mother. They get to be raised with love.

They’ll never have to have the same conversation with me that I had with my father as a teenager.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s been almost twenty years, but I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking it’s been an easy couple of decades. I’ll probably always crave alcohol. Even when I was pregnant with each of my children, I craved it to the point my mouth would start watering when I passed by the wine endcap at the grocery store.

I’m glad that my father broke my heart the day he told me he would not change for me. It has driven me in so many ways as a mother. I’m so proud of giving my children a sober mother.

During the final two years of my father’s life, he was too disabled to take care of himself. He could not leave his home and he could barely take 5 steps even using a walker.

That means he could not go to the store to buy alcohol. That means he was sober for the last two years of his life.

During those two years, he could finally give me a little bit of what I asked for so many years ago. I finally got to have conversations with him about life, love and mundane things.

I finally had a chance to know what a really cool man he was once the alcohol wasn’t masking his personality.

Finally he was pleasant. He was funny! Finally he was calm, gentle and loving. He was available. He was happy to talk with me. He was interested in my life.

He was finally a GOOD FATHER.

Every day that I don’t drink is how I’m honoring my father’s legacy.

I cherish those final two years of his life, and I am thankful for the heartbreak because it is what drove me to improve. -Further proof that there is always good that arises from every tragedy and every bad situation in life.

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