Trigger warning: abuse
My first awareness of your problem with drinking came from the blowout that ended with you going to jail and your divorce from my mother. My older sister, always employing some new tactic to convince you to stop smoking said, “You better stop smoking cigarettes, or you’ll die just like Grandma did.” Your mother smoked her whole life and died from emphysema. You took it very hard. In fact, Mama says that’s when the drinking got a lot worse.
You rampaged drunkenly over this comment, trying to whip her for saying it. You still tell us to this day that you weren’t drunk. You’d only had a six-pack after all.
You ended up whipping me as I hid behind a bed. “That was your fault for hiding,” you still tell me all these years later. You threw Mama down for trying to intervene. You chased us around the house like a mad man. As we jumped in the car to escape, you threw yourself on the hood momentarily, then staggered off, cussing angrily, as we sped out of the driveway.
My mom’s parents convinced her to call the police. You were arrested and spent three nights in jail. You’d never forgive someone calling the police on you. Just like that, 15 years of marriage was over.
What I had considered a normal family life and childhood died with it.
Not that there hadn’t already been lots contributing to this outcome in the years beforehand. But I, as an oblivious, carefree child under the age of 10, had gone unaware of these problems, including your increasingly toxic relationship with alcohol. When I became a teenager and developed plenty of angst about life myself, I now suspected a lot of this stemmed from your own troubled childhood and alcoholic father. You became much more liberal with letting that side of yourself out into the open.
Teaching me to ride a bike without training wheels, playing board games with me, taking me bowling or to the state fair, letting me help you sort your tools in your garage were distant memories, as my desire to get on your level, to fit in with your toxic lifestyle, replaced any healthy bond we might have once had.
I began to smoke pot with you, drink with you. You began to talk to me more like an adult. Although those partying sessions were my only way to feel like we had some sort of bond and I craved them, they always came with insults you thought funny and clever, as you berated me for being a woman.
In front of your friends, you asked me if I gave good sexual favors, if I liked to shave down there, as you announced you liked when a woman didn’t shave down there. Was I crazy like my mother? You wanted to know.
Was I a nun like my mother? You asked. “None in the morning, none in the evening and none at night” you’d say, “and that’s why I had to cheat, but truly, your mother’s the only woman I ever loved,” you’d proclaim as if this canceled out your adulterous ways.
I yearned to have the relationship we once had. I wanted to be a kid again.
What is a normal father-daughter relationship anyhow? I knew I wanted something more normal than what we had.
Over the years, I grew tired of the toxicity that was always present in our interactions. I grew tired of the constant belittling. When you’d say hurtful things about how I’d gotten fat like my mother, or how stupid my haircut looked, or how I’d had all my brains sucked out by attending college, a little piece of me died inside each time. All I ever wanted was some sort of positive compliment from you. Instead of congratulating me when my husband and I told you our news of being pregnant, you asked, “Want to borrow a coat hanger? It’s not too late, you know.”
There were so many times over the years I felt filled with rage and hatred towards you. Why me? Why a father like this? Why can’t you be normal? Maybe I’d be better off without you in my life. A counselor helped me understand it was possible to still have a relationship with you, but on my terms and with healthy boundaries in place. I could make a choice to leave and exit the situation and environment if it got too toxic. I didn’t have to force myself to sit through it as an expression of my love for you.
I attribute a lot of my unrest and hopelessness about our relationship to not having anything beyond myself to have faith in.
I had spent a couple of decades as an atheist. I was a victim, someone life had handed a raw deal to. When I found God in my early 30s, for the first time in my life and through faith and God’s word, I began to have a peace that while I’ll never be able to erase the hurt and toxicity my relationship with you has been littered with or ever fully understand it, I can still choose love and forgiveness, regardless of what’s happened.
I can still have joy in my life, even if you can’t find any in yours.
I know you live with a deep, deep pain that unfortunately, you chose the path of unhealthy coping strategies to deal with, or rather not deal with. It’s taken me a long time to understand the juxtaposition of your Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personas. That when you are having a rare sober moment, you do have a good heart at your core that shines through from time to time. I cherish those fleeting moments. I tell myself it’s not you after all, but the disease of addiction that holds your heart prisoner behind that hard outer wall you’ve built for defense against whatever pain life has thrown at you.
As I have become a parent myself, I can somewhat relate to the slippery slope of letting your own fears, insecurities, and pain distort who and what you wanted to be for your child.
Daddy, I still love you unconditionally.