Monday, December 26, 2011

Paternal Centennial

One hundred years ago today my father was born in an eastern Pennsylvania town.

My dad was an alcoholic.  He was a brilliant engineer, and held several patents.  He was a lover of classical music.  He had a great career with one company from the time he graduated from college until he retired.  When he and my mother were newly married, he would teach high school Calculus at night for a little extra cash.  He read voraciously, and our table was always full of lively conversations about politics and current events.  He was a devout Catholic and was quite active in the church.  When I came to AA, this was my stereotype of an alcoholic.  I was quite shocked when I saw derelicts and criminals in AA!

My father got sober in April of 1965.  In June of 1971 my mother died.  In March of 1972, my father remarried - a woman who drank like a fish.  I never quite understood why he would marry someone who drank so much.  He claimed she was not an alcoholic.  I don't know how he determined that.  On July 17, 1975, I called my father in the middle of the day and was shocked to find he was home - and drunk!  He had gotten bad news from the doctor, had taken a hasty and early retirement, and came home with a bottle.

He did not die in 6 months as the doctor had prognosticated.  He outlived that doctor!  He lived for 17 more years - in alcoholic hell.  He told me his ten sober years were the best years of his life.  He told me "resentment really IS the number one offender."  He told me he could not stand to go to AA meetings and hear people tell him what he used to tell new people.  He told me there was no such thing as anonymity in a small town... and then he admitted all this sounded like rationalization for not getting sober.  He never could get sober again.

I have often called my father my greatest teacher.  Unfortunately, it is a bad example.  His story is what I would like to avoid.  And so far, so good.  He was very happy that I was sober, and said he was very proud of me.  I think it was the only thing I ever did that he told me he was proud of.

Thankfully, I have other teachers.  I have a sponsor who is sober 38 years.  Her husband is sober 39 years.  I have watched them for nearly 20 years.  They have stayed faithful to prayer and meditation, meetings, and sponsoring other alcoholics for all of those years.  They have gone from healthy people, fully engaged in mid-life, living in a beautiful foothills home - to being in their seventies, retired, living in a mobile home in western Colorado.   No matter what, they are still grateful every single day.  And fully engaged in a spiritual life.

My sponsor and her husband also help me with something I am really struggling with right now.  Fear of economic insecurity.  I am now 60 years old and in not in any way nearing financial readiness for retirement.  Thankfully I am healthy and should be able to continue to work for many years.  But I see them, in greatly diminished circumstances - and they are just as happy as they were when they were living very very differently.  The spiritual life is not a theory!

My dad lived in "luxury" for his last 17 years.  I wouldn't want any part of that kind of "luxury."

But what I would mostly like to say about my father today is that although he was a flawed character (who isn't?),  he was a good man.  He was intelligent, accomplished, and successful.  I guess in the end, all of that is undone by alcoholism.  But I have been reading so much writing by non-alcoholics who have love-hate relationships with us - I feel the need to defend anyone who has battled this demon disease.  They talk about us as if we are unruly zoo animals!

Happy Birthday Dad.   I hope there is no booze in heaven.

"We know that while the alcoholic keeps away from drink as he may do for months or years, he reacts much like other men.  We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop.  The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm this."  -- Alcoholics Anonymous p. 22-23


Daisyanon said...

Thanks for this MC.

dAAve said...


Annette said...

In my experience, they have acted like unruly zoo animals MC, doing things they never would do without being under the influence. I love them though, my parents, my child, my brothers, my g-parents, my uncles, my aunts, and they are good people, with good hearts....but give them alcohol or drugs and all bets are off. They do not behave in any manner that is true to who they are. Sad but hurtful none the less for everyone, themselves most of all.

Thank you for sharing your dad with us. He sounds like he was a remarkable man. An honest man.

Syd said...

I am glad that you shared about your father. Honoring your father is a wonderful thing. I know that my dad was also wonderful and troubled by drinking. But I loved him and learned so much from him. I don't think of those who are active as being zoo animals, but do see them as being sad caricatures of a real person. Like we hear in Al-Anon, we love the person but hate the disease. That is a fair statement, I think. It is a terrible disease. But the person underneath still loves, hurts, and wishes that he/she were not in the throes of the disease.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

This was a really good post to read and feel. Thank you!

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Thanks for this one, MC. excellent writing.

Mary LA said...

Thinking of your dad, Mary Christine -- my mother's life is a painful story too and I always think about her at this time of year.

Alcoholism is so misunderstood. It isn't long since people talked about those with epilepsy or who were left-handed or mentally ill the way they speak of alcoholics now. I don't know many zoo keepers as brutal, deluded and self-righteous as many 'caretakers' of alcoholics. It is a family disease.

Pammie said...

I loved this, mary.

Lulu said...

Many thanks for sharing about your father. My father is very, very similar to yours except that he has never embraced sobriety at all. His level of functioning enables him to continue maintaining the illusion that he is not a "real" alcoholic. Naturally, my relationship with him has shifted significantly during my three years of sensitive sobriety. Anger and love, anger and love. Exhausting. Thanks for sharing your message of balance, clarity, and compassion.

Elizabeth said...

This is such a beautiful post. An honest but loving tribute. Alcoholics can be so compelling, even when deeply flawed.

Thank you for sharing.