Sunday, June 19, 2011

Not even once

In honor of Fathers' Day (and definitely not because I don't have time to blog this week) I've decided to re-post an essay I wrote for a writing contest in 2009. I didn't win, but I'm pretty proud of this piece anyway.

“I wish I could get drunk with my dad, just once,” I’ve caught myself saying to my friends and husband.  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he quit, but to see that side of him just once would be great.  I bet we’d have so much fun.”

I bet we would.  I’ve heard stories about my father in his younger days.  He was once having so much fun (and tequila) at a party that he didn’t want to leave when my mother, who was very pregnant with me, was ready to go to bed.  In defiance, he climbed a tree and hid from her.   My dad’s drinking stories are legendary.  The pictures in the photo albums from the late 70s show one crazy bastard who knew how to have a good time.  With his bright red hair, a permanent grin and the can of Rainier Beer in his hand, my father was always the life of the party.

Obviously, not all of the stories I heard are funny.  In recent years, my mother has told me that my father’s drinking caused big problems between them.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to see the love of your life so addicted to something that he put it before everything.  She always thought once they got married and had children, he’d settle down.  And he did- at least in part.  But after work every day, he’d come home and open a can of Rainer and drink until he went to bed.  He was a good father when my brother and I were little and I’m sure he was, for the most part, a good husband.  He just couldn’t quit drinking.

But then, suddenly, he did.  I was still a little girl when the cans of beer disappeared forever from the refrigerator.  I didn’t know why it happened, but one day daddy drank and the next he didn’t.  There was no cutting back or twelve steps.  He just stopped.   I was proud of him. I understood even then that too much alcohol was bad. 

The mind of a child is a funny thing.  I remember parts of our fishing trip on Labor Day weekend in 1991 and how it went from fun to serious.  One minute we were packing up our things and bringing the boat in, the next we were speeding to our hometown hospital, dead silent except for the sound of my four year old brother gasping for air and crying in pain.  Even as a nine year old, I knew he must be very sick because he didn’t drink his milkshake we got him at the gas station.  We always looked forward to those post-fishing milkshakes.

Hours later, my brother was in the ER with a serious case of pneumonia.  For children with asthma, pneumonia can be deadly.  It nearly was.  I didn’t realize at the time how serious it was, but my baby brother was very sick.  And for several days, he wasn’t getting better.

It was nearly thirteen years later when his own father lay dying in a hospital bed that my dad told my mother what had really happened that weekend.  He’d gone home from the hospital, worried and scared, and all he’d been able to think about was having a beer.  He opened that can of Rainer, drank it, and realized how pathetic it was that his focus was on alcohol at such a critical time.  For the majority of his life, alcohol had been there for him in times of celebration, despair, and everything in between.  On that day, he realized he had others there for him who were more important- he had a family who needed him.  That night, sitting alone in the house with his empty beer can, my father promised God that if my brother got better, he would never let alcohol touch his lips again.

My brother got better almost instantly.  Today, he’s a 22 year old baseball player and over six feet of solid muscle.  My dad kept his promise.  He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since that night.  As he told me, when you make a promise to God, you’d better not go back on it.  Where many have failed, he succeeded.  We’ll never know for sure whether my father’s promise saved my brother, but on that day, my father saved our family.

I don’t know why my he chose that time to tell my mother about his promise or why she shared it with me.  My grandfather’s death was the hardest thing we’d ever gone through as a family and emotions were high.  I was surprised and touched to learn the reason behind my father’s sobriety.  When it comes to religion, my dad and I are a lot alike- believers to the core, but very private about our faith.  We don’t feel the need to shout it from the mountain tops or sing loudly in church.  Our faith is personal, but it’s strong.

I inherited many things from my father- his blue eyes, his fiery temper and his sweet tooth.  By the grace of God, I didn’t inherit his addiction.  I enjoy drinking socially with friends, but my subsequent hangover always deters me from alcohol for weeks at a time.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so dependent on something every day and then have to stop using it completely.  The withdrawal must have been hell, but he never complained.

There are many things I’ll never do.  I’ll never skydive, I’ll never ride a motorcycle and I’ll never get drunk with my dad- not even once.  My dad was there for my graduation, every father’s weekend in college, and danced with me at my wedding- all sober.  He has given his family the greatest gift he could, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you it has been worth it.  To me, that’s worth not having a beer with the crazy redhead from those pictures of the past.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica :)
I am hooked on your blog!! Thank you for sharing your life with us. This one specially touched my heart. Your Dad saved himself and your entire family. And yes, I do believe God listened as He knew your Dad begged from the deep recesses of his soul.
Every moment is so precious. I miss my Dad everyday and would you know it, I am more closer to him now that he is gone than when he was alive.
Thank you once again!

JessicaLee said...

Maria, thank you for your comment. I'm so glad you liked my story and am glad you still hold your dad close in your heart. <3

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