I wonder if I am still an ACOA (adult child of an alcoholic) if the alcoholic is dead? On Monday, February 16th, 1999 my dad dies of Tuberculosis – secondary to a weakened immune system from “the drink.”
The Saturday before his death he is spending the morning with us at our house as he often does, watching cartoons on the couch in our family room with his two pajama clad grandkids. I have made it clear over the years that he will not drink when he is with us, or be taking our children overnight, so this weekend routine becomes the acceptable path to creating their bond. He always brings hard rolls and sweet rolls for breakfast, making the kids, “eat the hard rolls first” – the exact house rule my sisters and I had growing up.
Laughter follows breakfast as Matt and Jess run upstairs to their bedrooms to begin the search for the half-dollar coins grandpa hides. I watch the trio, feeling grateful my children don’t hold the images I have of him; yet, grieving for the little girl in me who still waits for her fantasy father to enjoy spending time with HER.
Thinking about my dad is bittersweet, as it is for many of us. “Baby Boomers” often have difficulties relating to our fathers. Many of our dads have no clue how to parent and never share much about themselves; therefore, relationships with their children are strained at best.
Father’s Day for me holds memories of the rollercoaster of emotions that come from living with an alcoholic, the seesaw of a love, hate relationship.
One of the first great memories I have about my dad is his love of dancing. I would watch my parents dancing at weddings and parties and they seemed so happy, and when dad would stand me on his feet to learn the steps, it was then I felt like his little princess. To this day, hearing Perry Como or Nat King Cole, I waltz back in time when there was nothing diseased about our relationship; it was just me and my perfect dad!
My dad had a great sense of humor, unless you were the brunt of one of his jokes. Depending on the amount of his consumption, the verbal abuse would often follow the laughter and it was anything but funny.
Being a member of Toastmaster’s International, dad was a gifted speaker. He was just as comfortable dressed in a suit speaking in front of a hundred people as he was sitting on a bar stool “shooting the shit” with his drinking buddies.
Memories of his fits of rage and blackouts kept my sisters and I guessing the cause – praying if we just kept quiet, and did as we were told, they would never happen again. Of course, they always did! He was the reason we didn’t bring friends home, always found ways to stay away, and never expected much.
I had no name for IT, no understanding of the dynamics of why things seemed so different at my house than at my friends’, and no one EVER talked about IT. Alcoholism – the disease of secrets…