The Disease of Secrets – Part One

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… 

Part Two of this post will fill you in on the Real Secret – the reason I believe my dad numbed himself with alcohol.  In the meantime, Happy Father’s Day, Dad  

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2 Responses to The Disease of Secrets – Part One

  1. Kathrn Kwiatkowski says:

    I, too am a ACOA. I did not realize my dad was an alcoholic, until I was struggling with the fact that my then husband was one. It was an upsetting realization. But a lot of things fell into place then. I had a lot of wonderful memories of my dad when I was small. I was his little girl. He took me fishing and I remember him holding my hair back and sitting with me when I was sick in the bathroom. I try to remember those instead of my early 20 memories that weren’t so good. But by then I was out of the house. My daddy also passed away in 1999. April 3 to be exact. From lung cancer, but they couldn’t operate on his tumor, because his liver was so bad. I remember my sister and mother would not face the fact that he was an alcoholic. That made me very angry at the time. But it is definitely a disease of denial. It was definitely a complicated father/daughter relationship, but I think my love always outweighed my feelings of anger. I miss him terribly and wish he could have seen his grandchildren grow into the wonderful adults they all are. I believe he can see them/me from heaven, but it would sure be nice to feel his arms around me once again. Happy Father’s Day Daddy.

    • Greet Grief says:

      So glad that you have wonderful memories and that you were out of the house before your dad’s disease took over. I think the intensity of my feelings come in part because of the fact I was the youngest, not out of the house until his disease was active and the fact that I was the only child in the state and the only one responsible legally for each parent after their divorce. I understand what an upsetting realization it is to discover “the secret” that is both of our truths! How brave you are to face it, acknowledge it despite your sister and mother’s denial and to delve into it’s effects on your choice of past partner(s). One thing I know for sure, is that in their own ways, our daddy’s love for us was present then and still is now…

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