I find myself thinking about my dad often lately. He’s been dead for forty-four years, but it’s like he has been sitting next to me these last couple of years. I was six and my little brother was one when my dad died. My mother was a stay-at-home mom when he passed, but that shit changed as we all adapted to life without him.
Dad’s Struggle, My Strength
When my mother passed away last year, I found my dad’s autopsy report and a personal letter written to my mother by my dad’s former employer a few months after his passing. Reading both have burned imagery in my mind that I can’t shake. It’s helped me take action daily and move my finish line time and time again.
The autopsy chronicled my dad’s excessive drinking and the damage it did to his organs. It referenced my dad’s alcohol detox and six-week stay in the hospital leading up to his death. It pointed to his cause of death, his liver damaged beyond rehabilitation.
The document went on to summarize how the patient described his drinking to his doctors during the last month of his life. He said he started drinking as a young child and went on to make alcohol a daily part of his life in a functional way. He described how he doubled down on his drinking about two years before his final weeks. He reported he was drinking a handle of whiskey a day.
House of Cards
I didn’t need a calendar to recreate his final timeline. Essentially my dad was a hard daily drinker who powered his way to a functional existence. This functional existence slipped away when he found out my mother was pregnant with my little brother. It was an unplanned pregnancy. They were excited about the new addition, but the added pressure exposed his glaring weakness.
Dad doubled up on his alcohol consumption and his house of cards began to fall. His piss-poor daily routine spiraled out of control until he died at thirty-four years old.
Potential Only Goes So Far
The letter from the CEO of my father’s firm was dated a few months after his death. My dad worked for an up-and-coming organization in a growth market and the letter described my father as the backbone of the team. The author said he was struggling with whether he should reach out to my mom.
He knew my mother personally and he felt a sense of responsibility to her and her little boys. The note indicated that firing my father a year before his passing was the most difficult thing the CEO ever had to do. He knew he was firing a good man but he couldn’t accept the additional risks my father’s out-of-control drinking was causing his firm.
Dad was simply spiraling out of control, becoming a liability more than an asset. His employer recognized his potential and gave him multiple chances to get himself right. But even a close ally has to draw a line in the sand from time to time. Knowing my father had a wife, a young son and a newborn made the CEO’s decision to let my father go that much more difficult.
In the letter, he offered to help my mother but I don’t believe she ever replied. Clearly, the letter meant something to her, since she preserved it for so long. It was fucking difficult for me to read but incredibly powerful forty-three years after it was written.
I knew about my father’s past, but the letter and the autopsy report gave me a true glimpse into my father’s struggle. They were tangible, and holding them made his pain real on a new level. I could certainly relate to his pain. Not so long before I read the report and letter, I was headed down the same path as my dad.
Dad: A Good Man
All I ever hear about my father from those who knew him suggests that he was a really good man. My memories of him support that description. He loved spending time with me in our brief time together.
Another Casualty of The Cycle
Unfortunately, he couldn’t break the cycle. His father died young from similar demons leaving my dad as a boy and his older sister to fend for themselves, while my grandmother was out in search of a new husband. My aunt had struggles of her own and even though she was the older sibling by a number of years, my father was the one everyone could depend on.
Dad received his death sentence after his body went through detox and he laid in his hospital bed. He went on to grind out a few more weeks in the hospital with his fate sealed before his organs finally gave up. His mind was finally clear of the alcohol but his body was too weak to live on.
My Final Visit
I remember going to visit him in the hospital. I had no idea he was dying. I sat on his hospital bed with him doing what six-year-olds do. The innocence of it all gives me chills as I type these words.
He let me eat a piece of his toast with the contents of one of those single-serving grape jelly containers on it. I remember thinking how cool the small container of jelly was.
He asked his nurse to give me a few small jellies to take home. I’m sure it made her feel good to fulfill the wish of a dying man and his excited little boy. It’s funny, the little details you remember.
As I sat there with my father, I had no idea of the hell living in his mind. Here is a good man, a good father, a little boy’s hero, about to die and leave his two little boys and his unprepared wife to figure it out on their own.
I imagine that final month crushed his soul. Here I was thinking about grape jelly and he was facing the stark reality that this was likely the last moment he would have with his little boy. I’m crying as I type these words. His raw pain and emotion, I can fucking feel it. How hard it must have been to say goodbye and watch me walk out the door!
As a father myself, I cannot think of a death sentence more tortuous than knowing your actions will create a world of struggle for those most dearest to you.
Dad’s Guiding Hand
I’m not the most religious guy, but I was raised to believe there is an afterlife. People, or their spirits, remain with you after they are gone from this world. These last few years have made me a true believer in this spirit world. I can feel him with me as he is guiding me down a path much brighter than his own. I feel his struggle and it has become my strength.
Every day, at some point during the day, I think of his hell during his last month. The powerlessness of it. The certainty of his fate. The uncertainty of the world he was leaving his wife and kids to figure out. It fucking fuels me. It inspires action because I still have the time to take it.
I still have time to be a loving and supportive husband. I still have time to be the hero my kids believe I am. I will never take this time for granted. Every fucking second of it is a blessing. This clarity is the gift my father gave me.
I will leave a legacy and I broke the fucking cycle. I am not predestined to suffer the same fate as my father and his father before him. I have a choice and I choose life!
I feel my father’s peace for the first time. I realized the hell of that hospital bed as my father’s spirit watched helplessly as I was molested by a trusted family member for years and years. While I found the strength to survive, that experience set me on a course to follow in my father’s footsteps while seeking an oasis in a bottle of booze. Slowly drinking myself into a premature departure, leaving behind my wife and little ones to figure it out without me.
I finally found the strength to battle through that destiny and be the man I am capable of being. While the future can never be certain, I am setting a course every day for success.
When I am on my deathbed, I will have peace knowing the legacy I leave behind. It took a long time, but I know my father is now at peace for the first time. I feel his peace every day. His hand is on my shoulder now. His heart and soul are filled with untarnished love and peace.
I gave that to him. I broke the cycle. That is true power.
I look forward to our collective sharing and growth together as thrivers!
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