Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Like many (most?) American males, I spent much of my youth being embarrassed by my parents. They didn't look right. They weren't "cool". They were old. Worst of all, they didn't drink!!!

My parents both had a "past" that exists only in family lore. My mother had a mysterious pregnancy and my father had a whole bunch of drama around life and relationships with his 2 previous marriages that may be explained, in part, by drinking.

But, in the time that I knew them, my parents were teetotalers. I suppose that it's no small irony that the only time I ever saw them drink socially was at my 2nd wedding when it was sort of insisted (lots of pressure from me and several others) that they have some wine.

I learned of the "coolness" of drinking from the movies. I loved to watch hard drinking men accomplish great things, get stupid and, live large through the pain. I was literally in love with the drama of drinking long before I took my first "social" drink. That first drink/drunk was all that I wanted it to be - and was exactly the opposite of what my un-cool parents were about.

Anyway, this article was intended to be about dad - not me...

As a kid, my dad didn't know much about having a kid and being engaged in my life. What my dad did was work. In retrospect, he was a real miracle. With less than a 3rd grade education, what he did was create a successful refrigeration and mechanical contracting business. He had worked himself back from a total physical disability (received as a consequence of some bad medical work while in the army) to build this business in a small town in eastern Colorado.

So, while he occasionally tried to "play ball" with me, he didn't understand any of the rules of the games so he'd just make up something like what he saw others doing and, in the few times we would play together for a little while when I was 5-7, he would be as awkward as I was. He was not at all cool or expert like my other friends' dads. When I signed up for little league, I as not at all at the same level as the other kids and felt embarrassed and ashamed not only of my poor talent, but it seemed like it was just one more place in my life I didn't fit in.

At age 11, he asked me one day if I wanted to work with him that summer. I crawled in the truck and we went on service calls. I learned to hand him tools when he asked for them and ran to the truck whenever he needed something. At the end of a week of this, he handed me a $20 bill and I was hooked - there was nothing else I wanted to do but to work for him and get that cash.

From that time on, most of my childhood relationship with him was dedicated to working for him. However, as my ego and the mental and spiritual aspects of my alcoholism developed, I was unable to work around him or his business without judging him and he bore the brunt of my sickness. I was not reliable or engaged in his work. I stole money from him. I eventually needed to take my act on the road.

While my parting, as I was developing my dance of death, was by all appearances amicable, we were both seriously wounded by stated and unstated expectations and disappointments galore.

Fast forward about 20+ years and I was coming up on 8 years sober and had finally gotten to work a true amends to him. Per directions from my sponsor, we had a long chat about all the perpetrations I'd visited on him and we came to an agreement as to both financial and living amends that I committed to. It still is one of the most powerful 9th step discussions I remember having.

Feeling quite free after our long talk, I asked Dad: "Why is it that you suppose that it's been so hard for us through the years to talk honestly about money?"

His response was that, "If it were too hard for me to make the payments, I should not make them."

...and, I "got it": that my relationship with my father had been healed but that he would never be someone to me that he could never be...

Our relationship after that time flourished. He was willing and available to participate in my life (to the extent that he could) and I showed up in his life as the son he needed and I learned to love him unconditionally. As his health failed, I helped out when and where I could. In April of 1996 I held his hand as he took his last breath. It was an awesome experience I probably need to write about another time.

While I would not wish for him another moment of what his life had been reduced to, I was profoundly grateful for the wonderful program of AA and all that our relationship had been.

I ran into a good friend at a conference that July and she asked how I was doing. I replied that "I was just grateful for the healing of AA amends and the life we'd had". She looked at me with that AA glare (probably more looked through me) and said, "...yeah, it took me about a year to grieve my dad as well."

While that was true (it did take a full year for the oppressive grief to truly lift), there's still not a day that goes by that I don't think of dad. He was not a perfect father but it's amazing that I'll be in the middle of something and think about how I need to let Dad know something or about how pleased he will be when I tell him about...

Thank god for AA...


Syd said...

Ed, this is a great post. I totally understand this. I had an up and down relationship with my father. But thankfully, I loved him a great deal. I didn't make living amends to him because I wasn't in the program then. But I have made them to him later. I am at peace with that.

Carol said...

It's wonderful when parts of our frazzled brains come to peace.

Mary Christine said...

Your dad sounds perfect to me.