I Forgive You Dad

My name is Jimmy and my father is an alcoholic.  Actually he was an alcoholic.  To be specific, he was a recovered alcoholic. Ten years sober before he died.

Prior to his sobriety, my father had spent the better part of 30 years feeding in to his disease.  He spun his life around the bottom of empty beer cans and hidden bottles of vodka.  He was particularly devious at hiding those bottles and early on, hiding his growing addiction.  His favorite hiding spot was between exposed floor joists in the basement, which was perfect for him, until I grew and was tall enough to see the tips of the bottles.

As kids, my sister and I were blinded by our youth to see his decline.  As a kid, I looked forward to being able to pull off the tab and having a sip of his Schmidt’s before giving it to him.  As we got older, I looked less and less forward to hearing the tab of that beer open.  I cringed when my Dad said he had to go in to the basement (his wine cellar of sorts).  As we got older, my dad’s antics were less entertaining and more hurtful and embarrassing.

By the time I was in college, my dad had reached a point of literally drinking himself to death.  It was time for help.  The details of his sobriety are his.  I don’t care to think about what the man, who I had come to know as the strongest man I had even known, went through in detox after 30 years of drinking.  I was never curious. I never wanted to think about him so weak and helpless.  But he had gone through the Caron Foundation’s treatment program (a house of miracles the likes of Aerosmith will attest to) and emerged from its doors, sober.  His work to regain his sobriety was finished but his work to keep his sobriety was far from over.

8.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Sometime either during treatment or once he got home, my dad made a list.  A list of all the people he had done harm to with his drinking. I don’t know all the people he had on his list, just like his days inside the walls of Caron, I don’t care to know.  I just know my name was on that list. I know because I was home from college, ready to go out, when he called me in to his room.  He was sitting on the edge of his bed.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“Listen Jim.  I need to… I want to tell you something.”

“Sure Pop. What’s up?”

“Listen, I did a lot of things.  A lot of things I’m not proud of. To your mom. Christa. You.  I did things…”

He began to choke up. As he did, my eyes began to swell.  I worked hard to hold back my tears.

“I did things, said things, and acted…I was drunk. But I’m not now and I wanted to apologize. I wanted to ask for your forgiveness for everything I’ve done.”

His eyes were red. As swollen with tears as mine were.  My mouth was dry.

My Dad was looking for my forgiveness.  Something this man, so strong, so proud had never done.  His words weren’t filled with pride or strength though.  His voice cracked. Compassion and hope poured from his lips.

I pulled back my own tears, sucked back up my running nose, and said matter of factly, “Dad. You don’t need to apologize. I’m just glad you’re better.”

Part of me had been trying to diffuse the situation with that comment.  The part of me that was young and immature and not used to this sort of situation.  The part of me that thought this is what my proud, strong Dad would want to hear.  Part of me really didn’t need an apology if he was sober and part of me couldn’t find the strength because I was scared.  But deep down I wanted that apology.  For the times he made me have to say, ‘Just ignore him’.  For the times he said cutting words to my mom, and sister, and me.  Yes, I wanted that apology. I deserved that apology, despite allowing myself to get in the way of it. I was young, dumber than I was willing to admit, and ill prepared to handle the depth of this sort of thing.  My dad deserved more than a flat comment devoid of the compassion I so stupidly held back.

I wanted to gather up the strength to tell him what I really wanted to say but if he had hoped for an, ‘I forgive you’, he didn’t ask me again.  He didn’t wait for me to say anything else. He simply accepted what I had told him and grabbed me in his arms. We hugged.

I don’t know if there was something to his embrace or, for a fleeting second, my brain forgot I was an idiot but it was in his arms I found my strength.

“I love you Dad.”

“I love you too Jim.”

“Dad…I forgive you.”

We held on to each other for a little while. I don’t think he wanted to let go.

And neither did I.

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22 responses to “I Forgive You Dad

  1. You got the apology I never got. Granted, it was my stepdad, but still. I always wanted him to fess up to being an asshole drunk. I always wanted him to apologize for running out on us four days after Christmas my junior year in high school. I always wanted him to apologize for me having to work full-time on top of school. I wanted him to recognize that I gave up my high school years to help make house payments because he was too fucking weak to drop the goddamn beer can and see what he was doing to his family. Instead, I got third hand news that he died sick and alone in his trailer three states away with his wiener dog.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to come out so negative…wow, your post just hit me a lot harder than I thought. Part of me wants to delete that up there and start over, but I think you need to see what an impact you have. Well done again, sir. Thought provoking, emotional, and awesome as usual. I’m glad you got your apology. Makes the world a little less shitty to know that some people do the right thing. your dad was an awesome man.

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    • I’m sorry you didn’t. Just don’t harbor that anger. It will eat you up. And I know your little guys don’t ever have to worry about waiting for their apology from their dad because their dad is a hell of a guy.

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  2. analogyqueen/Karyn

    Wow. So honest, so candid. Thank you.
    What is it about us as human beings that wants to let people ‘off the hook’?
    So glad you had the opportunity to receive an apology and grant one as well. Dang, Dude that was frickin awesome! I’m at a loss for words and that NEVER happens. Way to go…..

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    • I think we “let people off the hook”, so to speak, to escape the difficult feelings that have resulted from our dealings with them. Just like Jimmy. I felt that was the most profound part of this passage. When he admitted that in retrospect his reaction to his Dad’s apology was really an attempt to end the discomfort that it caused. Why do apology’s cause us discomfort? Usually because we aren’t yet ready to forgive the person making them. You see, forgiving is a process. It is a sort of healing. And most of us know it’s a lie to say “I forgive you” when someone apologizes. The person apologizing usually has taken the time they need to get a handle over all their emotions and the apology they make is a result of that. They have come to you prepared and ready to apologize. But Jimmy was just home from college. He hadn’t been able to prepare. He was probably still repressing all those childhood feelings as well as the worry and longing he had felt with his father away in rehab. To be hit with an apology is to be sucker-punched. We aren’t prepared for it. It’s shocking. And to alleviate that shock we counter with the obligatory “Oh, okay, I forgive you”. But do we? And that’s the feeling of resignation that Jimmy was describing. He resigned his own feelings to make his father feel good. And he shouldn’t have had to. I’m not blaming his father. I don’t believe that was his father’s intention. BUT This is where I feel rehab really lags. They prepare the people that are rehabilitating but do nothing for their families in the mean time. The families are supposed to go about their normal lives with a few check ins and up dates. So counter productive. Because the ENTIRE families suffers from drug and alcohol abuse, not just the addict. And they need time to prepare in order to forgive.
      I believe this passage was more of an “I forgive you” then Jimmy’s initial reaction to his dad, because at this point, he was REALLY ready. He had had enough time by now to be ready to let go, to handle all those complex emotions caused by repeatedly being hurt by a loved one. A person that was supposed to take care of him. Imagine all the suffering involved when a child has to take care of their parent. When once again Jimmy has to push away his own discomfort for the sake of his father’s feelings and grumble out an “I forgive you”, when he hadn’t had time to prepare that forgiveness. I wish rehabs would do more work with the families of addicts. I really do. As for Jimmy and as for you Karyn, don’t let anybody off the hook. Never. And I’m not saying DON’T forgive. What I’m saying is accept their apology and then forgive them when you’ve had time to prepare, to handle all your emotions and do what you need to do for you, so that you are in a good place. Forgiveness is not something given. It is something earned. And it STARTS with an apology, but is only ACHIEVED through work and commitment, on both ends. I am sure of this: Had Jimmy’s dad not remained sober, it would have been hard for Jimmy to have REALLY realized his forgiveness for his father. His father had to do the work to make amends. It’s not JUST a statement of regret, it’s a statement of intent, to change things and make them better. Once you see that, then you can be in a position to forgive. Until then, just accept the apology.
      Appreciate the effort. Support their endeavor. And give yourself time to heal.

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      • Thanks for your thoughts. A lot of hit is completely what I was feeling but let me say that the Caron Foundation and AA involved us. I was at college for most of it so I missed most of it. My mom was prepared for all of it. I would, after this, end up going to some meetings with him. To sit and listen. To experience. The Caron Foundation, and you’ll excuse my bias, is a house of miracles. It sobered my dad up and because of what he learned there, maintained that sobriety for 10 years (and it would have been longer had he lived longer).
        I didn’t let my dad off the hook. I recognized what he put himself through to reach this point, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to make amends. Had this happened now? I would have most likely reacted differently. I blame my youth. I blame my inexperience at such heavy matters. It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready to forgive him, it was my brain trying to wrap around all of this and answer in a way my dad would want to hear (or so I thought).
        Did he catch me off guard? You bet. But I don’t know if there would have been a better way to get me ready for something like that.
        I forgave him. The moment I saw him sober, I forgave him. His transgressions were wiped clean. No matter what I said or how I said it to him (although you’re right, had he not remained sober it would have been a totally different story).
        I really appreciate the time and thought you put in to this comment. I appreciate your honesty. I thank you for sharing. It truly means a lot.
        My Best to you.

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    • Thanks Karyn. When he told me that, I really meant what I said, he didn’t have to apologize if he were sober but I think, as much as he needed to make his amends, he deserved his forgiveness too. Thanks for reading.

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  3. You have such courage. That was an amazing story. I’m sorry for what happened, but glad your father found the strength to beat it.
    Amazing, moving post!

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  4. I don’t know what to say other than I appreciate your sharing that with us. It must have been hard, but it is a brave thing to do.

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  5. Great post Jim! I am with Diaperdads…I had the same thoughts…there is a cleansing about getting that apology, whether one chooses to forgive or not, the apology is important. My dad never apologized, so he died with many unresolved issues. My step-dad…well, I am sure he is somewhat of a miserable man. I am glad you and your dad were able to have that resolve. I really should think twice before reading your posts during breakfast…probably need to go reapply my mascara. Great post!

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  6. Wow.. What an amazing post. I am so sorry. It is incredible that you were able to have that conversation. So glad your father got to have his sobriety before he died. So sorry!

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    • Thanks. I’m glad he did too. Those 10yrs we had with him and his sobriety were like a second life. It was amazing. They were times that can never be topped. Thanks for reading.

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  7. I read and really appreciated your piece here. “for a fleeting second, my brain forgot I was an idiot” It’s nice when that happens every now and again. Very happy for you.

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  8. This hit home. The fact that your dad was 10 years sober when he died showed the apology was real. That you diffused the apology is the big “aha” though… it shows how alcoholism affects more than the alcoholic. As an adult, I still deal with child inside me… the one who feels responsible for others’ actions and feelings. Thanks, Jimmy, for this post.

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    • Thanks for your words Angie. It was almost as if he took our apologies and fueled himself to stay sober with them (among other things). As if he wanted to earn the apology. I’m just glad I got that time as an adult, a husband, and a father, to share with my dad. Thanks again.

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  9. Powerful piece! Not only did your father struggle, but what an incredibly difficult struggle his addiction proved to be for you, your sister, and your mother. Needless to say, it took its toll on the entire family. As soon as we became “twits” on Twitter, I knew, as the did the other wise gal, that you were the real deal. The genuine love you have for your wife and children is always apparent, and the fact that you can keep your sense of humor alive is nothing short of amazing. ‘Tis truly remarkable how you came through this ordeal, but you did, and without really knowing you personally, I do know through you tweets that you are a an amazing and mindful husband and show loving kindness as a father to your children. Jimmy, you are living proof that what doesn’t kill us can make us stronger, and somehow your childhood nightmare has shaped you into a man who does his best to make his own family’s dreams come true.

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    • Thank you. You’re making me blush over here. You’re words are very kind and you pinned it, my family means the world to me. That and, this world is far too short, you had better be able to laugh at it. Thanks again gals. I appreciate it and I’m glad we’re “twits” too.

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