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.