I was named for my father but that’s not the first thing I say when I mention him.
I say: "He was an alcoholic."
It's how I refer to him now that he's dead. I say it matter-of-factly, recounting the details of his leaving with impersonal candor. I know it’s unfair to diminish him in that way, reducing him to any stereotype under the sun of an alcoholic - the pathetic old man in a vomit stained T-shirt alone in his living room surrounded by in empty vodka bottles, or the reeking town drunk all the kids know & ridicule or try to trip as he lurches by. It's one-dimensional - an incomplete image - but I'm OK with that.
Now that I'm older and it's practically pointless, I wonder: what did he think of his life as he lay dying? During those final months, knowing he was out of chances to make things right, knowing it was too late to start on another path and redeem the time he had left, did he have regrets?
Who was he?
He was a drunk. But even drunks have dreams.
Some part of him wanted to be a hero. Twice he stepped in to raise the children of other men (first my mother’s twin girls and later my step-mother’s twin boys). He aspired to be a good father. But the addicts who also manage to become good parents are far and few between and he was no exception. Especially when you're married to a coke head.
Some part of him wanted to travel. Two summers ago in Singapore, my thoughts turned repeatedly to my father. It was his dream to go to Singapore. He'd said so to my mother before I was born but he never made it to Singapore. By the time he was dying of cancer, did he even remember that he once dreamed of going there? Did he dream for his children, as I do, to see the world?
In his late 40s, he knew he was dying and wanted a family reunion so he could see everyone. By then, it wasn’t unusual for me to go years without speaking to my father. I told him I’d just had a baby, so I couldn’t afford to fly to California to see him. Sorry. It was a pathetic excuse but in the back of my mind, I felt justified. Hadn't he told me he couldn’t afford to fly to Washington, DC for my college graduation and wedding 4 years before? We were even.
At 50, the average person probably figures they have another 30 years left. My father died at 50 so he must have had a lot of unfinished business in his life. Now that I’m staring 40 in the face, and struggling with all my own incompletes, I wonder how all his “loose ends” continue to play out in my narrative.
By seeding the layers of my psycho-emotional terrain with fears of abandonment & rejection, Daddy contributed the essential raw material that fuels most writers -- deep-seated "issues". By failing to live up to his full potential, is it possible he somehow fulfilled one of his purposes on earth?
Or maybe that's just me creatively reconciling the irreconcilable & giving him the hero's ending he never had in life.