I have been writing this letter in my head for years now. Until today, I never got the courage to actually put the words down much less send them to you. I have been really trying to figure out why now was the right time and it finally occurred to me.
The reason is simple. I am sad. I am heartbroken. I miss you. Deep down in my soul, I want you in my life.
The truth is, I am also angry. You hurt us and mom so much while we were growing up.
I always thought that all kids had “two” Dads: the morning dad and the nighttime/after drinking Dad. Do you know how stressful it is for a little girl to have to time her conversations with her dad around his whiskey? If I needed a permission slip signed I had about an hour to spit it all out before you changed. That’s it–one hour. Once you got that all too familiar slur, I knew my window was closed.
I thought all Dads started the day washing two aspirins down with two cups of Turkish coffee. I thought all dads started their day at noon and came home at midnight most days. I thought all dads hated vacations. I thought all dads hit.
I actually used to blame Mom for how angry you were. I would see your teeth clenching and beg her in my head to walk away. But she didn’t. She let you come at her again and again. I blamed her for throwing up after every meal. I blamed her for crying. I blamed her for spending days at a time in bed sleeping away the effects of some tranquilizer or another.
Then I blamed myself.
But not for being a bad kid…for being a good kid. I remember trying to think about some misdeed I could commit. I thought maybe if you could both be mad at me…really mad at me…you would stop being mad at each other. But I was afraid. I was afraid to get a bad grade or to get into trouble. So then I started thinking about ways to make myself sick. There is no way you would fight while your poor child was battling a sickness right?
When I was 13 and put my hand through that broken glass pane in our front door, I thought I would just get a scratch, maybe need a few stitches. Maybe then you would sit next to each other in the ER and smile warmly at me and then at each other. I wasn’t supposed to tear my radial artery. I wasn’t supposed to watch a fountain of blood erupt from my wrist with every heartbeat. The kind smile wasn’t supposed to come from the on-call hand surgeon that saved my life that night.
One time when I was about 12, Mom saw the look on my face after one of your famous fights. She stopped in front of me, bent down and whispered “Don’t worry honey, Daddy and I can’t live without each other..no matter what happens, I promise you we will always be together.” Failed promise true. But, the bigger failure was that we all would have been better off had that promise been broken years before.
Last week your visit meant so much to me and my kids. They are already asking when you will be back. I loved that we talked: not just for an hour but for hours. But, do you want to know what I loved the most about that Thursday you spent with me?
I loved watching you help me shop for our office Christmas party. I will never forget the way you grabbed bottle after bottle of liquor, wine and even whiskey without even flinching. I loved that despite my fridge full of beer, you chose a diet Pepsi. I loved that a quick bit of math revealed that you have now been sober 17 years…just about the same amount of time it took me to write this letter.
I have learned from Chris that Dad’s can have one drink and stop. I learned that Dad’s can talk and listen for more than an hour. I learned that Dad’s can love vacations with their kids. I learned that Dad’s can cherish their wives whether their kids are good or bad or sick or not. I learned that a Dad can be calm and reassuring instead of angry and threatening.
Because of Chris, my kids know life with an amazing dad. Because he convinced me that we should have our visit last week, I am finally ready to know my Dad. My “now” dad: the one that can pick up the whiskey, put it in the cart and not even pause.
I love you Dad.