My dad is great. He does dad things like call up the phone company when they’ve overcharged me. He ran alongside me during my first 5 mile race last winter. Today, he went into town and picked up cough medicine for me because I’d been coughing all night. On his way home he stopped in a bar and had a few drinks. My dad is great but he’s also an alcoholic. When he’s drunk it’s hard to remember that he’s great.
He’s not a bad drunk. He’s not abusive or violent or wild. He doesn’t yell or cry. He becomes a pitiful, self-loathing mess. He’s sad and diminished and not the confident, headstrong man I know. He’s also annoying, asking questions about sport and music only he knows the answer to so he can act superior. He’ll ask me how I am five times and never hears my answer. I respond with snarky remarks and his face will fall. “Why are you so mean? I can’t do anything right,” he slurs often. I want to respond with, “Why are you so drunk? Are we doing something wrong?” But I never do.
I’ve read articles about alcoholism and seen alcoholics being portrayed on TV. I know it’s an illness. I know they can’t control it. I know that an alcoholic is unable to say stop. I know it’s not personal. I know it’s his battle. What I don’t know is why he doesn’t want to stop. He goes periods of sobriety, months, even a year once. He trained for and ran a marathon. He can be great. Then he just snaps back into his old ways. Like most alcoholics he is very secretive. I’ve seen him drink in the bathroom, hide alcohol in the garden, remove his coat before entering the house to disguise the smell of a bar. By now my ears are trained to hear the hiss that emits from opening a can of beer. Even if I can’t see the can when I walk into the room he’s in I can tell he’s drinking. I can tell by his stance, his slow, deliberate wording, his eating habits. I’ve had years to pick up his signs.
Last Christmas I told my mother I would spend Christmas somewhere else if my dad was drinking. I didn’t and he was. I used to think my mother was weak for letting him continue to binge every weekend. I know now no amount of talking to him or yelling at him will change his mind about getting help. I don’t know if there will ever be a time when he will change his mind.
One of my earliest memories of my dad being drunk was when I was 9. He was taking care of me, my younger brother and cousin while my mum and aunt went away for the weekend. We went into town in the early evening to go to the circus and my dad, having drunk all afternoon, stumbled and fell. When I picked him up I could smell alcohol and I realised he wasn’t with it. I began to cry because I didn’t feel safe anymore. My brother and cousin were small and needed a responsible grown-up with them. A family friend drove by and stopped to pick us up and took us home. I sobbed the entire way and the friend kept telling me it would be all right. My dad was slouched over in the front seat. The next day everything was fine. I don’t understand how that wasn’t a wake up call. I don’t understand how falling drunkenly down the stairs and breaking several ribs two years later wasn’t a time to say enough is enough. I don’t understand how now, at 23, I still feel scared like that 9 year old girl, trying to protect my siblings and figuring out why my dad won’t stop drinking.