“Ma’am, do you want to press charge s on your husband?” An unusual man’s voice woke me up one night. I was not sure who this man was. At eight years old, I was naturally curious about what was going on. I flipped off my covers and shimmied to my door. I slowly opened it; just enough to peer out and see what was going on.
“No!” my mother replied. She was standing next to a police officer. That was when my father started banging around in the basement again. It was funny how he acted when he was drunk. That night was the first night that I realized my father was an alcoholic.
It wasn’t long before my parents decided they needed a divorce. I want to say I was shocked, but I wasn’t. I was just waiting for their marriage to take the last steps in unraveling. I had noticed problems from kindergarten all the way to third grade. Nothing though, would prepare me for the panic to soon follow. My dad had custody of me every other weekend. For many children this could be an exciting time to bond. For me, it meant he would pick me up… then go and get drunk the rest of the weekend.
I tolerated a majority of his behavior. What else can you do when the drunk is your father? There were times when he would want to take a trip to visit some family, but first he always grabbed a couple of beers before jumping in the car. I can see the image like it happened just yesterday. My father cracking open a cold beer while racing down country roads. Sometimes it felt like there was no real objective. My dad and I just cruising with him half tanked. Other days, we would sit at home and watch television. It wouldn’t be long before he would get drunk enough to pass out.
When he passed out, he was out cold. If I did manage to wake him, he would scream at me. A few times I needed to figure out what I was going to make myself for dinner. One night, I had a chip sandwich since he didn’t make it to the store earlier. It didn’t take long for him to get worse. I was constantly walking on egg shells. I had no idea what would set him off. I remember most of this happened when I was in fourth grade. My young friends could see the pain behind my eyes. My mother could sense the fear I felt, but remained silent about.
The summer of fourth grade, he started drinking and driving more. He also started wrecking his cars. Even though my father was drunk, he would still manage to take off before the cops would arrive. This was to avoid a DUI. At one point my mother got a call about my dad’s car being upside down, in a ditch. They found an open container something like whiskey, with no dad in sight. It would be a few more days before he “popped” back into the world. Soon after that, he just stopped coming to get me. He would promise to pick me up. I would wait on the porch all packed. Then he would never show after an hour or two of hoping to see his car pull up.
After many years of abusing alcohol, my father is back in my life. He has been sober for about six years. He has just recently given up smoking also. My father was not the same person then that he is now. He was someone else, someone being controlled by a substance. Now, he is just him. No influence is on him but his heart. I believe that even though he doesn’t remember screaming at his little girl, I can forgive him. I believe that even though my father was a drunk, it doesn’t mean I will ever be. I believe that I can still fall in love with a man someday and he won’t leave me like my father did. I believe that I can forgive him for all the wrong he has done to my mother and I. I can believe this because I see that he has so much left to teach and to make up for. For every minute that I don’t forgive him, it is another minute that I can’t have my heart feel full.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.