My father was a Chief Petty Officer (HMC) in the U.S. Navy. He served his country honorably in both World War II and Korea (serving with the Marine Corps.). He was decorated for bravery in Korea. He retired from the Navy after 21 year 6 months.
My father was also an alcoholic...a disease that finally killed him at age 48. His valor and service to his country do not surprise me. When things were tough he managed to stay sober. When thing were good, inevitably, he would fall of the wagon, often spectacularly.
When I was growing up, there was no such thing as "rehab". It wasn't fashionable, or acceptable to have an addiction problem. In fact, my father was probably viewed as just a drunk, not a person who suffered from addiction.
I spent my youth in a state of constant anxiety, worrying about when my dad would get drunk and do something horrible and embarrassing. He was never physically abusive, but certainly got verbally abusive. This behaviour was the polar opposite of how he was when sober. He would do grandiose things like buy me a car for my 16th birthday with a bad check? My mother made that right somehow...didn't she always?
He wasn't at my first communion, my confirmation, my high school graduation, my college graduation, my wedding or at the birth of his one and only grandchild. I grew us with such resentment and hate for my father that it ate me alive and probably ruined almost all of the relationships that I had with men when I became an adult. It has always been so hard for me to trust or to lean on anyone else. I guess I was always afraid that I would lean and no one would be there. I remember when my Mother called me to tell me that my father had died. I replied "Good". And, that's the way I felt for years and years and years.
Now that I am in the autumn of my life, I have begun to remember the good things about my father. He was smart and handsome. He had a lovely singing voice that reminded me a bit of Bing Crosby's voice. He had a great sense of humor. He nicknamed my sister and I "Frosty Joe" and "Eski Moe" because he claimed we were always in the fridge. I was Frosty my sister, Kitty was Eski. He would even write those names on our lunch bags for school. When we lived in Carlsbad, CA back in the day, he built a nine-hole miniature gold course in our avocado orchard. He taught me to play golf. He attempted to teach me to drive, although that didn't go so well. He loved me. He tried. He was human and he failed.
I have found photos of the last ship he served on, U.S.S. Lloyd Thomas. A photo of my father as a young Petty Officer in his uniform. A photo of him in San Diego, taken probably right around the time I was born. And, a photo of my father and his brother in their uniforms. My dad in his Navy uni and my uncle in his Army uni.
It has been difficult to forgive him. I feel like I owe so many people an apology for my inability to let my defenses down. My lack of warmth and intimacy surely hurt many. My husband, Jimmy, has certainly paid the price and I can never repay him for loving me in spite of it all.
So, Daddy, I forgive you and just as important, I am trying hard to forgive myself.
Rest in peace.