Making Peace with my Father

I ran a search for Father’s Day quotes. They are all tributes and warm descriptions of great fathers.  You don’t find any that say, “A father slips away every night into the bottle.” Or “Thanks, Dad, for never being there.”  Or, “I remember a great gift my father gave me: he passed out on the couch every Sunday and embarrassed me in front of my friends.”

My father was an alcoholic who died at the age of forty-seven from alcoholism. I remember a man who was at heart kind, but who simply wasn’t there, even when he was there. I carry one good memory of my father. I was perhaps four, and I had lost my teddy bear, the one I clung to when I went to bed. My father went out to find him under the slide on the swing set. I remember it being dark, and I thought it was brave of my father to go out there. Now that I’ve had a child and grandchildren, I think perhaps it was self-preservation on his part, but still, he did it, and I remain grateful.

For years the painful memories of my  father far over-shadowed any good ones. In his last days, he was so dissipated from alcohol that his mind was gone and he could not walk. I had to see that and deal with it, and be the one to handle his funeral before I was twenty-one. I blamed him for inflicting that upon me, and for never being a father. I felt an orphan. I think I blamed God, too, that I was not given the father I felt I deserved.

Somewhere along the way, however, I finally woke up to the rich blessings of all the fathers I was given. One, perhaps the first, was my grandfather for whom I am named. I suppose he was the stand in, until I would find the Matlock men. Oh, how I adored my grandfather Curtis! I remember him as kind, and funny, and generous, a good man that made me proud to be named after him.

Lessons: real men paint little girls' fingernails.

Then I left home at the age of seventeen and married, gaining a father-in-law, Pa, who would become a true father to me. One memory of Pa Matlock stands out: He, a staunch Free Will Baptist, giving out my promotion bookmarks for my first books– romances with sex!–to everyone he met. I was his ‘Favorite’ daughter-in-law (his only one.) I think, too, of our private times, when Pa told me some of his own story with a drinking father, and how he got himself up and out of such a background. We shared a kinship of not really having a father. His experience made him determined to be one.

There is also my husband, who has often guided me, and who has become the patriarch of our little family. He has weathered the storms of our early married years and become a mighty oak, like his father before him. We call him Papa.

Today I spent with our son, watching him with his two children. He took them to church, not so much because he wanted to go, but because he knew they would enjoy Sunday school, and because he is trying to be like his father and grandfather before him. They are good models, and so is he.

None of these men can be called perfect. A father is not perfect. He simply tries his best and makes many sacrifices. Thankfully today I can see all such men who came into my life. I never was left an orphan. God provided.

This is the first time I have been able to write truthfully about my father. For one thing, my mother is not likely to read it. And I find that finally I have made peace with my father. I think of him, an alcoholic who was the son of an alcoholic. He did not plan for things to turn out that way. In his way, he did the very best he could. And he got my teddy bear for me. Thank you, Daddy. I love you.