As Father’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about my grandfather and another lesson he taught me repeatedly when he was still here.
When I was a teen, my grandfather always told me,
“Love your father, he’s the only one you’re ever going to get.”
I heard it often, because I was upset about my father a lot. He’s an alcoholic and was consistently doing foolish things. My grandfather knew it, but because he was up in age, he began to forgive everyone for everything. Plus, there were so many things my grandfather didn’t know, things that he would never understand.
Growing up, I was raised by my grandfather and he taught me everything he could. I would only visit my dad every other weekend (many of which were cancelled by him), and in all actuality was closer to my step-mom than him. My step-mom and I spent most of the weekend time together while my dad got wasted. There were plenty of times I didn’t belong with my dad when he was drunk-driving and many weekends I wished I would’ve just stayed home. It was hard for me and I didn’t understand why he wanted to do this to himself and to others. He would get violent and there were times when he hurt himself and others physically. As I got older, I understood why my mom couldn’t stay married to him, and also that if it weren’t for my father’s violence and stupidity, I would’ve had an older sister. My mom miscarried their first child related to his violence.
At one point in my childhood, my dad was in an institution for a few months. He’d gotten so wasted and decided he didn’t want to live anymore. He was listening to some really loud music and got it stuck in his head that he wanted to die. He started a fire in his house and tried to burn himself down with it. I don’t know who got there first, but there was considerable damage to the house and it needed many repairs. I know that my step-mother was fed up with him and she had issues of her own, including losing her young brother in an accident and an older brother in a separate truck accident. She wasn’t dealing with any of this well and began using drugs heavily. A few years later, she died from a drug overdose. Just before that, she sat me down along with my brother and told us that she was planning to divorce my dad, but that she would always love us. There were events like this that my grandfather didn’t know about and he didn’t know the pain my dad caused my step-mother or that she was using drugs. I don’t know if it would’ve changed his thoughts anyhow.
The last time my grandfather reminded me to love my father was my oldest son’s 4th birthday in January, 2004. My step-mom had died a few months before that after her overdose and I’d invited my dad over to my son’s b-day. My son was sitting on my grandpa’s lap and here came my dad up to the house. He fell just outside the door and gashed his head because he was drunk. He couldn’t even stay sober for his grandson’s b-day party. So, I rolled my eyes and sighed. I just didn’t want to deal with it and by this point I’d had enough and was embarrassed. My grandfather looked at me and told me once again to love my father. When my dad finally made it in the house, my grandfather shook his hand and said, “Hey, I love ya.” The party went on as my dad stood there with his head bleeding. The following month my grandfather passed away.
There were many times I reminded myself of what my grandfather taught me about loving my father. With my step-mom just passing, my dad was drunk even more. He didn’t live far from me and I started inviting him over all the time for dinner, trying to do the right thing. My dad loved food, so the idea of cooking for him seemed right, plus I was really missing my grandfather. I guess I thought I could straighten my dad out and maybe once and for all we could have a normal family life together. He would show up sometimes on his motorcycle when he was drunk and a few times he dropped it right outside my driveway. Again, I would remind myself of my grandfather’s request and not get upset. Then, my dad decided that he wanted to find someone to settle down with because he couldn’t be alone anymore ( it had only been a few months since my step-mom’s passing.) It was all he cared about and wouldn’t stop talking about it, that and getting drunk. The fact that he had a loving daughter and grandchildren that wanted a relationship with him didn’t matter. I was relentless and again continued inviting him over. That following month after subsequent drama, I invited him over for lunch. We ordered from this new Mexican restaurant not far from my house. I brought in the food, got everything set up, and handed out the tacos. Everyone started eating and I heard my son laughing. As I looked over at my dad, I noticed that he was eating his taco with the wrapper on it. He was so drunk, he didn’t even realize it and had eaten half the taco and wrapper. Even after all of the repeated drama throughout my childhood and into young adulthood, I still couldn’t understand it. This was life with an alcoholic and somehow I was going to have to remove myself from it, just like my mom did. It was either do that, or my kids were eventually going to be seriously affected by it.
My dad started some new relationships and of course I heard from the women often. They wanted normal relationships too, and it wasn’t going to happen. They didn’t understand and would repeatedly ask me what was wrong with him. My dad was never going to stop being a drunk. He ruined every relationship he had, except for the one that hadn’t been burned yet with my older brother. It wasn’t long after that my brother decided to give my dad a job at his shop working on cars. My dad, at one point when I was very young, was an amazing mechanic during the week and saved the drinking for the weekends. I’m sure my brother thought that he could keep it under control during the day. Things weren’t so bad for a while, at least I didn’t hear about it. I decided to make a visit to see my dad and brother one workday when I was in town. At this time, I’d gone on to have two more kids. These two children would meet him for the first time. As we got out of the car, he greeted my oldest son with the statement, “Hey girl.” I was shocked. He forgot that my oldest was a boy, I guess because he had long curly hair. I couldn’t wait to climb back in the car and leave. Why would I think that exposing my kids to this would be a good thing? Hadn’t I experienced enough of it?
Fast forward, five kids later, and I don’t even know where my dad is. The last I’d heard, he bought a bus ticket to Florida and got stuck in some other state. I guess he’s living in some homeless shelter. For awhile he had a cell phone and I tried calling him a few times. When I would talk to him on the phone, he would just slur his words and cry. He asked how many kids I had and talked about how much his back hurt, from years of picking up car transmissions I guess. My brother tried to keep in touch, but I guess it got harder when my dad got involved with drugs and didn’t have the money to pay the cell phone bill. We don’t know where he is now and I’ve finally given up.
So, I have to say that I don’t think I totally failed on this lesson. I loved my grandfather as he was my father. He raised me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him or am reminded of something he taught me. He’s in my heart forever. In a way, I still love my dad too, just from a distance.
Thanks for reading…