10/30/2008

Paterfamilias

As those who Twit will know from yesterday's outburst, DUI Dad, ever competitive, has once again decided to imbibe and drive. It's a clever combination really, particularly when one is awaiting trial for the same action from a mere two weeks prior.

My brother got a phone call to say that Dad was in the hospital, though naturally the hospital could not tell C what happened. When he spoke to my Dad, he was still under the influence and couldn't stop apologising. He also couldn't stop apologising to C the first time, all those days ago. C, like me, is getting increasingly fed up.

I was thinking about this situation today on a fairly long walk to a meeting. The sheer clusterfuckedness of it is a bit overwhelming, and as I expressed in my previous DUI Dad post, I don't know where I stand on the issue of a support. This is a man who survived a tour of Vietnam, the unfortunate origin of his life's problems. He has spent the past 40 years trying to overcome those issues with varying success. Formerly a cop, he disappeared with his service pistol about 12-13 years ago. It was all over the news, our unique last name boldly marking his connection to my family. Luckily I was out of high school by that point, but C wasn't. I don't know how much it affected him at the time, but I don't imagine it's the best situation for a 14 year old to be in.

My parents split up after a protracted period of awkward silence and oblique allusions to "meetings" my Dad failed to attend. I forget how old I was, 17 perhaps? My Dad thought the best thing to do was to drop out of our lives completely while he sorted himself out. I supported this decision, more or less, because I thought he was just trying to protect us. In my angry moments, such as the time I ran into him at McDonald's and he blithely asked, "So what are you doing these days - are you in college?", I thought he should be able to put his role as a father before that of a recovering alcoholic, depressed gambling addict. I wanted to be understanding, forgiving, despite his sudden (and eventually quite lengthy) absence from my life. I wanted to be fair even though his addictions led him to drain my college fund completely, stranding me very last minute at a community college when I had planned on going away to school.

In writing this, I wonder why I'm so quick to forgive. Now, as a parent, I can't imagine allowing my personal issues to supercede the well-being as a child. I'm aware that addictions and depression construct an irrational sense of self, but again, when do the excuses stop? When do you have to pull yourself together and get the help that you so obviously require?

I read a post over at Dead Bug's this week that resonated with me to the point that I felt completely raw and exposed. This, this is my fear. The last two paragraphs left me in a teary mess at my desk, and they are having the exact same effect now, re-reading the post. I'm afraid to push him away, because what if he submits to it all? What if, after all these years of fighting back and losing ground in equal measure, he decides that he hasn't the spirit to fight anymore? I am then left with about 16 years of good memories of the Dad I knew then, mixing with the mess that his later life became.

I sometimes struggle to reconcile the two people, as they seem like separate entities entirely. There was the Dad who suffered immensely, but quietly, and there is the one that I have nicknamed DUI Dad to lighten the oppressive tone this sort of subject matter involves. The Dad of my childhood started to dissolve when he left, and re-emerged in the past five years or so as he made a concerted effort to be involved in our lives. Here we find ourselves again, watching the former Dad slip away again.

Not too long ago I posted a Philip Larkin poem entitled "This Be the Verse". At that time I was talking about my influence in my own child's life, wondering if what Larkin said is true:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.


I'm consistently worried that I'm not raising P as well as I could be, but I also know that I will never put her in the position that I (and C as well) are in now. It's amazing how quickly you realise what a good parent you are when your own parent is fucked up beyond the point of return. I may pass on to her my love of looking at houses on the internet, or my habit of getting perhaps a bit too emotional in an argument, but she will never have to worry about whether I will drink myself to death, get in an accident which kills innocent people, or go to jail. "They fuck you up" indeed.

18 comments:

DrSpouse said...

I read your previous post as well, and meant to comment (but I'm guessing I didn't, though my brain is shot). I don't know what it is like to have to look after an adult parent who should be able to look after themselves - perhaps I will have to when mine are older and frail, but for now, I don't know the answers, but I do know you are not the same parent, you will never be the same kind of parent, and you seem to be doing great, with no fuckupage at all.

Vacant Uterus said...

Pru, whatever you do or don't do regarding your relationship toward your father, you are not in any way responsible for his actions. If he slides away into his addiction, it's not because you let go. It's because he did. You cannot control him and aren't responsible for him.

If you mean "what will I do" in the sense that it will be unbearably painful, that I have no answer for. You deserve a full-time dad who adores you and gives his all for you. I'm beyond sad your dad has let you down. It's just unfair. *hugs*

Alexa said...

I keep trying to write a comment, but I can't seem to say what I want to say. The post of Bugs' you linked to hit me terribly hard as well, and...just know that I am thinking of you, and I understand better than I would like to how you are feeling.

Aunt Becky said...

Between my two alcoholic parents, I understand completely. And I'm sorry.

Brigindo said...

I'm sorry. I know this pain and I'm sorry you're going through it right now. There are no right or wrong feelings here, but you know that. Perhaps what makes it hard is feeling both anger and a desire to forgive at the same time. Becoming a mother has made it more complicated for me as well.

Major Bedhead said...

"Pru, whatever you do or don't do regarding your relationship toward your father, you are not in any way responsible for his actions. If he slides away into his addiction, it's not because you let go. It's because he did. You cannot control him and aren't responsible for him."


She said it so well. This is Not Your Fault.

Melissa said...

My mom doesn't have this particular issue but I know what it's like to feel completely responsible for a parent. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this.

Helen said...

Babe,

If you had 16 good early years and the rest bad, I have had the opposite. The key I had to trying to keep myself sane was deciding where my boundaries were with my father. My dad is also a vet that is stuck with something he'd rather not think about. My dad also was nonchalant about me - was I in college? What was I doing?

I also know how you feel, and all I want to do is give you a hug and tell you that even when it hurts and need boundaries, we always love our folks. It doesn't mean we need to accept their pain, though. It just means we love them.

Korechronicles said...

It was when I realised that if I wanted my children to forgive me my sins as parent that I had to be the role model for them. It wasn't alcoholism but physical violence that I had to try and come to terms with so while my situation is different to yours the clusterfuckness left in its wake is the same.

I'm not saying it's easy and Vacant Uterus has put the reality of it better than I ever could. But, hard as it was, I have never regretted that decision because I made it, not from fear, but from a position of love - for my flawed parents and my beautiful children.

Tash said...

I think Vacant Uterus hit the nail on the head: this isn't about you. It's about him. Not that that makes it any easier on you, but hopefully, one day, will ease the guilt and responsibility. He's an adult, and he's the one walking away, not you. That's heartbreaking, and horrible, and ugly. But it's not you.

And if you can look at wee P and know that you'll never walk in the other direction away from her, you're in a damn good place. And you're a damn good mom.

Heather said...

No wise words as everyone has already said them, but I'm thinking of you, Pru.

electriclady said...

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. You deserved better from your dad growing up, and you deserve better now.

nutsinmay said...

*hugs*

Umm. That's it. What they said. And lots of hugs. Because watching a loved one flush themselves down the tubes hurts like hell, even after you've accepted the past and what is and isn't your fault or issue or problem.

Melissia said...

I haven't read the post you referenced or the other comments because your post has left me feeling raw and frail. My dad drank until he was 40 and then he sobered up and over time we have worked very hard to develop a relationship. He now has Alzheimers at 65, and it is as if he is drinking again. All those years gone and all those behaviors back. So I am with you and understand that you have to do whatever keeps you sane for yourself and your family.

Molly said...

Oh darling.

Here's a hug.

Emily said...

I'm afraid I don't really have any helpful words but I wondered if you've read the book "They Fuck You Up" (the title obviously comes from the Larkin poem) - a writer with psychologist parents researched and wrote a book about parents, relationships and the how things impact our development. It didn't change my relationship with my parents per se but its changed the way I look at things.

nancy said...

What a situation you are in. And I can only relate because one of my very best friends was in sort of a similar situation.

Her father was also a Vietnam vet and he was suffering physical and psychological pain which wasn't being taken care of by whatever program vets have for care. And he drank with many DUIs. The last time was when he plowed into a woman driving her 3 children on an across country move, her husband following behind in the moving van. The husband watched as his wife and three children were killed.

Now he's in prison for the rest of his life and my friend is still having a very hard time figuring all of this out in her head. Forgiving him and allowing him, even in his incarcerated capacity, into her children's lives is a daily struggle.

I wish I had some words of advice, but I just wanted to let you know I can understand your inner stuggle must be hard. And to offer you a ~hug~

wheelsonthebus said...

This is a very tough situation, and I can feel how conflicted you are between understanding the reasons and rejecting the excuses.