16 June 2012
Repost - Daddy Was A Drunk
This was written for Father's Day three years ago. It seems a good time to repost.
It will be Father's Day on Sunday. Sons and daughters will be out there doing nice things for their fathers or those whose fathers have passed on will be saying nice things about their dads. They have fond memories of the males who helped make them. What do I remember most about Bob White? Daddy was a drunk.
That fact colored the whole of my life from 1944 to 1971 ... more than a quarter of a century of alcohol until his last attempt at sobriety took hold and he became a recovering drunk for the last ten years of his life until 1981. For the ten years from 1971 to 1981, I got a once a year visit that usually included a "you are just like your mother" lecture when he was trying to work the "make amends" step and I was tolerant as he tried to talk to me while I stubbornly sipped a cocktail in front of him over dinner. Can we say this was a difficult relationship?
I've been known to write poetry, so what did I write about my dad?
Daddy sold the piano that was my life
Thirty years late he died
I said that I forgave him
I think he knew I lied
So given all the above, particularly the gypsy existence and the emotionally devastating (though I didn't say anything) loss of the piano, why did I cry for three days when his last wife called to say he had died and I wasn't able to get to Arizona? Why did my son who never comes unglued come totally unglued and get into the only fist fight of his life while in the Army in Germany? Why do I send daisies (gowans in Scots) to him every Memorial Day for Auld Lang Syne? Why did I make a trip to Scotland just to see where he was born, and why to this day do I still miss my daddy? Because at some point in our lives most of us become orphans. In order to grow up you finally have to see and accept your parents as human beings with all of their failings and virtues. This is a love story about my daddy.
Let's start with the simple things. From birth to 17 I may have spent six years total in his presence and that is as a result of adding days together not much living with. So why do I remember daddy holding my hand as we climbed the stairs to the club house at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, or Del Mar and why to this day do I love horse racing? Why do I remember learning to dance with my feet on his shoes and to this day I love dancing. Why do I remember him soused and still able to count cards at blackjack or points in Cribbage at lightning speed because he was a mathematical genius, and to this day I love to play cards (His great granddaughter that he met when she was six weeks old got the math skills). Why did he send me postcards from every state line on Route 66 that he crossed when I was seven? To this day I love getting behind a wheel just for the sheer joy of driving and want to echo as much of that trip as possible, even though it scared me to death when he rolled a car while driving drunk. Why do I remember that he borrowed a mink stole from a girlfriend so that I could wear it to the Balboa Bay Club on my 16th birthday and dance to "My Funny Valentine" with my father? To this day that is my one of my favorite songs. And for all the drinks that caused all the pain, I still love cabarets and piano bars and all the dark places with candle lit tables where you can actually hear the lyrics to a well written song.
Interspersed with all of the above are a whole lot of ugly memories that you don't need to know except that he was a kind, gentle man who never raised a hand to anyone he loved. Embarrassed them horribly - Yes and made them angry - Yes. Life around this man wasn't easy. He was literate, funny, musical, all sorts of charming - enough to get himself married three times for ten years each, not to mention the girlfriends in between.
So I'm 65, two years older than my dad when he died, and Sunday is Father's Day. Last May he would have been 91. Not impossible as his father lived to be 89. If alcohol and the damage it did to his heart hadn't done him in, he could have been here to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He isn't here. That is a shame, because my son and I are the only ones left to remember and laugh every time we watch the "Show Me The Way To Go Home" scene in Jaws, because it was one of his favorite songs when drinking, and why Amanda McBroom's song Errol Flynn always gets to me. If Ms. McBroom and I ever meet we can talk about memories of daddies and Union Station. In the meantime, here she is singing her love song for her daddy and in many ways mine as well. You see. My daddy was a drunk.