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.


This Eclectic Life said...

Once again, Jamie, you have taken my heart and wrung it out. I'm leaking tears all over the place.

I know why you loved your Daddy. Alcohol did a number at our house, too.

Beautifully written.

maryt/theteach said...

Ah, Jamie, I understand.:')

Insightful Nana said...

Wow... I always find people's family experiences to be interesting. If parents could only realize the long term effects on their kids.

I have a great relationship with my kids. However, I don't know of a parent who does not have regrets...we are human! I've said, "I'm sorry," a million times and have tried to be a better grandmother.

Travis Cody said...

That's a beautiful song.

Thorne said...

Oh, amazing love. Isn't it a wonder? What a lovely tribute to your Dad.

carol g said...

Jamie... this is such a beautiful tribute to your dad -- the pain, the love, the laughs... the memories -- and you write it so beautifully and with much love (even if you didn't forgive him, you did love him).

Mo and The Purries said...

unfortunately, i can relate all too well.

Linda said...


Linda said...

Okay, having now said that ... even though my father was not a drunk, I can relate a little bit to your story as my father was rather cold and distant to me when I was a child. I never got the whole "Daddy's little girl" treatment but instead was made to feel like a major disappointment to him throughout most of my life. Still, now that he's gone I don't dwell on the times that we'd argue or when he would say hurtful things to me for what I thought was no good reason.

I remember instead that he was a hard-working, honest man who came from a broken home back when not a lot of homes were broken; that he joined the Air Force before he even graduated from high school and that he had a long and honorable career there; that people always liked and respected my father even when he spoke his mind (which was often); and that my mother adored him. He was the sun and she was the moon - he was the Alpha to her Omega - they loved each other unconditionally and more each year and that was something to be admired.

My Mom always said that my Dad and I were too much alike to get along - that we were both as stubborn as the day was long - and she was probably right. I was pig-headed but Dad was even more so. Add on the fact that he'd never had any sisters growing up and I guess he had no concept of what to do with a head-strong little girl who openly adored her grandfather and seemed scared to death of her father.

Still, he was my father and I loved him and still do in spite of his passing on over six years ago. In looking back I know that he tried in my later life to make up for the failures of our relationship early on and I give him points for that as I acknowledge that I am probably more like him every single day.

We forgive those that we love - we have to.

Such a wonderful post, Jamie.

Linda said...

Make that he came from a broken home in a time when few homes were broken. I really need to proofread before I hit publish!

Steve said...

I think there are many people that can relate to this. Alcohol is in most everyone's family and is being abused by a few family members.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Jamie, this is an amazing piece of writing, and your poem is very powerful.

Thanks for including the picture, which says so much.

My husband's family lives through the fall-out of having had a violent alcoholic husband/father, who recovered and was the quiet, shy person I met and who was my father-in-law. However, when he passed away, there were two Davids being buried--the original scary David and the David who triumphed.

Thanks for reposting this.

Mimi Lenox said...

Now I'm crying. But I needed a good cry today.
"Disappointments and bourbon..."

This is my favorite line from your post -
" 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."

Yes ma'am.