A friend of mine, a few days ago, made a suggestion that he hoped wasn’t invasive, but felt it needed to be said. As I brush my teeth, feeling as if (as this year ends and another starts) the world is very heavy on my shoulders. The last six months effectively boil down to a few sentences:
My Dad is a nasty drunk. A nice man and father, but a nasty drunk.
He has always had a drink problem; but heck, he was an adult in the ’60’s, 70’s and 80’s, who didn’t? Just like smoking, it was endemic. When you went out in the evening, you had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Smoking killed my mother nearly five years ago, and it seems Dad wants alcohol to do the same for him.
My first real memory of him was when I was three years old, and in a rage, he held me by the throat up against a wall, as my feet were dangling; I was being a pain and I didn’t want to go to sleep; he was drunk and needed me to shut up. My childhood is dotted with little memories like that. Now, don’t get me wrong. My Dad was fundamentally a good guy. He was in essence a good Dad. Yet, it is true, that both my sister and I were very scared of him when he had a few. We didn’t know how he was going to react. I left home at eighteen and to be honest I tried to stay away as much as I could.
Now, twenty years later, his alcoholic beast has raised its head again and, as before, I seem to be taking the front line.
I have been rather lax on my writing of late, and not without reason. What has happened over the last six-twelve months has been too close to home. I knew, that I had to write about my Dad, before I could write about anything else, but I just couldn’t. It hurt and I couldn’t process everything going through my head. I had writers block; my Dad was my writers’ block. I claimed I was researching my next book, I wasn’t, not really. I was just too scared to write.
Before I progress a little background.
The weekend before Fathers’ Day, I went to visit my Dad with my Son. It was the first time I had really seen the change in him. He looked thin, he smelt, he couldn’t remember where we usually met and what we usually did when we visited. I talked to him about my Sister who had visited the weekend before and he couldn’t remember her visiting. She had stayed with him for four days and he couldn’t remember. After my son and I had spent nearly two hours driving down to see him, he excused himself abruptly after thirty minutes and left. Just like that he left.
The next day was Fathers’ Day and we couldn’t get hold of him. My Sister and I ran every number we could find, constantly and no response. After twenty-four hours of no answer, and given the dire state he was in the day before, we called the Police. He eventually picked up the phone, the Police stood down, but we were getting concerned. I resolved to contact his family Doctor to make an appointment that week. The next day ,(Monday), at seven o’clock in the morning the Paramedics called me. They were picking him up from the floor, (he is a double leg-amputee), and he was pissed. Seven o’clock in the morning and he was drunk. Angry, difficult and drunk.
His behaviours over the last few months fell into place. The times he forgot we were meeting up despite calling hours before. The times he bailed after short periods with no real reason and the frankly horrible behaviour. I mean it he was vile. He ignored my son and swore at him, to the point my Son didn’t want to visit. He told me I was a poor mother, as well as listing my Sister and I’s faults in blatant detail whenever he could.
He was a mean drunk.
And yet he managed to keep the drinking secret. How? I have no idea, but he did. He always organized meet-ups in the late morning, so he could have a short period where he was vaguely sober. He always wanted to meet in town so we couldn’t see his home. He lived alone, so he could buy alcohol and drink whenever he wanted. He could hide he wasn’t eating. (When I went to sort through his house I threw out three cupboards of out-of-date food). When we talked in the evening (because he liked to be out most of the day, or so we thought), he seemed tipsy, but not drunk. He ensured that no authorities called my Sister and I to tell us what was happening.
It wasn’t until a brave Paramedic put his career on the line and called me that we realized what was happening. The Paramedic told us that they came out three to four times a week to pick him up from the floor because he was drunk and this had been going on for months.
I raced down to see my Dad, and after an Emergency meeting with his family Doctor, we discovered the extent of his drinking. He was drinking between one and two bottles of spirits A DAY. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t taking his meds and he could barely look after himself. I was disgusted at myself that he had gone to this state and we hadn’t noticed.
My Dad was admitted to the local hospital under a detox program. All-in-all he was in hospital for three months. My Son didn’t have the summer holiday we had organised, because I had to spend at least two-three days a week making phone calls on his behalf and visiting. At one point we thought he had stroked out during the detox program because he could barely hold himself up. There is a memory of my Dad scorched in my brain, of him, lying in a hospital bed, drooling, unable to speak, shitting himself and being spoon fed.
This is what alcohol addiction had done to him.
He didn’t have a stroke, but he did have swelling on the brain. Swelling which destroyed his short-term memory, his mobility and his control over his bowels. Under the advice of the hospital and his agreement, my sister and I organized a nursing home for him. We had to send our sixty-seven year old Father into a nursing home, because of drinking.
Over the last six months he has been sober. His mobility has recovered and he has more control of his bowels. His memory is still hit-and-miss and he has no real recollection of anything that happened during the last year. He finds it easier to think that I had put him in a home against his will instead of admitting the situation. For the last six months I have been constantly blamed by him for his predicament.
The lack of memory is unfortunately his downfall. He has no recollection of what he was like during the last twelve months. He doesn’t understand what has happened. He thinks my Sister and I have dumped him in the nursing home and forgotten about him. Because he didn’t have organize Doctors meetings, or have telephone calls with Social workers and housing officers, it didn’t happen. Because he didn’t have to tour multiple homes and talk to accountants, his drinking is not an issue. Because he had decided to let me sort out all of his mess, he doesn’t realize how much work that is.
When he joked about drinking again and my sister and I berated him, he thought we were over-reacting. Who were we to dictate what he could and couldn’t do? He was lonely, and he could do what the heck he liked.
So, as he brought that bottle of Scotch last week, and started to drink it, he didn’t think it mattered.
Guess what Dad, it did!
I have spent the last two days having meetings and phone calls and playing damage control, because it does matter. When he drank himself to the point of hospitalization in June, it placed him on the RADAR of multiple Government agencies. When he refused help, it meant that liberties had to be taken away, and although my Sister and I have fought to maintain as many of those liberties as we can for him, it still means he can’t fuck up. Everyone is watching him; making sure he doesn’t get out of control again. If he drinks he is potentially dangerous to himself and others.
So, here is my letter - the one I was encouraged to write. This is what the last six months have been like for us. Dad, this is what Tor and I have gone through.
Your memory is shot and there is only so many times I can say all of this without going a little nuts. So, here goes… once and for all…
I am sorry Dad that we didn’t notice what was going on in your life. I am sorry that you are lonely and we weren’t there for you as much as we could be. We understand that you want to live close to where you have spent the last thirty years of your life -where you spent your life with Mum- but Tor and I cannot up and move our lives to be close to you. I am sorry I couldn’t ask you to live with us, but I am already a dedicated carer to one member of my family, who really does need my full-on attention. I do not have the mental strength to cope with you too. (Also we would have to move, as our house would never work for you). We were happy for you to move close to us so we could see you every day, but we can’t force you. We respect your decision to stay in the area you are comfortable.
I am Sorry, I really am. I feel guilty that we let this situation happen to you.
However, you are a grown man. Yes, Tor and I do have some of the responsibility for this situation, but so do you. We offered help and support and you ignored it. We tried to get you help and you refused. Tor and I do not have any legal responsibilities over you. Everything that has been decided for you, has been done with your consent. We can’t force you to be anywhere, or do anything you don’t want to. Ultimately where you are is YOUR choice, not ours. YOURS.
This isn’t about blame. You messed up, but we all do. We are all human. Family is there to help you pick up the pieces, and we have done that. You have no idea how hard we have worked to get you the type of housing you want in the area you want. You have it; in three months time you can move. I have lobbied and called and negotiated and pulled off a mini-miracle. I have jumped you from the back of the long waiting list to the front. Months of MY hard work have paid off, but you need to be sober.
You have to accept that you cannot drink anymore and that you need help. I will organize everything you need to help you in this, but you need to acknowledge that you have an issue and take the help. If you don’t then no matter how hard I try, I cannot fix this problem for you.
Understand the stakes. If you drink, you will lose the place you are in; they won’t allow you to stay if you are drunk, dangerous to yourself and mean to the staff. If you drink, the placement in a more independent home -the place you cited you wanted to go to- will fall through. Your memory will go, your mobility will decrease and you will have to be placed in a home that is very restrictive. If you carry on this path, any liberties you currently have WILL be taken away from you because you are dangerous to yourself and others. The authorities will do this to protect you. I will not be able to prevent it.
So, I am pleading with you. Please when you think that the one drink doesn’t matter, then read this. Tape this letter to your wall. Memorize it.
Please be the Father and Grandfather we love. The one that takes your Grandson on buggy rides and who races him in the park. The one who is kind and loving. The guy whose mission is to make one person smile every day. Please do not become the mean nasty drunk who forgets Christmas because the Scotch is more important.
I can’t do anything more for you. I can’t fix this problem anymore. I have placed enough bandages on this and I have fixed it all I can. I have picked you up and placed in front of you all of the opportunities you claimed you wanted. It’s up to you now. A life or a bottle. Your choice.
Your Loving Daughter
I have needed to write this down for months. It has been swirling around my head to the point of breaking. It’s out of me now and perhaps, with two hours to go before the new year starts, I can finally start my days with a lighter heart. I have done everything I possibly can, (I know this now and I no longer feel guilty for the past) and now I need to pass the burden onto the only person who can fix this; my Dad.