A word of warning – this is going to be a long post. I have much to say and I don’t want to tucker you out – just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. That being said, if you really respect my writing, who I am as a person, what I discuss and how it may relate to you, then this is one I think you should read. So get yourself a snack, make yourself comfortable and thanks in advance for reading. Read Time: 15 minutes.
TW: Substance Abuse.
While I generally consider October to be one of my favorite months, it’s also always been a bit of a mixed feelings kind of month, too, seeing as October marks the month of my dad’s passing. On occasion, there’s a feeling of sadness, perhaps from the loss of not knowing what could have been had life taken a more functional route. More often than not, it’s simply the quiet acknowledgement of a particular Sunday in the middle of October 2016 , when my brother and I got the call from my aunt that he was gone.
In truth, I had written this a few months ago but I didn’t feel the timing was right to publish it . I think I was also hesitant (and still am – I caught myself feeling nervous on hitting the publish button for this piece) to share for fear of offending family members. My intent with this piece is not to disrespect, tell a story that isn’t mine to tell or twist the story around in a way that is not accurate, especially considering my dad’s side of the family received the brunt of his behavior amidst his downwards spiral. However, I know my version of things and will be sticking to that. I don’t think anyone can place blame on me for writing about my own personal experience.
Rereading emails from the time around my dad’s death, my aunt had said how she hoped my brother and I didn’t carry baggage because of how life went. While she said it with good intent and hope for us, I feel as though I have been carrying baggage surrounding this situation for a while.
It’s time to set it down.
My hope is this will help someone out there reading it to know they’re not alone. Someone who may be working though one of a number of concerns to do with a loved one, parent or family member: Substance abuse issues, narcissistic tendencies, general inconsistency/strain throughout their relationship, lack of closure, the death of a parent.
While this post is primarily going to be about my father, I’d first like to briefly touch upon my grandma, my mum’s mum. Substance abuse is intergenerational within my family, and I think to have not one, but two very close family members succumb to an addiction and/or overdose is distressing. Ultimately, the depth of my grandma’s story and it’s far reaching tentacles are not my place to tell, because it is not mine – it’s my mum’s. However, I think that discussing pieces of it and bringing them to light, can help one to accept the reality of the situation in some ways.
A vice is defined as a wickedness of character or behavior; a bad habit. Both my father and my grandma’s vice happened to be alcohol. I truly believe they were not wicked people at their core, they were not born wicked. However, it certainly was their vice which made them wicked and caused far more destruction than either my mother or father’s side of the family should have been permitted to deal with in this lifetime or the next.
My grandma was an alcoholic for most of her adult life, but my current memories of her only exist thanks in part to my toddler self – she wore bright pink lipstick and round glasses. When she was young she was a beauty queen, which may explain her love for Princess Diana, with an even bigger love for her grandchildren. I was 6 years old when she passed away in 1998 from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. For whatever reason, my grandma had been prescribed a dosage at least 4 or 5 times what would have been considered a normal dosage. When my mother confronted the doctor about the dosage, despite his knowledge that my grandmother had struggled with alcoholism, the doctor responded something to the affect of well you know, little old ladies.
I seem to remember only the good times with my grandma and tell my mum on occasion how I would have like to have gotten to know her better. But as she tends to remind me, her living would have caused more stress and trauma. Therefore, her death (in a way), brought peace to what otherwise might have been further destruction, had she still been living.
The last I spoke of my dad on my site was about the last time I saw him in 2010. Prior to that, he played an inconsistent role, weaving in and out of my life. It was my aunt and uncle’s wedding. I had driven my brother and I, and I remember as we were leaving dad walked us out. He was drunk (I said this before but this particular detail is one which I view as insightful foreshadowing of the years to come), got teary-eyed (likely from the alcohol), and in his best “attempt to sound normal but slurred nonetheless” voice, told us he loved us, and watched us drive away. That would be the last time I would ever see him.
He eventually moved to a city 45 minutes away from my brother and I to be closer to his sisters and for the next 5 years he would on/off call to chat, never making plans to see my brother or I. I think I carried a lot of guilt around (and perhaps residually, still do) for not making an effort to see him. As mum liked to remind my brother and I however, he was the parent, we were the children, and if a parent wants to see their children, it is the parent that should make the effort. Once my brother left for university, my dad no longer had my brother’s phone number, seeing as he switched to an American number. So he would call me.
In The Beginning
In the beginning I would pick up when he called, and we would have nice chats. There would be the occasion where I would miss his calls. What I would often find in my inbox instead was a drunken voicemail, a slurred voice on the other end of the line, that made me grateful I hadn’t picked up the phone.
On another occasion, I remember sitting in a lecture when I was in university, on my birthday. He’d left me a sober voicemail wishing me happy birthday – a nice occasion considering I’d started to receive drunk voicemails from him more frequently around this time period, so it was really great to hear him lucid and clear. I planned on returning his call, but I got swept up in other birthday celebrations and forgot. The next day I received another voicemail from him, a sober one fortunately, but it involved him berating me for not calling him back to thank him for wishing me happy birthday. As if a parent leaving drunk voicemails on their kid’s phone wouldn’t freak you out enough as is, this shook me to the core. He’d barely had functional contact with me (as opposed to dysfunctional, which is what it was most of the time), yet in one of his rare sober phone calls, he used my birthday as a guilt trip – as something to hang over my head.
That incident would alter my engagement with him for the next few years – even more so than my initial decision to not always pick up the phone when I saw it was him calling, when the drunk voicemails started. Around this time, I stopped answering his phone calls altogether, as the number of drunk calls and voicemails soon began to outweigh the sober ones. Eventually I blocked him altogether. Of course with iPhones, you can block a number but you can’t stop a person from leaving messages. So the drunk voicemails continued.
It was hard to listen to the messages on my own, so I would often have mum listen to them with me. Most of the messages within the first 5 seconds you could tell whether it was a drunk or sober voicemail, then they would be deleted. I’ve questioned myself prior to this as to why I didn’t just delete the messages as soon as I saw them come in – how could I let this sort of behavior be passable or deem it acceptable for me to tolerate? Why didn’t I change phone numbers sooner? I wouldn’t have had to deal with the disruption it caused my life – I wouldn’t have had to subject my mum to so much, either.
My therapist made an interesting point one afternoon during our session – she said that people often idealize and hope for their relationship with their parents to turn out a certain way. In fact, it’s normal to keep trying to have the relationship you would ideally like to have. She finished by mentioning that when we finally come to accept that our relationships with our families or parents are not going to change, there is a feeling of loss or mourning.
I was his last connection to my brother and I. Maybe I kept things as they were in case he legitimately needed to get a hold of me. Maybe similar to how i’d ask him over and over again when I was younger and still in touch with him, when he’d quit smoking and hoping he would, that this was what i’d hoped for with the drunk voicemails he left me, too.
The Breaking Point
The breaking point came in 2015 when my brother was playing baseball in Alberta. Mum and I had taken a road trip to watch him play in Brooks, a tiny cattle slaughter town 30 minutes outside of Calgary. His game had been canceled due to poor weather, so we decided to go out for a nice dinner and I left my phone at the hotel. When we arrived back I had 3 voicemails on my phone from my dad, who was completely blottoed. As usual, I asked mum to listen to them with me, except this time my brother was there too. In a nutshell, my dad called my mum awful names which I won’t repeat on here. To witness the inconsistent parent resort to name calling towards the consistent parent, the single parent who raised me, was disgusting, and served as the breaking point at which I decided to change my number and be done with him for good.
My dad passed away in 2016. While the official cause of death was organ failure, when my aunt informed my brother and I of his death over the phone, in the same breath she said he had been a hardcore alcoholic for the past 10 years and that he basically drank himself to death.
After he died, I remember mum and I meeting with my dad’s side of the family at a funeral home, my aunts, uncle and 1 older cousin were there. My parents were in Mexico at the time of his death so my mum’s tan and floral shirt she’d chosen to wear clashed with the somber and surreal mood of the day (a weird moment i’m sure for her too – receiving a text from your daughter that your ex-husband and father of your children has died, as you find yourself traipsing through the Mayan jungle). We’d gathered to discuss his cremation. At one point, my aunt pulled out the outfit they had chosen to cremate him in and pulled out this old knitted, blue sweater he used to wear religiously. It honestly looked like he could’ve purchased it at a Mexican flea market (maybe he actually did) and made him look homeless when he wore it – but it was an odd moment. To be able to actively remember him alive and wearing it when we were together – now meant to be cremated along with the person who once wore it.
My dad’s family told us afterwards that he would often repeat his pattern of drunk phone calls and voicemails with them – he would call my cousins and aunts black out drunk, talking gibberish. It was only after his death I learned that they would call him back the next morning and he wouldn’t remember what he’d done the night before. It would be natural then, for me to believe, that he perhaps didn’t remember calling me either.
They also told me that they would offer to drive dad out to visit my brother and I, as he didn’t have a car, but he always said no. My opinion is it would have been beneath him to accept the ride, and it would have been beneath him to take public transit. Maybe he also thought there was no point in reestablishing a connection, because too much time had passed. I was going to add that too much damage had been done perhaps as well, however, his problems and concerns were often (in his eyes) the result of injustices done to him by other people, not willing to see that perhaps he was the creator of his own havoc. He could never take blame or accept fault as a result of something he had done (or damage caused), which is why I truly question whether my dad died to some extent still believing he had done nothing wrong.
It’s taken me a long time to finally come to terms with the fact that after 5 years of dealing with his voicemails, despite it being indirect contact, despite having the support of my mum, and despite another 4 years having gone by after his death, I experienced trauma. I don’t think I ever told any of my friends what was going on and I wasn’t going to therapy while this was going on, but I should have done both (I’m a bit surprised my head didn’t explode, but I guess it shows my level of tenacity, most likely picked up from mum and her own experiences). Mum had said at the time of his death that she thought my brother would be more affected by his death than I – it’s a case of a boy lacking a father figure, a role model and an eventual ending which didn’t resolve anything. However, now looking back, how could I not be the child that was more affected?
On the outside it may appear as though I was dealt a shit hand in terms of my experience with dad, but despite 5 years of on/off drunk voicemails and inconsistent phone calls, I never dealt with him in person. These inconsistencies I now think of as peace time where I wouldn’t hear from him for months at a time, and my life would seem relatively normal (even though it wasn’t). I feel grateful I never went through the day to day situations, but I especially feel sad for my dad’s family – they had a front row seat to the gradual deterioration of his mind and his body as a result of alcohol. I think if you asked any of my parent’s siblings today, they would still say they don’t understand what happened or where things went wrong. That’s the problem with death, I suppose – the book slams shut before you get to read the last chapter of the story.
I’d like to think wherever he is now, he is at peace. The turmoil he experienced on Earth is no longer harming his mind or his body. I have reconciled with the fact too, that he was doing the best he could in the way that he could, even though it may have seemed like he wasn’t at the time. At the end of the day, he loved my brother and I, somewhere inside of him, even if it seems that got lost along the way, along with his mind, his body and his humanity.
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