Dad’s Day

Mine is a place with room for one. A place from where I chronicle life as the spouse of an alcoholic and mother of two young adults whose dad has alcoholism. In words strung together on these pages and beyond lives their story. Of a man and his children now finding the way on their terms, absent my best yet sometimes crowding intentions to influence their togetherness. Not because they have to but because they want to. He is, after all, theirs and they are his.

I watch how he nurtures them in ways I can’t and challenges them in ways I won’t. And how they in turn, through love that is undoubtedly unconditional, are determining their tolerance for relapse, their means of discovery and their methods of confrontation while growing in their understanding of what one degree of separation is in an alcoholic family.

When they indulge in some of the heavy lifting of Swenny’s alcoholism, they sometimes do so in order to protect him. At times from me.

Summer is our season of relapse. Without an exact pattern to track, it is nearly certain that extended daylight hours will be spent searching for evidence as the symptoms of alcoholism line up in a way that connects the last day of sobriety with one in the drinking continuum that is far past the first.

This summer, though, the only evidence I have found has been circumstantial. Despite scouring the darkest corners of our house, digging in golf bags, checking the underside of box springs and the wheel wells of Swenny’s car, I continue to emerge from my searches without proof. Backed only by instincts which have yet to fail me, I concluded a recent midweek dinner with a serving of questions that asked of Swenny one thing: To let me in. Instead, he lied.

Whatever resolve I brought to the table was consumed by his hedging. So I listened to his untruths and continued to search. Finding nothing combined with Swenny’s refusal to be forthcoming, I asked our son who is home from college how he felt things were going. From the perspective of progress made, he answered in the positive before sharing that which I was never meant to know: Swenny’s relapse is real. And together they have kept it from me.

While I was working late one night in May, our son confirmed a hunch that his father had been drinking by buying a breathalyzer and securing a confession before the test was taken. Just one year ago, almost to the date, he told me immediately of a relapse he had uncovered. This year he was hesitant to share. With words formed by Swenny, he explained his position, asking that I please not confront his dad.

And I won’t. Because as I consider still an exit that leaves each of us whole, I will not risk taking with me any of what they have built. But when it buckles under the weight of the alcoholic lies by which Swenny lives, I will let it fall on him.





There is no happy ending to the stories I know in which alcoholism has a part. Its introduction seems to commence with unfortunate incidents, often in a series that begins with the misplacement of self to the dissolution of dreams, the breaking of relationships, the loss of livelihoods and sometimes of life.

I have attended two funerals of people whose death came at the hands of alcoholism. Both men. Both family. One was a young husband and father in his early 30s. Living away from home to work on his sobriety, he tumbled down a flight of stairs after losing his balance while reaching to disengage a smoke detector set off by an overcooked pizza.  The other was the nephew of my grandmother who, after learning his liver was failing, spent his final few weeks on towels to absorb fluids that his body could not. His service was on Wednesday night, and I  accompanied my mom so she wouldn’t have to go alone.

I sat in the middle, behind those mourning without qualification.  Close enough to understand their relief for the peace in which he finally rested, but from a distance requiring some interpretation of how he got there. The empty seats around me were waiting for some of the same people present the last time I saw him – at the funeral of his mother one year ago. He stood in the back. I don’t remember that he ever sat down.

Sitting there in consideration, listening to his sons assure a long line of mourners of the comfort they took in knowing their dad could no longer suffer, I determined that alcoholism is a thief. Just as the man takes a drink, the drink takes the man. Slowly but surely, until he seems empty of meaning.

It is never too late, though, I know now, for that which has been stolen to be returned to its rightful owner. So that it can be carried forward and eventually left in the care of those who call upon them with titles of endearment. With words like dad, son, friend and brother. Protecter. And provider.

On Wednesday night, alcoholism did not have the last word. At the time of his passing, the man to whom we said goodbye was adding meaning faster than it was being taken. Seeking medical care, planning to return to work, making known to his children his pride in them and to his grandchildren of his affection. From my seat in the middle yet yards from his shirttail, I learned that his expectation was for another day. When it didn’t come, those who said goodbye first found what was taken, and promptly returned it to him through letters, drawings and stories as love and laughter saw the thief out.

“Every blade in the field – Every leaf in the forest – lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up.” – Henry David Thoreau