Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Man of constant sorrow"

It is approaching the anniversary of the death of my father. My father died the day my son was born. I had a complicated relationship with my father. As a child, I idolized him. It seemed as if he do anything. He took me fishing. He could play cards and pool. He had friends who had horses. He knew all about sports. It seemed as if he could answer any question.

As I got older, I noticed many of our interactions revolved around the ebbs and tides of his drinking. I started to see this man through a different lense. I did learn some important skills from him. I learned how to hide my feelings. I used to take my fingers and put them in candle wax. The burning sensation mirrored my feelings. At first I felt the pain but eventually I was numb to everything around me.

In my entire life, I have only had a few open discussions with my father. One was when he was in rehab. My parents used everything I said in group therapy against me at one point or another. They were so focused on their relationship many times I felt as if I was in their way. She was trying to fix him and he just needed his fix.

The second of our frank discussions was a few nights before my high school graduation. Many nights I depended on my father for a ride to something of significance in my life and he would reek of booze. That night, the night of my final choral performance was no difference. He drank just enough to keep the shakes away that night. When he dropped me off, I had been presumptuous enough to tell him of his failures as a parent.

I had a third conversation with my father when I was calling collect from jail. I was kicking heroin. Of course I was in search of money but he gave me something else. My father never acknowledged my addiction. Never. Even after I was clean, he ignored the cancer that had spread through our family. My addiction made him look moderate in comparison.

He gave me one piece of advise. " All of my friends were in the cemetery or the penitentiary". I realized my father understood my pain. Our blood is the same. Our heart beats loudly and our wounds heal slowly. I realized that we finally had something in common. We share the same affliction, this addiction. It swallowed us whole. At last, I understood, I am him.

I had one more conversation in recovery. It was not more than a few sentences but I relieved his burden. I forgave him and I began to forgive myself. I never understood this man as my father but I understand him now as an addict in recovery. He wanted to be so much more.

Below is a link to the Stanley Brothers "man of constant sorrow". I bought my dad a documentary about the Stanley Brothers. He grew up listening to them. It was the only gift I ever gave him that I knew he liked.

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