Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

The hospital room had low summer lighting.  I think that’s what they call it, anyway.  Summer lighting.  It meant that the lighting wasn’t harsh or hard on the eyes.  “Muted yellow lighting” would have been more descriptive.

Anyway, it was calm.

Much like the patient in the bed.  He was calm, too.  Peaceful. Apologetic.

In the last few months, he had made an effort to talk with everyone.  His kids, his brothers, me.

In each case, he had offered up an offer of peace.  His way of saying he was sorry.  Sorry for the way he had treated us.  Sorry for the angst and anger he had vented on us.  Sorry for the hurt.  Sorry for the pain and the worry and the overwhelming fear he had provoked.

He told each of us that he loved us.  It seemed important to him for some reason.

I vaguely recall the time he told me that too.  I accepted what he said, politely.  That’s what you do, when someone says they love you.  Especially when that someone has been a vision of horror for such a large portion of your life.  You smile and you say “me too”.

Whether you mean it or not is another thing entirely.

I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

I damned well did not love him.

When he breathed his last breath under that summer lighting in that hospital bed, I breathed a sigh of relief.  And I felt marginally guilty for doing so.


I went home that night.  My daughter was in the kitchen, doing something.  I don’t recall exactly what.  Probably doing dishes.

Leaving the lights off, I sat down at the piano, and started to play.  I didn’t have a song in mind, so I created one.  Arpeggios came to mind, and I followed through.  Minor keys, major keys.  A rhythm.  It coalesced into…..something.

It was at once stark, painful and hopeful. It was peaceful, and sad.  I decided to make it a song about my dad.  I called it “Hope of Glory”.

When the time came and we had the Catholic mass for him, I sat at the front of the church and I played that song.

Interspersed with the melody were the vibrations of memory.

My father, drunk and angry.  Wrapping a chain around his fist.  My mother yelling at him.  He had been pulled over by a cop earlier that week and by God he was going to go hunt for the cop and repay him.  My mother threatening to call the police the moment he left the house.

My fingers caressed the keys, plinking away at the foundation of the song.

My dad, drunk once again, looking for a fight.  Hearing me say something at the top of the cellar stairs.  I don’t recall what it was, but I had made the mistake of disagreeing with him.  “ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?”

“But..” I started to say “that’s not what——”   Then I heard him running to the bottom of the stairs.  I turned, opened the door and bolted outside.

His 350 pound lumbering gait was no match for my lithe 140 pound sprint.  I could at least outrun him.   He roared in frustration at the door.  “DON’T COME BACK”

My fingers picked up the melody, to counterbalance the bass line.  The rhythm began.

My dad, raising his voice.  The first sign of a rage that would be repeated each weekend, and eventually every other weekday for years.

A series of thumps and scrambling and grunts.  My mom, crying out.  My grandmother yelling at him to stop.

My fingers played eloquently on the keys, calmly following through on the variation.   The silence of the church.

My dad, now sober, unable to relate to me.  We’re sitting in the living room, a show on TV.  He says something.  I say something in response, politely.  Awkward silence.

The song I play now building in volume and depth.  Searching…searching….

My father, laughing now with his brothers at a picnic.  Relating to them, and to a few of my siblings.  But not to me.  My mother, close-lipped and patient.  Me, just wanting to get away.

The song now slows, and I bring it to an end.  Finally.


On the night I first play the song, my daughter comes to my side.  Puts her hand around my shoulder.   “What’s that, dad?  It’s beautiful.”

“It’s just a song I made up, sweetheart.  It’s for my dad.”  She squeezes my shoulder.  My head is bowed, and my tears drop quietly.


He’s been dead for at least a decade now.  A little while ago I had a dream.  It was about him.  We were talking and laughing and I think we played some baseball or something.  I regret not writing it down when I woke up.

The only thing I know is: it was good.  And, apparently after making a concerted effort time and again over the years to forgive him for his drunken violent rages, I’ve finally made peace with him.

Hope of glory.


Posted: February 23, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , , ,

Imagine a thin little boy. Maybe he’s 60 pounds or so. And, as he hasn’t yet reached adolescence, he is still short.

Now, imagine a large black-haired man, who is roughly six feet tall. He usually walks around without a shirt on, so that you could see his massive belly stretched out over the belt of his pants. This mans weighs in at around 350 pounds.

Now…what if the little boy (being little) is naturally timid? It’s not that he’s fearful of life, exactly. It’s just that he hasn’t quite figured it all out yet. He still thinks that he is relatively safe and that life owes him a roof over his head and food. Most children think this way. It’s normal. It’s the way it should be.

And what if the big thick-waisted man happens to have a problem with anger? And what if this anger problem is augmented by a massive drinking problem?


The little boy (being little) has no where else to go, when the big guy loses his temper. Worse, the little boy (being little) has no idea what conditions need to be in place for the man to blow up. It could be a little thing: like a toy that wasn’t put away, that the man stepped on. It could be a glance that the little boy gave his father.

“Maybe” thinks the little boy “I’m just not good enough. Maybe I just need to try harder.”

At what, he has no idea. Still though – the nest is in an uproar, and it’s the responsibility of this little guy to take care of things. Make things right.

So he tries. He picks up his toys. He works hard at his schoolwork and brings home As and Bs.

Each weekend though, his father still drinks. And the boy watches, now in fear, as the ambience of the household grows dark with the imminent storm. Eventually, every weekend, the man lashes out in rage. Usually the boy finds a place to hide, while his mother, sometimes his grandmother, intervenes. Often, one or the other of them will be hit. Occasionally, the police are called. But they don’t take the man away. They just talk to him. Tell him to settle down.

The boy fails. He has no one to tell him that it’s impossible to win. There’s no counsellor who can point out that it doesn’t matter what he does, or doesn’t do – the man will get drunk and he will get angry. The boy is certain he has a part to play, and that if he just acts differently, maybe dad won’t bellow with rage.

The years go by. The weekend rage turns into daily storms. The man is drinking more.

The boy has grown into his teens. So he’s learned to stay away from home as much as possible. He hides out in the library, reading books.

Such wonderful books! It starts out with the Narnia series, and then moves to some of Mark Twain’s works. Then he discovers the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lord of the Rings.

The boy, now a teenager, is hooked. Fantasy and Science Fiction have wrapped their arms around him. For those few moments when he can enter those worlds, he can leave this one behind. The one with the anger, and chaos and the drinking. He doesn’t have to think about his behaviour and what’s going to set his father off.

He also discovers religion. Or it discovers him. He’s not sure. He only knows that once again, another world has opened up. One he wasn’t aware of, before. One that accepts him as he is; forgives him for his faults, unlike his dad. One that offers a Father who actually cares about him.

It’s all so wonderful. He has no inkling that any of it can be termed: “escape”.

Eventually the man stops drinking. He has to. His job was forfeit, otherwise.

The anger remains though. One of the things the man is angry about is why his oldest son doesn’t want to be around him. There comes a day when number one son cuts through his rage to tell him why he avoided him. “You were never a father to me”

It’s the one time when alcohol could not trump reality. That statement cuts through the man; stops him cold in his tracks. His rage seems to dwindle away as he stupidly stares at his son. Quizzical. Disappointed, perhaps with himself. The boy doesn’t know what his father thinks about what he said. He stands there, eyes wide, fully expecting to be beaten up for being so mouthy. He is surprised when his father looks down, turns away.

The years went by, and the father remains sober. There’s an awkwardness between them that remains, never to diminish.

The boy, now a man, continues with his escapism, not realizing that life is now better. He enjoys his books, and his religion, and adds to them, movies and TV. Anything that will give him a world different from the one he is in.

Eventually he adds prescription drugs. And wine. And other things.

It takes a while for him to realize some important things that the little boy was never told.

It wasn’t his fault that his dad was angry.

He could make his own decisions, and create his own reality. As much of it as he wanted.

Eventually, he sees what he is doing with the drugs, and the wine. And he stops. He stops drinking to escape, and now drinks for enjoyment only. He never gets drunk.

He still reads books, but now recognizes the difference between reality and the world of the book. He reads for enjoyment.

The hardest part was dropping religion. He still believes in God. He just doesn’t believe in the construct that religion put around Him. He holds his faith close to his heart, and doesn’t promote it to anyone. He believes in a Father who loves him. To believe anything less would be hurtful to himself. He knows this.

He wonders though.

How many other people are living lives of pure escape?