Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thinking About Dad

As often happens this time of year, I was thinking about my father this morning. The first thing one needs to know when picturing me in my kitchen, making coffee and pondering, is that this is no sentimental journey down memory lane. The man is dead. Happily so. For everyone. Himself included.

Cause of death wasn't listed as "suicide" but that was what it was. Drinking yourself to death intentionally takes time, but it can be done. If he'd been truly successful the paramedics (or his landlady) would have found him dead on his kitchen floor, naked among bottles, garbage and urine.

Instead, his landlady arrived too soon with an eviction notice for unpaid rent, and he was unconscious but alive. He survived through five days of delirium tremens in the hospital before becoming mentally aware of his situation--by then my sister and I had been contacted and were there--and made no secret of his desire for it all to be over.

My spouse and I cleared up the truckloads of garbage, bottles and rotten food from his apartment, and loaded his few possessions into our van and then our spare bedroom to await the next development.

The doctors were shocked he survived as long as he did. There was no blood pressure to push the morphine through his system toward the end, yet he managed to breathe and communicate. His kidneys and liver gave up the ghost and I got the call asking whether extreme measures should be used to revive him.

I felt no compunction in saying no. He wanted to die.

It's been about twenty years since then, and as I get older, I feel more compassion for him, even as I realize how deeply he dragged me into his depression and madness, and how open the scars are and their impact on life.

He was a "rocket scientist" stuck in a town he despised and made no secret of his derision for others. He had no intellectual peers except his wife, who had to work double shift just to keep food on the table, while he drank coffee and smoked, when he wasn't on a bender and out cold on the floor.

He thought he was a misunderstood genius. He was right. Partly through the fault of psychiatric medicine--the host of antipsychotics, antidepressents and bipolar stabilizers available today weren't even in the works--partly because he chose to separate himself from other humans out of a grandiose sense of superiority based on reality and fantasy and probably fear of others.

He failed to see that humans are complicated creatures. Even the ones who seem so different from us. It isn't necessary to have the same background to find similar ideas, and he missed connections that might have made a difference.

Instead he had his daughters. I was never quite smart enough, and have a kink in my brain that keeps me from discerning when someone is using sarcasm, the only language he spoke. My sister was smart enough, but luckily older and able to be away from the house more as his mind deteriorated into darkness.

So our house is decorated to the max with holiday ornaments. Coffee is made. And I spent the morning thinking about my father, when I could have been wrapping ornaments. Compassion for him comes in waves. The fear, the anger, the inability to separate until death managed it for me, is mostly in the past.

He left a legacy I think he'd regret. I feel for him. I wish, for so many reasons, that his life could have been different.


mommy p said...

I have started reading your blog lately. Thank you for sharing.

Morgan H said...

Thank you for this thoughtful, poignant post. My own father was an inventor, a pilot, and mechanical genius who eventually drank himself to death. He didn't much care for the company of others; he'd rather tinker in his garage alone. He didn't know how to even begin coping with the emotional damage he brought to the family. He spent his paychecks buying rounds of drinks for bar buddies while my mother worked two and three jobs to put food on the table--an all-too-familiar story. As the years have gone by since his death in '88, I find myself feeling much more compassion for his situation. His only local option was the ultra-religious approach of the Rescue Mission, and that just wasn't gonna happen for Dad. That isn't to say I excuse his behavior or don't bear considerable scars, but it is to say that, especially on holidays like Christmas, I understand he probably would have given almost anything to share a simple Christmas morning with us without the toxic urge for a drink. May he do better in the next life cycle, along with your dad.