My dad died 27 years ago. He was an alcoholic. For a long time I thought that defined him, and after he died I didn’t have positive memories of him. This was largely due to believing the lies that my mother told me about him.
As I grew up and talked with my older siblings, I realised that I had forgotten all the good things about my dad that made him who he was. His alcoholism was an illness that consumed him, but it wasn’t who he was as a person.
He was an engineer and a draughtsman. He was a raconteur who could hold an entire room enraptured. He was a dapper man and could entertain a huge audience. By all accounts he was very well liked and highly respected. I don’t have many photos of him, but I remember seeing some of the black-and-white photos of him and mum at posh dinners in London in the 1950s and 60s: exceedingly stylish, he could pull off the “high society” vibe despite being from working-class roots.
My dad loved jazz and stinky cheese. He made bad jokes (which I think I inherited). He loved his children very much, even though perhaps he didn’t always know how to show it. I will never know the complexity of the man who was my father, but I do now wish I’d bought him better presents at Christmas than socks!
The tragedy of my father’s alcoholism is that it happened (as far as I can tell) because he couldn’t cope with my mum and her mental illness. Back then, people didn’t ask for help with such things. It was only in the 80s that we were able to get some help for mum, but by then it was too late for dad. Unable to handle the demands of a large family, a mentally ill wife and repeated failed attempts at running his own businesses, drinking seemed his only escape. Even after finally getting medical help to get him clean, the addiction never left him and he returned to it with fatal results.
I’m sad that I didn’t get to know my father properly, but I’m glad that nearly thirty years later I’ve been able to piece together a truer picture of him. He wasn’t the demon that I had been led to believe. It’s true that he was not there for me during the last years of his illness, but I no longer blame him for that — it certainly wasn’t his fault. With help from my family, my memories of my dad are finally good memories, not bad ones.
I miss you dad. Happy father’s day.