So, my father’s side of my family. I knew my father himself for six years. He died when I was six. Facts I know about him: He put himself through college, the first in his family to go. He went to a school known for partying. He sold ice cream on the beach to make money, and he boxed. I have pictures of him boxing. He was short, 5’6″, and chubby. He was funny. People compare him to Jonathan Winters regarding his sense of humor. As a child, he had spinal meningitis, and all the other kids in with him died (this according to my aunt).
Because I was so young when he died, the things I remember the best are the last things, and because he was an alcoholic, the last things are the worst things. I remember being with him in a post office, and a person working there telling him they wouldn’t call the police because he had his little girl with him (me). For some reason I think he was trying to use counterfeit money. But at a post office? It doesn’t really make sense. I asked one of my aunts if this was possible, and she said that, knowing him, yes, it is possible. I remember my mother screaming and yelling at him and taking me to my grandparents to stay. I remember walking in the front door with her, seeing him suspended by his arms between the coffee table and the couch, beer cans everywhere. I remember my mother telling me to go to my room, and her throwing the cans at him, yelling. I remember seeing him splayed out on their bed, telling my mother I saw “Daddy’s thing.” I remember blood in their bed, because he bled from lots of places. I remember my mother taking me to the hospital to see him, and being frightened because children weren’t allowed in (this was the 1960s). I remember my mother coming into my first grade classroom, pulling me out into the auditorium to tell me he had died. I remember asking her how she knew he was dead. I remember my grandparents driving me in their Cadillac, my grandmother telling me that my father had died because God thought it was time.
My mother told me later that had gone to the hospital many times to dry out. He had no contact with AA that she knows of. He promised many times to stop drinking. He developed cirrhosis and a wet brain. All this at the age of 33. If there are degrees of alcoholism, I would say he was severe. I feel that I also had this degree, and that I probably would not have lasted to 33 if I hadn’t stopped drinking. His early sickness and death were my first experiences with alcoholism. When I first went to AA, I was surprised to see older people there. I thought people died young from it. I once asked an oldtimer who had a wicked story filled with homelessness, drugs, war, near death and other atrocious things how it is that he lived so long. He told me, “I didn’t drink like you.” While back then some older men were not happy to see a girl teenager in their meetings, this man showed me a truth that what I was doing would kill me quickly. People sometimes say they had a “low bottom,” meaning not many harrowing things happened to them as a result of drinking. I had a low bottom in the sense that I didn’t get arrested, lose a job or family, flunk out of school, those types of things. I was going down hill so quickly, though, the bottom was far away in circumstances but not in time. My father’s quick descent may ultimately have saved me, because I believed that to be an average experience at that time.
All these details about him added to the feeling I had, which is so common among alcoholics and lots of other people, that I was different and didn’t fit in. I had no father, I had no siblings, and that was just not normal in the 1960s.