My dad is an alcoholic

We all know that love is magical, but is it enough to pull someone off the path of self-destruction? Here’s how a Hollywood superstar and I learned a lesson the hard way.

“Everybody has a daddy poem.”

She threw it out there, casually, as if it weren’t an incredibly profound statement.

I was sitting in the living room of a lovely couple for a casual get together and sharing of art. It was me, three poets, a teacher, a rapper, an artist, a model, a juggler, a mother with a cherubic baby who punctuated performances with appreciative and encouraging coos, and one very kind girl.

One of the poets had just finished reading a piece about his father, when the teacher made her wise declaration. And it was true. Everybody DOES have a daddy poem.

— ∮∮∮ —

My dad is an alcoholic.

While he has been in recovery for more than twenty years and hasn’t had a drink since, I grew up with an addict for a father.

I remember him always being the good-time guy. Everyone he met loved him and they still do. He is charismatic. He is hilarious. He is your best friend from the minute he meets you and that friendship is true blue and lasts for life–even if you don’t see each other for years at a time. Even if you don’t see each other ever again.

But I spent my childhood riddled with worry. I knew what the thousands of lifetime best friends didn’t. That he drank too much. That he was depressed. That the hilarity turned to anger very quickly. Light to dark took seconds, literally, and you could see it, as if somebody had come in and flipped a switch on his face, the clouds rolled into his eyes and his relaxed expression became very tense. And you could feel it, as if the air had been suddenly sucked from the room.

When the darkness took over, he’d often leave the house for hours. I’d sit in my bedroom biting my nails, not making a sound so my mother would think I was asleep But, I wouldn’t be able to rest until I heard him come in the door, which would sometimes be two, three, four in the morning. I had dark circles and a tendency to be punished for daydreaming in school, but it was really my best time to rest. Dad was safe at work, the classroom was so warm, and the teacher’s voice was like a lullaby. I’d zone out, eyes open, finally feeling safe to relax.

I agonized while he was gone, fearful that something would happen to him. My mind played out hypothetical scenarios of misfortune that could befall him. What if he befriended the wrong person who then took advantage of his intoxicated state? What if he passed out somewhere, hit his head, lost his memory, and wasn’t able to find his way home? What if he drove impaired, zig-zagging all over the road as I’d seem him do a hundred times before, nodding in and out of consciousness, and I wasn’t there to rouse him?

But all of my tiny, childhood worry couldn’t prevent tragedy. One night, my dad didn’t come home.

He was in a very serious car accident. One that had left him clinging to life.

And I felt guilty, as if I had let it happen. I hadn’t watched him closely enough.

Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith have been married for fifteen years, each one of those spent in a threesome — him, her, and the addiction. You see, Melanie battles drug and alcohol addiction, and has just finished her third stint in rehab. In the November edition of AARP The Magazine, Antonio claims that he has been supportive through her struggles, saying “We did all the therapies together.” Melanie, however, tells a different story.

“Antonio was supportive to the extent that he can be, but if you’re not an alcoholic or drug addict, and you find out that your wife is a bad one, it’s hard to deal with…I wish he would go to a meeting with me or to Al-Anon, but it’s very foreign to him. Addiction runs in my family but not in his.

I don’t mean that against him. I would like him to do more, but it’s a difficult thing to have happen in any family, and in that way he has been totally by my side. He really is the greatest guy.”

I felt myself getting angry while reading this. How dare Melanie qualify Antonio’s support, using phrases like “to the extent that he can be,” and disqualify his ability to handle her addictions by saying he can’t understand it because it doesn’t run in his family. Outwardly, perhaps these things are true. Inwardly, perhaps he is worrying every minute of every day, not only about the wife he loves, but how her behavior is effecting their three children (one daughter together, Stella, 15, and Melanie’s two children from previous relationships, Alexander, 26, and Dakota, 21) and the emotional toll it would take on those children were something to happen to her.

The thing is, my father couldn’t see me agonizing, because he was agonizing, himself. Melanie Griffith might be wearing the same set of emotional blinders. When you are the center of your own universe and too inebriated to see the next closest planet, you shouldn’t comment on its life forms.

I know now that I didn’t cause my father’s car accident, from which it took him years to recover and still suffers lasting effects. I know that no amount of worry or mother henning could have prevented what happened that night–no matter how long I fought sleep or how completely I chewed my fingernails. And, no amount of Supermanning from Antonio Banderas can keep Melanie Griffith from her self-destruction if she’s determined to achieve it, no matter what she thinks or what blame she wants to lay at his feet about it.

I still daydream, but now it’s for the right reasons. Nachos, mostly. And I’m happy that my father is alive and still has a universe. There is a lot of work to do to bring our planets closer together, but love makes for a strong gravitational pull.

Photo by: _Fidelio_

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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