In April of this year, we lost our father in rather tragic circumstances. How a man goes from a 6’3 rugby playing, business owner, with 4 beautiful children and a loving wife, to an almost homeless alcoholic taking his last breath on the floor of a hostel is a question I will ask myself for the rest of my own life. But I believe there’s hope in this story so please do read on.When I was around 13 years old everything was going well for us as a family, then my parent’s marriage began to crumble. We began to watch our father drink more and more, and shirk his parental responsibilities bit by bit. What followed I could fill a book with, full of embarrassing and scarcely believable stories of upset, pain, and suffering for his 4 children. These include but are not limited to; being held hostage with a shotgun, ruining every Christmas for about 5 years including running away one Christmas day and ending up found by the police in a hedge, and many more constant let downs and emotional torture. I don’t want to write too much about my actual experiences but more about the complex range of feelings being the child of an alcoholic comes with, and I find that writing it all down might be cathartic in some way.
This all culminated in April of this year, when after 16 years of alcoholism, my dad had his final binge, and died aged 53. Leaving behind 4 children, and 3 grandchildren, with a 4th on the way. The circumstances surrounding his death were what I have struggled with the most. I hadn’t seen my dad for about 2 years at the time but we still heard of him through my Nana, his mother, until her own health deteriorated and she stopped funding his lifestyle. Then one morning on my commute to work I saw the thing I had been dreading, my own dad homeless on the street, he was pushing himself in a wheelchair down the main shopping street of my home city looking a shadow of his former self. After the initial shock I went back on my lunch break and found him, inebriated (as always), dirty, and sat in a doorway with a bottle. The one plus I took from this meeting was that when I saw the state he was in, all my anger evaporated and was replaced instead with pity, and I felt so sorry for him sat there. I wondered what his reaction would have been had I told his 30 year old self that in 20 plus years instead of sat with his family he would be sat on a street having lost everything, in terrible health and with no relationships left with any of his kids, his brother or his sister. I think I know what he would have said ‘Not a chance son’. I talked with him for about 10 minutes, I told him we all loved him despite his ongoing problems, and told him about my own recent addition to the family, my beautiful daughter Willow. He said he loved the name, as in his better days he had a love for nature and woodland. I showed him a photo of me with a trophy I had won at rugby the week prior, the same rugby club he played for when I used to go and watch him when I was a child. He was with a woman who was a volunteer from a hostel in a country town not too far away and she had said he had a place there and didn’t know why he was on the street. I kissed him on the forehead, gave him a hug and went back to work.
That was Friday lunchtime, by Monday night he was dead. Who knew that in less than a week I would kiss his face again, for the final time as he lay in the hospital mortuary. He was tall again laid out, the way I wanted to remember him.
We had expected the death, for years and years we had prepared for it, I confidently said on a regular basis ‘Oh I’ve grieved already’ and had thought for years that when he died it would be OK as we had already lost him. I have never been more wrong about anything. Finding out he had died hit me like being hit with a sledgehammer. That was it, so final. He was never going to recover, he was never going to see his grandchildren. Your father fills a specific role, he is supposed to see you through your life, we weren’t supposed to see him out of this world aged 53 having not spoken to any of his family for a number of years. Since his death I have relived all of it, the good moments in my childhood, then all the horror we went through as children and teenagers, into our adult years always in the shadow of dad’s alcoholism. What could I have done more? Was it my fault? How did it end like this? So many questions will remain unanswered and that’s for me to come to terms with as I sort through the chaos that comes with a death like this.
In amongst all this though is some light at the end of the tunnel. I used to let my dad’s alcoholism define me, and I began following in his footsteps and drinking heavily. Until I decided 16 months ago to stop drinking altogether and became teetotal. I now have a lovely family life with 2 children of my own and a great support network. Although I have struggled to come to terms with it, and will continue to do so, I know my own limits. And I will never, ever, let my beautiful children experience any of that pain that I experienced growing up. As a teenager I should have been out enjoying myself up to mischief, instead I was consumed with the anxiety of having an alcoholic parent. I am stronger now and would love to give back in some way to others who have been in this situation. The most important thing to put across is that it’s going to be OK, it might not seem that way, but it will in the end. And one advantage I have over a lot of people who haven’t lived through this, is the unbelievable resilience you build.
There’s a poem on a chick flick that many will know, a film called 10 things I hate about you. And the words in it rang true for me growing up with, and dealing with the death of a parent to alcoholism. So I have edited the words to fit our situation as this is exactly how I felt;
I hate the way you yelled at me
And the way you made me feel
I hate the way you let us down
I hate it when you dismissed it like it wasn’t real
I hate the way you hurt my siblings
And the way you hurt our mother
I hate you so much that it makes me sick
Thinking of the pain you caused my brother
I hate the way you lied
I hate it when you wouldn’t accept the blame
I hate it when you embarrassed us
When I was proud to have your name
I hate the way you’re not around any more
And the fact that you won’t see your grand kids grow big and tall
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all
.R.I.P Ali Carr 1963-2016
Joe has been incredibly brave to write such an open piece so soon after his dads death. Nacoa is always here for people going through these kind of times, and are always looking for people to get involved with the charity.
Lastly, as always, if you’d like to get tell your story, then you can here.