Writing prompt: What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of your father?
My father was much beloved at work. From the time I was born and through my pre-teens, my father was the handyman/Mr. Fix-It/Maintenance Manager at Pickwick, a private recreation center in Burbank. Even though my father’s job could be pretty grimy and didn’t bring in a lot of money, to be a kid with free reign to all that Pickwick offered was pretty awesome. When the weather was good I could avail myself of the massive swimming pool, or borrow a horse from the stables and go horseback riding. At anytime I could either go bowling or ice skating. I was probably a pain in the ass running around unsupervised, but I got away with it because everyone loved my dad (or at the very least, needed him).
My dad made himself available to work 24/7. If there was a problem any time of the day or night, he was on it. As a family, we never took a vacation because dad always had to work (though, it also could have been because my mother was an agoraphobic and couldn’t leave the house). Our lack of family vacations never really bothered me because I always had my choice of fun things I could do by merely tagging along with my dad to work.
And while my father was known as a friendly, helpful, jovial guy at work, at home it was a different story. When he was home you could usually find him in his chair with a can or two (or sixpack or two) of beer watching TV. He wasn’t terribly involved in our lives. He gave at the office, and that was all he had to give.
Nor was he terribly involved with his wife, my mother. They were neither affectionate nor hostile with one another. And there certainly was no passion or joy. Just tepid coexistence. Later I learned my father married my mother after he got her knocked-up with my older brother. He probably thought he was doing the right thing by marrying her in a quicky Mexican ceremony, even though he was still legally married to someone else. (He did eventually divorce his previous wife, though there is no documentation of ever remarrying my mother legally).
My dad lost his job when I was 13. I believe it was over a dispute about an injury he sustained at work. He insisted on getting Worker’s Compensation, and they responded by firing him. It was an ugly and frightening time at home. Dad struggled with alcoholism and depression, and ended up in a psych ward for a while. He never worked again.
The 11 years he had left on the planet were spent with his beer, his chair and his TV. He died two years and two weeks after my mother died. He had essentially had given up, and while the cause of death was officially cancer, I think he pretty much just drank himself to death.
Weird thing is, I’ve never really been angry at my dad, even though I probably should be. In many ways, I am a lot like him. I went through my phase of being married to my job and became a pathological people pleaser (with a love of alliteration). I was well loved by people at work, and would willingly work the hours and do the tasks other people (who had boundaries and lives) wouldn’t. When I was at work, I was always on. I knew what I was doing. I had value. Yet, when I got home, I was spent, empty and the only way to fill that emptiness was to drink.
But, unlike my mom and dad, I was lucky. I didn’t end up pregnant and in a loveless marriage. And I got help. My family’s history is mired in mental illness and alcoholism, and I broke the pattern. And even though they probably wouldn’t know how to express it, I would think both of my parents would be proud of me.