My dad has been gone for I think about 20 years now. He tried to be a good dad despite the deck being stacked against him but his demons got the better of him, especially in later years. The rest of the family experienced the brunt of this as I was already out of the house when his drinking got bad. I only witnessed snippets of what my sisters and my mom had to endure, and that was awful.
The dad of my childhood was my shining star – patient, loving, just, wise and good. The dad of my teen and adult years was prejudiced against others; domineering; tortured; addicted to food, coffee, booze and cigarettes; and often downright scary. He was the poster child for a hurtin’ unit. And boy, did he know how to hurt others – especially my mom and sisters; especially when he drank. How did he lose his way so badly?
I know he witnessed things during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II that no human, let alone a child, should ever have seen. He lost his own dad while he was very young and then his mom remarried and this changed his life forever in so many ways. But Dad never talked about his demons and he hated to admit any weakness or that he needed help. He lived a life of denial.
I loved him and it broke my heart when I grew older and realized he was not the dad I thought he was and that we didn’t even share the same values anymore. Did we ever? We must have, or how did I come to value honesty, hard work, helping those in need, being accepting of others, and keeping an open mind? It didn’t just come from Mom. My childhood self remembers that Daddy instilled these values in me too.
I could see the dad of my childhood return when he interacted with my kids. He started to calm down a bit once he retired from full-time work. He stopped smoking and seemed more at peace, at least on the surface. But then he died suddenly of a heart attack at 63 – the result of years of abusing his body and genetic predisposition.
Now – with what I have learned by this age about human nature and failings – I often wish Dad was still around, so I could talk to him about what was eating him up inside…and show him compassion and love…and forgiveness for the deep hurts he inflicted on his family.
But that will never happen. And now and forever, I will never really know him.