Sunday, November 19, 2006

This is a picture of my father taken around 1938 when he was probably 10 yrs old in Springfield Ohio. His family was poor, dirt poor, capital P poor. I love looking at the ragged clothes and yet the sweet dignity of the tie. My father lived his whole life with dignity. It was a quiet dignity, balanced by a sometimes outrageous sense of humor and his obvious love for family and friends. But under it all, first and foremost, this man was a gentleman.

My father’s father was one of the town drunks. The 1930’s and 40’s in a place like Springfield Ohio were hard. America was in the midst of the Great Depression in the 30’s; jobs, food and money were scarce. When the disease of alcoholism claimed my grandfather it left my father and his brother in circumstances that would have been dire if not for the spiritual practices they followed in their home. My grandmother was not a religious woman. But she was the kind of woman we read about in the Big Book chapter To The Wives and The Family Afterward. She believed she needed to keep the family together at all costs, keep the home neat as a pin, somehow keep the boys fed and clothed, pray for God’s mercies and hope that someday her husband would “regain his sanity”. It is so sad that my grandfather never found his way from Springfield to Akron. So close and yet so far away.

My grandmother took a job washing dishes on the nightshift in a diner downtown. My dad would go to school, come home and do his homework, fix a meal for his brother and himself and go to bed. Then at 1am he would get up and ride his bike downtown to escort his mom home, keeping her safe from her drunken husband or anyone else on the streets. Then a few hours more sleep and up at 5 am to deliver a paper route. He also used to go wait in line at the fire station once a week for any food handouts they were offering. Sometimes it was just bacon grease. They would fry bread in the grease, and that would be the substitute for the week’s meat.

My father never told me any of this. He never spoke an unkind word about his father. He simply told me that my grandfather had been an alcoholic. I never saw my father drunk. I never saw him cry either, until we got word that his father had died. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful.

My dad died in 1984, before I got clean and sober and this is the first time I have been able to write about him. I don’t know why I am able to write today. There is something shifting in me and it is bringing me a peace that I have been longing for. I have carried so many regrets that he never got to see the person I became, but I think I am finally coming to understand that I can let regrets go. He would want me to. I am sure Dad never read the Big Book, but he seemed to intuitively know the following passage when he dealt with his own father and he used it as a design for living his own life. So I will gratefully allow my dad to teach me one more thing:

Cling to the thought that in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have --- the key to life and happiness for others. Pg 124