Joe’s feelings towards his dad have always been complicated. He was never been able to really express his opinion about it until he applied it to his own life. He has gained new perspective, and shares it here.
My dad isn’t a bad guy. I wasn’t hit, and I always had food to eat, clothes, and toys. I didn’t want for much as a child.
My dad was no saint either. There are a lot of things that I am sure he regrets, things that he may not even fully understand. I am who I am by way of him, and while that has led to me inheriting his good, I have also taken on some of his bad. Thankfully the one thing I didn’t inherit was, as Denis Leary says in Suicide Kings, “the gene.”
Growing up with a parent with substance abuse issues was chaotic. It didn’t truly manifest itself until I was in my mid to late single digits. My father was the victim in an automobile accident where he worked, which brought with it back and knee problems, ultimately culminating in a serious chronic pain issue which he still struggles with to this day. This was the single worst thing that could have, and will ever happen to my dad. It was the first crack in what was a solid marriage, and it led to a lot of sad circumstances.
My dad was in pain. He only knew one way to get rid of it. The hardest part of it all was the inconsistency. I love my dad, but only when he was my dad. When he was high, he wasn’t him. He was someone else, with a microscopic temper, and an all consuming rage. He would lash out at the tiniest thing out of place, and all of a sudden, there were broken things everywhere. I’d have to clean it up. Or else. I never found out what or else meant, I was too scared to ever risk it. I would never know which person was coming home from work that night. I would stand in the hallway some nights unsure of which way to run, into his arms, or under my bed.
I had it the easiest of all my family members. I was old enough to have a strong imprint of all the good he had done before becoming this way. It padded my subconscious, and it helped me cope. My brother was too young, and knew almost exclusively the angry, terrifying visage of a drug addled man, barely holding on to his job and family. It was the furthest thing from a healthy childhood. He didn’t deserve that. My sister and mother had known my dad much longer than me. They didn’t have the innocence I had. They could see what he was becoming, and I’m sure it pained them to no end to watch him fall. The descent had to have been torturous for everyone.
What I did get that I wish I hadn’t were impressions, when I was the most impressionable. He turned at just the wrong time, and I picked up a lot of bad habits. I have the same light switch anger, which I have to work at every day to keep under control. I have a toddler, I am bombarded with countless triggers, and I need to resist the urge constantly. Some days it wins. I get mad. It lingers. I never come to physicallity with my son, but I am not proud of myself on these days. But I move on, and I keep working at bettering myself.
I have a strong support system build around my loving wife, and my incredible son. I look at him, and on the good days, the anger just melts away. In this moment, I am experiencing the dawning of a new life. There’s no time for anger there. It’s toxic, and ruinous, and I will NOT make my son out to be a man that wrestles with rage. It simply cannot happen.
My dad has told me about his father, and that he would never be like him, and that he’d never hit me. Even in his most amped up fits, he never once laid a hand on me, so If I’ve learned anything else from him, it’s that even he can prevent the passing down of bad behaviour through conviction and hard work. He just had a harder fight than I had. I can’t hold that against him.
Ironically, I wouldn’t even be alive today if it wasn’t for my dads affliction. My dad’s first entrance into a rehabilitation center brought him into contact with my mother. He was out, and in what was called a “halfway house”. He was working with her in a Montgomery Ward, and they hit it off. Who wouldn’t? When my dad was just my dad, he’s one of the most charming, loveable and personable people on the planet. Long story short, I was born in the little town of Schenectady, New York, and my father’s only reason for being there was because he wrecked himself on drugs. That was a fun thing to put together when I got older. I’m pretty awesome, so I can’t really complain. And I love my mother, and I wouldn’t be here without her, so I am thankful. There’s good in all people, all families and lineages. Some are hidden under personal problems, genetics, and bad habits. Sometimes it takes more than one man to get all the kinks out. Sometimes you never do.
You keep at it, and you work hard, and you don’t forget where you come from. You can look back and see the improvement, spanning generations. I can look forward, and I only see light and joy for my son, because I’m fighting my fight, and I have to say it’s a lot easier, because my dad took a lot of punches for me.
Photo: Flickr/Daniel Incandela