Tim Lineaweaver shares his heartfelt letter to his father who is no longer here. It is an epistle that demands answers from one who cannot respond.
You died in 1979 in Ireland on your second honeymoon at the age of fifty-six. A long time ago, but you’ve been on my mind just the same.
I can’t say it was a shock to hear of your passing. The booze, smokes and pills caught up with you, like they always do. I am truly sorry for the horribleness of your death: the unyielding pain, the agony of watching your extremities discolor due to respiratory failure and the regret I imagine you felt. Nobody deserves to die that way, no matter what kind of life they lived.
So much has happened since then. You’ve missed a lot of wonderful things. Not the least of which is the addition of six of your grandchildren to our family, five boys and a girl. I wonder if you would have appreciated them or just continued your unrelenting drive to self-destruction? Would they too have become collateral damage?
You may be surprised to know that I got sober in ’84. Yes, I caught the family bug too; booze, coke and whatever else I could get my hands on. Did you see that coming? Would you have considered the sober me, a “self-righteous asshole” as you called the other people in AA? Maybe you would have been proud of me. Either way, I have become proud of myself.
I’m writing because I can’t forget you and I can’t forgive you. I dwell in your shadow still. Death leaves questions unanswered, suspended like a still photo, a split second captured: the ball hanging in the air eternally, a pair of cupped hands outstretched.
Our father and son connection, already wispy-thin tenuous was finally severed. The house got sold and all the contents put into an estate sale for auction. Other than a few old photographs, everything from our family is gone, possessed by other families we never knew. Is this the way you hoped it to be?
I imagine these families will cherish these things and pass them on generation to generation, as they should. Acknowledging that their material preciousness comes from a family’s tradition and history, the value increasing each time, as gnarled hands pass them to more supple ones.
The larger questions still haunt me but not with as much regularity or laser-like power as they used to. The family didn’t discuss your suicide attempt for forty years. I eventually accepted, as Mom rightly insisted, that you waited for my arrival from school to take your beloved German Luger from its place under the mattress. I still see the glint of it; feel its neat heft and the cool black steel.
I also see the picture of the aftermath: the blood and yellow chalk outline of where you fell. The image has looped endlessly through my mind and the forward momentum of it has been a constant beam through the years. Our family’s too bloody, too ugly truth.
I know you weren’t in your right mind, and I understand the unique despair of the junkie and the drunk. I too have carried the distended regret addictions create, but how could you so utterly abandon your parental instinct to protect? And, I will always uselessly wonder, why me? Did I provoke you somehow?
I know that your father too was an alcoholic. He got sober but lost his disposition. I know that he resented you and the verbal violence between you was disfiguring and traumatic. Did you not learn from this? Did you not wish better for your sons?
I did. When I became a parent I decided two things because of you: I would not hit my children, no matter the depth of my frustration, the physical integrity of a child is absolute. A good parent disciplines with thoughtfulness, creativity, and the wisdom that violence begets violence.
Nor would I verbally abuse them. This was your biggest crime as far as I am concerned. As a writer you took it to the level of an art form. Armed with a sneeringly launched barrage of metaphors, similes and literary allusions, we had no chance. My biggest struggle has been to shove off the looming mass of my self-loathing to see my value with clarity. Were you so insecure that you had to put yourself ahead of your sons?
My children have grown up valued, loved and with reasonable expectations, each according to their gifts. This has worked well for them and exceeded any hopes I’ve had as a father. I don’t think you intended it, but your negative example and backhanded-love taught me what not to do.
You gave some gifts too. Time has allowed me to see so. You taught me the value of words that the human narrative ripples out beyond the telling. I still see the books meticulously and reverently stacked in your study; dictionaries, thesauruses, books of quotations and on style. I love books too. The music in our old house, Creedence, Janis, and the Allmans sustains me still.
From you I learned to question authority. You modeled compassion for others by opening our home and giving to those needing a hand up. Forgive us for our confusion when we saw your compassion more often outer-directed.
I believe the best thing of all was your sense of humor, uniquely expressed, unabashed and hearty. It turned conventional life and sacred cows upside down. Nor were you afraid to laugh at yourself. Would you rest easier knowing that our family laughs often and as hard as ever? I think you would. Thank-you for these things. Truly.
Know that I am still trying to forgive you, a son’s lifelong search for the better part of his father. As I gray, I fight the bile of my resentment, knowing that if I can find forgiveness for you, within me, I will find the best part of myself. I won’t ever give up.
Most Sincerely, Your Son.
Photo: Flickr/Jessica Mowchan