It wasn’t the alcohol or the abuse that finally severed the ties between Alan Bishop and his father. It was father’s inability to answer the question why.
My dad coached baseball, soccer and did stints as the President of both of the local community associations. He made a tin robot every Halloween to light fireworks off to enthrall the kids from the neighborhood at our annual Halloween fright night extravaganza. He took us to Disneyland and Hawaii on vacations. And he was an asshole.
He did all of this before my 10th birthday. But I don’t have those memories because he did it for himself. Not me. My dad went out of his way to look like an amazing dad to those on the outside. It must have been important to him that others saw him in this way. He was never able to explain it to me.
Three days before my 10th birthday I found out my parents were getting a divorce. I’m not sure how I found out but I know it was right before my birthday. I came to understand — if any 10-year-old can understand — that my parents were getting a divorce because my dad had an affair. Coincidentally, his affair was with a woman who also did stints in the local community sports associations. Over the next 5 years I would end up going back and forth between my parents’ houses, not because of some joint custody arrangement but mostly because neither one of them really cared where I ended up.
Before anyone clicks away I want to ensure you this isn’t a “Cry for Help.” I’ve dealt with the stuff around my parents. This is more about who I have come to be rather than who I wanted them to be.
The thing about my dad is that he’s selfish. He’s an alcoholic. He and his woman abused me. He may not have struck a blow or said as many of the nasty words but he stood by and allowed it to happen. He was a partner in crime even if he would never admit it.
My memories are things like hiding under a chair that my mom was sitting on while he came towards me with a belt before they divorced. The screams of anger and hate coming from him and his new wife when the two of them would get into that early evening fight after a full day of drinking (she was also an alcoholic). The deathly quiet of the morning reverberating through the house when the carnage of the night before was realized in their now sober state.
My final straw was my memory at 15-years-old. It’s the memory of seeing his second wife bite her own tongue and then the feeling of her blood hitting my cheek as she spat in my face. She did this because she wanted the police to have a reason to take my dad to jail because he had passed out and wasn’t sober enough to continue playing their familiar game any longer.
These memories impacted me.
When I became a dad so did the questions. At this point I still had a relationship with my dad but it was nothing more than Christmas presents and birthday cards sprinkled with the occasional game of golf. It wasn’t deep. I was also 3 years into what has proved to be the love relationship of my life. My wife had an amazing dad who loved her unconditionally. I saw things in their relationship that coupled with my new experiences as a dad shook me to my core. I couldn’t comprehend or even begin to understand how a dad could expose his child to the things and experiences that my dad exposed me to. I couldn’t understand.
So I meditated. I sought council. I worked out. I cried…but I still couldn’t understand. So I asked him.
The first time I asked my dad the why questions was in 1997 and he told me to suck it up. He said my stepbrothers got over it, moved on and so should I.
The second time I asked my dad the why questions was a couple years later. I remember him refusing to look me in the eye when he told me he didn’t have the skills like men do today. He said it was a dark time for him.
The third time I asked my dad the why question was in 2004. I was 35 years old and my sons were 12 and 9. We hadn’t been really talking for a couple of years and my boys didn’t have any type of relationship with him or his woman. This time I only asked him one question. I asked him why should I let him have a relationship with my sons. His answer was that he was my father. It was the last time I spoke to my dad.
This isn’t entirely true. The last time I ran into my dad it was actually in my own community. I was cheering on my youngest son and his teammates at a local youth triathlon. My dad was there too, apparently cheering on his grandson —my stepbrother’s son. As my son walked off the podium after receiving his medal a hand reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him away. As any good father would I immediately reacted and moved to protect him. It was then when my wife said “Hi Steve” and I realized who this man was. He smiled, made brief small talk and then walked away. I hadn’t said a word. I remember it feeling like an uncomfortable moment when you see your mailman in the grocery store and don’t quite know what to say.
As I said near the beginning, I’ve worked through the pain of my youth and I’ve worked hard at being a dad. I love my boys and the gift that they have been to me. My goal with them has always been to be the best role model that I can be.
I’m not a saint. I make mistakes like any other man. I fall…but I get back up.
I try everyday to be the best that I can be. I know that one day when my boys talk to their kids and they start the sentence with about my dad…they can share the most magnificent memories and never have to ask me why.
—photo by crabchick/Flickr