Thank you, Dad, for saving my life.
My dad died today. He was 54 years old. I’m tempted to say he lost a short battle with lung cancer … but that’s just not true. It was no battle. It’s more like his body was besieged by lung cancer and it took six months to destroy him. He was not all that healthy when he got sick. A lot of poor life choices and bad habits, not to mention smoking two packs of Marlboro Reds a day.
Many of you know my story. My parents were addicts and alcoholics. At least my dad was. My mom still is. I am not. According to national statistics, based on my socio-economic upbringing and environment, I should be a deadbeat dad, in jail, and a heroin addict. But I was able to rise above that. And that’s largely thanks to my father. There are many others. You know who you are. And I don’t mean to discredit you but my dad deserves the credit he deserves. He threw me out of the fire that was consuming him. I certainly didn’t escape with out a few burns, but I did get out. My dad saved me. I don’t mean that in some all encompassing emotional support metaphor, though there is an emotional element. I mean he literally saved my life on a few occasions. Physically saved my life.
Some of you know the details of these events, most of you don’t. They are not important. What is important is that my dad made decisions and took steps at great costs to his personal and professional life to save mine. He was a struggling addict and alcoholic his whole life. I grew up doing my homework in AA meetings on weeknights. My dad spent his entire adult life trying to get better. AA and NA teach “we’re not bad people trying to get good, we’re sick people trying to get better.” The distinction is important. My dad was a sick person, not a bad person. Sick from the disease of addiction. I do not believe anyone is born broken or sick.
My father was born into a culture and religion that propagates secrecy and shame. Throw in the “War on Drugs” and you have a perfect cocktail of self-destruction. And watching my father continue to display good intentions and to act on good intentions as he struggled was incredibly important to my development as a person. I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But what are we to do with that? We need to have good intentions. What’s the alternative?
The most important thing he ever said to me was this. “Jared, just try to do the next right thing. What’s the next right thing to do? Do that.” And I am grateful for that wisdom from a man plagued by loneliness, confusion and fear. My dad always wanted to do the right thing, but often struggled to identify what the right thing to do actually was.
After I stopped living with him when I was a teenager we ended up having an “estranged, fake, long distance, talk-on-the-phone once-a-month-about-the-weather” relationship for a good part of the last 15 years. And then I changed my thinking. About a year and a half ago I saw a TED talk on addiction. And it made me cry and cry and cry. And I followed the advice of this TED speaker with incredible success. I was able to reconnect with my dad and build a short but strong friendship with him again. A friendship based on honesty and integrity.
We spoke almost every other day for a year. And it was amazing to have a relationship with my dad. And of course, once I started to rebuild that connection, he gets lung cancer and dies. WTF. He died this morning at 7:52 a.m. at Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine surrounded by his siblings.
A lot of people give me credit for where I am in my life. But I take little of it. I spread the credit to the people who support me in my life. I am where I am because of other people. And especially because of my dad. He carried a lot of guilt surrounding how his personal struggles affected his children. But the fact is this – my dad saved me. And I will be eternally grateful to him for that. I am so glad I got to say that to him in Philadelphia three weeks ago. But I’d like to say it here publicly for the whole world to see.
Thank you, dad. Thank you so much for saving my life.
Kenneth Leo Mercier
08/24/1961 – 02/21/2016