As the son of an abusive, alcoholic father, Tim Lineaweaver had to learn how to pick up the pieces of his life and become a better man and dad for his children.
I have a photo of my father right before he died in Ireland on his second honeymoon back in 1979. In it, he is looking toward the top of a hill, partially shrouded in thick dark fog. He is reed thin, shriven from a lifetime of chronic alcoholism and though only 56 years old, he looks elderly. My brother, sick of the shame and degradation of my father’s alcoholism, said he looked like a tortoise plucked from its shell. A few days later he would die in an emergency room in Ireland of massive blood poisoning and respiratory failure, his limbs turning black before his eyes. I was 23 years old, though very much still a boy.
My father was verbally and physically abusive. One morning, when I was fourteen, he was hung-over and foul tempered, eating breakfast in bed where my mother served him daily. On this particular morning I was overwhelmed with a teenager’s self-consciousness about the disrepair of my beloved P-Coat. As I prevailed on my mother to assist me in getting the dog hair off it, he hissed, “Out … now!” I ignored him. “GET THE FUCK OUT NOW,” he bellowed. “No,” I countered, but no sooner had the word escaped my mouth he set upon me with a heavy clopping slap to the face. As I turned to flee he started kicking me repeatedly in the ass, thump, thump, thump out of the bedroom, thump, thump, thump across the living room and thump right into the closet by the front door where I landed in a shower of falling coats and hangers. I picked myself up and let myself out the front door for school. He went back to finish his breakfast.
As damaging to the psyche as physical abuse can be, I believe it is preferable to a constant onslaught of soul-sucking words. My father was a writer surrounded by books of all sizes, shapes and subjects. His life a mess, his precisely organized study belied a church-like reverence for words. He was the type of man who found your vulnerability quickly then pressed for the verbal kill. He took cursing to a whole new level. “Goddamn your eyes” is a phrase that still rattles around in my brain all these years later. As a boy I could feel the hatefulness of the statement beaming into this most vulnerable part of me, filling me with self-esteem-busting bile. My brother and I learned that expressing need was metaphorically akin to turning our bellies up for him to tear at, he sneering back at us with literary taunts such as, “Poor Camille,” or, “What does Little Lord Fauntleroy want?” And so, we learned to clam up and endure, a survival strategy in our house but a losing formula outside it.
His self-destructiveness traumatized all of us. It was spiteful, pointed and often out of context, therefore more effectively stunning. One late afternoon, he came home from work and quietly approached my mother who was doing dishes in the sink. He encircled her from behind and wordlessly kissed her on the cheek, then released her and headed into their bedroom and turned into the master bathroom where he punched out the heavy glass shower stall slicing his hands to an extent requiring over a hundred stitches.
He was also capable of sustained rages pithily described as “tsunamis” by one of his erudite friends. One day I came home to find him drunk amidst a huge pile of household rubble he’d smashed: furniture, paintings and electronics. He was sitting on the floor of the living room in his light-blue pajamas, flinging white-gold-leafed wedding plates against the wall, one by one.
Despite numerous resolute oaths to the contrary, I became much like my father. I was a lock-jawed Gordian knot of sadness, anxiety and rage with staggering bouts of depression. At a very tender age of twelve I started to self-medicate, first with nicotine and then alcohol and weed. Before long, I graduated to other drugs and eventually landed in a narcotic, remorseful heap in detox at twenty-eight; broke, soon-to-be-divorced and now the father of a one-year-old girl.
Fatherhood: what could I offer? I was 27 when my daughter was born. Maybe the best word to describe me then was brokenhearted; yes, by lost love, addiction and regret but more than anything or anyone, by my father, in the looming and enduring way that fathers hurt sons. His shadow darkened most of my days and still does from time to time. As I began to imagine myself as a dad, I pledged three things: I will be sober always, I will love my children unconditionally, and I will never lay a hand on them. So far, for the most part I’ve kept my promises. As I write this I can hear the naysayers, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Bullshit I say! If you can’t instill good values in your children through love, reason, discipline and modeling then don’t become a parent. I realize my father’s back-handed love is what informed my promises to my own children and for that anyway I can be grateful.
Though I am 58 years old and have forgotten much of my childhood, the living nightmares of my father linger in the mind’s eye and in my lifelong battle with depression, anxiety and the occasional nightmare. Despite a lot of effort on my part, there are scars and broken pieces of me that I have been able to make smaller but if I am to be perfectly honest, will never fully heal. My biggest wish as a father is that the baggage my children would have to carry from my parenting will be nothing more that a pleasant heft.
And so, when my daughter was born things began to change. The birth itself and the other births I’ve witnessed revealed life as a miracle and was the start of some long-needed good news.
My daughter Jennifer: an unsinkable spirit then and now as well as a capable parent and businessperson who has given me four wonderful grandchildren. Dylan: my oldest son, best described as an imp when he was young has grown into a young man determined to change things for the better as he works doggedly on the political campaigns he believes in. We share an abiding love of music together. I turn him on to the old, he hips me to the new. My youngest son Nicky: an athletic bright and miraculously even-tempered old soul who is maybe the only person on earth who can calm down the old man when he’s worked up. I don’t like to be touched by most people, but Nicky can just lay his hand on my head and I feel the tension drain away.
Everybody in my family knows that the glue to the whole mess is my wife. She is the hub, the conscience and the creative force. I cannot repay what my family has given me; I stand by them gently, firmly but with an axe.
When I was a boy, I recall riding in the family car at night, my body rigid in the seat, the car hazy from my father’s cigarettes. I remember peering into the houses scrolling by, their interiors softly lit a calming yellow against the night. I imagined each one to be happier than ours. I certainly never thought I would grow up to be blessed with my home and these people. They’ve made it all worthwhile.