*This is a tad long but a great shared story. Enjoy!
I was the youngest of three boys. We lived in a four-room house with our parents. Dad liked to say we had four rooms and a “path,” referring to the well-worn trail to our outhouse. There was no hot-running water. We heated water on an oil stove, which doubled as our heating source in the winter. We washed our hair in the kitchen sink and took baths in our rooms, using a cloth and a bucket of hot water.
I guess you could say we were poor. Dad had a job, but he spent all extra money on alcohol. There were many nights when I would be roused from sleep by loud voices. I would lie still and listen, instantly aware it was Thursday night, and like every Thursday, Dad had come home drunk.
Thursday was payday for my father. After work, he and his co-workers would go to the tavern and drink. It was the start of four days of hell. On Friday he would go to work hung over and return in the evening drunk again. For the rest of the weekend he would be drinking with his buddies. I remember a time, when he came home so drunk, when he got out of the car, he lost his balance, and staggered 20 feet, to smash his head into the front porch. Yes, he was that drunk, and he drove.
He was nasty when he drank, not violent, just mean. He would yell at us for the smallest infractions. Even though we tried not to disturb him, he would lash out with complaints about our behavior. There was no pleasing the man. Four days of the week we cowered from him.
I know more about him now, and can even understand his bitterness toward the world. He was born out of wedlock, and spent many years in a Catholic orphanage. I don’t even want to think about the abuse he may have received there.
As the school week wound down, my stress increased, knowing the weekend, the drinking and the arguing were coming. How my mother tolerated him, is a mystery. I believe she had no where to go, where she would be able to support three boys on her own. She stayed for us. My biggest fear: she would give up, walk out, and leave us with our father.
I was sitting in my classroom one morning. I believe I was in first grade. From my seat, I could look out the large windows, and see my house and the store across the street from it. At that time we had a small bus service. It came once a day, stopped at the store, and took people to the city. On this morning, I saw a lady with a red jacket getting on the bus. My mom had a red jacket! I began to cry in front of my classmates. Mom was leaving.
The teacher calmed me, by saying my mom would not leave without telling us she was going. I wasn’t convinced. When we were released for lunch, I ran home to find my mother making my lunch. I was so relieved; I ran up, clutched her around the waist and began to cry again.
Dad went by the rule “children should be seen and not heard.” If he was home, we were not to make a sound or he’d punish us. This is not necessarily a bad rule, but when he was drinking, he was overly sensitive.
Mom would do everything for my Dad. She made his lunches, cleaned, cooked, and took care of us. Dad did very little. He worked and in the evening he sat. I would grow frustrated, when I needed his help, because I knew he would grumble. He would come home from work, expect his dinner waiting, and complain about the lunch made for him that day.
I was afraid to ask him for anything. The chain on my bike was loose and would fall off the sprocket. It took me forever to figure out how to tighten it myself, but I did it. I learned to manage on my own.
My brothers grew older, got their driver’s license, and were blamed for every mark, dent, or scratch on the car. Later, I got my license, and refused to drive Dad’s car. I was not going to be blamed for anything that happened. I walked or biked, and gave Dad no excuse to yell at me.
Christmas was always bad. Dad would be drunk on Christmas day and have no patience for small boys enjoying their new toys. There would be more fighting than laughter from my parents. When my brothers and I were older and slept late on Christmas morning, Dad would come to our room, drunk as usual, and wake us, expecting us to get up and open our gifts. We would tell him to go sleep it off. Perhaps he wanted to make up for the times he lost when we were smaller.
One night, when I was a teen, he was sitting at the kitchen table drunk. He seemed very depressed. I figured it best I went to bed. As I lay trying to sleep, I heard the distinct sound of his shotgun being loaded. I snuck from my room and saw him going out the door with his gun. I reached him, I grabbed the barrel, ‘Dad, no! Let me have the gun. Go to bed.’
Luckily, he did as he was told.
I learned a lot of things from my Dad: how not to treat a wife, to make my own lunch, help with cooking and cleaning, and give my children love. He didn’t do it by example; he did it by making me aware of what is wrong. His drinking caused a lot trouble, but all three of his boys came out of it better people.
Dad passed away in the early ‘90’s. Mom, a strong and beautiful woman, was freed from his abuse. My brothers and I all said, ‘Now mom can be free to enjoy her life.’
I don’t hate my Dad. He was my Dad; he gave me life. I can’t hate him for that. However, I am disappointed he never experienced the good things a family can provide.