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Tell Your Own Story

My Father, My Paladin by Kathleen Gemmell

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Article by Kathleen Gemmell ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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My father left us some 15 years ago. With my Jack Russell Terrier and me by his side, he went off to his Savior.

Dad was an incredible man; intelligent, humorous, sensitive, outgoing, kind and an alcoholic. I believe he struggled with this addiction for most of his adult life and that may be one reason as to his early demise.

He began his life as a child of lower income, dysfunctional parents. My grandmother suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and would place little Dad on a 5 foot clothes line attached to a tree. She could then go about washing walls, cleaning all of the incoming groceries and mopping her floors dozens of times each day.

My father went on to graduate from a prestigious university and in time became the president of a large corporation. We were certainly well off and lived a lavish life style. Dad drank, yet functioned professionally. For the most part, his mood was upbeat and he was rarely cross.

I became aware of his alcoholism in my late teens. Dad hid his bottles and on occasion I would come across them. When I brought his malady to my parent’s attention, my mother was in abject denial. “He has a cocktail or two in the evening, but he is NOT an alcoholic. I NEVER want to hear of this from you again!” she reprimanded me. She knew though. I know she knew and I know she hurt. I know she dealt with this by putting blinders on.

My father drove drunk and we were in many an accident. He fell into our Christmas tree one year; he often passed out with his lit pipe in hand and would sleep through his station as he commuted by train from New York City. Yes, I could tell many a ‘drunk-a-log,’ but that isn’t necessary. Dad was a man who had an awful disease.

He was my everything, though. I realize that must seem difficult to comprehend. Perhaps this was because I never knew a sober father until late in my years. Perhaps this was because, like many alcoholics, booze masked his pain and he appeared happy. Appearances are rarely indicative of the truth, however. We all have our public self and our private self.

A massive heart attack and a cancer diagnosis seemed to frighten him into sobriety. He fought that demon and my heart ached as I watched him barely able to bring his tremulous hands to his mouth as he sipped his coffee. He chose an early retirement. I was still his precious daughter and I encouraged him, out of mom’s ear shot, to seek help. A ‘man’s man,’ he refused and battled sobriety alone.

It may seem as if my father was happier and more functional as an alcoholic. Please note that I write from an enamored daughter’s perspective. His marriage suffered terribly and my brother and I never learned to deal with life on life’s terms. I learned to go to the bottle when things were difficult and found myself an addict in my 40s. I have been sober for 17 years now. My brother battles social anxiety and at times his angst is evident.

Dad certainly had his hardships that were due to his alcoholism. He broke 2 bones when he fell in a drunken stupor. His company faced a lengthy law suit because he overlooked crucial components while drinking. His liver was close to being transplanted, but he passed away before his turn came about.

I believe that my father’s awesome personality and love of life would have been ten-fold that if he had been sober. Facing sobriety alone, late in life and without guidance, he chose to not utilize the support that is available to an addict. He told me, ‘Katie, I had some good years and now it’s time to pay the piper.” How sad… how incredibly unnecessary.

I adored my father, but not his alcoholism. I think if he could relive his life he would have chosen not to drink. On his death bed he hoarsely whispered, “Katie, I should have been a history teacher and I should have never hurt my loved ones with my drinking. “ He told me that he loved me and then quietly slipped away.

“Now I see that it isn’t the problems along the way that make us or break us. It’s how we learn to stand and face them that makes the difference.” – Joan Bauer

(c) Kathleen Gemmell

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Kathleen Gemmell loves the written word. Penning for a myriad of on line sites and magazines, Kathy is also a story teller, an animal welfare proponent, and a psychology buff.
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