I’m back from our beach trip, which was sandwiched between two Irish dance competitions that nearly killed me (okay I jest – but I do continue to be traumatized by all the Shirley Temple hair) and a whole lot of driving. I missed all of you, but I’m back now.
On the drive back the girls watched the DVD of Adele: Live at Albert Hall twice. Adele does a lot of quirky monologues in between her big, sad song sets, so I felt like I got to know the real her. I love how real she is, and how real and Velveteen she is willing to be in front of an audience. She isn’t perfect and doesn’t ever attempt to portray herself as perfect. She likes to dip into the sad and dysfunctional songs more than the happy ones, because that’s where her head takes her. So anyway, this week’s topic at Monday Listicles (chosen by Kim at G Is Silent) is 10 happy memories of your dad. And what does this have to do with Adele? Read on. (-:
As many of you know, my dad was an alcoholic – so I have a mixture of memories of him – good, bad, and ugly all rolled up into one. Every good memory has an underbelly, every bad memory has a silver lining (if you look hard enough and use a microscope and get the help of a professional therapist and go to 1,000s of Alanon meetings, and…okay I’ll stop there before I get carried away…).
Adele’s tendency to dip into the sad dysfunction is kind of how it is for me with my memories of my dad. Mine wasn’t a normal, so-called happy childhood, even though he loved me deeply and I knew it. It was an ACOA childhood fraught with things that are typical in alcoholic homes: all the unsaid things that hung in the air, the denial, an inability for anyone to move forward or to grow because growth meant change, and change threatened the status quo; horrid dramas, awful hangovers, inferior companions, lack of boundaries, consistent inconstancy, intense fear and anxiety and control issues on my part, a childhood that was unsafe and unnatural in most every regard.
Gertrude Stein said, “There is no there there.” There wasn’t any there in my childhood. There was no foundation because of the presence of alcoholism. Sure, there was the knowledge that I was loved, and as it turns out – threadbare as it was, that was enough of a foundation. But really, from my vantage point as a parent today – there was no effing there there.
So when I hear friends talk chirpily about their “happy” childhoods – well, I feel kind of like Adele: mine wasn’t happy. It wasn’t entirely sad, either. It was just: fraught, peppered with land mines and emotional cherry bombs and I never knew when they would explode, because of the alcoholism. I developed coping skills to get through it – I have a terrible memory, can’t remember things, and I became a control-freak by the time I was 12. And lots of other things. Statistically, if you are the child of an alcoholic you are highly likely to either marry an alcoholic, or become one, or both. Despite the fact that I knew these statistics, I still had to fight hard to get to normal. I do not drink. You could lock me in a wine cellar or hang me by my toenails – but you will not ever get me to drink. And in order to avoid marrying an alcoholic (I had one or two alcoholic boyfriends along the way, I was stunned at how easy it was for me to be in a relationship with an alcoholic) I went to years of therapy and Alanon – and I even married an Irishman – but he would prefer a glass of milk to a Guinness. Wow.
So for me, trying to pick out 10 “happy” memories would be as impossible as trying to remove the ingredients from cake batter once you’ve already put them in the bowl – eggs, flour, milk – you just can’t do it. So I’m going to list some happyish memories and their flip-sides, because it’s already in the bowl, you know?
Top 10 Memories of My Alcoholic Dad
1. My favorite all-time memory of my dad is seeing him dressed in his kilt. He liked to tell people that his kilt “had not been dry cleaned since before World War II”. He looked glorious in it – like a life-sized Highlander, stepping out of time from another era.
But the flip-side of that memory is…When I was 6 my sister and I went to get gas with him in his creepy old shark-fin limosine, a car that was as much of an event as he was.
My parents were going to an Elk’s Club ball, so my mom was wearing a ball gown, and my dad was in his kilt. The gas station attendant (stupidly) asked my father if he was wearing anything underneath his kilt, so my dad whipped off his white underpants and ran a few laps around the car whooping like an Indian, spinning his skivvies on his index finger like a flag. He tossed them at the guy, before speeding off.
All my mom said was, “Really, Derek.” She loved him a whole lot so she let him get away with a lot more shit than most husbands get away with. If my husband whisked off his underpants at a gas station and beaned them at a mechanic in front of our kids – I just don’t know what I’d do to him. I sure-as-shit wouldn’t just say, “Really, Dermo,” and let it go at that. Oh-ho-ho, no!
2. When I was in college I was in histrionics over the end of my relationship with shallow Pierre, the hunky triathlete. My dad called me on the phone and listened to me cry for a really long time. He said, “What you need is to drink some hot milk.” I told him I didn’t have any milk in my fridge (this was because my parents despised hunky Pierre – who, although admirably muscled, was notably unintelligent – so they cut me off financially. I had to put myself through school – so that’s why I didn’t have any milk in my fridge). It was late at night – 10 pm. About half an hour after we hung up, there was a knock at my door and a student was standing there holding a gallon of milk. He said, “Your father says to drink this.” My dad had called around to his friends until he found one who had a son who lived in the same town, and told him it was some sort of dairy emergency, or something.
But the flip side of that is…He didn’t like any of my boyfriends and would stop speaking to them if we dated for longer than six months. He chased my first boyfriend down the driveway on our first date, while carrying a medieval spear, because the boy had kissed me. He refused to continue paying for my college tuition because I wouldn’t break up with Pierre. Once Pierre dumped me, of course, my parents offered to fund my education but I refused on principle and put my own ass through college, thank you very much, so there.
3. I had no idea that my dad was fluent in German until I was in my early twenties and we were in Germany together for a friend’s wedding. Out of the blue, he began speaking in fluent German to all kinds of German people. I was dumbstruck. Most people in most families know what languages their parents speak, no?
Me: “I had no idea you spoke fluent German, Dad. I mean – don’t you think you could have at least mentioned it? A guten tag or an Ich bin ein Berliner at least?”
Him: “There are a few things about your old Dad you don’t know.” (wink-wink!)
Dankeschön, Dad! Apparently he had spent seven years in post-war Germany and had learned it then. Go figure.
But the flip side of that was…A pet peeve I have about my parenting is that I don’t know any other languages aside from Pig Latin to teach my children. My mom was a linguist and spoke a quazillion languages fluently – yet she never bothered to teach me any of them. I have a big, honking chip on my shoulder about that and frankly I’m thinking about getting Rosetta Stone or something.
4. I had been dating my husband Dermo, for four years and we were living together in London when my father decided it was time for Dermo to pop the question. He came out to London and invited Dermo on a weekend trip with him to Edinburgh. So they got on the train and as soon as they arrived, before they even checked into their hotel, he went straight into a clothiers that sold formal wear and proceeded to buy formal attire to go with his kilt. When Dermo asked him what the occasion was, he said: “I’m buying the clothes I’m going to walk my daughter down the aisle in at her wedding, understand?”
But the flip side of it was…Weddings with my father (or with any alcoholic for that matter) were a nightmare. As our wedding approached I was filled with anxiety about what he might do or say. To give you an idea of why I was so anxious – at my sister’s wedding, my father presented her groom with a dog leash that had her name embossed on it and said “Perhaps your training will succeed where mine has failed.”
The guests laughed, the groom who is now her bitter ex-husband guffawed…but my sister? Not so much. We were afraid he would try to pull something like that at our wedding, so we micromanaged him and assigned secret minders to handle him throughout the ceremony and reception. There were even people behind the bar to water down his scotch. By the time he got to the microphone, all he said was “When Dermo gets the seven year itch and gets bored hopefully he can look back at this day and remember why he married her.”
Jesus. H. Christ and dankeschön, Dad!
But at least he didn’t try the dog leash trick. I would have strangled him with it.
5. He loved the sea. We had a boat while I was growing up, so we went sailing in the San Francisco bay almost every weekend. He would cook corned beef hash out on the bay, and sometimes he’d sail into Sausalito at night and we’d stop in a cafe for hot chocolate. Those were some wonderful memories.
But the flip side of it was…He didn’t really know how to sail. At. all. so we got stuck out on the bay a. lot., and had to get rescued and/or towed by the Coast Guard, a.lot. Sometimes when it got rough I would cry thinking for sure that I was going to die – I never felt safe (gee, I wonder why?). Over the years, a few people would get knocked off the boat by the boom. There were all kinds of near-misses. He would let us hang suspended from ropes on the boat just hanging on while he and my mom were drinking boxes of wine. God knows what would’ve happened if we had let go – no one would’ve noticed for hours, days maybe. Looking back, I am amazed that I survived my screwy childhood.
6. He used to bring home tiny presents for us in his pockets – cable car coins, tiny trains, stamps. One time when I was older he told me to come outside on the deck so he could show me a dancing highlander keychain that glowed in the dark. He walked me to the end of our unsafe, termite-infested deck to show me, and put his foot through a hole and nearly fell through the deck to his death. It was highly dramatic (as everything was) – I had to pull him out. Instead of doing anything about the hole, all he did was dust himself off and say – “We’ll look at the glow-in-the-dark keychain another time, Kiddo.” And he walked off.
But the flip side of it was…I’m a safety-conscious parent because of him, so I guess that’s a positive, right? I don’t take my eyes off my children in crowds, and I sure-as-shit don’t let them dangle from boats in the sea without life jackets. Also, we don’t have termites.
7. He loved teenagers, probably because he was a Peter Pan character who never really grew up. He was so popular with my friends when I was in high school – I think I only got to have one dance with him at our father/daughter dinner dance, because all of my girlfriends had a crush on him and wanted to dance with him. There were more photos of him in my high school yearbook one year than there were of me!
But the flip side of that was…My high school boyfriend said he couldn’t take me to a prom because he had to study for finals. He came to the house to see me off, and when I said goodbye he was sitting in an armchair beside my dad, who was also sitting in an armchair drinking Scotch. When I came home from the dance seven hours later – after midnight, my boyfriend was still sitting in the same chair with my dad, only both of them had spent the evening drinking scotch.
8. He took us on amazing adventures. He once took us up to the top of Mt. Cook in New Zealand at the spur of the moment – we were in our shorts and sandals.
But the flip side of that is…Everything was an adventure and highly dramatic, so as an adult I had to learn not to confuse serenity with boredom. I had to learn how to get used to the routine and non-drama of normalcy.
9. When I was 7, he and my mom were buying some real estate in Red Bluff (it’s basically the armpit of the middle of nowhere in California and no one in their right mind would ever consider buying land there). He took me up to the top of a mountain, lifted me up in his arms and said, “I’m going to buy you this mountain.” I went back to school telling everyone that my dad had bought me a mountain.
But the flip side of that is…I don’t think there is a flip side to this one, although it was a little grandiose of him. I didn’t grow up expecting men to buy me mountains or anything – in fact I became freakishly self-sufficient. My dad was a very generous man who taught me to treasure generosity and to be generous – so maybe the flip side of this one is that I cringe when I see cheapness in people.
10. We didn’t really have any traditions, but the one thing I remember him doing regularly is holding me up in his arms in front of the bathroom mirror and having me look at my reflection. He would say, “Repeat after me: I am the most beautiful, capable little girl in the world, and I can be anything I want to be. The world is my oyster.” And I would repeat it. And you know what? Despite everything, I believed him.
But the flip side of that is…There isn’t any flip side to showering your children with positive affirmations like this. I grew up believing I could do anything I wanted, and that the world is my oyster. A pretty big gift, in light of all the dysfunction that surrounded it.
You might also like...
I Just Want To Bang On The Drum All Day
Not Now, Mommy Has A Skittles Hangover
Children’s Birthday Party Ideas
What I Would Miss