To this day, I’m not sure if I was witnessing my dad having a stroke, the time when I was home alone with him when I was 7. He never brought up the incident with me again and because of my passive nature, which I inherited from him, I’ll never ask him about it. This harrowing incident was the backdrop to a conversation I had with my brother, several years after the fact, after which I was able to see the actual humanity of a man that I admire more than anyone. My dad had a terrifying episode, in which he suddenly lost all lucidity and coherence in an instant, stumbled around our house knocking things over, and finally plummeted into our hot tub, all while I was the only person there to make sure that his 250 lb. frame didn’t drown. The memory of this was something that I had suppressed in my mind throughout my adolescence, but it would come to the surface every couple of years. It was something for which I had never found closure in my heart, and I still haven’t. Only last year did I somewhat actively try to find an answer to a question that I’ve carried around with me for so long, and even if I’m still uncertain on the answer I got, I was given a look into my father’s life as it existed in the broad daylight of his humanity, and it forever changed the way I see him.
The incident found its way into my head last year, and I was able to keep it in my mind long enough to decide that I wanted to bring this up with my brother. This incident happened when my brother was 14, and he was out of the house at the time with my mom at a weekly bible study that she use to force him and I to go to. I had thrown a large enough tantrum about going that I got left at home with my dad, which might have been fortunate given the way events unfolded that evening. My brother is a doctor now, and suddenly remembering this incident I wanted to hear his medical perspective on what had happened. I had always thought that my dad had had a stroke in front of me, and it would be entirely like my dad to have a stroke and to not tell me or my brother, so as to not make us worried. I described the incident to my brother, and told him that in my memory it looked very much like how I imagine a stroke would appear. In describing the things that happened my brother acknowledged that there were aspects that seemed characteristic of a stroke in my description, but also many things that did not. I clearly remember my brother then saying to me “Let me fill you in on some things that were going on back then, that you were probably not aware of...”
My dad has always been charismatically boring. He has a naturally disarming nature. He’s pretty fat, which is somewhat surprising given how hard he works around the house, spending long hours doing chores. He’s innately abiding and non-confrontational, which at times has enabled every member of our family to unfairly use him as a doormat. It’s too easy for people to say that their families, and members of their family, and their life in general is normal, but it really did seem true for me, growing up. My parents got married when my mom was 19 and my dad was 21. They’ve been married for 40 years now. They’ve always been together, and nothing disjointing or dramatic has ever really happened within my family that I’ve ever been aware of. This charmed sense of the mundane has always been something that I’ve attributed to my dad. My dad has always been very patient, which I know must have been trying at times, given certain ways in which my mom can sometimes be grating and inconsiderate. My dad has the kind of patience that just seems like it is the product of burying emotional responses. Watching my dad, I knew that when I grew up I wanted to have the disposition he has. It’s an odd thing to look up to someone for their lack of passion and spontaneity and intensity, but there’s something to be said for the people who are reliably docile and dependable like my dad was and is.
The background of knowing the ways in which I admired my father, made all the things my brother had told me very hard to understand. I had heard rumours from my distant family about my dad getting arrested for possession of marijuana when he was much younger, but this isn’t really something that ever bothered me in any way. If anything I thought it added to the folksy dad-ness of my father’s personality. But in the conversation I had with my brother, he informed me of the cursory details of a serious drinking problem my dad had while him and I were kids that, until that conversation, I had been completely unaware of.
A drinking father is altogether completely different from getting arrested for pot in your teens. Drinking had always been something that was an implied taboo in my family. My family isn’t the type that casually drinks. We never even had innocuous things like beer in the house growing up, and if we did have any kind of alcohol around, it felt like the feng shui of our household was thrown off entirely. In this conversation my brother told me that my father had spent a lot of my childhood hiding bottles of liquor in the house for his own use; not just hiding from my brother and myself to keep us out of trouble, but hiding from my mom as well. My brother told me that, as my dad became less and less happy with his job, especially after the 2008 housing collapse, when it seemed like my dad’s company was about to go under (both of my parents work in housing), he would sneak drinks in the evenings until he was drunk. My brother told me of one time in particular in which my brother came upon my dad sprawled out in a chair in our backyard where he had been laying for several hours without moving, at which point my dad conceded that he had drank too much and passed out. My brother believes that the incident that I observed when I was younger was possibly the product of my father’s hidden drinking. I’m still unsure whether I believe this to be the case, but all the same, in this moment I now knew things about my father that I hadn’t known, and I didn’t know what to think.
A drinking problem is not a revelation and not entirely uncommon in families, but it's something that I couldn’t grasp in the moment that I was having this conversation with my brother. In my life, my dad was dependability. He was the vanguard of normalcy, and morality, and lack of vice. While he was all these things to me, he concurrently had been hiding a serious drinking problem from me that might have resulted in him having an episode fueled by drunkenness in front of his young son. I grappled with this for a very long time.
At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I felt like I had been unchained from Plato’s Cave. Instead of seeing my dad as a shadow whom I’d given a name, I saw the reality of the shadow outside of the cave. As much as that might sound grandiose and exaggerated, that’s how it felt to me. So much of my aspirations for my own life, and beliefs of the ways in which I wanted to live my life were based off of the admiration I had for my father. My dad wasn’t just my father, but rather a reflection of my principles and ideals. My dad’s mundane reliability is something that I truly admired, and is something I wanted for myself. But now, I know that my dad isn’t as simple as I always wanted to see him. As someone who has experienced burgeoning drinking and drug problems in my own life, I wanted to see my dad as a type of adult simplicity that was attainable. A transcendence of vice and frustration. A living encompassment of nirvana and passivity. But in too quick of a time frame, I found out that he’s not entirely like that. He’s struggled with addiction. He’s had terrifying things happen to him as a result of these things. Inside of all of this, I’m sure his marriage with my mom has struggled at points because of this, and I spend some time wondering now how close my family was, while I was growing up, to not being as normal and ok as I always thought we were.
On the other side of this, my dad is not completely dissimilar to all the ways I saw and see him, and part of me believes that that’s a good thing. My dad is loving, passionate, gentle, kind, boring, abiding, hard-working, reliable, in spite of the hidden imperfections of his life. He’s no less my role model for having problems and things that he has had to fight in his adult life, even if he can no longer be living solace to the idea that I will one day not have to fight these things myself. The problem with having heroes who are too human is that you inevitably realize that you will also never escape your humanity. But I think there’s part of me that loves my dad more for knowing about the battles he’s fought and probably still fights.
It’s good to have a hero who doesn’t just stand in front of you as a paragon to strive towards, but a hero who cries with you when you hit the lowest point, because they’ve been there. It’s good to have a hero who can show you in no unclear terms that in spite of all of the bad things about yourself, you can still be good. I recently was watching the news with my dad, listening to him go on a diatribe about how “Trump is only going to look out for Trump’s best interest…” In this meaningless moment I felt substantial love for my dad. I loved that he was predictable in his “dad-ness.” I loved the way that I had spent all of my life being able to rely on the guidance of his steady and secure hands. More than anything, I loved that he was all of these things in spite of everything that could have kept him from being so. In spite of hurt, addiction, and trauma my dad never stopped being the foundation of my life. I no longer love my dad because he is constant. I love him because he is triumphant.