My mother is my Guru. And my father is my Super Hero.
You may have read my blog about Mom being my greatest teacher. I’ve re-posted it on her birthday, her death anniversary and Mother’s Day…
Why have I not celebrated Dad in a blog? The man has supported me – carried me, really – through so many things. Our bond is deep, and our love is strong. Particularly now…
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Memory #1: I’m just a little kid, transitioning from taking baths, and learning how to take showers. I’m terrified of getting water in my eyes, and extremely sensitive to the cold. Our hot water heater is small; so short showers are essential – as is not using hot water elsewhere in the house while someone’s in the shower (i.e. doing laundry, washing dishes, simultaneously showering in another bathroom). It’s winter. I’m alone in the shower, and the water goes cold. I howl out in pain. Somewhere out in the house, I hear my father yelling at someone. Then the bathroom door opens – Dad to the rescue! He wraps me in a dryer-warmed, fluffy towel and sits me next to the heater, which he’s cranked-up to high. He leaves, shuts the door to keep in the warmth, and goes out to yell some more.
Memory #2: It’s summer. I’m probably about, oh, 8 or 9 years old. Dad and I are in the back yard, by the gazebo that he is building by hand, from scratch. He’s trying to get a nasty knot out of a piece of tangled rope. He’s failing and extremely frustrated. He growls, “Damn it,” throws down the rope, and stomps inside the house. Holly to the rescue! I pick up the rope, patiently un-do the knot, and take it to my father.
Memory #3: As a pre-teen, I start to sense my father’s immense frustration with my mom’s alcoholism. And, having witnessed Dad’s grief when his sister – my beloved Aunt Jeannie – died from cirrhosis of the liver, I try to make my mom stop drinking. It’s Friday evening. The family is getting ready to go to synagogue for Sabbath services. My mom makes a gin martini to take with her in the car. I spill it out in the kitchen sink. She slaps my face. I sit next to my father in silence for the rest of the night.
Memory #4: In very early childhood, I overhear my parents arguing about money. My father says that, if I had not been born, they would not have financial problems. I would not recall this event – plus the fact that I was an unplanned child – until adulthood, during therapy. For most of my life, this “core wound” had subconsciously shaped my negative self-image as an unwanted problem, plus, engrained my own financial problems. My father is not at fault; he is not a bad person. Such fights are normal between parents under great stress of hardship. My father spoke out of frustration; and he didn’t know I could hear. The kicker? For decades during my own active alcoholism and through tough times in sobriety, my father would give me money (adding up to a great amount in total) – ignoring his own limitations, enabling my pattern of financial instability and reinforcing my “core wound.” Again – nobody’s the bad guy in this unfortunate twist of family dysfunction. The outcome? A bittersweet emotional and financial dependence that would leave both my father and me depleted…
Memory #5: June, 2013. I find out that my father has serious financial challenges. Having accepted so much from him over the years, I immediately blame myself. Although one of my sisters assures me that it’s not my fault, and encourages me not to take the blame, I still feel partially responsible. That Father’s Day, I visit Nashville to observe how Dad’s doing in general, and discover that his dementia is worsening. I decide that if my DC job search continues to yield rejections, I will move closer to help Dad with his finances and his life until he passes on. I move to Nashville in September – without savings, and without a job. I live on loans from friends while trying to secure work. Nothing materializes. While I spend time managing and improving my father’s finances, my own are crushing me with worry. Family dysfunction rears its ugly head, and due to irrational decisions beyond my control, I am legally removed from my father’s affairs. I return to DC to start from scratch…celebrating some victories on behalf of my dad, but completely broken, inside and out – and, heartbroken at leaving my beloved father.
These scenarios sum up Dad’s and my relationship – two people trying to save each other, amid a backdrop of historical family dysfunction, hardship and stress. Not the healthiest dynamic, we know.
Still, we love each other more than anything in the world. And love is rich with mistakes and forgiveness, imperfection and acceptance. Dad’s and my love is messy, for certain – but it’s our mess.
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My father is my Super Hero.
He once blamed me for the family’s money problems. He enabled me financially for decades. And through his enabling, he rescued me from dying.
On Easter Day 1990, I floated around the French Quarter in a soul-shining haze of gratitude for life. Days before, I’d stumbled around my New Orleans neighborhood in a drug-induced haze from a botched suicide attempt – my 2nd in one week.
I’d become unemployable, and was spending most of my days in the same pattern: Wake up with a stranger and drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my dad’s Exxon credit card. Make my way to the French Quarter, buying a quart of cheap tequila on the way. Sit on a curb, eat 7-11 sandwiches, drink out of a paper bag and listen to street musicians. At the end of the day, go drinking with the street musicians. Take one home. Wake up the next morning and start over.
Little did he know…my father was financing this debauchery. Had he not, I’d probably be dead. Despite living dangerously, I had my own apartment, control over its key, and, a car with gas in it and a phone in the case of emergencies. I had money for food, and money for booze. I didn’t have to ask strangers for help, and I didn’t have to live on the streets.
Still, I was clearly lost. And compulsively stuffing a lifetime of unaddressed trauma (results of family hardship and addiction-related events) into a tequila bottle did not remedy the internal self-loathing and defeatist thoughts. So I decided to give up. Twice in one week, I combined as many substances as I could buy and steal, and went to sleep hoping to not wake up – yielding failure both times. Apparently, suicide was not meant to be. The 2nd time, I resigned to stick around and spent the next 12 years seeking the desire to live. I would still drink alcoholically; I would still depend on my father’s money; I would still leave jobs, men, friendships; I would still jump all over the map trying to run from myself; I would still end up living at home at times; I would still battle with my internal negatives.
Simultaneously, new influences started to chip away at my self-reliance, avoidance and denial.
On October 22, 2002, at age 37, 12.5 years after that Easter awakening and six months after my mother died from complications related to alcoholism, I crawled into the rooms of 12-step recovery. I started to pick up the pieces of 26 years of active addiction, and began my current journey of holistic healing through yoga, recovery, therapy and other wonderful resources, responsible living, and, amends for past mistakes.
I called my dad that afternoon. “I just went to my first meeting,” I told him. “Good,” he answered, exhaling, with a tone of relief in his voice.
He did know.
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Moving to Nashville meant the chance to pay a great debt to my father. Or so I thought.
Despite what happened – the financial ruin, family conflict and emotional depletion – I am grateful for those seven months (what I now call a “successful fact-finding mission”). In fact – due to all that happened, I had the opportunity to see the big picture clearly, to face the facts of my relationships with my siblings, to discover the reality of my father’s financial patterns, to redefine my relationship with him, to enjoy a major emotional breakthrough, and, to embrace a new way of thinking.
Those negative stories associated with my “core wound?” False. I am not an unwanted problem. The happy ending to this story? IT’S NOT MY FAULT.
Hitting my own financial, emotional and spiritual bottom during my attempt to “save my dad” actually saved me. So again, in a roundabout way, Dad rescued me. Had I never gone to Nashville to face his and my financial realities, patterns and mistakes, I would have never been freed of that debilitating “core wound.”
Amazingly, since planning my move from Nashville back to DC, I am no longer paralyzed by negative thoughts when trying to apply for jobs. I no longer feel a shameful, guilt-ridden debt toward my father. I know what I owe him – and that is LOVE.
Liberated, I have moved into a fresh, new phase, uninhibited by false beliefs that used to paralyze me and squash any chance for adult development. I am embracing life with more passion than ever, rediscovering true connections with friends, cultivating community in my beloved hometown…and…working my ass off!
Dad has always been my consistent source of encouragement, faith and unconditional acceptance. He’s been my champion, my cheerleader. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said, “Don’t let it get you down!” when the hard knocks hit. He has always, constantly told me how much he loves me, how much he believes in me. So now, when I call him to consistently report good news about work and life, he is thrilled.
I’m finally growing up.
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Let me tell you how much one grows up while spending the prime years of adulthood drinking reality away: Not at all. Addiction leaves no room for personal and emotional growth. Today, at nearly 12 years sober, I’m still undoing old patterns, making up for past mistakes…and…committing new ones. The difference now? I am aware, accountable and willing to take action to change.
I typically don’t spend a lot of time defending myself, because I have faith in my character. Still, I will say this:
Some may believe that my father’s current state of financial woes and related issues is all my fault. Those people can have their blame game, their misdirected anger and their battles. I’ll take no part. I know exactly how I contributed to my father’s current condition; and I now know the other factors at play. I am not the problem. I am a daughter that shows up, that accepts responsibility, that would do anything for her father – just as he did for me. Over many years of feeling that I “owe him” for giving to me so freely, I’ve taken action to serve him however possible – by sharing life with him, cleaning and cooking during visits, spending quality time, and, showing my love for him in many ways.
I have grown to feel completely at peace with my sincere efforts, and plan to continue them, along with direct financial amends, as soon as I am able. I’m saying this here, now, with all as my witness.
And that, my friends, is the end of my explanation and defensiveness about this issue. Let’s move on…
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Have you ever noticed that, when the Super Hero swoops in to rescue the distressed victims, she or he never asks: “So, what happened, guys? Why are you in so much trouble?” That selfless hero just plucks ‘em up, no questions asked.
Over and over, my dad jumped into fires, hot water and quicksand to pull me out. He saved me – whether or not I deserved to be saved, and whether or not it was healthy for me…or him.
Someday I will tell you more about how my father positively influenced my life, my diverse cultural yearnings, my commitment to good health, my career direction and more. How he’s the guy behind my percussion talents, my yoga class music choices and my love for Washington, DC.
But the most notable way my father influenced my life? He once regretted my birth; and then he saved me from dying. And most recently – after seven months of tough truths, humbling honesty, stressful interaction and unconditional love…after coming full circle in our relationship and shedding old stories that no longer serve us – he reawakened my passion for life. Finally, I can absorb all those years that – in addition to supporting me financially – he heroically scooped me up, kept me warm and held me high.
I love you, Dad. More than I can express. You are, and always will be, my Super Hero.
Happy Father’s Day, y’all. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace, Peace, Peace.
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(Note: I read this piece to my father before publishing it; and we cried together out of love and respect. He approved publication. Also Note: Whenever I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family. I understand that we all suffered – even historically, way before I was born. The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel. We do our best.)