Not until I recently dug into my father’s letters did I realize how lonely his life had become. Perhaps I was too caught up in my own anger. Maybe I just had enough of his broken and empty promises. Or, quite possibly, it took my being alone to understand what being alone feels like, instilling within me a sense of empathy.
High atop a page in one of those wide-ruled notebooks rests two sentences and nothing more. They’re written in penmanship barely legible because of dad’s unceasing episode of the shakes.
“I’ve never been this lonely and all alone in my 44 years of living. Life is very difficult for me.”
So simple, yet so profound. And I can’t seem to get those two sentences — a total of 20 words — out of my head. Twenty words of loneliness, translating into a man’s plea for help. When pieced together, those words summarize the ongoing battle waging inside my father. They describe what his life had become.
But then I remember that, at one point in his life, he had all the company, friends, and family he could have asked for. Poor decisions and waning priorities pushed the all-important elements from his life until he was left with nothing, or at least the feeling that he had nothing. We were there for him; he just wanted the best of both worlds: an alcoholic’s lifestyle with all the conveniences and comforts of a happy, stable family at home.
Feeling forsaken and forgotten, my father also couldn’t stomach the idea that his old, familiar life had officially vanished. His ability to adjust and cope with change — divorce, not seeing his children whenever he wanted, living on his own, etc. — pushed him deeper into a state of isolation and the depression that usually follows.
Later entries in my dad’s journal reinforce his sinking into his life’s emptiness. In what I assume was a writing assignment from his therapist or group counselor, he chronicled the top-100 episodes* in his life for which he was resentful, remorseful, and ashamed.
- Cared more about the beer than I did about my wife, kids, brothers, nieces, nephews
- Stole money from my wife, brother, sister-in-law, kids
- Was dishonest to my wife about my drinking
- Drove in excess of 100 miles per hour with my wife and kids in the car, while very intoxicated
- Drank when I promised I wouldn’t
- Hid my beer cans
- Caused my wife to divorce me
- Went into and out of detox centers and hospitals, causing financial difficulties
- Developed chronic pancreatitis due to drinking
- Was verbally abuse to my wife and kids
- Have unpaid bills
- Lost my friends and job because of the drinking
- Developed low self esteem
- Spent $30,000 on hookers (money from my IRA)
- Shoplifted liquor from the grocery store
- Lied to myself when I went to buy a six-pack and actually bought a case
- Always bought the highest alcohol content
- Owe the IRS $10,000, plus penalties for early withdrawal
- Drank my roommate’s wine collection at $250 a bottle
- Drank while taking care of my niece’s two-year-old child (left her alone, and walked a block to get beer; was gone 15 minutes)
- Shit my pants and peed myself the last two times I relapsed
- Trashed the apartment, and ruined my second futon mattress (peed all over it)
- Found crap in the refrigerator
- Caused a lot of embarrassment for my family
- Had three bikes stolen in Wisconsin and two in Seattle
- Lost my wallet containing $250
- Had wallet stolen at a bar, this time with $5, a TYME card, and my driver’s license and social-security card
- Would stay up at night and drink beer instead of being in bed with my wife (she would ask, “Haven’t you had enough beer?” and I just ignored her)
- When drinking, I would sit on the couch and just watch TV (I didn’t want play catch with my son or play with my daughter; I was just too drunk to do anything)
- I was self centered when we needed other things than beer, but I usually bought beer anyway (all I wanted was the beer, and I didn’t care what anybody else needed)
- Bought a hooker a Cadillac (used) and a new TV with surround sound (she was supposed to be a girlfriend)
- Another female let me live with her, but she kicked me out, keeping my computer, big-screen TV, receiver, speakers, printer, hard drive
Twelve years ago, reading this list would’ve brought outrage, fury, and embarrassment. But at 32 years of age and after having let time heal some of my wounds, my heart goes out to my father. I wish I had done more for him, something more to let him know that he was loved and never alone. And I immediately think to my own life and how unbelievably blessed I am, despite tragically losing a father. Even on my worst days, I have never felt the weight of the world quite like my dad; the next time I look up to the sky and wonder, “Why me?” I’ll remember something that, ironically, my father always told me: “This, too, shall pass.”
* I took the liberty to abbreviate his full list to protect some people, as well as highlight the events that lend themselves to my father’s loneliness, depression, and isolation.