Unhappy Father's Day

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Last week, I fell apart in the seasonal aisle at Walmart.

I was surrounded by Father's Day items -- balloons, power tools, oversize greeting cards, mustache-emblazoned party sets -- and realized all at once that I have never had a reason to purchase any of these items for my father.

My father is an alcoholic and has mostly stayed out of my life for a very long time. I was raised by a single mother, a woman who is strong and vibrant and has taught me to be the same. She did her best to shield me from my father's alcoholism and his drunken rants, but that doesn't mean I didn't experience this in some capacity.

I can still remember my 15th birthday party and being so excited about the prospect of my father attending. At that point, he was in and out of my life enough that I wanted him to be part of it more. You can imagine my disappointment when he showed up drunk, began screaming about his failing marriage and forced me to my bedroom to cry.

My friends tried to comfort me as my mom walked my father to the door, but the damage had been done. I was suddenly reminded of all the other times he had treated me this way. I remembered one night in particular when I stayed the weekend at his house. He was living with his then-wife and started drinking once he thought I was asleep in my room.

I watched my disco lamp rotate in the dark, hoping all the colors could distract me from what my father was saying in the next room. Crying, he told his wife that his life turned out to be a disappointment. He blamed me for it.

"If not for that kid in there, I'd be working in Montana. I'd be somebody," he told her.

I was horrified. While I knew I wasn't planned, my mother had never said or done anything to make me feel as if my birth had been a mistake. That's a hard pill for anyone to swallow, much less a 12-year-old. I told my mother what he had said when I went home, and she never made me go to his house overnight again.

I'm sure you're wondering how I could have possibly wanted him in my life after hearing all that. It's simple; he's my father, and he's a charismatic guy. When he's sober, he's the nicest, funniest person I know. I'm beginning to understand why he drinks as I get older, which helps me sympathize with him even more.

It's not that I've started drinking. In fact, I stay pretty far away from alcohol unless it's a special occasion. I've simply begun to understand that my father feels inferior to others and drinks to feel better about himself. When he drinks, he doesn't have to acknowledge that his failures are a direct result of his behavior. He can sob and scream and blame his mistakes on other people instead.

Sobriety is reality for him, so he avoids it. I understand on a basic level why he drinks, and I do feel bad for him. That doesn't mean the things he has said about me over the years don't hurt. While I deeply wish my father could find help and straighten out his life, I know it's too late for us to have the father-daughter bond I see among many of my friends and family.

Perhaps that hurts most of all. Growing up, I saw my best friend Dora interact with her father. She's a self-professed "daddy's girl" and I'm happy she and her father have such a close relationship. But I did cry some nights when I got home from her house after realizing that I'd never have that relationship with my father.

That's not her fault, just like it isn't Walmart's fault for upsetting me last week. I don't think it's anybody's fault, to be honest. It is what it is.

We all have circumstances in life that make us who we are, and I'm happy to be the person I am. I have a wonderful mother and pretty great maternal and paternal families. I'm writing about my father now because I've never really talked about how painful the situation is for me. When I was young, I feared it would devalue my mother. As I got older, I became less and less comfortable even thinking about it.

I don't want to suppress those emotions anymore. If it took a bad reaction to Father's Day swag for me to realize it, I'm grateful for it.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com

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