The last time we spoke I was very angry at you and my feelings were not misplaced. You needed to hear what I had to say. At the time there is no way to have known we would never speak again.
Here in late middle age I am making peace with the emotional injuries of childhood including you leaving on my seventh birthday. I don’t hold that against now. How complicated adult life actually is has been taught to me the hard way. Having made some weighty mistakes that are now deeply regretted, I comprehend better why you shed tears and spoke “I’m so sorry’s” during my visits as a grown man. You never did anything intentionally to hurt me. I know that. Rather you were lost in your dysfunctions, delusions and “junk” from childhood. I’m don’t think you ever even thought there were anything wrong with you nor ever saw those primary causes of the chaos and unhappiness of your life.
In childhood you were hurt and damaged. That is a good bit of what led you to behave as you did as an adult. Your mother abandoned you at seven when you and a younger brother were left with a middle-aged and bitter father who knew nothing about raising children. From stories told it is easy to see he too was emotionally injured from his own formative years. My suspicion is his father was an emotional mess too as was his father before him and so on. There is no way of knowing how far back the dysfunctions have been passed from generation to generation are rooted.
I will never think of you as a bad man, but will always know you were a weak one. You spent all your life running away from yourself, but like your shadow in daylight that was always present, you were unable to outrun your childhood baggage. You tried the cure of money and found it fixed little to nothing. Actually it probably helped you become more deeply enmeshed in your dysfunctional behavior. All the marriages and the parade of women in your life at best only temporarily relieved your pain. The pursuit of fame and burning desire to have “famous friends” did nothing but fuel what was already wrong.
Then came alcohol abuse followed by drugs I believe you took up to look cool to the younger women you pursued. Somehow dating women young enough not just to be your daughter, but in some cases you granddaughter gave you a temporary false sense of being younger. The twenty-something women were just another of another substance of choice to numb what hurt inside you.
I wish there was more pride in me for the person you were. Instead there is memory of a man I loved in spite of his mistakes, flaws, dysfunctions and injurious behavior to himself and others. Never was there ever any real happiness in your life. How constantly you kicked away chances at contentment was never something you realized. It makes me sad when I think of how tormented your life was. You never knew your place which makes me all the more grateful I am down the road a good way in knowing mine.
Although there was no contact between us during the last year and a half of your life, I am glad you ended up in rehab. While that was not your choice and the legal system put you there, sobriety did find you. Staying straight and living humbly the last eighteen months of your life is something I am proud you accomplished. You faced the most difficult person to face: yourself, and made at least a temporary peace.
This May twenty years ago you died of a heart attack at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the end of taking a turn sharing about your journey. To know you made a difference in other lives, if even small ones, gives me something to be proud of you for. I doubt long-term you could have stayed sober, but that is irrelevant now. What does matter is your last days were spent trying to face your demons and walking a path of sobriety. I will always be grateful for that.
All the times that I cried,
Keeping all the things I knew inside,
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.
From Cat Steven’s song “Father and Son”