My childhood was in constant turmoil. All holidays and most weekends were filled with fear and anxiety because my father was a raging alcoholic. When dad was intoxicated he called Mom names that I had never heard before. I would ask my mother what those words meant and she would sadly shake her head, telling me that I should never repeat those words to anyone. On most weekends dad would carouse with his drinking buddies, then stagger through the door barely making it to his favorite chair beside the stove where he would drink whiskey straight out of the bottle and hurl insults at my mother while she hid in the next room. My older sisters stood guard to be sure that he did not burn the house down while nodding off to sleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. Sometimes he stuffed the stove so full of wood that we felt sure our house would catch fire. Because of this we often slept in our clothes, including our shoes and socks, so that we could get out of the house in a hurry if we had to.
Back then 911 did not exist, so my older sisters would run over to a neighbor's house and call our aunt and uncle when dad became extra loud. No matter what time of day or night, our aunt and uncle would immediately pick us up. Mom would pack paper bags with a clean change of clothing and toothbrushes and then we would all sneak out the back door and walk down the road to wait for their pretty blue car.
My aunt and uncle were angels, whisking us away to grandmother's house where it was safe. She always had our beds ready and a hot meal waiting for us. I always longed to stay at my grandmother's house because it was so serene. Sometimes after a drunken binge dad would appear on the porch with a bag of candy or a jar of honey as a peace offering. Without fail, my grandmother welcomed him warmly and insisted that he sit down for coffee and home-baked cookies or cake. She would sit with him and chat as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. I realize now that she did this to soothe my dad and keep the peace because she understood the intense shame that he felt. Once I overheard her telling my mother that if dad could stay away from whiskey, he would be the nicest human being who ever lived. But all I wanted was for him to go away and leave us in peace.
Almost every Friday after dad received his paycheck he would come home in a drunken stupor. Friday was our day to go to the grocery store, but often we had to wait until Monday when he was sober. Sometimes he would announce he would quit drinking, but he was never able to do so. Until the Easter Season of 1963--when he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia. Dad had to be hospitalized and the doctor sternly cautioned that he would have to stop drinking for the cancer treatments to be effective. With willpower dad shook the doctor's hand on Easter Sunday and promised that he would never touch another drop of alcohol.
By the time dad died when I was 13, I loved him with my whole heart and I thought he was the greatest guy on earth. I felt I had been given a tremendous blessing in knowing my real father—a highly intelligent, generous, wise, fun, and compassionate man who always looked on the bright side.
Unfortunately, despite becoming a new person, dad couldn't restore his marriage. Although Mom stayed with him, there was an unresponsive stillness in her eyes that I later identified as spiritual death. Their marriage had ended long before she could feel the complete joy of his sobriety and she kept her distance until the day he died. But at his funeral she sobbed uncontrollably. I was stunned because I could not remember ever seeing her cry. She always seemed so strong when dad was on a drinking binge, making sure that we had our Christmas presents, our Easter outfits that she designed for us, our rides to grandmother's house. Mom always took us to church and taught us to pray. For the first time at the funeral, mom was able to find forgiveness for dad.
Dad could just as easily have used the illness as an excuse to drink even more. But somehow the diagnosis and the doctor's stern warning on Easter morning was a last intervention to give my dad courage to change. His transformation profoundly affected my life because it enabled me to get know my real father. I do not believe that God made my father sick to stop his addiction, but I do believe that God wants His children to be whole, and dad was certainly at peace when God called him home.
Easter and the resurrection of Jesus are a call for us to change, perhaps change as radically as my dad. All of us truly share in the risen life when our lives and our behavior undergo constant development. Although it has been 40 years since his death, I dream of dad almost every night. In the years immediately following his burial, he often appeared in my dreams to discuss the importance of staying on the right path and to give assurance that he was watching over me. These days he still visits, sometimes driving me around town in my dreams! Although I do not always remember exactly what we talk about, I usually awaken with a smile, knowing that dad is still a "driving force" in my life and that he is still cheering me on from the other side.