The Cool Parent

I heard mumbling coming from the first floor master bathroom. I wandered in there only to find him nearly unconscious, and three empty handles of Beefeaters tossed into the gigantic Jacuzzi tub. I lifted him up from the bathroom floor, looked into his blood-shot eyes and inhaled the odor of gin.  He started crying and said, “I can’t even make love to mom anymore”. Holy shit. This was not what I signed up for. I think that was the first time I felt completely useless. For some reason I thought that I could fix him - like in the movies when the character you love is about to die, there’s this dramatic scene, they surrender, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, I was definitely starring in a different movie. I had been away at boarding school and returned home that January unaware of and unprepared for the changes that had been going on at home. I discovered that my father was an alcoholic, and my mother was battling the emotional turmoil of our family crisis.  

The house that I had called home for the last 14 years was torn down with the expectation that my father, a builder, would rebuild and sell it. He spent the next year transforming our home into a "smart house." It had a ballroom, home theater, heated driveway, three-car garage and many more luxuries - but no memories or warmth.  It was no longer ours.  My father anticipated that the house would sell right away, leaving him with a big profit. It didn’t. We relocated to my grandfather’s basement. The rooms were cold and drafty. It was a basement, not a home.

 My home life continued to unravel.  Rich, my alcoholic father, had become a diabetic, suffered from depression and was diagnosed with heart failure.  Sure, he had a lot on his plate; however, it was no excuse for him to check out from our family. He was no longer a father figure. He contributed nothing. He didn’t talk. He drank until he passed out in his truck. I grew up painfully and quickly, in the middle of a situation over which I had no control.

After the school year ended, Rich was in intensive care frequently, and my mother decided we needed a healthier place to live.  My mom, brother and I moved into in a one-bedroom apartment.  I slept in the cramped living room on a small sofa for ten months, and my mother and brother shared the bedroom.  Rich made progress at times, and lived with us off and on, but eventually succumbed to having greater access to drinking at his parents’ house, an hour away at the Cape. His health quickly declined so he had to stay there. He spent his final days there, too (my mom unwilling to allow the possibility of my little brother getting off the bus, and finding him dead on the floor). 

Fast-forward a few years. I was away at college and as I was leaving lunch my mom calls - “dad passed away this morning” she said. I collapsed on the sidewalk and my friends carried me back to my dorm room. 

He understood how I operated, unlike my mother, who was strict and at times didn’t know how to deal with me. I continued to seek that bond/love after he was no longer present in my life. Even before he died, his absence had made a huge impact on my relationships and decision-making. I was numb. Rich adored me and now I felt totally abandoned. I was hurt and angry - still am a little I think. 

Somewhere in between all the moving, upheaval, and my mother trying to keep tabs on me, I believed he was the “cool” parent because he wasn’t like her. She was straight-edged and religious (how could you not be though, raising two kids on your own in Wellesley, Massachusetts of all places).  I could tell him about all the wild parties I went to, tequila shots I took, and the three-foot bong I smoked out of. He would laugh like he was proud of me and I’d think we were “bonding”, when in reality he probably didn't know the day of the week. I understand now this behavior was far from cool. My mom loved him through all of it though, devastated and broken, keeping it together for my brother and I while struggling to make ends meet. Surrounded by extreme wealth and high-functioning families, she somehow managed to make things feel “normal” – and she made it look easy, too. How badass is that? Loving your child means showing guidance. You’re not supposed to be their friend – that’s a whole different thing. SELF SACRIFICE and hard work is what being a parent is all about. Children come first, and THAT’s what is really cool.