Despite only being 7 years old, I could tell that my mom and dad were having issues and fighting. My dad often slept on the couch more than he was sleeping in the bedroom. (He always claimed it was insomnia.) I would wake up occasionally after hearing him come home drunk in the middle of the night. The first time it happened, I thought he was dying from something because I didn’t have any concept of what alcoholism or being drunk was yet.
One time, I heard a loud thump against the hallway adjacent to my bedroom, followed by my mom yelling in a hushed voice, “My God, you can’t even walk.” My dad angrily snapped, “I’m fine. Leave me alone.” There was more stumbling and bumping around. There were a few more instances like that one, and I overheard my mom talking to my grandmother about some of her struggles with his drinking. Later on, my mom loaded me and my brother into the car on a winter day and hit what felt like every bar in town. I kept asking what we were doing, and my mom said she was trying to find my dad. After the second and third bar, I connected the theme.
I was never very good at recognizing when my dad was pleasantly drunk, only the handful of times when he was angrily drunk. My dad is funny, sarcastic and judgmental when he’s not drunk. In hindsight, most of the time when he had been drinking, those characteristics were just amplified. I became much better at recognizing it in high school and college.
Things were becoming disruptive at home. I remember many nights when my dad would not be home before I went to bed. My mother would tell me I couldn’t stay up to wait for him. She knew there was a possibility that he may not come home at all. Or if he did, it would be in the early morning hours. My mom did a good job of trying to protect us from the hurt she was experiencing. Despite those efforts, I was very aware that things were amiss, despite me being so young.
One evening my dad packed a suitcase. They told a fake story to me about how he had to go on a business trip to Chicago, and he’d be back in a few days. I knew it wasn’t true, and I didn’t trust that he was coming back. In my notoriously dramatic fashion, I threw myself against the door and spread my arms and legs to block it, crying and begging my dad not to go. I could tell from both of their faces that they were pained from seeing my reaction. I remember my dad crouching down to my level and reassuring me this was temporary and he would be back soon. In the end, he probably had to physically lift me away from the door. (That part of my memory is a bit fuzzy.) I’m pretty sure a lot of crying ensued afterward.
I vaguely remember my dad being in and out of the house, which makes sense from the pieces my mom has filled in over the years. She’s talked about how they attempted marriage counseling and were working on their marriage, but he had given up a few times.
In addition to the alcohol, there was a lot of infidelity involved. My mom still does not know to what degree as she was told during counseling that if “he told her the details, she’d never be able to look at him again.” So, it’s anybody’s guess. At one point in time, he had an ongoing affair with the office manager at his job. This woman, who was 11 years older than him, was often his drinking partner and the cause of late nights, missing nights and his on-and-off status living at home. I had not picked up this aspect yet as both of them did a good job keeping it under wraps. Doing so made it harder for me to understand why there were giving up. It also created resentment toward my mom, feeling like she should help my dad, not give up on him.
While they were trying to reconcile, he would occasionally move back in while they attended therapy. However, my dad continued his affair. He would say he was going for a walk, but instead he met his mistress around the block. My mom reached her breaking point one time, after loading us into the car (again). I expected us to make the bar rounds. Instead, we ended up at an apartment complex a couple miles from our house. I was very confused about this new scavenger hunt. My mom said that she thought my dad may be at a friend’s house and she wanted to check on him. My young mind was too innocent at that point to jump to the idea that the “friend” was another woman. My mom was gone for what felt like quite a while and returned to the car crying. I was naturally concerned and confused.
I don’t remember my dad at our house after that day. When I was 8, I remember being told that they were going to get a divorce. My dad did not show up to court so my mom got everything—primary custody, the house and significant child support. And so began our chapter of being a family of three. My dad was legally granted visitation on Wednesdays and every other weekend though.
Writer’s note: In later years, I remember saying something about how my dad was “drunk all the time” when he lived at home. He took great offense to the comment. I shared those memories listed above, and he retreated. Although I’m still hesitant to release these details to the public, I feel I need to. If I hurt or embarrass someone I love by airing this here, I am sorry. I purposely have left out my full name, state/city names, and other details that would personally identify who I am. This isn’t meant to hurt them; it’s part of my own healing process and wanting to share my experiences in hopes that it may help others along the way.