I don't know Randy Clemens from Adam. But when I saw a Facebook link to this post he wrote Tuesday upon learning that his father had died, I knew it was something that should be shared more widely.
Clemens, an author and freelance food writer, says to spare him our condolences on the loss of his 59-year-old father, Donald, who he describes as an alcoholic prone to anger and depression. What Clemens says is this: "Am I upset that my dad died? Not anywhere near as upset as I am that he chose to never live."
What follows is what the younger Clemens wrote, in a blog post titled, "My dad wasted his whole life; please don’t waste yours":
My mom got a phone call about an hour ago from a police officer letting her know that my father finally drank himself to death. It took him the better part of 15 years, but he finally did it.
I remember when he was a good dad ... maybe up until I was 12 or 13 years old. After that, it was a guessing game every day. “Is he going to come home from work in a good mood today?” We may as well have had a Magic 8 Ball to tell my mom and I whether or not we’d be in for a violent outburst. He could be a real asshole at times ... which eventually became “sometimes” followed by “most times” and ultimately bordered on “all the time.”
He generally reserved his disdain and contempt for humanity, unleashing it on those unlucky few with whom he had to do business... in person at his favorite disgusting fast food restaurants or over the phone with (admittedly incompetent) customer service representatives. But it didn’t take much for him to unveil it on a struggling housewife who did everything in her power to keep their broken house feeling like a home, or on an unsuspecting teenage son who may have simply forgotten to take out the garbage one night. His words pierced the air and boomed through doors and windows, making sure that all neighbors knew what was on his mind. Plates would fly, dinners ruined, walls and doors were decorated with imprints of his macho man fists, and sometimes so were our bodies.
Much of this was fueled by an alcohol-induced rage that also afflicted his father. This was no social or casual drinking though... make no mistake. This was pure, unadulterated alcoholism, with swarms of empty vodka bottles cleverly hidden throughout the house. He didn’t know how to have one drink, let alone just one bottle. His addiction grew deep, and even when faced with losing his son and his wife, he made a choice to stay with his Popov instead. He bounced in and out of his drinking, and even made it a few years without a sip at one point, but something would invariably come along to make him think it was alright for him to fall off the wagon. (SPOILER ALERT: It wasn’t.)
My father wasted his life. He worked at a job he hated for close to 25 years. He pushed away most of his friends and family with his uncontrollable temper and his refusal to see anyone else’s viewpoint. He despised those who found success, because he was unwilling to go after it himself.
Because he was dissatisfied with his own life and his own choices, he took it out on others. He put them down to bring himself up... a temporary personality booster that only serves to harm them both in the long run. Rather than seeking to better himself, to challenge himself to find new things and explore his own desires, he chose to shoot down those of others. He loved scapegoats (e.g. If he couldn’t keep a happy marriage, why should gay people be allowed to?) and alienated himself from anyone who he perceived as different from him. (Newsflash: We’re all different, and that’s why we’re great.)
Thanks to this hostility, he died alone, with nobody there to care. He sat around, collecting state-sponsored disability for his “chronic depression” that he never really had any interest in curing beyond popping any pills that some doctor was foolish enough to prescribe him. He wasn’t interested in working toward bettering his life. He’d suck down any cure-all peddled by the pharmaceutical industry, but he refused to analyze his inner demons and admit that his worldview was painfully flawed, close-minded, and obtuse. Therapists and those who actually sought to get to the root of the problem (versus simply masking the symptoms) were “idiots” who “didn’t know anything.” And the few times he did seek help, it was never a genuine search for peace... it was always a ploy to get just well enough so that either myself or my mom would be fooled into coming back into his life. Of course, once he was getting help, he’d back out, calling all the folks at AA “losers” and thinking that he was somehow better than the rest of them. He was afraid to open himself up to criticism, because after all those years of accumulating enemies, the onslaught of truth in the honest feedback from those he’d wronged would be enough to guilt him to death.
With all the time in the world and plenty of money to his name (including some of yours, thanks to the social welfare systems he greedily and selfishly drained), he did nothing. He never left the house or tried to expand his horizons. He wasted away, withering into obscurity, rearing his ugly head every once in a while to try and infect others with his plague. But we were stronger, and smarter, and we refused to let him drag us down with him any more.
Enough of this bash fest, let me switch over to what I really want to say.
Don’t repeat my father’s mistake. Be a human being, and see the humanity in others. We all struggle, each with our own internal adversity as well as the external challenges that ultimately shape our character. We can let them get us down or we can overcome them. Because he chose to sit and home, wallowing in his own misery, chain-smoking three packs of cigarettes and chugging several bottles of the lowest-grade vodka he could find (at taxpayer expense!)… he missed out on the beautiful gift of life. That blessèd gift which each of us only gets to experience once. Reincarnation? Maybe. But even then, wouldn’t you want to enjoy each turn on the merry-go-round to its fullest?
Don’t wait to be chosen. Don’t think someone is playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” to find who gets to be happy next. You have to look inside yourself and find that which you desire, and chase it with an unending fire and passion. And you must never step on someone else’s dreams, unless they are of malicious intent and based on harming people or things. When you surround yourself with others who are here to enjoy life’s rich pageant, you’ll begin to appreciate just how damn special it all is. It’s not about what you’re handed, it’s about what you hand back. Why not make this place better than when you found it? How do you act when nobody’s watching? And how do you want to be remembered?
Travel. See the world, if only through others’ eyes. Talk to strangers. Hear their stories and see things their way. Even if you disagree, you’ll be surprised to find that most people have a reason for the things they do and don’t do, and I always enjoy getting the “why” and “why not” behind their motives. Encourage others in their endeavors, entice them to create more beauty to overpower the bad that will always be present. We may not be able to eradicate the bad, but we can certainly opt out of participating in it.
Which is what the aim of this blog post is... to turn the ugliness of my father’s life and death into a positive reminder that we have a whole lot around us that we should never take for granted, and that each day, we should be rejuvenated and re-empowered to make the most of our relatively short time here. Why do the bare minimum when you can do something extraordinary? And you needn’t do it all yourself... your strength is there, but when you’ve surrounded yourself with other wonderful people, there will always be a helping hand to boost you up if you’re struggling. All you have to do is reach out and ask for it .. or with the best of friends, grab it when they extend it because they instinctively know something’s wrong.
Am I upset that my dad died? Not anywhere near as upset as I am that he chose to never live.
If you care to leave a comment, I ask that you refrain from the usual condolences, etc. As socially expected as they may be, I assure you they aren’t necessary in this case, as my mourning period came and went in the blink of an eye. Instead, I ask that you tell me how you plan to live your life to the fullest, or state a goal that you want to achieve, whether for personal or professional reasons. Then, go out there and get it. Carpe f*cking diem. Enjoy each and every day like it’s your last.
Find the beauty in others and wear yours on your sleeve. Empower yourself to chase greatness and find internal peace. Namaste. One love.
Randy Clemens is a freelance food and drink writer and author of The Sriracha Cookbook and The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook. His Twitter handle is @RandyClemensEsq.