THE BLOG
09/30/2014 01:10 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

Forgiving My Alcoholic Father: Better Late Than Never

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My father was an alcoholic.

Just about all of my childhood memories of him revolve around his drinking. I remember countless car rides where I was scared to death, wondering if I'd make it home alive because my dad was driving drunk. I remember never being able to have friends sleep over at my house as a kid because of the potential embarrassment and humiliation I would feel if my dad came home drunk, then passed out in the living room (like he usually did).

I remember the time friends dropped me off at home late one night and we found my dad sitting in his car in the driveway. The driver's door was open, the car was running, and my dad had one leg out of the car. But he was passed out. I remember telling my friends that my dad must have been really tired from a long day at work. (Children of alcoholics are quick thinkers!)

I think you get an idea of what it was like for me growing up.

In my mind, my father robbed me of my childhood, and even some of my early adulthood. We never really had a relationship. And over the years, what relationship we did have became more and more strained. For a long time, I hated my father. Hate is a strong word, but that is truly how I felt. I resented growing up without a father, even though I technically had one. I wouldn't want to talk to him or see him. The phone would ring, the Caller ID would show my dad's number, and I wouldn't answer. Or call him back. If I called my parents' house and my dad answered, I would often times hang up. That's how bad things were between us.

I discussed my issues surrounding my father many times with my therapist, my wife, other family members, and even a few friends. Several of them told me that I should reach out to my father and try to repair our relationship; that if I didn't I would regret it someday. But I just couldn't accept the suggestion that I should be the one to make the first move. After all, I did nothing wrong.

Then came June of 2012. My dad went to the local Veterans' Hospital for a routine check-up. They found some irregularities in his heartbeat and blood pressure and decided to keep him overnight for observation. To make a long story short, he ended up being in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, while he was hospitalized my dad started suffering from dementia. This was an unexpected development, and all I could think about was that I had probably missed my chance at any type of reconciliation. I was okay with that -- I really didn't have much choice -- but it still made me sad.

From the hospital, my dad went to an extended care facility for rehab and physical therapy. It was hard for me, but I went to visit him several times. He was "different" during these visits. I recognized this almost immediately, as did my mom, my siblings, and my wife. He was a kinder, gentler person, and a soft side of his personality that we hadn't seen before -- at least not in a very long time -- came out. Even so, he would be having a normal conversation with us and then suddenly switch over to telling us some nonsensical story that he thought was real. My heart would break when this would happen. But we all just went along with it and accepted that things were different now.

My dad spent four weeks at the extended care facility, and when it was time for him to be released, in early August, my mom asked me if I would help her get him home. I would do anything for my mom, so I agreed to help her.

We got my dad home without incident and he settled into his spot on the living room couch. Before I left, I found the strength to actually sit down next to my dad. I told him I was glad he was feeling better and that he looked much better to me. This is where things got a little bizarre.

My father looked me in the eye and thanked me for helping him get home. "I can always count on you," he told me. "You're always around when I need you. I appreciate that." After hearing that, I stood up, gave my dad a big hug, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "I love you." And as I let go of him and moved away from him, I felt something very strange happen. It's impossible to describe exactly how it felt, but in that moment I could feel an incredible weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I felt all the resentment, hatred, and negative feelings I had about my dad disappear.

Suddenly, I was at peace.

Forty-plus years of resentment and hatred toward my father, and it all disappeared in what my wife described as "a God moment." (By the way, is it just a coincidence that my dad's initials were "GOD"?) I never thought it would happen. Never. Ever. I always thought my dad would die and I would feel the resentment and hatred until the day I died. But that all changed in a few seconds when I told my dad I loved him -- and actually meant it.

Better late than never.

Postscript: My dad died on February 6, 2013, approximately six months after I had reconciled with him. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by my mom, my two sisters, my brother, my wife, and me. And although the mending of our relationship happened a mere six months before his death, the important thing is that it happened at all.

There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love?... At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving. -- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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