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Dealing With The Death of a Dead Beat Dad

Updated on August 22, 2009

The call came in the middle of the night.  I don't know how they tracked me down, but they did.  I was twenty years old and serving in the military.  I'm sure they didn't find my phone number anywhere among my father's things, as we didn't have much of a relationship.

"You're the next of kin" is all I can clearly remember about that late night call over ten years ago.  It was the Clark county coroner's office calling.  They had found my Dad, in the bathroom with one sleeve rolled up and track marks.  They knew he had been shooting heroin, and thought he may have gotten a "hot spike".  I had to ask what that meant.  It refers to a really strong, pure shot of heroin. 

"We'll have to wait for the toxicology reports to come in."  I remember that too.  I wasn't surprised it would take a few days to find out what did him in.  My father was a raging alcoholic, a drug addict, and had cirrhosis of the liver as well as throat cancer.  Any of those things could have taken his life. 

Ironically, it was the vice that had been there the longest that got him.  The booze.  Of all those life threatening things, he died of acute ethanol intoxication.  He drank himself to death. 

The coroner explained that this isn't a difficult thing to do for alcoholics, as they have a high blood alcohol level all the time, so just a little too much and they're gone.

I know it isn't polite to speak ill of the dead, but I write with gritty honestly and express my truth as I know it.

My father was in all ways a dead beat Dad.  He never paid child support a day in my life, in fact hadn't worked since the year I was born.  He called on special occasions, sometimes, but only after my mother called to remind him and give him hell. 

I have very few memories of my father.  These floated through my head as I went about my day trying to decide how one handles a funeral for a man she barely knew, who lived in another state and owned nothing.

I remember a Christmas spent with him.  My Mom took us to see him and we got roller skates from Santa.  I remember my sisters and I rollerskating up and down his driveway in the trailer park. 

As I grew older he made some trips to see us twice.  He made it to my graduation from junior high school, and my sister's as well, a couple years later.  That was during his dry time.  He had a span of seven years when he was sober. 

He was a great guy to be around during those years.  I remember those times well. Great taste in music, pleasant to be around.  Well dressed, clean shaven, and hair cut neatly.  We smiled and laughed, even sang along to the radio together.

However, seven years was apparently all he had in him, because he lost his sobriety after that.  What a different man he was.  Rude, inconsiderate, argumentative, and judgemental.  Instead of laughing together and talking, I found myself arguing with him, or not even bothering to do that, and just telling him to go to hell.

When I joined the military I drove through Las Vegas, where he lived, and so I called him and let him know I'd be coming through town.  I agreed to meet up with him and visit.  I sat on top of my car on the corner of Freemont street and Las Vegas boulevard as all kinds of shady characters passed, or stopped and tried to sell me drugs.  What a night! 

When I finally saw my Dad he was upset because he had walked past three times and I didn't say a word.  Even after his statement, I was speechless.  He looked like a first class homeless man, a bum off the street.  Long greasy grey hair, not showered, dirty clothes, and all topped off with a bottle of Old English inside a paper bag!

I headed back to the house and spent a short time with my Uncles who also lived there.  It was late and he asked me over and over to stay but I refused, telling him I had to be to the base by midnight.

Then I drove to the nearest rest area and slept in my car.  I never saw him again.

I was stationed just a couple hours outside of Las Vegas, and drove out there many times.  I was there for fun, or to drop friends at the airport, but I never called him.  I couldn't get over the fact that he was drinking again.  He was doing this to himself.

When he died it affected me in so many ways.  First I regretted never seeing him again.  The fact is, he was a good person.  He'd give you the shirt off his back, but he was sick.  He was an alcoholic, and tried like hell, even stayed sober seven years, but the booze eventually took him back. 

I was angry at his memorial that he didn't even know what branch of the service I was in.  Those who were close to him spoke saying he was so proud of me for serving, but they didn't even have the branch of service right! 

I have to admit this wasn't totally his fault.  I could have made an effort to see him and get to know him, let him know who I was.  I was an adult, and he was always willing, even when I was bitchy or told him where he could shove his opinion.  He always welcomed me into his home, and into his life, if I showed interest. 

My mother tells me he didn't make the effort because he felt my sisters and I were better off without him.

I wished I had appreciated him for the complete person that he was.  I didn't.  I allowed myself to be blinded by the alcohol and see nothing else in him, but that's not all he was.

I always thought I'd have the chance to see him, when I could get past it, or he quit drinking.  I never expected that he would die and I'd never get that chance.  That never crossed my mind.  He was 42.

His death colored the way I looked at everyone in my life.  My family, friends, and co-workers.  I no longer lingered on the quirks that pissed me off about them.  I vowed to see it as a part of the whole package and even love them for those quirks, not in spite of them.  I also came to appreciate the precious little time we have in this life, even more.

Funny how losing someone you barely knew can affect you so profoundly. 



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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What a powerful piece of writing. I am in the same sort of situation as you were although things were not quite as bad with my dad, I did at least have some decent memories of him as a child. This has made me realise that I need to let the alcoholism go for the funeral and focus on the good things.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I never had the opportunity to know my father. Never even seen a picture of him. Never had any emotional or financial support from him. I was the oldest of four children being raised by a single mother (most of the time). Lived on and off with my grandparents. There were several boyfriends and husbands through the years, but none were ever involved or influential in my life. My grandparents lived through the depression and World War II and both suffered from alcoholism. They both lost many friends and family during the War and I believe that neither ever recovered.

      Sorry for rambling on, but my reason for posting is I would like to thank the man I never knew as a father for NOT being there for me. This has enabled me to become the self made man and Dad that I am today. The 42 years I've lived with no father figure in my life has given me the ability be a DAD to my own son.

      We all deal with life the best we can. No two people have ever experienced life the exact same. We grow throughout our lives from the trials and tribulations that we each endure. We should never judge others for the way they live their own lives. Just remember that life is precious no matter whom it belongs to.

    • blue.lotus profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Cali

      I have plenty of issues relating to my Dad not being around. I didn't realize they were there because he was never really in my life to cause any damage but him not being there caused some bumps and bruises in it's self.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I ve been reaading posts about people losing their dad, because my little sister never got a chance to know her father. he left her when she was 3, and never saw her, he died of cancer last summer, and she s only 12 years old. She s been extremely difficult to deal with, she acted like his death never affected her since she didn't know him. I just want to know what s going on in this child's head. She says she has an anxiety disorder, she throws tantrums, and refuses to grow up. I feel like she s missing something and nobody can understand her

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for sharing that. I lost my dad n he was never in my life n hurt my mom n I found out I have other siblings from a different mom n im left not knowing him n wanting to know y he didn't stay in my life n y he never tried. It kills me that he will never walk me down aisle at my wedding or see my children grow up. Left lost n not knowing. My mom is mad at me bc she doesn't understand my feelings n that hurts too.

    • Coils Knot Curls profile image

      Coils Knot Curls 

      8 years ago

      thanks for writing this hub. i feel like i have so much to say, but the words are conflicting...this couldn't be easy for u. Your last sentence, "Funny how losing someone you barely knew can affect you so profoundly." i often wonder about that, how could things have been different. so many unanswered questions....guess we as children grow up with so much hope for change, and then its too late.

    • charamia2 profile image


      9 years ago from Michigan

      I just wanted to thank you for writing this hub. I lost my mom last March and it was a similar situation. She was an alcoholic and a drug addict and due to this I had a horrible relationship with her. She was sick for a long time with hepatitis C and cirosis of the liver, and to be brutally honest she made it a lot longer then any one of us would have thought. It is difficult to deal with the death of a parent that was not there for you. I cried when my mom passed not for what we had but what I had "wished" we had. I do find peace knowing that she is finally happy in heaven and no longer needs drug and alcohol to try and make her happy. I wish you luck with everything and thanks again for sharing this, its nice to know that you are not the only one.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      After I was five years old, my father was a fleeting presence in my life. For a span of 17 years, as I moved from my teens into adulthood, I didn't see or hear from him once. He was an alcoholic and he did not support my mother and me. For all of my adult years, I seldom saw or spoke with him. By the time he died, I had pretty much written him out of my life.

      I received the news of his death over the phone from his sister. I thanked her for the call, expressed my sympathies to her (she was very close to him), decided I would not attend the memorial, and ended the conversation.

      What happened next shocked me. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. These days, I understand my tears, although I didn't then. No matter the years that had passed, no matter the distance between us, he was my father. I always needed him. But now, the loss of him was final. The day he died, I grieved as long and hard as I had when my mother took me away from him when I was five.

      Thank you so much for sharing this moment in your life. I had stuffed away my feelings about my father's death, and now they are present with me because of what you wrote. That is a good thing.

    • glassvisage profile image


      10 years ago from Northern California

      This reminds me of a friend of mine, whose father was abusive but who recently died. It was insightful to read your thoughts, and I hope writing these words helped you in some way.

    • blue.lotus profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Cali

      Your comments are greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Lazur profile image


      10 years ago from Netherlands

      Your story brings back a lot of memories for me. I don't really know what to say now. Thank you for sharing:)

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      10 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      This is a very honest hub. I agree that sometimes, it takes a tragedy to remind us of how fleeting our life is on Earth and how short the time we have to love those around us without expecting to be loved back. I am sorry to hear about your Dad, and I can only hope that he is in a better place now. I admire your strength and honesty. Thanks for sharing.


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