Dealing With The Death of a Dead Beat Dad
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.