by Alexandra McDougall

Published in Issue No. 14 ~ July, 1998

The older I get, the more my father means to me.

When I was a child he battled with alcohol, his beer-soaked brain causing him to spit his words, sharp as nails, accusing his wife of having an affair, accusing me of being self-centered and ignorant.

I used to lay in bed at night listening to their arguments. It was always the same. A crashing THUD! as my father slammed his fist into the wall. The next day would find my mother hanging another painting, or one of my school photos, over the gaping hole that sunk through the plaster.

I once asked to borrow the car. When I started my query with “I want to…” he harshly retorted “I want a Mercedes and a million dollars, but I don’t have it, do I?”

The logic of this was too far-fetched to debate. He was a master of grand, sweeping statements that made little sense. Statements that caused my self-esteem to crumble.

I was only vaguely aware of the vicious circle that would follow. I went to high school parties and drank whiskey so I could talk to people. My brother, a clone of my father, planned his weekends around drinking with friends and booze cruising down the back roads outside our town.

I moved away to college a week after my father stopped drinking. On my last day at home, with all of my worldly possessions stuffed in a handful of cardboard boxes, I opened the refrigerator and found bottles of ginger ale. They were meant to replace the bottles of beer he once hid outside the window of his study, to hide the fact that he was drinking.

I called him when I reached school. His voice on the telephone sounded tired. “Your mother will be home in a couple of hours,” he sighed, not knowing quite how to talk to me, or what to say.

He still doesn’t. Maybe he never will. But he’s been sober for nearly three years, now. His smile is wider, perhaps from not tackling his days with a hang over.

He didn’t use a 12-step program. No support groups for him. He just stopped. With the same determination he once used to get drunk, he stopped.

I live six-hours from my father and every time I hear his voice on the phone the distance tugs at my heart. I find I’ve forgotten about the nights when he would drink a 12-pack of beer, keeping us at arm’s length. I only remember the good days, like that time he was sober and fixed my bicycle. Or that night he sat smiling in the audience at my school play.

I look at my school pictures still hanging on the walls in my parents’ room and I smile. My heart swells with pride. I look just like him.

  • MrMaxood

    Great memoir! I used your beautifully written piece with my middle school students while teaching them how to write memoir based on relationships. Thank you so much for sharing! Kids loved it and learned a lot about writing from it.