Your dad only drinks beer; that means he's not really an alcoholic.
When my father called and told me that he would be present at my university graduation ceremony, I was almost ecstatic. For the first time in my life, I was going to be with my father, the sober one. I thought about taking him to the Museum of Anthropology and the Aquarium. I thought about going for walks and talking. I thought about how wonderful it was going to be to finally be a daughter to a sober father, especially on such an auspicious occasion. I couldn't have been more wrong and by the end of his visit, I truly loathed my father and resented him as I had never before.
Since I can remember, I have had two dads: drunk dad and sober dad. It might remind you of a late eighties sitcom, My Two Dads, but it was anything but humorous. Sober dad was caring and helped me with my math homework. Sober dad took me swimming and taught me how to ride a bike. Sober dad was the one that I loved, but more often I was faced with drunk dad. I hated him, his smell, his jokes, his awkward confidence. Our father/daughter outings often included a trip to a bar, where I would be placated with a cola and french fries. I despised the looks of pity I got from the waitresses, ached to be in the sunlight that crept in, unwanted, and shrunk further into myself when I heard the words just one more and then we will go.
Watching my father transform from his sober, lucid self into his inebriated alter ego was the most painful since I had no power to stop it from happening and I was forced to watch, having no where else to go.
Sometimes I wished that drunk dad would be in a car accident or get his license suspended. It would prove once and for all that he was an alcoholic, not a casual drinker as everyone told me he was because he only drank beer, not hard alcohol. I believed it would be the wake up call that he needed, that it would make him realize that he was endangering his life, the lives of his children and wife, and wasting my childhood. All the recitals that my father will never remember, all the report cards he scanned in a stupor, all the milestones of my life that he was only vaguely present at. He gave it all up to his other half and robbed his family of his full presence.
He was never labeled an alcoholic because of his choice of intoxicant.
In my last year at university, I got the news that my father had been hospitalized. The doctors told him if he continued to drink, he would only do so for a few more months. His liver, the center piece in the tug-of-war between my two dads, was ailing, finally failing. He quit beer and consumed apple juice by the crate. We were all confident that he was no longer an alcoholic, having come so close to death. We all thought that his sober side would finally come to the rescue.
I learned in the worst way possible that we were all mistaken, that drunk dad was not so easy to be rid of and had a much firmer grip.
It was my first shift at a new job, a Mexican restaurant in an upscale neighborhood, and my father decided to pay a visit for lunch. He had arrived in Vancouver earlier that morning and called me from his hotel asking for directions. As I approached his table, I immediately knew that drunk dad was back; he had that mischievous look in his eyes that told me he was going on a bender and didn’t care who knew it. He ordered a beer. From me. My father, the alcoholic, recently hospitalized and told not to drink, was asking me to get him a beer, to poison him, to help kill him. Only a true drunkard of a father would put his daughter in such a position. Only an alcoholic would ask his child to serve him up his death.
I would have preferred dead dad that moment.
A couple years later, spent as far away from my dad as possible, I got a late night phone call. Drunk dad was in the hospital again, dying. Everything was bleeding inside him. His body was failing. His blood was toxic. He had several transfusions. 80% of his liver died and is rotting inside of him. Sober dad is lucky to be alive; drunk dad is finally gone.
I returned to Canada into the tired arms of my father, or rather, of what was left of him. He looked so old and weak and pathetic. My mother told me he was worried he wouldn't live long enough to see me again. He will never drink again; the smallest amount of alcohol would act like poison and most likely kill him if not immediately, then soon thereafter. I finally have sober dad, he has finally won, but at what cost? What remains is little more than the shell of man I love, one that I find hard to look at without both anger and sadness, knowing that he might be gone tomorrow.