I have so many mixed emotions about my father and my life with him is something I will only share small portions of with my own children...for now anyway.
I wrote the above paragraph and then something overtook me and I launched into line after line after line of detailed stories about the stormy childhood I had with an alcoholic father and a family divided. I wrote so much that before I noticed, I had so many words in front of me that it would have taken an hour to read. It was almost as if I was like one of the angels in "It's a Wonderful Life", overseeing an entire life and narrating it in order to shape the character of George Bailey, in their case.
I often thought of writing a book about my life. There have been dark, terrible, frightening times mixed with magical little side trips that have all contributed to the person I am today. In some ways I am very proud of the person I've become and in other ways, I am disapointed. For example, it bothers me that I still carry on the family tradition of making it all look shiny and happy on the outside in order to hide some of the rockier facets of my adult life. Although many have been through far worse, I have been dealt many an unfair hand during the time I've spent on this Earth.
Although my father had many faults and my siblings and I grew up in an atmosphere that was extremely frightening at times, he did eventually become the man that I could forgive. Some of my siblings don't share this view but then again, some of them have used their upbringing as an excuse for the poor choices they have made. Ultimately, we are all individuals and the paths we have taken are of our own informed choosing. We cannot use my father as a scapegoat.
By the time my children were born, my father had lost everything and was trying to rebuild a life of sorts for himself. He was determined to be a good grandfather to make up for the type of father he had been. My children never saw my father drunk or in a rage. He was always sweet and funny around them and they loved him. That is why I have picked and chosen which details of my father's life and my childhood to share with my children.
They don't need to know that he beat my mother and dangled us over steep stairways as he spanked us and that he used to leave my brother and I in the car for long periods of time while he would go into a pub to get drunk and then would bribe us with treats so we woudn't tell. They don't need to know that we had to call the police on him, when he would fly into violent drunken rages and my mother would be afraid to let him back in the house. They don't need to know that we were terrified of him, growing up or that he tried to take his own life when I was twenty years old or that I had nightmares about him for years after he and my mother finally divorced.
To my children, my father was a nice man, small in stature and always praising them for their achievements and bragging to all of his friends about them. He was the man who brought them presents and came with us to the park where he was so trustworthy that chickadees would sit in his hand and eat the seeds from his upturned palm. He was the old fella who needed a cane to walk and had scars that were never explained to them.
When I was five, my father fell asleep at the wheel, driving the only new car he ever owned off a cliff as a result of a heavy mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol. I assumed he was dead at the time because he didn't come home for months and when he did, he had scars on his head, back, chest and on his hands. He had pictures of my brother and I in his pocket during the accident and they were smeared with blood. I still have them, blood and all. But my children don't need to know about that either.
I always portrayed my father in the best possible light to my children and his behaviour only reinforced that. So why destroy the image my children had of him? I never knew either of my grandfathers so I wanted so badly for my kids to have a good relationship with theirs despite his checkered past. He still did have the odd drink but it was in his own tiny apartment when he'd sip on a cold beer while watching the Toronto Bluejays play baseball on tv. He was no longer hurting anyone with is drinking so I learned to accept it. As long as my father didn't do anything to hurt my children, he would always be welcome at our house and as a result I was able to create some new happy memories with him and my kids have only the nicest thoughts of him.
The funny thing is that I've had some rocky times within my own home that I didn't feel my father needed to know about. Since I was the only one of my siblings who actually graduated from high school, completed university, got engaged, planned and had a church wedding, had children and put all my heart and soul into raising them, I didn't want either of my parents to know that my life was anything less than perfect. My other siblings did some of the things mentioned above but some elements were missing or the order was messed up or they were less than successful in many of those areas. I wanted my parents to feel good knowing that at least one of their children had acheived an idealistic life as opposed to heading down the wrong path and blaming them for it, like some of my siblings.
The things I had to deal with in my own family were only temporary snags in the fabric of my adult life and we have been able to work through them as a unit so I never felt the need to worry my parents with things that could change their view of the little Eden I have built.
My father passed away in 2007, just weeks before I was to move back here after a ten year span of moving around. As soon as I told him the news of our upcoming return, his mood was elevated and we made plans for many future walks in the park, family meals and holiday visits. One of my sisters has recently thanked me for this. She said that the last weeks of my father's life were happy and full of hope because of me and it was a gift that no one else could have given him.
Before my father passed away, I had always planned that after his death I would sit my children down and tell the truth about their grandfather while encouraging them to not let it soil their happy memories of him. I wanted to tell them just so they knew why the family I was born into was a little fractured to say the least. I also wanted them to know that people can come from less than ideal pasts and rise above it all to become fully functional, loving parents and upstanding citizens.
I haven't brought myself to have that talk with my kids yet even though two and half years have passed and they are now seventeen and nineteen and are very mature. I'd hate for them to have a totally inaccurate idea of how I was raised and I want them to know that I have been able to overcome many obstacles in my life in order to become who I am in the hopes that it will inspire them in their own lives but I still worry that it will sully the current pleasant memories they have of my father (especially my son, the younger of the two). I think I will instinctively know when the right time comes along. I just hope it yeilds the result I'm seeking.
I guess I still managed to write more than I should have, but it has made me realize that maybe one day, I will be able to write that book. My writing skills need to be greatly improved but I do have a story to tell and I think I could fill quite a few pages with great ease. Maybe someone out there would even read it. It would be a story of fear, struggle, loss and inspiratonal triumph. Perhaps one person would purchase my book, read it and learn from it or even just enjoy the content and find themselves uplifted by the ending. If that is what the result would be, I would be happy. I would have told the story that I have been burying for so long and I will have touched one singular life. That would be enough for me and I could actually feel thankful to my father for giving me the subject matter I would use to realize my dream of becoming an author.