I wasn't around to witness my dad's rapid decline through alcoholism a decade ago. I only would hear stories by the time it was too late to do anything about it - I'd moved to London by the time conscience finally creeped up on me in 2007, and with news coming in that perhaps he might not make it much further, I came back home to visit him for lunch later that year.
It was the first time I'd seen him for two years. He'd been a functioning alcoholic all his life, but now he was unable to do anything but drink, and I was so, so nervous. I felt like I was meeting a ghost. I had convinced myself that he didn't exist any more. I never spoke about him to anyone.
I felt so uncomfortable during the short walk to the Chinese restaurant we'd decided to eat in. He could barely walk or talk. It seemed that he was under the influence of a terrible mix of both medication and a lot of alcohol. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the next set of emotions.
Walking into the completely empty restaurant on a quiet lunchtime, you wouldn't expect the reaction from the staff: they looked on with utter fear. My heart sank. My pride fluttered away in front of me, and I felt nothing but embarrassment. I was so ashamed of my dad. I didn't even want to call him that.
To see that man completely vanished, instead, replaced with somebody who had no idea what day it was broke my heart. When the waiter came over, glancing with nothing but pity in my direction, my dad asked, with no wry smile whatsoever, if he could order some poppadoms. He was trying so, so hard to act sober - in that way drunk people do - that he'd taken about three minutes to pronounce the word 'poppadom'.
Before ordering anything, I told my dad I was leaving, that I wanted to go home. The worst thing about all of that was that he never questioned why. There was no protest, because I know that he knew what he'd done. He was living in darkness, and each day lapping up more of it, surrounded himself by it. As we walked up the road to where I was about to leave him, I pleaded with him to remember who he used to be. But his eyes were glazed over. He wasn't listening. I ran off and cried my eyes out in private.
I saw him once more after that. It took another few years to pass of zero contact before I could muster the courage to put myself through it all again. By this point, he was very unwell. We were aware he was drinking at least a bottle of neat vodka a day and barely eating - sometimes soup if he could remember to buy it but my siblings and I went round to his on Boxing Day for a late Christmas Dinner. He fell asleep halfway through our conversation and we all left. I didn't speak to him again after that.
Fast forward to 2012, and after a few failed attempts, he agreed to live in a rehab centre, thanks to the will of my oldest sister. For the first year, my dad would send me texts I didn't reply to. I blocked his number so he couldn't call me. I had convinced myself that I had no dad any more. That man had gone. It made me feel lost, scared, like a little child, to tell myself that, yet I still did. It was my way of coping, I suppose. The hardest thing I've noticed for anybody who's hurt a lot of people is that even when they accept that they've done wrong, they still can't understand why anybody has forgiven them yet.
It just felt to me like he was getting away with it. That if I just suddenly forgave him, I'd be the fool. It made me angry. I would swear and say nasty things about him if anybody asked. I would feel demeaned by what he'd become. I'd envy anyone with stability in their home life. You can't handle the shame; the shamefaced admittance letting the outside world know that your father has a problem that has caused him to fail you. You can't help but worry that others might look down on you because of what he is.
Yet, as I write this now - I can tell you that things can get better. It doesn't go away but it sure does subside. There were still unhappy times; The first time I saw him in the rehab centre, he scared the shit out of me. He looked mental. But as each Christmas visit passed, I started seeing glimmers. Long gone was the skinny, hard-working, grafter of a dad I once knew but there was a jolly, pot-bellied man who still loved me more than anyone else in the world.
He finally left rehab this autumn and I moved back home to be closer to him and my family. I had to learn to be proud of that achievement at least. It's still hard, to muster up the courage to visit. Because, every time you see them, you know it might be the last. You can't see inside their body, can't see the damage that's been done and you know is irreparable. Even though the future might look bright on paper, there will always be that fear of relapse or worse in us all - most of all, no doubt, in himself.
It's a strange feeling to have to learn to love a parent again; somebody you thought was beyond help; someone you felt had let you down so badly - especially in real times of need - that you couldn't call them for help; someone who had made you feel so alone that you couldn't ever imagine having a relationship with them again. Then you remember that life really is short. I don't want any more regrets between either of us. You have to make the most of the time you have with anybody you love and learn that more darkness cannot drive out the darkness created before. Only love can do that.Suggest a correction