A short time ago I received some news of my father. He has emphysema which had become so bad he will need an oxygen tank for the rest of his life. He had always been a heavy smoker. What surprised me was how I reacted. I thought, "Oh well." Later I started thinking about why I reacted the way that I did.
My parents divorced when I was very young. My father cared more about drinking than taking care of my mother, my older sister, and myself. He never supported us in any way and yet my sister and I still visited him every couple of weeks. I use to admire him. He served in the Air Force many years ago and seemed to know a lot about computers. I felt like I could really talk to him about anything. I always felt different than the rest of the kids. I was alone a lot. I would rather read than play. I just never learned how to socialize. As I got older I began to realize what was going on with my father. I would see the empty beer cans and cigarette packs in the trash. The smell of them became stronger every time we would visit. The countless excuses of why we couldn't do certain things.
My father and I shared a common interest in science fiction. Alien was always a favourite. I found this little alien in a flying saucer and gave it to him as a gift. He said that he would love it forever and even put it on his desk at work. A few years went by and during a visit he hands my sister and I a box of things he didn't want anymore. The alien was one of those things. I wanted to say something but my sister stopped me. That was when I started to see my dad differently. He must have noticed this because it seemed like he stopped trying to hide things from us. Eventually things were getting worse. The tipping point for me was when I was 15.
One of favorite movies was about to come out and one of the actors from it was going to be interviewed on T.V. I called my dad to tell him my mom and I were going to be late because I wanted to watch the interview. He told me that he would have to cancel our visit. This wasn't the first time he bailed because of some selfish reason and I lost it. The cleaned up version of what I had said can be summed up in one question: "What is the matter with you?" Everything came out that day. The anger about the visits. The sadness of him "forgetting" about something that had to do with my sister or I. Most of all, the disappointment of the man that he had become.
There is a quote from Harry Potter: It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities. My father once had a remarkable mind and yet chose to destroy it because of addictions. He was more interested in things that were killing his life than two people he gave life to. He missed out on everything from my sister getting married to our graduations. I told him that my sister could do what she wanted because that was her choice and I respected her choices because I respect her. I told him that unless something happened that made me change how I looked at him, we were no longer going to talk to one another again. I never slammed the phone down so hard in all of my life. I turned around to see my mother in tears. She hugged me and said that she was glad I had the courage to do the one thing that she never could do.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. It wasn't until I was much older when I began to think that my father's actions were a result of that. The constant sadness of the man that he had become took over and affected any real chance at me having a relationship with anyone. Now I hear he may be gone soon. I find myself thinking: Which "R" do I feel—relief or regret? Naturally, I feel both. There is relief that I won't have to worry about him anymore. However, I feel more regret. I regret the man he has become. I regret the fact that he didn't try to be our father. I regret all that time I wasted trying to change him. Most of all, I regret the fact that he isn't really a father but more like a sperm donor.
So if you're a father, read this and think about your children. Think about the choices you make. Think about how much your children actually see. Think about how your children think about you. When you're a parent every choice you make will affect them. One choice could mean the difference between walking your daughter down the aisle and dying in a hospital bed alone because of addictions.