A Letter From My Father

By Robert B.

This date is a strange anniversary for me. I went down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and some time around noon my (ex) wife and I were exchanging vows at the Dare County court house in Manteo. Since this was back in my drinking days, the trip up to Nags Head consisted of half a bottle of Pepto Bismal to try and take care of the night before, and the ceremony was followed by a trip to the nearest bar to get where I needed to be. I had gone ahead with the trip, knowing that my dad was terminally ill at the hospital in Bethesda, Md. When we returned, I called and found out that he had died that morning. Not many folks with that distinction, I reckon. Some time much later my mom sent me some of his writings, including a letter he wrote to her brother Tommy Joe, who was having his low points at the time, and shares our (and his) “taste” for the booze. I posted this before, but thought I’d put it out again, a little reminder of how he felt about sobriety. Hope you indulge an old fart. Like father like son…

April 26, ’72

Dear Tommy Joe,

I remember an evening in late August of 1935 when a cocky young school teacher spent a late evening with some of his equally cocky students gulping down beer at the 24 Hr. Cafe. Late that night the teacher was still sober, sorta, and Ted Burke, Leo Klimboski and a little smart aleck were drunk. I carried the latter one home (he had some cute sisters) and deposited him quietly on the sleeping porch, hoping he would sober up in time for class the next day. He did.

Tommy, I am an alcoholic. I don’t drink. I hope I never drink again. (Mind, I don’t say, “I’ll never drink again as long as I live”. That might be sorta uncomfortable for me to live with.) How did I get down? How did I get up? I have heard from others a million sagas detailing the rationale – irrational in answer to the first of these two questions. They all differ and many are dramatic, tragic, pathetic, frightening, sad – you name it. My own story fits in there somewhere. But, having succumbed to the ailment, its source or sources, though certainly academically important and worthy of pursuit, could for the time be shelved until rehabilitation has been consummated.

The beginning of my own resurrection was rather dramatic. I knew I had a drinking problem. I covered – or attempted to cover. I forgave those who subtly cajoled me to do this or do that. I kept my job. Much absence for illness. Lost too much weight. Wouldn’t eat. Developed dietary, digestive, glandular troubles, high blood pressure, diabetes. At the time there didn’t seem to be much point in changing my life pattern because the damage – physical, emotional, psychological – appeared inoperable. Might just as well live it up, die soon, and hopefully unaware of it all soaked in alcohol. I would have screamed ‘Murder’ had I thought that someone was attempting to enslave me; but I blindly set about enslaving myself to a bottle. Slave to a goddamn bottle!

There were so many other things I liked to do and ought to do. Things got worse. A vacation trip to the Rockies; stopped in a small provincial, red-necked town; charged with minor traffic violation; unconventional hair style, foreign-built car, out-of-state tags; sober; searched, manacled, arrested; charged with felony, possession of and transporting of marijuana; jailed three days and nights; mistreated, possessions impounded; newspaper publicity with pictures; national radio networks; F B eyed up to kazoo; Hoover cleaned; the younger set scurrying to the mountains for ‘Silverweed’, thinking it was grass; a tragicomedy of some moment produced at a cost of only 1 1/2 grand; completely cleared a month later; but the Oklahoma Bradleys disgraced by the oldest son.

Do you perchance remember an essay we studied in English Lit during your senior year at Harrah High School? The author: Alexander Pope; the subject: “Adversity”. Its basic postulation was not really new and in earthy, less elegant language might say: after darkness comes the dawn; or Every cloud has a silver lining; or Things must get better ’cause they can’t get any worse; or God works in wondrous ways; or Shit! Shit! enough is enough! Upon release on bond and in a sad mental and physical state, I retreated to Harmony House, a lovely alcohol and drug rehabilitation foundation in Estes Park, Colorado. Interesting people these addicts; wildflowers; birds; deer; abandoned mines; gold panning; park ranger; psychologists; swimming; cameras; rap sessions; folk songs and barber shop singing; leisurely reading; liquor available – coffee preferable; vitamins; wholesome food; Foundation president and staff all alcoholics; a millionaire Texas oil man; a penniless oil field roustabout; tall storied lies; laughter at our own weaknesses; self appraisal; sobriety. The end of a nightmare.

Tommy, I don’t envision myself as a paragon of virtuosity, a showpiece for sobriety or any other such nonsensical image. There may be by-products of sobriety that enhance one’s empathic approach to other people, but the golden fleece, the silver chalice, is mine. I no longer want to escape adversity. I want to meet it and beat it. Life is fun again. The family doctor is amazed at my vitality and general good health. He thinks he cured me. Maybe he did start the cure when he hinted that I might ‘We’ not be able to ‘hack it’ for very much longer. All of this became a undertaking. It was done with the love and understanding of Teddy, relatives, friends, and alcoholics.

We would love to hear from you. Better yet, come and see us. May I help you to the peaceful sleeping porch again?

Love, Bob

(Posted Oct. 14, 1997)