When I was 10 years old, my father went to rehab for his alcoholism. I don’t remember as much about the experience as I wish I did. Kelsey and I were told that our Daddy was “going away” to “get better” because he was “sick”. We didn’t know why he was sick. One day, he just didn’t come home, and our family of 4 suddenly became a family of 3. Things were different. Usually, my mom got up very early to go to work and left it up to my Dad to get Kelsey and I ready for school. Now, Mom was home in the mornings and it was more fun! She would cook us our Toaster Strudels or Eggos. She would actually wake us up instead of letting us sleep until the last possible second, then rush us out the door, hair uncombed and homework still laying on the dining room table – something my father did most mornings so that he himself could sleep longer. Life was different in a big way. There was no “hiding” when we heard Dad get home from work, slamming his car door shut in the drive way. Things were less tense, although, in retrospect, my mom did seem a lot more worn out.
After about three weeks of him being gone, Mom announced one Saturday morning that we were going to visit Daddy. We put on nice outfits and wore headbands with bows, excited for the visit. We drove for what seemed like hours, but was actually about 20 minutes, to a place that didn’t look like a hospital, but more like a school or a big mansion. We didn’t know it, but we were about to participate in “Family Counseling”.
I don’t remember seeing my father for the first time at Mir.mont, but I do have a few distinct memories from the experience. The first was when we had to sit in a big circle, on hard plastic chairs in what looked to be a classroom. I swung my feet, as they didn’t reach the floor, and looked at Kelsey, shrugging at her with my eyes. What were we doing here with all of these strangers?
We had to go around the room and say our names. After that, all of the “sick” people got to talk while we all listened. When it was my Dad’s turn, he tried to talk but just kept crying. I felt extremely uncomfortable, as showing emotion was somewhat taboo in our house during my childhood. I can specifically remember my stomach twisting into knots as my dad’s eyes got redder and his nose more stuffed up as he tried to talk through his tears. I remember nothing of what he said. All I could think was, “Who is this man? Where is my real Dad?”
I sighed with relief when it was time to leave that room. My Dad took us to the room where he slept. He had a room mate- an African American man who also had children, but none of his family had visited that day. That man sat down on his bed, so that he was eye level with Kelsey and I. I remember his words so clearly. “Your Dad is the best man that I have ever known. You girls are lucky to have such a great father.” I felt an overwhelming sense of discomfort, for the second time that day. This man didn’t know my dad. I was the one who lived with him for 10 years. This man had only lived with him for 3 weeks! I nodded and looked at the ground.
Dad returned from rehab soon after that. Things went back to normal, only our “normal” just got worse and worse. It was never really explained to me in detail why my dad went away, but I did know that he did “bad things” and knew that Mom didn’t like all of those red and white cans in the fridge, the frosted mugs in the freezer, and the bottles that lived in the pretty purple pouches with golden ties. In the years to come, I would learn more and more about my Dad’s “sickness” and what it meant. It changed my life… it began changing my life before I was even born, and is still changing my life to this day