I always thought the conflict in Vietnam was to blame for his absence, alcoholism and homelessness. I believed there was another version of my father, a better one, which his participation in Vietnam prevented him from becoming. But it is not Vietnam that claimed him. It is another war.
And it has taken too many members of my family who have had to battle, not in other countries or war zones, but in basements, kitchens and bedrooms. We have been injured by shots of booze as deadly as gunfire and it has come not come from enemies.
I am sick of seeing children become collateral damage by being forced to be prisoners who have to fight so to reclaim territories such as spaces on the interior for trust, confidence and unconditional love. Children should not be expert at duck and cover, navigating land mines or living on rations.
Today, I despise addiction and the havoc it wreaks. My life is a clay constantly moistened by alcohol and shaped by the hand of addiction. The circular motion of that cycle has never been able to rinse our family dry. I, like those before me, have been unarmed, untrained and unprepared when the ones who are threatening don’t speak another language but share the same last name.
How can mere civilians know when it safe to retrieve lost souls, when bringing supplies causes harm, when it is wiser to leave a soldier to fight alone. One should not have to train in the art of war when hoping only to live in peace. When the one you are battle with is family there is only loss. How does one claim victory or surrender? Instead, we wait, pace, pray and ache. We act as medics, journalists and translators without any central intelligence in which to employ new strategies or map new courses.
Earlier this year I woke in the middle of the night and had the image of grown men drowning in baby milk bottles the size of three-story buildings. I imagined infant girls swimming in pools filled with whiskey. I felt a pang for generation after generation who has suffered at the mercy of addicts as well as addiction.
Addiction is an ax chopping at my family tree. The blows have been sharp and repeated. The cuts have been deep. Protective bark meant to protect vulnerable wood has been removed.
I want to be thinking about those who serve our country, who volunteer with valor, who are selfless and brave, who are young and seeking direction or older and sharing expertise and wisdom. Instead, I think of my paternal father, my maternal grandfather, my ex-husband and countless others.
My father, before and after his service, sat in bars with strangers and never knew his daughters. My grandfather, also a veteran, did not live to see all of his children reach eighteen, did not meet his grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Didn’t they long for love, connection and celebrations? They could have been getting warm phone calls today. Instead I think about how much I hate this and Father’s Day for making me think of them. I hate it because I don’t understand it or them. I hate it because it’s relentless hungry for hearts and families. I hate it because I know addiction comes from pain and I don’t know why the world is filled with so much.
I am grateful for all of the rings of the trunk that circled the base. I am happy that many have budded, blossomed are that so many leaves are infused with color. Still, I wish the trunk were less scarred. I hope future generations are spared. I can’t wait until the depth of this legacy surfaces and the tree recovers.