My Father’s Clock
I don’t have enough time left to me to want to risk ever feeling it is wasted.
I didn’t post about my father on Father’s Day. About all I did do related to that day is call my step father, who is a fine man and a part of my family. I wanted to wish him well, and I meant it. But I was an adult when I met him. He’s fatherly, and I adore him for that. But he’s not who I think of when someone asks me about my father.
My father was broken by the time I was able to process such things. He may always have been broken to one degree or another, obviously I’ll never know. There are things about him that wonder if he, like I, suffered sexual abuse as a child. Mine wasn’t at the hands of any family member, and I don’t believe his would have been either — this isn’t the sad perpetuation of generational evil.
But as I grapple with the ways that messed me up, and think about some of the ways my father was messed up… maybe. Or maybe it was something else. Or maybe it was nothing. We didn’t discuss it. He was too private. And now he’s long gone.
What I do know is that he and I are made of very similar stuff, be that nature, nurture, or survival. And some of that stuff prevented him from being able to change, or to even see that change was possible. He wasn’t willing to live in a world that asked of him all the difficult things we all must manage.
Instead, he distracted himself, eventually cheating to continue that distraction, then drank himself to death.
That last is neither hyperbole, nor was it an accident. He knew he was killing himself. He couldn’t see an alternative. It was a slow, anesthetized suicide. He admitted as much to me, in the last few months. That’s one reason I called my sister before his end, who lived out of state at the time, and told her if she wanted to be sure to see our father alive again she should do so soon. She did.
It turned out I was right.
My father left behind his mother who by that point had already buried her husband, and now had to bury her only child. He and my mother were divorced, so while the emotional impact was still major, perhaps he gets to be judged more leniently there. And, of course, he left behind my sister and myself.
To this day, if I see a sad, older, gray-haired man, I begin to weep. But if I see one weeping, I get angry… often while I am crying.
He was broken, and he gave up trying to fix himself, or even learn to survive while broken.
I am around the age my father was when he just gave up. And I am broken in many, many ways. As the recent years, and even months, have passed, I wonder if I can avoid following his clock. Can I change, before it’s to late? Are the same hours passing? Will the schedule of my life follow his?
I have taken huge risks with my career, and pushed myself quite hard, in part because my father’s own career faltered. From a brilliant, award-winning, promising young professor, he became a pale echo, upset he even had to go through the motions. Some of that was from his drinking. Some was because his early hard work didn’t consistently provide rewards and a promise of significant betterment in his life. He became disillusioned with the idea that being smart and working hard would elevate him. That lead to more drink. That lead to doubt in his own ability and worth, which reinforced the disappoints that lead him to drink.
As recently as three years ago, I was seriously considering giving up on any professional work as a writer or game designer. But I feared if I gave up in one area of my life, it would advance my own private Doomsday Clock, which has seconds and minutes written in the shadows of my father’s moments of failure and despair.
But even with what I have done, I can see the 11th hour is not far away.
I loved my father very much. But he let us all down, in one of the most terrible ways he could have. I know he was caught in the tides of depression and addiction, but he actively chose not to fight the currents.
Some days I don’t have the strength to fight, either. Other days, I do.
I just don’t know how much time is left in the only real clock my father left me.