Dad escaped in a Bottle

John Rose was born September 26, 1911 and he died October 29, 1980. He was a church-going, hard-working, gentle, and functional alcoholic. For better or worse he was my Dad.

He only had eight years of formal education, but he worked hard, brought home the paycheck, and paid the bills. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice at anyone, but he was seldom present as we were growing up. Weekends were the worsted. If he was home, he was drunk by 3 pm. He thought he was hidding his bottle, but everyone knew.

His stash was kept in the locked cabinet in the garage, or under the front seat of the car. During my grade school years, I was embarrassed and ashamed. In junior high, I turned angry and resentful.

I hated his bottle, I hated his slurred speech, and I hated him. The more I expressed my bitterness, the more he a drank. My mother begged me to stop arguing with him. I fell asleep at night wondering why she didn’t divrce him. Why couldn’t we be like other families?

When I left for college, I tried to leave the baggage of the past, but it seemed to catch up to me, regardless of what I did to forget.

Until 1977, I was convinced that Dad had taught me nothing, that I had grown up cheated out of time and wisdom. Then the unbelievable happened. Dad checked himself into a alcohol treatment center, spent 35 days learning to be sober, and never drank again. The next 3 years were cautious and bewildering…I knew who the alcoholic dad was, but this man was a mystery.

I tried to connect, but it was slow going. I still wish for more time with the sober man. Just three years later he died. On the morning before his funeral service I slipped out to his workshed for some grieving time. There, in that little junk filled room, I felt his presence. For more than an hour, he and I and God had a heart to heart.

I confessed my anger, my resentments, my failures, and my sense of being disconnected and left behind–on my own. God helped me understand, accept, and forgive. During our “talk,” that room became my junk room, too. When I walked out, I walked free. God had taken my stuffed anger and bitterness, all my baggage, and locked it away in the walls of that shed.

I still wish he was around to talk to. I miss what I never had. But I have a victory legacy. It has taken me years to unwrap it.

Three Life Lessons stand out:

  • Life lesson 1. Don’t expect perfection. Every family has secrets.
  • Life lesson 2. Don’t freeze-frame people. People change and grow and learn. None of us are who we used to be.
  • Life lesson 3. Stay aware of your options. “Have you thought about…”

And, he didn’t finish the eighth grade…