Why I don’t miss my Dad at Christmas
Last Christmas was my first without my Dad (not as catchy as the Wham! version is it?). He had died 4 months previously from multiple alcohol related illnesses, brought on by years of addiction.
People told me it would be hard, the first Christmas. That there would be a hole, that it would be difficult to get through. It wasn’t.
Now as I approach my second Christmas without him I can reflect on why this is. Christmas with my Dad was incredibly hard work. It is easier for everyone when we don’t have to feel anxious about him – his behaviour, his drinking, his safety. And it’s not easy, but it is OK for me to acknowledge that.
In more recent years my Dad came to us for Christmas. There were years where he had spent it alone, but that made me feel so guilty, and it became easier to include him despite all the anxiety and stress that came with. The planning that went into managing him over Christmas was huge – what was the shortest time he could stay for, could someone else have him one of the days, what social plan could we make so he had to go home on Boxing Day? What could we buy him? He didn’t do anything but drink, all hobbies and social activities long gone; but I could not condone or enable it, although at least he would use the gift if it were alcohol… Nothing more annoying than giving a gift they won’t use. Bottle of red will definitely get used.
He would drive the 90 miles to our house on Christmas Eve, a day that was fraught with tension. What time would he arrive? Would he remember he was coming to us, or would he wake up drunk mid-afternoon? Would he kill someone on the way? He definitely should not have been driving. Should I report him to the police? But if he loses his license again he might get a custodial sentence…
The car would pull in, and the overnight bag would go upstairs to my son’s room. I would check it, and find the multiple water bottles lined up at the bottom. Clear liquid, cling film over the top, and then the screw cap, could not risk a leak. Precision planning. It wasn’t water of course.
Just the one glass over dinner on Christmas Eve. The charade that this was all normal, that he just enjoyed a glass of red with a meal. That we weren’t all watching the bottle, circling the alcoholism elephant in the room, that there wasn’t several litres of cheap vodka upstairs in the small child’s room. Then I would head off to bed – “Night night – an early start with the kids tomorrow, see you in the morning!”.
We never saw him in the morning. We saw him just before lunch when he finally surfaced. The presents all unwrapped, the meal ready, the children already over excited. This was not a source of pleasure, but a source of irritation – they were too loud, too energetic, too much, the secret hangover kicking in. The hangover from drinking through the night up in the small child’s room, me waking up hearing the bottle lids hit the floor; unable to get back to sleep, paralysed by fury, distress and fear. How could he do this? What if he forgot where he was and fell down the stairs? Did he know this will kill him? Quick Google of the signs of end stage alcoholism. He had lots of them. He had lots of them for a long time, every Christmas for about 10 years was, in my head, his last.
Christmas dinner over, all pretence over – the champagne, the red wine, the port, the whiskey – we just let him have it all, could not be bothered to try or to argue. I didn’t care anymore. The inevitable argument – recent highlights included Brexit, the Conservatives and the immigration crisis, followed by snoring from about 9pm onwards, a sound that transported me straight back to childhood. Occasional maudlin chats of love and loss, but never an admission of a problem. The greatest gift would have been an admission of a problem. But that would have meant acknowledging it, of maybe having to stop or ask for help. And we all knew that would not happen.
So that is why Christmas is still a time for celebrating, for enjoyment, and now for being free. That guy was not my Dad, not really. My real Dad had gone some years before, and he is the guy I miss every day. My real Dad would not want me to be sad at Christmas, he would want me to be surrounded by love and fun, giving his Grandchildren the best time. And that is what I will do.
I am so sorry for the man at the end, the man that despite everything could not have fun, could not enjoy himself, and could only think about the next drink. The man that felt alone, desperate and scared but could not ask for help and did not want the one thing he loved more than anything taken away from him. The best Christmas present ever would have been the ability to help him. But I couldn’t cure it or control it. And I didn’t cause it.
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