My dad is the kind of man that needs to be hit with tragedy before he considers working on his flaws. I mean really working on a long-term solution, not the way he spends a few weeks working out in the mornings after indulging in a cheeseburger every day for lunch for the past half a year, only to revert back to his ways after he reaches his goal of sixty lbs. lost in a month...like how only men can do. There's only one time I can think of where he worked on a significant fault for reasons other than vanity, and for the longest time I thought it was because of his love for me.
When I was in the third grade, we used to have these timed multiplication tests. We had to solve at least thirty simple problems correctly in under a minute. If we failed, we had to bring the test home to be signed by a parent. This was meant to make parents aware if their child was struggling, so they could pay some extra attention to that area. I was perfectly apt at the memorization of multiples between one and ten, but I was too anal about my penmanship, and therefore hardly ever completed the required thirty. We'd pass our tests to our right to be corrected by a classmate. I always got Kenny Lewis' test, who was the fastest solver, but it almost didn't matter, because his answers were barely legible. What an injustice to an eight-year-old!
It was embarrassing for me to have to get one of these tests signed every night. I'd always been an above average student, and prided my intellectual capabilities. So did my father, so when he was presented with one of these papers, he usually regarded it with disdain...Mind you he was usually half in the wrapper by the time I showed it to him. Dad had a drinking problem, and spent the evenings after work getting sloshed with his buddies down the street at The Wooden Shoe, the local dive bar, before coming home.
He'd never laid a hand on me, but he'd berate me in front of my mother and brother, until tears of humiliation made my eyes sting. I couldn't look up at him. The sound of his pen disgustedly scratching out his signature was more of a relief than the sound of the bell that concluded the school day. The tone of it told me that not only was he using enough pressure to leave an imprint on whatever hard surface he was writing on, but that it was only another second before he'd toss the paper back at me and finally excuse me to my room.
I'd tried the "only show it to Mum" trick, but she'd always insisted on showing it to my father. They were a team, and my mother respected her partner, even if he was a lush most of the time. The "wait until he was distracted" or "wait until he's half asleep" didn't work either, because he'd always remember and confront me later about my obvious scheming, and make it into an even bigger deal. I avoided my father whenever possible, but the nightly necessity of his signature made it impossible...unless...
One morning, I found myself fishing through my father's desk after he'd left for work. I was looking for one of his checks. This was back in the day when you'd get the checks you'd written mailed back to you after the payee had cashed it. Jackpot...I found one. Dad's signature was pretty easy to forge, but it took me a couple of times. I made sure I'd used a pencil, just for this purpose. Perfect! I was off to school, forged paper in my backpack.
My victory was short lived, however, when my teacher, Mrs. Evans, called me over to her desk as the rest of my classmates headed out to recess.
"Erin..." she began. "What would you do if you were me, and you received this paper with this signature on it?" I looked closely at the sheet, and began to tremble as I examined the shakey graphite scribble that overlaid several eraser smudges.
I begged her in a quavering voice not to tell my parents, and promised I'd never do it again. She just looked at me a moment, and excused me to join my classmates. I thought we'd reached an understanding, and I gradually began to relax as the day went on. That is, until I got home, and hopped off of the school bus, and burst through the side door of my house. I was surprised to see my father standing there. If he'd gotten out of work this early, he was always down at the bar at this time of day.
"Hi, Erin...I got a call at work from your teacher today."
I stood frozen in terror, eyes wide. I tried to say something, but couldn't squeak out an excuse from my clinched voice box. As it turns out, I didn't have to say anything, because he continued.
"I just want you to know you don't have to be afraid of me anymore."
From that day on, my father resided in the world of sobriety. He never drank another drop, except for the time my cousin brought back chocolates from Germany, that unbeknownst to her, had liquor in the center. Dad promptly spit it out. It was one of those moments that made me proud, in the following years when our relationship mended and grew to be more what a father/daughter relationship should be.
A couple of times when I'd found myself in a conversation with friends or co-workers about alcoholism, I'd always proudly bring up Dad, and how he'd quit because he realized I was afraid of him. Usually, there was someone in the group who'd dealt with alchoholism themself, and reacted with incredulity. At this I'd amend that I'd thought he may have also sensed that my mother was on the cusp of driving off with my brother and I while he was at work.
"Well..." they'd always reply "...Even still..."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Not too long ago, I'd gotten in a similar discussion with the old man. He told me it was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and he still struggled with sobriety at times, and would until the end of his life.
"That's why they call it a disease," he explained. "Because you live with this discomfort until the day you die."
"I know." I replied. "I mean, I don't KNOW, but I have an idea. That's why I was always so touched that you quit because of me."
"You remember. That day Mrs. Evans, my third grade teacher called you, after I'd forged your signature, and you'd realized I was afraid of you..."
"That's not why I quit!"
"What do you mean? You didn't drink after that day..."
"That may be, but it was a coincidence. I quit, because a couple of my buddies from the bar died of liver failure within a few months."
"Oh...well...it must've at least acted as a trigger, because that was the very day that you'd -"
"Erin, that's not the reason I quit."
I don't know why he was so adamant in impressing on me that he didn't quit for me. He had to have seen in my face how important it was for me to believe that. Normally, I want the truth, but this one time, I wanted to just keep believing...I don't think it was a case of him wanting me to know that he's no angel. He knows I know that.
I suppose I'm just lamenting the loss of a more starry-eyed view of dear old Dad. I'm 27, and hoped I was done with most of the big disillusioning moments one encounters in life. I realize now that I was blind to hope for that much. I'd be a fool to hope for that at the age of 104.