Wow. Surreal. There’s no other word for it. I legitimately laugh through my tears at the shock. Only because I think a part of me didn’t believe it. Like, nope; homie is gonna sit up and scare the utter shit out of me any second now…Dad, that’s just the kind of guy you were. But I’m back in New York City now and after a night in my own space and settling back into my routine, I feel it. The phone call I’ve feared and anticipated for over a decade, finally came. You really did it this time. The end. Well, the end of that at least. That’s one reality about death: you die. No more o f this life as you know it. The same goes for us, too.
It’s a mix of relief and grief. There’s been a few anxiety attacks. I get a little shaky at times. It’s a lot to process when you’ve been waiting for a certain fate for so much of your life. I was a kid from a long line of hardworking, rough-around-the-edges, rancher types, which includes you, Dad. You were all up with the sun, out all day with the cows, horses, blood and shit, hay, overseeing land for miles, no rest for the weary type work. And you men? Well, you drank. Our forefathers usually beat their wives too, isn’t that right? Our family cycle got passed down each generation just like the farmhouse did. You watched your mom get beat to shit regularly and by the age of nine, you picked up what came so naturally to the other men in this family: alcohol. You started skipping class to get high or drunk before you even hit middle school.
But Grandpa found God, dropped alcohol, and never hit your mom again—sometime around the time you started high school. I think the death of your baby sister Angie triggered that movement. The whole family cleaned up for a bit. You went on a Mormon mission, met my mom at church, got married, had me, and about two years later, found cocaine. Your wife was a naïve, wholesome, Korean immigrant who only thought drugs existed in major cities, not characteristic at all to our Salt Lake City. She only discovered your drug addiction when I, a toddler then, answered the phone on an afternoon she had randomly called to check in. You were passed out and I was afraid to wake you up. Mom rushed home and found me climbing the cupboards to feed my newborn baby sister, whose diaper had not been changed from the early morning. You were checked into rehab and for almost ten years after that you stayed sober.
You and mom split when I was nine. Two years later, you got remarried. This union brought alcohol back into your life. Within 11 months you and step-mom split, but you would remain a highly functional alcoholic for a couple of more years, until one night when you showed up wasted to mom’s house to crash the surprise party my 8th grade girlfriends and I were throwing for Ambra. Mom got you out of there without causing much of a scene (well, I don’t remember one), but I remember being very worried about you the rest of the party and you wouldn’t pick up the phone, so once everyone left and the family was in bed, I stole my mom’s car and drove over there. I opened the door to you, in your briefs, flopped on your back on the couch, covered in razor blade cuts and blood everywhere. I called my boyfriend, (one of the best humans ever made), and after that was a blur.
I remember his mom came. I remember dumping your drugs down the toilet, you leaving in an ambulance. I think I spent the night at my boyfriend’s house because I didn’t want to wake my mom up. She worked hard and needed to sleep. You were kept on suicide watch for 2 days and then released back home. I had already decided it was time to stay with mom more and when we went to get my stuff we found a room in shambles. My dresser, with the TV and stereo on it, had been slammed to the floor. The inhabitants of every drawer strewn all over the floor. That was really something. I’ll never forget it. I think you fucked up my friend’s feelings more than mine. Poor girl came along to be supportive and witnessed one of the scarier things a parent can do to their own child. I didn’t even cry. I was 13 and already steel by then. It wasn’t long before you had to go back to rehab. That would buy us a couple of more years before you stopped resembling any of the dad I once knew. I’m not angry at you for your illness, but I am angry with what your illness cost me. I held out hope for a long time. Even after you gave my friends beer in the 9th grade or when you got caught watching porn by the cool junior high school boys when I was just a sophomore at a brand new school. Imagine my humiliation, already the odd one out: the asian girl in a sea full of conservative Mormons with white faces).
It wasn’t long before you had to go back to rehab. That would buy us a couple of more years before you stopped resembling any of the dad I once knew. I’m not angry at you for your illness, but I am angry with what your illness cost me. I held out hope for a long time. Even after you gave my friends beer in the 9th grade or when you got caught watching porn by the cool junior high school boys when I was just a sophomore at a brand new school. Imagine my humiliation, already the odd one out: the asian girl in a sea full of conservative Mormons with white faces). I held out hope even after you punched a shitload of holes in the living room walls. Even still. It wasn’t until your third time in rehab that that hope began to dwindle. I can’t remember what event landed you in rehab this time but it was a different rehab. It was also not a 28-day program; it was an ICU – type rehab that cost $1100 a day and was for mentally unstable patients who may harm themselves. You must have attempted suicide or overdosed again to end up there. Like I said, I can’t remember. You checked out on day 11 and brought your new BFF, Debbie, home to live with us. I was 16, my sister was 14. Debbie was still married, severely anorexic, and loved prescription drugs. You guys would spend your days popping pills and laying around the house while I got my sis and I to school. You and mom had 50/50 joint custody until this quick series of events.
Despite your addiction, you could still mostly parent at a most basic level. I did the family grocery shopping the weeks we spent at your place. You filled out blank checks and told me to get food or order pizza or this or that and that was how we lived as a family before your last trip to rehab. You still showed up to soccer games and supported all of my endeavors as much as you could. But this all changed after you were released. I’m sure you’re wondering where my mom is. Why hasn’t she stepped in yet? Well she made some poor judgement calls too. She thought we should have our dad in our lives as much as possible and we didn’t talk much about it and I’m sure I minimized it cause I guess in the moment it seemed fine. I was fine. Now at the age of 32 and with the help of loved ones and a therapist, I can see how not-fine it all was. Anyway, the Debbie situation would finally force my mom into action when one afternoon I came home to you foaming at the mouth, on your back, in your briefs, and had to call 911, again, because you afraid of what I had just witnessed that I had to run and hide in broad daylight. It was a lot to digest.
You were as fucked up as I thought all this time, you had lied about Debbie, and many of the fears associated with that reality came right back up to greet me. The molecule of hope that I held onto burst right there in that Walmart. The dad I had insisted on seeing my whole life, and who I hoped would make a comeback, evaporated into thin air. The dad who could make anyone smile. The dad who couldn’t be unkind to a single soul. A kid who had witnessed horrific domestic abuse as a child and never laid his hands on anyone. A dad who took in strays of all types. I once saw you as someone who just saw everything differently. I’ll always wonder what went on inside your brain. The shit that came out of your mouth, for the most part, was pretty good. Confusing and grandiose at times, but you were brilliant. Your parents enabled you, I know. I know they felt your addiction was their fault and instead of holding you to the same standard as your sisters, they let you get away with everything and even covered for your more severe mistakes. Sometimes I still feel guilty, for refusing to help you and eventually cutting you off completely. But Dad, you didn’t really give. You couldn’t. But you also couldn’t say no. Remember that time you took me to buy a car my Junior Year? And how mom ended up paying for it because you didn’t want my credit to be destroyed by the time I became seventeen. Or the time you agreed to send me to snowboard camp. You paid the deposit but lost your job when the full payment was due.
My mom came through again. She couldn’t stand to break my heart and let me watch my dad spend his time being unemployed high as a kite while my BFF went off to snowboard camp without me. You lucked out with your ex wife. My mom was a money wizard and came through to save the day everytime. So I’m sorry I “abandoned” you, Dad. But I wanted to live my life. That last time we talked, it was nice to hear that you were proud of me, how you said “You’ve done something with your life Shae; I never did.” Thank you so much for that. We had a great run. I know you did your best, I know you did. And Dad, it was a good effort. I think we all know.
Those first ten years of sobriety were your best years. You were everyone’s favorite crazy uncle Doug and the most fun dad. I remember watching you with my cousins and friends. You were always happiest with family around and kids to wrestle with and give a hard time to. The more the merrier. You were the best dad around from the best family around. At least from the outside in. Your mom did her damnedest in her role as grandma to make up for horrors of your childhood, and our family sure did all of the fun things in the most fun ways: Disneyland, snowmobile tours, horseback riding, Disney World, lake trips, the works. No one had a family like mine. But while those were the stories I told, there were so many stories of shame that I kept to myself. It’s easy to talk about the Crazy Uncle Doug that takes all the kids to do what they want at Disneyland, but not-so-fun to tell the story of Crazy Uncle Doug that went to a three-day country music festival when I was in 6th grade, with my step-mom, found alcohol again, and proceeded to unleash all of what’s been written here in this letter.
It has taken years to relieve myself of shame that was never mine to carry. But boy, did I carry it well. I took all that pain and turned it into a fearlessness that many do not know. I have traveled, often alone, starting young, to any and everywhere. I have made friends with everyone. I have an unquenchable thirst to live as much as possible. I have met things I cannot control in a capacity I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And I have taken them all and formed them into strength every single time. And because of how I earned my stripes and how the women in my life raised me, I also managed to stay humble. To have hung onto my soft side through all of that is my biggest success. I still see the beauty in the little things and for that, in a world that seems crazier every day, I am eternally grateful. And so I say, Thank You. Thank you for the lessons in rebellion, compassion, tenacity, and truth. Thank you for teaching me how guilt can ruin a person. To not waste time feeling bad. And most importantly, how to forgive yourself. I wish you could’ve offered yourself the same compassion that I saw you offer everyone else who crossed your path.