(If you are expecting humor, turn back now.)
Most things about being 56 suck.
The body hurts.
Tidal waves of regret come in daily.
You realize that your dreams turned to dust long ago.
But, for me, there has been one, odd positive about turning 56.
I realized that my alcoholic Dad wasn’t so mean or powerful or pathetic.
See, my Dad, after a few years of sobriety, died at age 56 from stomach cancer.
Growing up, and even in my 20s, I could never understand Dad’s drinking, why he deprived our family of things we needed, why he forced burdens onto my Mom, why he had to create such anger and conflict.
I could never understand his staring aimlessly out the window, while drinking coffee or Coors, and smoking thousands of cigarettes at the kitchen table.
I could never understand why he didn’t use the amazing talents he had to accomplish something. Surely he could find something great to do?
Because there was nothing he couldn’t fix or build, with his own two hands; at least when he was young and vital.
After all, he’d been a fireman and then a fire marshal in his 20’s and 30’s.
Only now, looking back through 56 year old eyes, can I see why Dad never recovered from losing his career with the Fire Department: it was his life, his identity, his worth.
I don’t know whether he really got screwed over by ugly politics, as he believed, or whether it was something else.
I’m pretty sure that having to scratch out a living as an insurance underwriter, and rent-a-cop at Oklahoma University, and apartment maintenance man — all before he got workman’s comp for his bad back — crushed his ego and fueled his boozing.
Over the decades, he must have gotten so very, very tired.
And now that I am 56, with miles to go before I sleep, I know what it’s like to be weary.
To think, WTF, I worked hard and played by the rules yet…
There is no huge success.
No one is throwing me a parade.
Not even close.
At least my desk is surrounded by photos and cards from people who care, including many from my morale-boosting son.
Yet, even with that, 56 pretty much sucks here in 2012.
I cannot fathom how my Dad finished his race.
Yes, he died physically alone in a veteran’s hospital, but he finished his personal marathon.
He managed to do it somehow, even though he knew his only son hated his guts for decades.
Even though his long-suffering wife’s suitcase was always packed, so that he never really knew whether she was coming or going.
Even though most of his friends faded away long ago.
A.A. helped Dad a lot. It gave him peace, forgiveness, and a sense of belonging.
It helped him make it to the finish line.
And that’s something, especially when you consider the heavy crosses he carried for so long, including generational darkness and the rage of a son.
Maybe sometime in eternity, if we both find ourselves in Heaven, we can compare notes about the run-up to being 56, which is pretty much a bitch.
I guess by then it won’t matter very much.
Still, it will be an enlightening conversation.
(Note: I tend not to write about Dad’s alcoholism. Maybe it’s the cold, gray, winter day in Nu Zillans that prompted this piece. That or just being 56.)
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