My father was an alcoholic for most of his life. And for all of mine. When we finally returned to my father's house after his death, empty vodka bottles were scattered on the floor near the sofa where he had been lying when his neighbour found him and called the ambulance. My father was an alcoholic throughout his adult life and it was alcohol that finally killed him. That is a fact.
My father’s alcoholism has structured my life since my early childhood. It has always been the one thing that I could depend upon with absolute certainty. I have relied on my father’s alcoholism to guide me through the different phases of my life. When I was in my early twenties, my father came to symbolize everything that I didn't want to become. He was caught in a time when men could wander through life without having to care for anyone else than themselves. And remain drunk while doing so. A few years later I found a way of being my wife’s husband by distancing myself from my father. I invited him for a beer at a café in my hometown to tell him in person that he wasn’t invited for my wedding. He didn't show up.
During recent years, my father’s alcoholism has become mine as well. I have gradually come to feel an emotional attachment to his weaknesses. My relationship to my father is no longer one of distance and anger but one of partial acceptance. And perhaps even some kind of identification. And least a physical one. My father and I look very much alike. I still cannot look myself in the mirror for more than a brief moment because the face that looks back at me is his and not mine. But I no longer need to hate my father. I don't think that he was a good person but I don't feel a need to maintain an emotional wall between my life and his vices.
I no longer remember my father when he was drunk. I don’t have vivid memories of him staggering around and falling sleep somewhere that wasn’t his bed. But I clearly remember how his alcoholism was a problem to me. I was at my father’s house every second weekend and each Wednesday night. He picked me up in his car and we went to a local bar where we stayed for several hours before returning to his angry and increasingly frustrated wife. My father would roll off his wife’s verbal punches and end up falling asleep in front of the television. Saturday was an active day for my father. He hung out with friends, worked in the garden, went hunting or watched motor sport on tv. And all during the day I counted bottles. I started in the morning when he had his first beer in the garden. And continued keeping track of the beers that he drank as he drove to visit his hunting buddies or made longers trip to one of the bars in the city centre. Sometimes he also had a few beers in the car while driving from one place to another. In the afternoon, we often returned home to work in the garden or fix his car. And I continued counting beers.
I have often wondered why I kept track of how much he drank because I really don’t remember him as being particularly annoying or embarassing when he was drunk. Maybe he was but I don't remember that anymore. And during those years I don’t even think that I was aware that my father was an alcoholic. I just knew that I had to count the beer bottles that he was drinking.