At 43, I had the first and last drink with my father, a man whom I loved dearly but we had a great divide between us – alcoholism. Upon the request of a friend on my way to Saint Lucia in 2012, I brought my dad a beautiful bottle of Crown Royal, a Canadian whisky. At first, I resisted getting that bottle, knowing full well that if I gave it to him, none of us would have peace in the house until it was finished. My friend said, “You must bring him something he likes.” Alcohol was the thing and against my better judgement I brought if for him.
One night, after visiting my mom from the hospital, my dad and I were sitting in the verandah and I had the sudden feeling to have a drink with him. I got the bottle of Crown Royal and I poured a drink for both of us. It was the first time in my life where I was having a drink with my father, as a “comrade” and a “daughter.” We raised our glasses for a toast and drank that wonderful whisky. Unexpectedly, a quiet feeling of relief settled somewhere deep in me and there was a feeling of unity with my father – sharing with him that thing which he loved and which was a huge part of his life. In that moment, my eyes saw my father in a light of compassion and love. I suddenly saw the little child in him who had grown up with a habit which had obviously given him some comfort. I saw that bottle taking all his fears away and making him feel like a strong man. I saw the young man who had no one to counsel him and befriend him or to give him an alternative to drinking. I saw the father who provided for us and did his best, even with the demons of alcoholism. The resentment which I held against him for so many years, suddenly released it’s grip on me and a feeling of acceptance came over me. In the quietness of the evening, we drank, laughed and had a deep conversation about life.
Several nights later, after my mom crossed over, we spent hours looking for him, worried that something dreadful had happened to him. Someone referred us to a small rum shop a distance away from where we lived. My sister and I found him there without shoes, completely drunk and “preaching” away to the folks in the rum shop. That evening, when he saw me, he said, “My child, how did you find me here? How did you know I was here?” He came towards me in his drunkenness and held me, half falling over. I held him, put on his shoes, paid his bill and led him to the car to take him home. A man in the rum shop shouted, “Mr. Cooman, you have a beautiful daughter.” He laughed, swaying away, as I struggled to help him keep his balance.
The funny thing is that I too felt I had become a beautiful daughter by accepting him for who he was.
For the days that followed, even after his death, I realized that I had let go of all the pent-up anger I had towards him. It did not matter any more. That anger had prevented me from seeing all the wonderful things my father brought to my life. All my life, I wanted to change him to be a good man who did not drink and felt disappointed that no matter how hard I tried, he did not change. The truth is that it was not my work to change him. My dad was a good dad who had a generous spirit, a genuine concern for others, a deep mind and a humble spirit which I have found in few people.
Alcoholism puts a different spin on everything and I know from first hand experience the damage it can cause to a family. I remain grateful that God gave me the opportunity to heal this wound with my father before he crossed over. One of my greatest moments was having that first and last drink with him and accepting him for who he is, without having the need to change him anymore.
All of us have our imperfections. Maybe we come into each other’s lives to teach love, compassion and acceptance.