I read a very powerful letter from a son to his father. His father left him when he was three, and then died of drug addiction when he was twelve.
I know you’ve been waiting a long time for a father’s day present from me. To be completely honest, I never really knew what to get the man who gave up everything. But I have come to realize lately that I’ve been so wrapped up in my own wounds that I neglected to acknowledge yours.
From being abused when you were a child, to having alcoholic, addicted parents, to having a baby at 18 years old, to growing up in the 60s where drugs of every size and strength were both accessible and acceptable—I can now say, I understand why you weren’t around.
It’s taken me 40 years to realize something very powerful, dad. By not being in my life, you were the best father you could be. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t. The illness of addiction is contagious, and your presence would have made me sick, too. You shielded me from your demons, and kept them as your own. And that act took courage.
I know you kept my baby pictures. I know you wanted to come and see me over the 10 years before you died. I’ve heard stories of how you couldn’t wait to take me out on my 18th birthday when we could finally talk man to man.
And I know that every time the thought crossed your mind, you had another thought:
“Not yet. Not until I’m clean.”
Instead, you have given me the very best parts of you. Like you, I’m six feet tall, dark-haired, and handsome. Like you, I have a warm and generous heart. Like you, I am sensitive to the feelings and emotions of those around me. Like (or because of) you, I love the Beatles, and can even play a mean Rocky Raccoon. Like you, I sang “Blackbird” to my kids as they fell asleep in their cribs.
People like to compliment me on the life I’ve lived. They like tell me I’ve broken the chain of addiction. But who’s to say, given similar circumstances, I would have acted any differently? Who’s to say any of us would? If I broke any chains, it’s only because you gave me the bolt cutters.
I get it now. I get how impossible it was. I understand the depths of your own pain. Your cup was full. And your greatest gift to me was to fight the urge to have me in your life. Because by doing so, you gave me mine.
Your grandchildren try so hard to honor me. They want to make me laugh. They want to make me proud. And I want to make you proud too, dad. I want you to know that I’m okay. That in your own way—the only way you could—you raised a great son.
So my gift to you this Father’s Day is to say the thing I’ve never said. Not to you directly. Not even in my head.
I love you, dad.
Happy Father’s Day,
I have met many people who have overcome the chains of addiction and have been restored to their lost families. I have made it through similar trials and can now say that the life that this man’s father lead will not be the one I choose to lead.
My plan is to be a father to my sons. That is my life and that is why I am who I am. They define me. It is the one relationship I have above all others that makes me tick. Fatherhood is the relationship that makes all relationships I have relative to it. For that I am blessed and very proud.