I got a call from my stad today. I was a little startled because he doesn't call me too often. Not because he doesn't love me (he does) or because I'm not his favorite (I'm sure I am), but because he generally thinks that when my mom calls me, that counts as him calling me. So I was a little surprised to see his number come up on my Caller ID earlier.
When I answered, he casually asked me what I was up to. So, I filled him in on the glamour that is my life. I did a charity bike tour this morning and then watered what passes for a garden in my back yard. In the back of my mind I was a little worried. Was something wrong with my grandma? With him? Had he found my old "Thriller" album in the basement and wanted to let me know that it is now worth a bajillion dollars?
"I stopped drinking twenty years ago today," he told me. "You were one of the reasons I stopped, so I just wanted to thank you for that." I felt tears forming behind my eyes. I congratulated him and told him I was so happy he'd made it.
You see, twenty years ago our family was a bit of a train wreck. Pop was an alcoholic but we didn't seem to know what to do about it. My mother had reached her breaking point and had begun to think of creating a life for herself that did not include her husband, though she loved him beyond all measure. A few years ago, my grandma (my stad's mom) said to me, "I never knew how bad things had gotten at your house." When you live with an alcoholic, you don't exactly advertise it to the neighbors. I didn't turn to a classmate in my Sociology 101 class and say, "Hey, did I mention that my family is imploding?"
We wanted everyone to view Pop the way they always had. He was the guy who had taken on a ready-made family when he was just 21 years old, who dropped all of us "ladies" off at the front door when we went to a restaurant. He was the jovial dad who called all of my male friends "big guy" (even if they weren't). He was the friendly man who knew everyone, and treated them all kindly. "Hey man, how're you doing?" he would say to the busboy at Anita's, our family's favorite restaurant. He drove us (or sometimes flew us) to Myrtle Beach in the summer and always made sure we had the time of our lives. He kept a change jar on his dresser and you could take a scoop when you needed it (you have no idea how much I miss that change jar).
But, he was also the guy who stayed out too late and, since we only had one car, prevented us from getting groceries. The one who sometimes said things we knew he didn't mean.
What I said to my stad that summer day was nothing overly profound or earth-shattering. I was 19, a college freshman. As I recall, it had been a particularly bad day in our home. That evening, I came up the stairs from my bedroom and found him sitting on the couch. "You have to stop," I told him matter-of-factly. And, all at once, he did. He didn't go to AA or seek treatment as far as I can recall. He simply gave it up. Maybe I just happened to catch him at the precise moment he needed to hear it. Maybe drinking just wasn't any fun anymore. Whatever it was, he turned that corner and never went back.
In time, our family healed itself from within and came out stronger on the other side. It's hard to believe twenty years have passed. When I hear my daughter squeal, "Granddaddy!" and then watch her jump into his arms, I am as grateful as ever for the stopping day.
Congratulations, Pop. I love you.