The person in our lives who most wanted to pretend we were a normal family was my dad. Dad totally refused to acknowledge any drinking problem at all with our mother. He said that she went to the bar “to socialize” and that she never had a problem with alcohol. He also either ignored or just wasn’t paying attention to her huge bottles of prescription drugs. Perhaps he thought that any change in mood for her was bound to be one for the better. He was actually right on that count.
Once Dad established his law practice in Decatur, he drove home from his office every evening at five o’clock to have dinner with us. We always sat down as a family for this meal. Dad would start the conversational ball rolling by asking about my sister’s day and my day or questioning us about school. Everyone hoped that nothing that was said would set Mother off, but often our hopes were dashed when she launched into the trials of her difficult day. After dinner, my dad always took my sister and me for a car ride where the conversation could be about topics he wished to discuss with us without the interruptions of a potential mental patient.
Surprisingly, my dad never asked if we had homework. Both of our parents seemed to assume that the school had some magical system for checking on whether children were doing their homework in the evening. No one asked us about homework and as long as our grades stayed up, we had no pressure. In looking back, both of our parents were just too involved in their own drama to pay attention to what was going on in the lives of their daughters.
When I went to college, Dad would drive seven hours one way to pick me up for holiday breaks. He would leave extremely early in the morning and arrive at my college at noon. We would stop for lunch and drive back home in another seven hours. Dad never complained about these long trips. He just considered them part of the price of having a “normal” family. Dad wanted everyone home for every holiday and once our mother was conveniently out of the way in California, he could achieve his dream.
I think of all the special things my dad did for me and my sister: the school programs he showed up for, the writing help he gave me, and most of all, the time he spent with us. I am extremely grateful when I think of all this. Today lots of dads hold up half of the parenting duties, but when we were growing up, most dads came home and patted their children on the head and hid behind the newspaper for the rest of the evening.
Thanks for being there for us and helping us to believe even for just a while that as far as anyone knows, we are a normal family.