My Moses: Ode to an Alcoholic Dad

woman face in profile in dark

I was five years old more or less
When I heard the shouts
Piercing the darkness of my room
It was you and mommy too
Why is this my earliest memory of you?

I ran from my bed and stood in the middle
And begged you both to stop
I remember that mommy hugged me
But did you?

Did you hug me daddy?
Did you love me daddy?

I remember the time I asked for a dime
To buy an ice cream cone
I couldn’t have been more than seven
You reached in your pocket
But the look in your eyes implied
I might have committed a crime

I waited patiently, the deed was done
But I never knew that a pocket could be so deep
Or a dime so hard to find
Or have to travel such a distance
Because it sure did take some time

But finally the tiny coin went from your hand to mine
And I indexed in my brain
That all future requests for money
Would undoubtedly go to mommy

Still did you hug me daddy?
Did you love me daddy?

I remember at 14
You teaching me how to play chess
You with the chess book in one hand
And Cutty Sark scotch in the other
And me, intrigued by the game
And flattered no less
That you taught me and not my brother

And me in school
You were always proud of me for my grades
I remember one day you smiling in the audience
At my bit part in a play
And as I recall you were sober
And I was proud of you too that day

And I remember your many trips down memory lane
You were on J&B or was it Dewar’s
Or that blueberry brandy and milk
Telling me how you’d placed me in your lap
And you’d always gesture with a tap
To show that I was not then the length to your knee
I listened at 15, 16, and 17

You the great philosopher at the kitchen table
Murdering the English language
In your attempt at eloquence
And well into your alcoholic sauce
I no longer remember what label:

“Of all thy get, get thee understanding,” you said.
“And be whatever you want to be, but be the best at it
Even if you’re going to be a prostitute,
Be the best, no less.”
Heard that throughout my teenage years

Did you love me daddy?

I was sitting outside late one summer evening
It was a potential boyfriend who pointed out
That a man entering the building
Was sauced as all get out
That man was you
So I ran to you because you’d always said
That even if I found you in the gutter dead
You’d still be my dad

I remember one time exiting my brother’s bedroom
Cigarette smoke billowing from my mouth
You slapped me in my face
I slapped your face right back
You smoked
Were you kidding me . . .I was 16
And lost

I remember the many, many fights
You had with mom
And the time I helped to barricade her in my room
To keep you and your alcoholic rage at bay
Until one day she packed her bags and moved away

But did you hug me daddy?
Did you love me daddy?

I remember the family outings to Lake Sebago
The dinners at Aunt Martha’s, always the day after Christmas
The drives to Virginia to see Grandma
And you always brought the booze

And I remember the time you trusted me
To drive from New York to Virginia
In the pouring rain
While you snoozed
Off your alcohol and pain; I was 18

I remember how you busted me
In flagrante delicto with my boyfriend
You ordered him out of the house
Until I got sick in the hospital with appendicitis
He came to see me every day
You let him back in

I remember how tall and incredibly impressive you were
How handsome you looked in your police uniform
Everyone seemed to admire you so
Always the life of the party though

I remember soon after moving out on my own
One Father’s Day
Treating you out to dinner
At Tavern on the Green
You were proud of me
Not drunk at all―Maybe

But did you love me daddy?

Not too long after you retired from the force,
You moved to Atlanta, Georgia
And I remember a time I came to visit
It was to be my surprise

A friend of yours in on the surprise
Picked me up from the airport
Drove me to your place
No locked doors, we entered in
She called upstairs, you said:
“Come up, I’m decent”

She did, and stealthily I followed
She entered first, me behind
You jumped up, your eyes popped wide
No question you were startled

And then the smile and then the laugh
And oh my, how you hugged me
And the weight of you
And my surprise at your embrace
Had us fall down in gales of laughter

Yes, you hugged me
And I knew then what I’d known all along
That yes you loved me

And I remember the next year
I moved to Atlanta
I liked it there too
And how I begged you to eat
Because the alcohol was getting the best of you

And you hugged me
And you loved me

I remember that you joined a church
Did you go there for a cure?
It was not to be, but you took me
To the church that would later be
The church in the round on the hill
And that day I gave my life to Him
Saved in your presence

And you hugged me
And you loved me

And I remember meeting there
The only woman I would ever call my sister
And the many moments of laughter we shared
The vacations, parties, our marriages,
Divorces, kids, and much too soon
She would die and leave me
Alone, but not lonely

But between all that you hugged me
And you loved me

I remember the night I lay on the couch
My head in your lap
We watched the late night news
Then I took off for my own place
You still drank, but had put on weight
So I was glad of that

And you hugged me
And you loved me

And I remember the knock at my door
Early the next morning
From two men asking about you
And how I responded haughtily: Who wants to know?
Because the child of a police officer knows
Not to give out any information

And I remember their identification
Two detectives there to inform me
That you had been shot dead in College Park, Georgia
Outside the home of a man that owed you money . . .
The irony

And I cried deep inside as I viewed you
On the cold slab in the morgue
Where you had been sliced open
We’d only had eight months together
In Georgia, before you were gone

But in that time you’d done so much
You led me to God
And found me a sister
And there was a small house
With an affordable mortgage

You were the Moses to my journey
An imperfect man who loved me perfectly
You led me to find my own way
This land was new and except for you
I had no connection to it

But I did find a living here
One that was more than enough
And I soon knew unquestionably
That this was my promised land

And yes, you’d always hugged me
And yes, you’d always loved me

And yes, I’d always loved you
And I can say with certainty
Notwithstanding your infirmity
That I will always be grateful
You were my dad.

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