Disclaimer: This is a blog post, not a memoir. As such I am condensing events and timelines, leaving out some details of those events.
I start to wonder what it takes to be a man.
Well, I learned to drink & I learned to smoke & I learned to tell a dirty joke.
If that’s all there is then there’s no point for me.
-Pulp “I’m a Man”
The time following Black Friday was the worst. After the hospital episode nothing seemed to make sense any more. Drinking and smoking pot stopped doing anything for me and I stayed away from the cocaine knowing too well that it would end me. It would rob Sebastian of his father and my wife of her husband. I needed a change but had no answers except to stay the course. I was bored and listless, an overflowing ash tray in dire need of emptying. It was inevitable that my wife was soon going to kick me to the curb in order to protect herself and Sebastian from my machine-gun emotions. Depression followed by anger followed by self-pity followed by fury followed by abusive behavior followed by suicidal thoughts. I tried to fight a drunk couple in Manhattan Beach while on Ativan. The new antidepressants didn’t do shit. I was still falling in slow motion but the concrete wasn’t going to be any softer for it. No matter what, I was going to end up a bloody mess upon impact.
The last week in January of 2012 Linnea had to go to San Francisco for work. I stayed behind with Sebastian. We were to drive up for the week end and meet her there. He had a nasty infection which required three times daily administration of antibiotics. It was my job to take care of him, give him medicine and keep the nasty boil clean and observe it in case it didn’t improve. I had a responsibility as a parent and my wife trusted me with it. Maybe she was just too scared and tired to express her mistrust in me.
Sebastian was two and woke me up every morning as I slept on the couch, passed out from the night before. Beer bottles on top and below the coffee table, weed crumbles everywhere, unfinished chicken nuggets and dried-up slabs of ketchup. Here’s what Sebastian had to do in order to get to me: he had to wake up, call for me in vain, climb out of his crib, look for me in empty bedroom, deal with the confusion of not finding his parent where he’s supposed to be and hearing strange sounds blaring from the TV downstairs. He had to negotiate the stairs (a dangerous task first thing in the morning for anyone, especially a two-year old), and then shake my body and call out for me. He would register as if he appeared in a dream. I’d turn over and try to continue sleeping. Eventually I would get to and be able to take in the sight of Sebastian hovering over me with the remains of the previous night behind and next to him. There’s so much shame. I’d sink into its bottomless pit every morning that week. It would multiply all the bad and terrible things I’ve done and all the things I failed to do as a man, husband, and father.
Anyway, after he got me up he wanted to watch Dora and eat his breakfast and I managed to hook him up with his necessities before stepping outside for a smoke. Breakfast of champions. I would sit on the patio and watch him through the windows. He would eat his yoghurt sitting on the little kid’s chair at the little kid’s table, spooning it all over his face, his wide eyes fixated on Dora and Boots’ adventures. The grumpy old troll and the backpack. The spooky forest and the red rock. And I would be watching him, certain to lose him soon. It was inevitable. What was the point of having me around? I was a dog that bit children and that needed to be put to sleep or surrendered to a shelter at the very least.
I’d smoke another cigarette after I shoved the first one into the overflown ashtray. I’d feel disgusted, disgusting, dishonorable, and disillusioned. I was no Rock Star. That much was for sure. I was a failed adult with nowhere left to go, with no future that involved any semblance of happiness, joy, fulfillment, companionship, love, and freedom. Only shame. Maybe shame would eventually have the power to compel me to finish the job that I failed to do so many times before. Splatter all over the concrete.
But during that week alone with Sebastian something happened. Despite the pass out drinking I managed to give him the medicine on time every day. Big deal, I know, but this is me. It was something I was proud of. I finally gave it a real loving shot. Caring for him was a joy. Being with him was a new world. I wasn’t just the comic relief any more, ready to tickle him and bounce his little body on the mattress.
I took him to the playground daily and I found myself pushing him on the swing for what seemed to be hours. I gave him a bath every night and watched the boil disappear slowly. I gave him a hair cut. I drove him down to the beach on a ridiculous January LA day that evoked a sense of summer. He ran around in his diapers, running into the Pacific ocean, incapable of stopping his laughter and squeals of joy. He was so goddamn happy and he made me happy. It was confusing. I wanted to run with him in my underwear and join in but I wasn’t quite there yet. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Later, we went for Pizza.
That week almost seemed like an initiation into fatherhood two years after becoming a daddy. All the disdain that I imagined he had for me, I realized it was all a big fat fantasy, a lie that I kept telling myself. This kid didn’t remember Ithaca and Syracuse. He didn’t remember the irate driving and the drugs he saw me consume when he was a baby. He had no idea what all the bottles and my foul drunken weed breath meant. He was just having a blast. With me. God bless him. He saved my life. And yet, once he was asleep I returned to the familiar pattern of numbing myself. Turns out it was the last hurrah, if one can call it that.
The Tuesday after we returned from San Francisco I walked into an AA meeting at the urge of my shrink. She had been pushing AA for months, even though I lied my consumption down to what I considered socially acceptable levels.I went again the next day and countless days after that. It’s been almost four years now.
It’s not all peaches and cream. I get crazy, sometimes even crazier than when I was drunk. But I am growing and moving towards a better self. And I have opened my heart to the love that exists in my life and I don’t label myself unworthy of it.
Take my wife for example. There are so many theories and ideas out there about unconditional love. I have been seeking answers about it in every book I could put my hands on. Yet I’ve been surrounded and nurtured by unconditional love all along. Through all the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between, she has always insisted on seeing a light shining bright within me that she fell in love with. I thought she was insane. Light inside of me my ass, I’d say. Fact is, she loves me unconditionally although I will never be able to make up for everything that I have put her through and that I might put her through in the future. What I can do is take care of myself and bring the best version of me to the surface, the one that she deserves.
And as for Sebastian, I am so proud of him, to be his father, to have the privilege of witnessing his blossoming into an incredible human being. He’s my buddy, my son, my Sims character, my spiritual adviser. He allows me the opportunity to re-create childhood for myself and experience the bliss of innocence, the great YES to life that I was too scared to shout out during my own childhood.
Am I a bad father for everything I have done? Fuck no. I’m just a guy who has done some sketchy shit in the past. I’m a dad who loves his son unconditionally. I spend countless hours every week being of service to him. I’m aware of my wrongs and I know when to say I’m sorry and to give a hug and a kiss. I get impatient at times but more often I’ll lose myself in silliness. I’m a dad who’s been shell-shocked into becoming a father. I might be overdoing, making up for the first two years. But I’m conscious of who I am today and how far I’ve come from the sweaty cocaine PornHub nights full of tears. I’m aware of the gift that our little family is. I go into Sebastian’s bedroom at night and watch him sleep sometimes. He’s holding his stuffed penguin, he’s uncovered and breathing deeply. I get to remove his hair from his face, tuck him in, give him a kiss and whisper into his ears:
I love you!
It could have been different. It could have been a poor replica of the bad example that I knew. I could have been a deadbeat dad and husband. I could have been homeless. I could have continued my slow-motion plunge towards the concrete and crash with my guts and blood splattered in all directions. Instead, I get to live this life, replace shame with new experiences and memories. And I get to write about it.
I’m a Bad Papa. That’s not too bad.
Monday, back from the dead
I’m letting it go back for another one
Tuesday, shoot me in the head I’m taking it back, taking it back I’ll take it back
-Bad Papa West