When I was little, my Dad use to take us fishing at this 'secret lake' out in the middle of nowhere. In order to get there, you had to drive down a hidden dirt road in the middle of the woods, cross through a fence marked "Private Property", and cross your fingers in hopes that you would make it down the road and back without getting the car stuck in the mud.
It was a secret place for our little family, and the fish were always biting. We would sit on the lake's edge and my Dad would show me how to bait the hook and cast the line. We all waited together in anticipation as we watched the floaters bobbing on top of the water. Fishing takes a lot of patience, and I remember how quite it was when we were at our covert lake.
When we spent time at the lake, the rest of the world seemed to vanish. It was almost easy to forget about the tears, the fights, and the broken promises.
My Dad was, and still is, a drug addict. I wouldn't say it was our families dark secret, because everyone knew and my Dad usually made it painfully obvious, but for me, his addiction was always a very dark cloud over my youth. I didn't want anyone to know.
I usually pretended everything was okay or that I was indifferent to his choices. Inside, it killed me.
As a child, I didn't understand what an addiction was. To me, everything was black and white. My Dad could either choose us, his family, or he could choose the drugs. Black / white. He always chose the drugs. As an adult, I understand that he wasn't always in control and that he may have wanted to choose us, but couldn't.
Our days of sitting on the edge of the lake ended, and 'going fishing' became a constant unfulfilled promise.
"When I get out of prison, I promise we'll go fishing..." he would say to me. I can't even count the number of times I heard it, but I can count the number of times he followed through. Zero.
I use to think 'If I were a better son, he would stop taking drugs.' If I were nicer to my sister, if I didn't talk back, if I wasn't so hard-headed, if I brushed my teeth after every meal, if I wrote him a letter, if I prayed... something! There had to be something I could do to make him better. I knew it was my fault. If I were a good son, he would just choose us, instead of the drugs. Black / white.
The other memories of my father are not as pleasant as the lake. I remember sitting in a drug house while his dealer measured out drugs on a metal scale. I remember bringing him a homemade bookmark with a mallard duck on it when he was in the jail downtown. The corrections officer handed it to him while I watched through the bullet proof glass. I remember Christmas morning when he pushed my mom. I remember when he received special privileges to come to my high school graduation. I remember going to see him in jail and rehab centers.
Even though it is a cliche, I believe that what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. If anything, my Dad showed me 'what NOT to do'... heck, he could have written the book! "Don't leave your small children in a house alone while you go out to buy drugs"... that would be bad. "Don't do drugs," and "Don't ever EVER choose anything over your family."
I've never done drugs. Not a single breath of pot has ever entered my body, nor will it. I've been hard on my friends that made different choices. I ended relationships and friendships over the drug/alcohol issue so that I could surround myself with non-addictive personalities. I've had enough addiction in my life, and I've never even been addicted to anything.
When I make promises to my children, I keep them. I hold me children close to my heart and cherish every moment I have with them. I promise to hear their voices and their words when other adults may discount them. I promise to guide them and protect them throughout their lives. I promise to keep them safe from pain so they won't ever look at me and think "what did I do wrong." I promise to hold their hands and tickle their bellies so that we can laugh together and make happy memories. I promise to sleep in their beds when they have a bad dream and tell them funny stories about mermaids and princesses to make the dreams go away. I promise to always be there, as a father and friend, for my girls. I promise to take them fishing.
For that, I want to say: Thank you Daddy.