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Under the Volcano

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I was thrilled. My dad invited me to go snow skiing in Colorado with him. I would’ve been about 13 years old. On the first day, I was a downhill racer, tucking and speeding ahead down the easy slopes and catwalks that made up  Buttermilk Ski Area. It was snowing. I was showing off. My dad seemed entertained but complained about the visibility.

We stopped at the mid-slope bar for lunch. It was never too early for cocktails. That night I slept like a child.

I woke to a darkened room disoriented, unsure where I was. My dad was snoring away on the bed next to mine. As I was using the bathroom I noticed a large daily meds case packed with brightly colored pills. Lots of them.

The panic attack I experienced that morning stayed with me, below the surface, for the next ten years, until my father succumbed to alcoholism, heart disease, and ultimately cancer. I was 21 and a freshman in college as he pleaded with me from his hospital bed, “It’s as if lightning struck me twice in the same year. What have I done, so wrong?” His open heart surgery had flooded his system with new oxygen-rich blood and the dormant cancer cells bloomed in his brain.

I wonder how my dad continued to make such poor choices, how his death wish overrode any corrective action that could’ve provided more moments with me. But, that’s not how self-destructive behavior works. I wrestled with my dad’s alcoholism, smoking, and contraindicated behavior for most of my childhood. And until he was dying of cancer and suddenly sober, that communication and effort was only one way. That’s a bitch, right?

After his first heart attack, how did he not get clean and sober? After his second heart attack, his third heart attack, my dad never redirected his downward spiral into darkness and loneliness. At 13 years old, I understood that my father was sick: lots of colorful medicines were keeping him alive, putting him to sleep, and keeping his pressures and levels within tolerance.

He didn’t stop drinking by choice, the chemo took the joy of drinking out of his life. The sobriety that followed was both a blessing and a curse. In the final months with my father, desperate to make connections and to spend time together, I could tell I was going to be angry at him once this was all over. Once he left this mortal coil I would no longer have a father. I had struggled from elementary school on with my father’s drinking.

Shakespearean: son struggles with father’s destructive drinking. I begged him to get help. I became a child magician and a football and tennis star. I made straight A’s.

“It’s time to hit the slopes, Dad.” It’s my daughter, thirty years later. We’re in New Mexico for spring break and the snow looks good. I can’t correct any of my dad’s mistakes, but I can vow not to repeat them. My program is strong. Even as my son vacillates with his own death wish, I am comforted and energized by my own spiritual groundedness. It’s not arrogance, but it’s not defeat either. It’s a contrast to the wickedly dysfunctional homelife that was ushered in after my removal.

My kids had only a narcissistic mom with critical emotional issues of her own. Now, they have grown up with stoic and emotionally damaged expectations about life and what it has to offer. It’s like my son is waiting for the path to be opened up before him. H  e’s gotten this far without a job, perhaps there was a way to go forward without giving in. To life. To work. To becoming an adult and launching from your parent’s house and funding.

A sad revelation each time I arrive on the scene from another massive fuckup. There have been repeated infractions with both my son and my daughter. Somehow, my connection between father and daughter had more tensile strength than the father-son bond. And once sons are the only man in the house, all sorts of distortions begin to take place. Both degradation of the dad role, the immediate whisper of “that asshole” becoming synonymous with my name, and my oh-so-unpleasant ex-wife winding everyone else up with her anxiety and OCD compensations. Both kids have been trained well.

As we are moving through the present day’s motion with my submersed son, I find myself fluctuating like light, a wave, and a particle, sad and angry. I am clear that my own health and recovery is my primary responsibility. I cannot make anyone else change. Not my dad. Not my son. Not my ex-wife.

I focus on my own actions and words. Hoping that my son and others find their next right action, and possibly a conscious contact with the god of their choosing.

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