"It Gets Easier, but it Never Gets Easy" - Issue #22
Dad got sober six years before I was born and, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be alive, or sober.
Welcome to Issue #22. This week Fitz offers a short reflection occasioned by the one-year anniversary of his father’s passing, and reflecting on his, and his father’s sobriety.
This coming week marks the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He died at 77; by then he had been sober for over 40 years. Dad got sober six years before I was born and, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be. Alive or sober. Dad got sober and I got to be born and I got to be the first in what I imagine to be a long line of Fitzgerald men who didn’t grow up wary of their father when his breath smelled of whiskey. There’s a story that’s become a legend in our family about my father fist-fighting his father outside a bar. It’s a funny image, until I shift it down one generation and imagine it as him and I.
But it’s hard to imagine him raising his fist to me because I never had to fear it. I never saw my dad drink and I only ever heard the funny stories about Dad drunk. His flamboyance and slurred words. The fun Fitzie.
Then, I started having my own problems with drinking. That’s when the other stories began to come out. Usually not to me, but to Steph. Mom commiserating about how Dad had been before he was Dad, and Steph telling Mom how I was becoming. Like father, like son. The denying and lying. The endless asking for just one more. The humiliation and apologies and promises and apologies and promises and lies and apologies. Over and over again.
Dad saw only one way out of the loop. He quit.
For so many years I saw that that was where I was heading too, but I fought it, hard. The more I said I wouldn’t be like him, the more I was—and the more I needed to actually, finally, be like him. But quitting felt like admitting failure. I thought, as his son, I should be better. Quitting was admitting I was not. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy: every day that I was not better than he was, I was worse.
Dad would say little, but what he said, said a lot: “You have to be careful, son.”
That’s it. I heard him say it, subtly, quietly—almost as an understanding just between us. I heard him, but I didn’t listen. I believed I could be better, even as I was getting worse.
Quitting is always personal; I’ll hold the details close, for now. I will say this: for the first time in my life I could almost imagine what it felt like to be Dad. I saw only one way out of the loop. I quit.
If I think about it, I’m sure Dad was proud of my decision. He didn’t know the ugly details, but also I’m sure he did. By the time he passed away, I had been sober for 14 months. To my recollection, he never said “good job.” The truth is, I think he wanted me to get it under control, to beat it, to do better than he did. But I couldn’t, and you don’t celebrate seeing your mistakes made over again. No, he never congratulated me or said good job, but in that last year, we didn’t drink together. We were a unit—two abstainers. I felt closer to him than I ever had before. I understood a part of him that I never had.
For so many years I wanted to prove that I could curb my drinking with self-control. I wanted to be—but wasn’t—better than him. But at least now I’m not worse. Dad gave me sobriety, not self-control. He gave me the gift of a sacrifice and the intimate knowledge of what that sacrifice could mean for me and for my family.
At the funeral, I told those who gathered that my love for Dad looked most like admiration. But I wasn’t ready to say then that, for all the things he did, it was what he didn’t do that meant the most to me. For all the things he was, what I admired most is what he wasn’t—because being what he wasn’t allowed me to become what I know he was proud to see me eventually be.
He’s been gone for a year, and I’ve been sober for just over two. Lately, I’ve had a song by Jason Isbell playing on repeat in my head; Isbell sings, “It get’s easier, but it never gets easy.” Isbell is talking about sobriety, and I am thinking about that too, and about my dad. But then, for me, there’s hardly any distinction now between the two.
What I’m Listening To…
Well, Jason Isbell…
What I’m Reading…
I finished Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and it was good, but I’m told the sequel is even better, so I’m on to Parable of the Talents.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
I love this. Thank you for being so open and honest. I saw you with your dad in his final days, the way you cared for him, talked to him and showed your love and admiration to him. He was proud of you and loved you dearly.
moving and powerful. We lost our dad 4 years ago; there is so much to what we call 'legacy" as we recall and celebrate a life, a person so dear to us. Thank you for your candor and wisdom.