I don’t know about you, but I’m spending this Thanksgiving in Alaska. I am going to immerse myself into a memoir my father wrote about his early days spent in Alaska, for the next week or so. Alaska – Summer of 1963.
I’m not sure what snapped me outside myself this morning, but it’s a welcomed change. I woke up tremendously proud that my parents are in the process of acquiring passports to make their journey to Sweden, where most of my family originated. Besides having retired from a successful career as an oil engineer, my father is also a genealogist. He’s been studying our family history for over 20 years, wrote many books detailing our heritage and has done work for countless others. I couldn’t be more proud that my parents are both taking the leap and traveling outside this country to experience their roots, first hand. Up until this year, their extensive travel experiences have all been within our borders, including living in Alaska twice.
I’m not going to lie, I felt very emotional dusting off his book this morning as I rummaged through my storage. I cried. So much guilt that was built up over years was released the moment I opened the box. So much grief that I’ve held in for years, because his father had finally passed on this Fall and I never said a word to him about it, nor did I properly grieve.
The reason I had so much guilt is because he gave this book to me as a Christmas gift about four years ago. And, although I looked at all the photos within those pages, I never read anything but the forward.
Here, I’ve been all-consumed with showcasing what makes me tick and trying to get my family to undersand. And, I’ve been just sitting on an entire book that details every question I had about the beginnings of his life and what made him who he is today.
Seeing the cover again, flashed me back to the day I opened it on my bed four years ago. I was so beyond ill then. On my death bed, sick. I was thick in the midst of alcoholism then and it was nearing the end of a 12-year rendezvous with the devil himself. For years on end, I looked death in the face every time I looked into the mirror. And no one knew because I was one of the few who hid it very well. Too well; until the last two years, when I finally broke down and admitted my problem. Things just got sloppy after that. I completely internalized all pain, gave up caring and became an extremely selfish person. I was so wrapped up in my own illness and diagnosis, I couldn’t, for the life of me, see the issues others faced, nor did I see their tremendous accomplishments.
Since my diagnosis and attempts at recovery, it has been all about me, me, me. My pain. My recovery. My trauma. My accomplsihments. My this and my that. I may have been very supportive of friends and those in the same boat, but over the last 12 years or so, what matters most took a back seat – my family.
And, that needs to change. Because I do care. I do desparately want to know the stories that make up the history of our family. I want to see what is that made and makes them tick. I want to learn. I want to talk about it. I want to congratulate my father for all that he’s accomplished, because, truth be told, not many in this family ever tell him. And he deserves to know what an amazing life he led and that he is appreciated.
I don’t want to wait until it’s too late. He suffered a heart attack this past year, but, again, I was in the middle of a manic break and nothing mattered but me. And, this all came after a year in recovery spent routing through past trauma and me focusing the blame on those who raised me, loved me, supported me, encouraged me and wanted only what was best for me.
My upbringing, my experiences and my family are in large part of makes me who I am today. Although, I have done much of the dirty work in recovery, art, writing and expression … I couldn’t for the life of me, ever discount their support and contribution.
My father has accomplished so much, it amazes me. Yet, none of us ever tell him. Like, ever. I don’t know why I find it so difficult to tell him this. I can tell anyone off the streets and point out what is so amazing about them, but I choke when it comes to my father.
And what makes it more amazing is that he has accomplished all of this while sticking by the sides of each and every single one of us in this family. Just my immediate family alone. My mother suffered from severe Bipolar One for most of my childhood, suffered through breasts cancer and a kidney transplant due to lithium toxicity. My sister is mentally challenged, and although I find it to be a beautiful thing, she needed a lot of support, around the clock care and supervision. Then once everything finally seemed to be settling down, I was hit with severe Bipolar symptoms, mania and psychosis and the the age of 32 and quit my career of over 10 years. Of course, my father was beyond drained in all ways, but not once through my three severe episodes, did he leave me to drown.
Our lives were not all trauma, illness and strife. Trust me, I had a great and fortunate childhood an I owe so very much appreciation and gratitude for this. If it weren’t for them, I’d never see the brilliance in recovery through mental illness, I wouldn’t have the wanderlust I’ve come to know and love, I wouldn’t be so understanding and patient, I wouldn’t be so strong willed, persistent and ambitious, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have developed talent and skill, had it not been for them.
There we go again … me, me, me. What I’m trying to say, very inarticulately, is this: My father, in particular, took great care and strides in protecting, supporting and enriching our lives. And for years, I have been ridden with guilt because I never knew how to say, THANK YOU.
Last year, I spent Thanksgiving in the psych ward, under a 302..angry at the world and especially my family, who put me there for my own safety. It’s amazing what a year in recovery will do.
This Thanksgiving will be different. Life is fragile. We unfortunately do not have the luxury of time, and despite what we thought, we never did. The time is now. To read his life stories. To ask the questions. To find out how human he really was and is. To appreciate him. To thank him. To finally tell him after 38 years, “You’re my Dad. And I couldn’t be more proud.”