As a freshman member of Alcoholics Anonymous, my father memorized its renowned twelve steps. My memory of his success is recounted on page 62 of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father:
“More than fifty years earlier, Daddy had memorized its twelve-step program. ‘Listen to this, Judy,’ he said, taking a card from his wallet. Striding around the room, he repeatedly read aloud the dozen principles. Day after day he thundered them until they were rooted in his mind. That accomplished, there were times, it seemed, when he needed a reminder. Roping the family in it, he would unexpectedly walk to the middle of the living room, square his shoulders, and deliver each step perfectly.
“He sounded every bit like a fervent evangelist when his assured voice thundered, ‘Step Two. Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.'”
Thinking back on that now, I believe those were times when Daddy was asking his family for patience. At his core he desperately wanted to quit drinking–never succumb to another slip. Making us listen to his recitation was his way of reminding himself and us.
The plea of Daddy’s heart was epitomized in a maxim in the late seventies/early eighties, abbreviated PBPGIFWMY: Please be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet. Also during that time Joel Hemphill wrote the gospel song “He’s Still Working on Me.”
“Were you angry at your father?” the woman asked during the book discussion of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.
“No,” I unreservedly replied.
“But he beat your mother,” she whispered as if it were still a secret.
“I hated it and I felt sorry for her. But that wasn’t my father,” I explained. “My real father didn’t do that.”
Later I realized all my life I used a defense mechanism for my father’s alcoholic behavior that my mother had expertly polished: compartmentalization. A scene from my book reveals her dichotomy.
“Our arms entwined, I reflected that for most of my life I had wondered if Daddy ever told Mama he loved her. There were so many years he had abused her physically, mentally, and emotionally. Through it all my mother persevered. She had found her way to cope.
“Mama once told me as she looked through the window at my father staggering to the front door, ‘He is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’
“That’s how she mentally sectioned her life. If Daddy was drunk, he was Mr. Hyde, embodying all that was wrong, evil, sinful. If Daddy was sober, he was Dr. Jekyll, goodness and peace and healing. While hating Mr. Hyde, Mama knew at the end of her endurance, he would metamorphose again into Dr. Jekyll.”
The time had come to expose the family’s secret shame. Daddy is an alcoholic. Although he is now dead, I never stop thinking, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” Probably because I am so much like my father (minus the alcoholism), I never do anything halfway. So I proclaimed the truth to the entire world in my book, Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.