My older sister was kind enough to send a few meaningful things from my dad’s house, including his #1 Dad hat, the shirt he wore to his wedding (that he kept not out of sentimentality so much as just never buying new clothes), and a 1937 coin from his collection. Coins. This isn’t the first year I received coins from my dad.
I’ve been lucky to have had a good relationship with my father over the last ten years or so. However, we faced some rough years while he was fully in the grips of his alcoholism. Since his passing my memories are naturally centered on happy thoughts, nostalgia, sadness thinking about the years he suffered, and potential future events that he will miss. My mind has glossed over some of the terrible things about my dad. He was far from perfect, and though I will always think of him has my “#1 Dad” he caused me pain growing up.
I had my absolute worst Christmas 14 years ago. I spent the night of Christmas Eve over at my dad’s house, which was messy and undecorated. He got drunk, which of course led to him getting angry. His mouth twisted over insults about my mom and step-dad, then turned to me and the man I loved (the one I ended up marrying, perhaps partially out of love but also spite). As he smoked his cigarette, my dad told my sister and I that he hadn’t gotten us anything. He grabbed a purple Crown Royal bag, flung it on the table, saying “here. You can have these.” And it was a bag of coins. As I went to my room to cry, I heard him telling my little sister he wouldn’t be surprised if my step-dad was molesting me.
I didn’t need presents. I needed my dad, and the terrible person in front of me at that time didn’t seem like him. It was lonely, it was infuriating, it was exhausting. I knew his history and tried to rationalize his behavior. His parents both died when he was young, he suffered horrible foster families, and he mostly lost his family when he and my mom divorced. I wanted to be able to fix him and make him happy, but I also wanted a dad to be there for me.
His coins and those bad memories found their way back to me today. I’m struggling because he eventually mellowed into the man I needed growing up. His love and affection these last few years don’t erase the bad times and the bad things he did. But do I want to hold onto those memories? Is it fair to let them fully escape, essentially erasing part of his existence? Or should I focus on the best parts of the man I truly did love so much? If I have children, should they know him only as the witty, darkly funny, foul-mouthed tough man who called us “Charlie’s angels,” or should they also get to know his demons?
I’m not sure if there is a correct answer, but I do know that I won’t figure it out tonight. It’s only Christmas for two more hours. I’ll wrap up my questions for the night and enjoy the peace.