I (Still) Wonder


Dear Mom,

I wonder if you ever paused to consider the “messages” you were sending (and the pain you were inflicting) as you shuffled us off to bed in the waning sunlight of beautiful South Florida summer afternoons well into our middle school years and headed out the door to meet up with your neighborhood drinking buddy for your daily afternoon Scotches. Because, intended or not, the messages were as clear to me as the air on those same summer days: “The drinks are more important to me than your dad, than your brother, than your sister – than you.” “I’d rather spend my time (hours each day) with them, than spend it loving any of you, holding you, listening to you – encouraging you.”

I wonder if you knew how many times I fantasized about you turning around, blasting back through my closed bedroom door and saying “NOT TODAY!” “Today, I want to know how you’re doing, about the girl who got away, about your fears. I want to listen to your heart, to your poetry – to learn what brings you joy and makes you sad.” “Today, instead of simply dropping you off at the driving range, I want to stay and watch you hit balls, find out why it is you love the game so much, what it is the teaching pros “see” that has them insisting that their students pay careful attention to your swing – and whether there’s something I can do to support your talent.”

“Today, rather than spend another afternoon in a haze, I want to do what YOU want to do.” “Maybe we could catch a movie, grab a pizza or some ice cream?” “Maybe we could go bowling (even though I’m not very good at it!) or simply talk about whatever’s on your mind?” I know now, of course, that it was much more complicated than that – that what may well have started out as a “choice” borne of your own heartache became a disease that would require hard work to overcome. But, I also know you had to be the one to take the first step, to decide that there was someone or something in your life more important to you than the next drink.

You could’ve done the work, mom – used the courage and the toughness it took to survive all those wounds to embrace and rise above the scars they left behind – to “show them who was the boss around here,” rather than always trying to show us. You could’ve run towards, rather than away from the voids in your soul and filled them with so many things other than Scotch (the pursuit of your dreams, encouraging and inspiring us to reach for ours, real hugs, genuine smiles, service to others) and, in the process, set an example for us – taught us that brokenness is only the beginning, the cocoon in which true beauty resides and, if we will allow it, from which it ultimately emerges.

I still wonder why you never took that step. Why you never even admitted you had a problem, let alone asked for help and support in battling it – help and support I’m certain dad would unhesitatingly have provided if given the chance and the prospect of regaining his wife/life? But most of all, I wonder why, long after you could see the debris field left in the wake of it all, you never once said you were sorry. I gave you every chance to at least do that, right up to your last breath and all you did was leave me wondering (still): Why couldn’t you see that YOU were important enough? Why weren’t WE important enough?  Why wasn’t I important enough?

Your Middle Son

P.S. It took me awhile to fill in the gaps – and truth be told I still have a ways to go, a few wounds of my own to patch up, lots more to learn where empathy and vulnerability are concerned. But, all things considered, I think you’d be (mostly) proud of the man I became . . . at least I hope so.


40 thoughts on “I (Still) Wonder

  1. Pingback: When Life Feels Like a Mess, There’s Something We Can Do

  2. My heart ached so deeply while I read this, for the little boy (and his siblings) who lived through this, day after day. Thank you for sharing – it took such courage and vulnerability.

  3. This made me think……am I making my phone, social media, etc more important than my children, What message am I sending them? Thanks so much.

    • I am having those same thoughts. What message am I sending my kids when I am too tired (watching HGTV) to climb the steps and tuck them in. Thank you for sharing your voice. For giving children a voice. God bless you.

      • Misty, Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for sharing. We all deserve down time and I think it’s important to care for ourselves in small ways, especially when we’re tired at the end of the day. It makes it possible to better care for others when it matters most! I’m also a big fan of cutting ourselves a little more slack than most of us are usually willing to do. #heartsmiles Don

  4. A steady stream of tears running down my cheeks. For my own peace of mind, and so I wouldn’t be constantly disappointed in adults/parents/partners I adopted a mantra many years ago…”if a man didn’t have legs, you wouldn’t expect him to walk.” It IS a choice, unfortunately someone can’t give you what they don’t have…..but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. On a lighter note, I bet you were/are/or will be an AMAZING dad!

    • Kim, Thank you for sharing your heart and your tears. I’m a firm believer in “pulling back the curtain” in the hope that sharing may make a difference in someone else’s life, as difficult as sharing like this is for me. And thanks for sharing the mantra. I like it! Warmest, Don

  5. What an incredibly touching story. I commend you for your raw, honest and sincere post, Don. Those that have endured such deep-rooted pain struggle as they get older. My heart goes out to you and I hope that you can find peace through it all. This made me think too – what things am I putting before my children? Phone, housework, etc.

    • Sara, Thank you for taking the time to read this post and for your heartfelt words of support and encouragement. I believe in sharing from the heart – as hard as it is sometimes. Warmest, Don

  6. Hugs to the little boy left wondering! I share a similar story and now my own daughter is struggling with addiction. I think she just might make it 8 months clean this week. Here’s to turning around and seeking the ones we love.

  7. WOW! Just WOW! Beautifully written. I saw myself in your story, and had a glimpse of what my son would have went through had I not fought the fight. Thank you for this….

  8. Don, although my circumstances differ from yours, there remains the question – why wasn’t I enough. I’ve come to realize that short of a miracle, my loved one will never come to an understanding of why he chooses other things over me. Recently, I’ve taken a different track – rather than lamenting over all that could have/should have been, I’ve been asking the Lord to help me be content with the life I have. I’m trying to find love and fulfilment by serving others. It has brought a certain degree of peace. That’s not to say that the situation is better. It’s merely my response is different. I pray that God gives you peace as you work through your grief.

    • Dee, Thank you for sharing your heart. Couldn’t agree more. Too often, we get stuck in the why and the could’ve/should’ve beens.Living in gratitude for what we do have and selflessly giving to others can be a tremendous source of peace. I affirm you and your willingness to give of yourself to others in spite of your pain. Warmest, Don

  9. This stunning letter is going to ripple through me for a long time. You’re an amazing writer, Don, and what an important message to share.

  10. Don, you are a wonderful writer. I’m so sorry that your mom wasn’t there the way you needed her to be. Your story makes me think about the distractions in my own life – work, my smart phone, the internet, etc. Is this how my children will remember their childhood? Not as important to me as everything else? You have given me much food for thought, and I am again filled with gratefulness that my season of working full time outside the home will be coming to a close in just a few weeks. Thank you for sharing your story, even when it hurts.

    • Davonne, Thanks for taking time-out to read my post and for your thoughtful and affirming comments. I checked out your website. Great resource and love the idea of eliminating chaos and clutter and simplifying life in general to allow time and space to focus on matters of the heart! Warmest, Don

  11. Don, your writing and message is hauntingly, longingly, lyrical and beautiful. Thank you for sharing a large part of your pain from your growing years. Even as adults now we still hope we were the light in our parent’s eye even for a bit. You’ve just lit the way for others now. Peace to you.

  12. Don, this is just amazing. I am brought to tears. I am encouraged and I am lifted up by how you have decided to live your life for the sake of your family. The healing that shines forth from your message is thick and tangible. My siblings and I are working in our lives to break the cycle of abuse that was started by alcohol generations ago, though most of what we have encountered ourselves was dry drunkenness and the behaviors and relating that remained. We refuse to do this to our children. We know a better and gentler life. And we are so grateful that people like you (that you!) have chosen to share this so we can be uplifted and continue to fight this good fight. God be with you in all you do!

    Ps- I found the link to your post on handsfreemama. I am sure many more of her readers will be coming over here and that their lives will be lifted too.

    • Mary, First things first: I want to affirm you and your siblings for committing to breaking the cycle of abuse and, in the process, giving your children the gift of a better, gentler life. I know intimately the challenges associated with that commitment, but I also know the immeasurable rewards. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my post in such a personal and heartfelt way. It makes my heart smile. I’m so grateful that Rachel mentioned me in her work and for the opportunity it has afforded me to meet and share with those of you who follow her blog. Warmest, Don

  13. This post has opened my eyes in a way I didn’t expect. Just recently I was planning to be withdrawing in the evenings after making dinner to avoid my kids noise but I will never do it. I will sit there and listen to them. They are more important than my so called quiet time. Thank you for writing.

  14. Came here from reading the blog hands free mama, thank you for writing this post, sometimes I get too distracted by the social media and other internet stuff that it made me feel that they were important than anything else at home, your post got me thinking about how my little 3 year old son would feel if I ignored him. I m typing this while my son is napping.

    Going hands free now.thanks again.

  15. I often think I am not enough for my children. I dont know where that comes from. I homeschool them, we dont have a TV, we do tons as a family, but I doubt my importance all the time. Thanks for opening my eyes to such simple things that children really need. I provide all that for them and more…I need to start appreciating myself!

    Thank you for sharing your story so that others may learn, reflect, and change in whatever way your article touches them. This article was a beautiful wake up call to stop punishing myself for no reason. My girls are lucky to have me for a mom. I need to OWN that!

    • Jenny, Thank you for sharing your heart. Knowing that my post prompted you to take even the smallest step towards appreciating all that I’m sure you do for your daughters (and, I suspect, others as well) literally made my day! As you will see from my writings you and I share the unfortunate character trait of doubting our importance in the lives of others and always wondering whether there’s more we could or should be doing. I’m LOVING those final words of self-affirmation!!! Warmest, Don

  16. I just read this from the link from Rachel’s Hands Free Mama blog. Thank you for this. I am currently witnessing a friend dying with weeks, possibly months, left to live, from the effects of alcoholism. He has 2 teenage daughters who are angry and terribly hurt and refuse to see him. In November, his oldest daughter did visit alongside of myself (she wouldn’t go alone) but will not see him anymore because his thin frail body using a walker/wheelchair was too much to bare. I believe he has stopped drinking now as his life consists of dialysis, hospital stays, doctor appointments, home health visits, and he is wheelchair bound. The girl’s mother is my dear friend and divorced him a few years ago to protect the girls from living in the grips of alcoholism after her attempts at supporting him and encouraging him to get help failed. He has pushed most of his friends/family away. I do visit him and help him with things here and there – he was my good friend too. I am going to send this link to him to hopefully inspire him to think and find the words to give to his daughters to acknowledge the addiction, the pain, and the loss they have experienced. He may not speak to me again, but I can deal with that. Those girls need and deserve an avenue toward closure. Thank you for your story, and may it help both the parents and children of those dealing with addiction.

    • Kirsten, Thank you for sharing this heart-breaking story about your friend and his family. I hope between my words and your courage this dad will seize one of the moments that remain in his life and dedicate it to taking a first step in healing the hearts of those he loves. I’m going to hold that hope in my own heart today. Warmest, Don

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