When I was twelve, my father slipped on the deck at Strawberry’s recreation pool during a black out and split his elbow open, blood everywhere. I don’t know how he made it home. The next morning, he sat on the patio with a huge white gauze bandage around his punctured elbow, remorseful and bloated.
“I’m sorry,” he said without looking me in the face. I hated him.
A few days later, I dove into Strawberry’s pool and heard a lady loudly stage whisper to her friend, “There goes the drunk man’s daughter.” I went down deep.
I was beyond mortified to be Jack Brown’s daughter. I could never go back to the pool, and cried walking home.
My daddy was sober and packing an open suitcase in his bedroom when I got there.
“Where are you going?” He leaned with both arms on the white chenille tasseled bedspread without looking up.
“I have a problem, and I’m going to Napa State Hospital.” My not-so-dashing dad, puffy, small and defeated. I felt a blend of despair, rage and relief.
“Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know when. It’ll be awhile.”
When he left, my mother pulled an essay out from her dresser my father wrote about his destroyed career in Washington D.C., while attending Tokyo University. I opened my heart just a little. He wrote me a letter on his portable Royal typewriter while he was in Napa:
My Darling Prusie:
Today you made Daddy so very happy with the lovely box of Valentine Candy. In fact it was so good Daddy ate the whole box up right away. I haven’t had any candy for a long time and your present sure hit the spot.
I certainly miss you and your face is before me many times during the day. I hope you realize that I love you and Brian very, very much.
I am feeling better and hope to be home with you all very soon. Give Grandma and Brian some great big kisses on my behalf. Love to the most wonderful daughter in the whole wide world.
Napa’s treatment didn’t work for my father, and he couldn’t stay sober. Alcoholism is a serious disease, destroying more than one member of my family. I grew up believing I was the drunk man’s daughter, doomed to its shame. The label defined and terrified me because it passes generations. I am not going to be defined by that anymore. Secrets like my shame don’t belong only to me.