I’ve struggled with how to write a Father’s Day post.
Chris is working hard at sobriety, making amends, and being present in our family. It’s going well, and it’s beautiful to see. But it also feels slippery, because sobriety is a day at a time and early sobriety is fragile.
Chris (and by extension, our family) is no longer in relationship with Chris’ dad. Through counseling and with the help of people who have walked this road before, it became obvious that staying in an already-strained relationship with an active alcoholic who did a lot of damage he will never take responsibility for or even acknowledge is not wise or safe for Chris.
Being around toxic or unhealthy family members, especially ones who aren’t self aware enough to want better for Chris is not an option for him anymore.
But it is Father’s Day and you still miss your dad.
So how do I write about Father’s Day?
This weekend we’re camping. We recently upgraded our camper (RIP Betsy Ross; just kidding, she’s still alive and well with a new, smaller family) and so we took off for a local state park to test it out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I made reservations at the same place we had our very first camping trip as a family of four.
Back then we weren’t in an air conditioned camper like we are now. But it was just as hot and muggy. That first trip was in June of 2012 when Harper did not yet know how to walk, and she was covered in a horrible rash that might have been her parents’ fault (but that story will have to be for another time or, more than likely, never).
It was a miserable weekend. Harper couldn’t sleep in the uncomfortable heat that didn’t relent even when the sun went down, so she slept on my chest at night, the two of us stuck together with sweat and baby drool.
During the day, we’d hike or play between moments of weather-induced tears or whining. Sometimes from the kids. Other times from the mom. Looking back, I don’t know what made us power through that trip, pretending like we were having fun and we weren’t all miserable.
We didn’t travel much when the girls were little so we probably treated it like a vacation even though it would have been easier to just stay home.
One afternoon, we put Harper in the jogging stroller and two-year-old Ellie led the way as we slowly wandered down a rocky trail, trying to get to the creek where we could cool off for a moment. After about twenty minutes, we made it to the water where Ellie splashed around and threw rocks, while Harper stared miserably into space.
And then, because this is how parenting is, Ellie had to pee. She had been potty trained about four months with little accidents to follow. But out in the wilderness, in the dense tree-covered hills of Indiana, we were near exactly zero restrooms.
Have you ever tried to show a two-year-old girl how to squat and pee? Have you, as a female, ever tried to squat and pee?
It’s an art form some women never master so it’s pretty obvious it didn’t end well for my two year old and basically Ellie peed her pants. Soaked every last stitch of those pants.
And we had a twenty minute hike back up a rocky trail between her and some dry pants. At this point, we had two options: laugh at how horrible this trip was going or cry. Chris and I laughed. Ellie chose crying. And she also chose to quit walking. Those pee-pants were too much for her heart and she decided she wasn’t walking back up the trail. By the creek in southern Indiana is where she gave up.
So Chris put Ellie and her pee-soaked pants on his shoulders and carried her back to the campsite. I pushed the strolled up the mountain we had just come down, shocked we didn’t notice how horrible the hike back up was going to be with a stroller as Chris breathed in the urine smell that surrounded his sweaty head.
It’s really a wonder we came back to this park at all, actually. It scarred us for life.
I think that’s what I want to say about Father’s Day. I want to say when Chris is clean and sober, he’ll do anything for his kids. He’ll play in a pool for hours with Harper even though he’s tired. He’ll play endless games of cards with Ellie. He’ll paint their toenails even though he’s never used nail polish a day in his life. He’ll wrap sticky pee legs around his shoulders and carry a whining toddler up a trail so she doesn’t have to walk with her small, tired legs.
Clean and sober Chris is a sight to behold.
June 2012 was eleven months of being drug free and a few years before he would begin to drink. We had a few really good years where Chris was wide eyed and clear headed. Our kids were small, we were broke all the time, and we were happy.
I know now there were demons lurking underneath, things Chris still hadn’t addressed, things he still hadn’t given up. I can see now we were being given a few years of rest before the real chaos started.
As Father’s Day came to a close this year, I rolled over in bed, already half asleep to say goodnight to Chris.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I whispered.
He rolled toward me, putting his face so close to mine that my tired eyes crossed trying to look at him.
“This one was good,” he said. “So much better than last year.”
Last year, we went camping and I bought steaks to celebrate him. But my heart wasn’t in it. I hated him, I was only a month into knowing he had a drinking problem, and I could feel things getting worse not better. I was pretending last year and so was he.
“So much better this year,” I agreed as I closed my eyes and stopped fighting sleep.
That’s it, that’s what we’re shooting for: better than last year. And finally, it’s not just me with that goal, but Chris Graham too.
Better than last year.
Happy Father’s Day, Chris Graham. You’re getting better every day.
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