My stepfather was not always an abusive alcoholic. He was simply a man who loved a glass of scotch in the evening before bed during the early years of my childhood, the years I called him “Daddy.” He was kind-hearted and taught me the life lessons that a girl needs in order to become a compassionate member of the human society.
No, he was not always an abusive alcoholic but he is now.
Don Mustard has been my dad since I was eighteen months old. I was not fond of men as an infant, especially those I had never met. Despite this, on the day we met, I ran straight to him and begged him to pick me up. We became inseparable for the next several years.
I owe most of my character to this man. My love for animals, my passion for hunting, my need to be around horses, and my unconditional love can all be attributed to the years I spent at his heels. I learned the value of hard work by taking care of orphaned cattle from the rancher that employed him. I woke up in the wee hours of the mornings to answer the cries of a calf searching for breakfast and did so without complaint. I had no friends during my elementary years because I smelled like animals, but I cared not. I had a family who loved me. I had a large variety of animals that were much kinder than humans for companionship. I was happy.
I was entering junior high when I began to notice that there was a problem. The bottle that had taken my dad a few weeks to finish now needed to be replaced once a week, and soon after, twice a week. As a family that was struggling just to keep food on the table, this seemed like a luxury that we just could not afford. However, my mom discovered that being unable to provide this bottle was a much worse problem than the money that was being spent on it. Dad would become irritated without his “nightcap,” but we just brushed it off as crankiness.
Then, the irritation was turned my way. Suddenly, nothing I did was right. I was an honor roll student and worked right beside the cowboys on the ranch from dusk until dawn, with the exception of school hours. Still, it was not enough. I was the entire reason for his and my mother’s marital problems in his opinion. I was called a mistake or “that bastard child” on more than one occasion. I would fall asleep many nights in tears. I worked harder to achieve more, aching to hear him tell me he was proud of me once again. It never came.
My mother sat me down during my freshman year of high school and explained our situation to me. My once loving dad was sick, and until he would admit it, there was nothing that she or I could do to make him happy again.
I did my research, like any good student. I learned everything I could about alcoholism, not only about the physical effects, but the psychological effects as well. I learned that the man who spat such ugly words at night was simply not the man who had taught me to ride a bicycle and tie my shoe. Sadly, he might not ever be again.
I wanted to be angry with him.
After all, he was the one who had taught me that allowing anything or anyone to have such a hold over your actions made you weak. The night his anger turned to physical blows, I might have grown resentful, had I not been able to remember one cold morning in a deer stand so many years before. I had proven myself to be a near perfect shot, after years of practice, and I was being rewarded with my very first hunting trip. The excitement of the next morning kept me awake most of the night, and I jumped out of bed the moment my mother woke me. I entered the living room proudly wearing my new gear. That warm camouflage uniform was prettier than any dress in my personal opinion. I tucked my bright red hair into the baseball cap and double-checked the gun that I had lovingly cleaned the night before. My mother handed my dad a lunch box with sandwiches and jerky, and we were off. He drove patiently and carefully through the field while his daughter was unable to stop talking in bubbly excitement over the possibilities of the day.
My dad did all the talking once we were in the deer blind, keeping his voice down to a barely audible whisper as he spoke about the feeling of sighting a deer through the sights of your gun. He warned me about the possibility of freezing up once my sights were lined up and told me how to fight through it. Soon, those words of experience soon turned to wise lessons of life and love.
I valued these lessons and tucked them away for later years, but it was his speech about unconditional love that would eventually turn that little girl into the woman I am today. He told me, “when you love someone, be it your family, an animal, or your husband, you must love them unconditionally. Everyone makes mistakes and we always hurt the ones who love us the most. Love is worthless unless it’s unconditional. You must always forgive those you love without hesitation. If it isn’t unconditional, then it isn’t love at all.”
Many years later, I would forgive him instantly for his abuse. This abuse increasingly grew more violent, and by the time I moved out of my parent’s home, I was grateful to be free of his anger and bitterness. I kept the lessons he taught me in the deer blind close to my heart but added my own touch to it. I decided that while love was worthless unless it was unconditional, that did not mean that a person had to stick around to be abused and walked on. A person could love unconditionally while doing so from a distance.
My dad’s drinking grew increasingly worse after my mother passed away. Today, his mind is half gone from the booze and the evidence is apparent even during the sober moments of the daytime. He has become an empty shell of a man. He is deeply affected by depression and seeks to fill his emptiness with women who could never hope to fill the shoes my mother left behind. He has yet to admit that he has a problem. I still love him unconditionally although I am sure he would tell you otherwise.
I will always be grateful for the earlier years that I spent with my dad. I am a woman who always seeks a brighter future because of these moments. More importantly, I know how to love someone with everything I have, no matter their crimes against others or me. Experience has taught me that there are not many souls out there who can say the same. Most people speak their love without ever knowing exactly how to show it. My Daddy taught me that showing it is more important than three empty words and my children will learn this as well. That is the greatest gift any man could have passed down to his daughter.
I have lost hope that he will ever seek the help he needs to change but on the day of his funeral, I will proudly stand there and speak of the man before the disease. I believe that on that day, I will finally receive his pride as he watches my eulogy through eyes unclouded by booze. Maybe then he will realize that I learned my lessons well and grew up to be everything he had once hoped for. Alcoholism will have finally released its hold on my dad. I will not speak of the horrible deeds or the years I spent as his victim. After all, love is worthless unless it is unconditional.