Growing up with a father in the grip of an addiction he is always trying to hide, leaves deep scars on the psyche. Even when the inevitable end comes, there is no closure
“Go see where your father is, we are getting late for the movie,” my mother said. Frantically, I looked for him everywhere. And found him in the garage, standing with a liquor bottle in his hand. For a 7-year-old, this was not a pleasing sight. Even though I was not mature enough to understand how I should react, I definitely knew that this was not right. Just a few days ago, they had a quarrel over his drinking habit. I had overheard everything — from my father’s denial to my mother making him promise that he would cut down on alcohol.
I wanted to run inside and tell my mother what I had just seen. But I was scared — I did not want to trigger another argument between them. Nonetheless, I went and told her. And as I had expected, they started yelling at each other. This soon became the usual. My mother used to sniff his breath every time he returned home from work. Whenever she had a doubt, the cycle of accusations and denials would begin again.
This became like a routine and almost everything revolved around alcohol. From father leaving us every weekend and going off to his friend’s place to drink and later in the night, he and mother getting into the same argument to his leaving us at a wedding party and going away to drink — yet he tried to conceal the fact that he was drinking. He never used to accept that he drinks, which made it more difficult to understand the intensity of it.
We were in Odisha once for a vacation. My father asked us to wait for him at the hotel and then we would go out for dinner. After several failed attempts to call him, we went outside and saw him coming out of a bar. As a child, I felt so frustrated. I could understand that this is not normal. Since that day, I had a feeling that this will lead to something disastrous. I hated to see my father drink like this. There were times when I would spot liquor bottles in the car or hidden somewhere behind the curtains in the living room, while playing hide-and-seek.
I felt helpless. What goes through the mind of a 6-7-year-old child is hard to explain. I became quiet and started keeping to myself. It made me an introvert — I used to read and get lost in my own world to escape the real one, which looked terrible.
And one day…
“He will be fine soon. Don’t worry,” my aunt said when she got a call informing her that my father was admitted to the hospital and that his condition was critical. I was in class 5 and my brother was just three years old. I can never forget those days. Me and my brother used to stay at my grandmother’s house and Mumma used to stay with Papa at the hospital. His recovery was no less than a miracle, and the doctor said that he would not live long if he started drinking again. Since that day, going to the hospital and getting tests and checkups done took over the routine of drinking and yelling.
13 years later…
“I can’t find his pulse,” my mother screamed in horror. “Get him inside the car, we need to rush him to the hospital,” my uncle said as he turned on the engine of the car. There were no good hospitals in the vicinity and we were around 30 km away from Lucknow for a family get-together after Diwali. My father kept saying, “Jaldi karo (please hurry),” as he gasped for breath. From CPR to mouth-to-mouth breathing, we tried doing everything possible in the car to revive him.
We finally reached a hospital on the highway where he was administered a life-saving drug. Then we called for an ambulance to take him to a better hospital. I never thought those would be my last moments with him, that it would be the last time I would see him. We lost him on the way to the hospital. I saw him struggling to breathe and then I saw him take his last breath. I still shudder when I hear the siren of an ambulance. I start getting flashbacks of our time in that ambulance — how father kept saying that he wanted to live.
It has been two years now but time has healed nothing. Maybe it never does. You just start getting used to the pain. My uncle told my mother a few days back that he had seen Papa drinking at a family function in 2014. So, maybe he never stopped drinking. Maybe this is why he was so resistant to getting medical tests done, despite being a doctor. What hurts me the most is that he might have been with us had he put an end to that addiction. I lost my father to alcohol. Throughout my childhood, I lived with the fear of losing him and if reading this makes even a single father quit alcohol for his daughter, it would accomplish my purpose.
In the last seven years, there has been a 38% increase in alcohol consumption in India. There are innumerable alcohol-related deaths across the world. And as I write this, somewhere a child is seeing his/her father drink excessively, a wife is being physically abused by her drunkard husband, a man is spending the last penny he had on liquor and putting his family under financial strain, someone is battling against liver cirrhosis only because they were too weak to give up on alcohol.
My father did everything for me, fulfilling every demand I ever made. But now that little girl only wants to shout and ask Papa not to drink again. She wants to throw away the liquor bottles and ask her Papa why he can’t get over an addiction that will eventually ruin their family. But she keeps mum as she watches this evil habit cast a shadow over her family’s happiness.