I know I have to write about Jonestown, and I will. But my mind has been occupied lately, the class reunion playing a part. I was thinking back on an episode I call “How mom saved my life.”
It was 1960. I was the youngest of four boys, ten years old. I am the only survivor. At that age I did not have a large enough world to know things were wrong. We were a strong Catholic family, and I attended a Catholic school. That’s important to know. We were sitting at the dinner table, and Mom got up and announced “I am not going to mass again until your Dad quits drinking.”
I looked over at Dad at the end of the table, and for the first time in my life realized he was drunk. What Mom was doing was blackmail, of course, and in the subsequent years I would think of it as melodrama. She was telling Dad that he was responsible for her eternal soul, laying the burden on him.
Lately I have been piecing things together. Of my three older brothers, two suffered very bad cases of what psychiatrists called “manic depression,” but was probably just PTSD. Another brother, who would become a Catholic priest, seemed perfectly normal to everyone, and he was a good man who I much admired. But his adaptation, his means of survival in our family, given what he saw around him, was to be the perfect son. I noticed in his later years that he demanded perfection of himself in everything he did to the point of obsession.
I don’t think my other two brothers between them had ten minutes of happiness before they died. I now realize this is because they had been abused, evidently badly. I too had suffered abuse, but all I remember was what I experienced at the hands of my oldest brother, not Dad. He was paying it down. But it all ended in 1960.
Dad, of course, quit drinking that night and stayed sober for the rest of his life.
I’m kidding! And silly me, it also took me years to figure this out. He was in the sign business, and shortly after that night a small company came up for sale in Livingston, a town 115 miles away. Dad bought it, and spent weekends down there, and then added Monday, and then managed to get himself fired from his real job. He spent his weeks in the other town, and came home on weekends. In essence, he abandoned us.
And that was good. He needed to leave us. He was toxic. He and Mom should have divorced, but the Catholic Church would not allow that, so they stuck it out. In his later days he did quit drinking for real, moved back in the house, and became a sweet man that everyone loved. But I never felt like I knew him, had no respect for him, and to this day do not have a photo of him in my possession.
I am a happy man with a happy life, happy wife. Early years were a struggle, but that’s pretty common among us human beings. As I look back I realize that had Mom not made that stupid grand gesture, that Dad would not have left, and our home-life would have continued as it was, dysfunction junction. So thanks, Mom. You worked with the tools you had to get the result we all needed. You could not save my older brothers, as it was too late. But you saved me.