I took my first breath on January 18, 1964. On that exact same day, my alcoholic grandfather died from cirrhosis of the liver.
My dad was a functional alcoholic. He was a partner in the largest law firm in Idaho and recognized as one of the sharpest in the entire Northwest. He paraded around the high-end social and political circles in town. I remember meeting many United States Senators and candidates at political fundraisers held in our living room. It wasn’t until my high school years that the first cracks began to show in his veneer. These cracks ultimately became gaping crevices. His law firm fell into turmoil and he left with a handful of other men to start a new practice. I thought it was a courageous move on his part, but it turned out that he was forced to leave due to his dependence on vodka.
Like all good kids in my neighborhood, my friends and I collectively discovered Heineken, Maui Wowie, and Marlboro Reds during middle school. As a young overachiever, I excelled in all three categories. In high school, I always had a job, always had good grades, and was always the first in line to refill my beer at parties. It seems that the alcohol and functional genes were transferred to me at birth. By my senior year, I was drinking on a regular basis and knocking down 20 Marlboros a day. After high school, I went to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.
Just like the previous 12 years of schooling, college was a breeze. With a decent amount of dedication, I flew through with a high GPA. My summer jobs included an internship with an Idaho senator in Washington D.C. and a stint as a ranch hand at my fraternity brother’s ranch in Maui, Hawaii. I graduated with a business degree in the standard four years. During college, my dad’s second wife initiated a divorce. A trend of relationship issues had developed, but it obviously had nothing to do with whiskey.
I remember picking my dad up at Sea-Tac airport the day before my college graduation. He was very anxious to get to the hotel and encouraged me to break multiple traffic laws to accommodate his goal. The brief drive ended at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Tacoma. We bypassed the check-in desk, left the bags in the car, and sprinted to the bar. He ordered two double shots of Wild Turkey. Before the toast, he gave me a nice card and stock certificate for 100 shares of Ohio Edison. He strongly suggested that I reinvest the dividends. With that, we clanked our overflowing shot glasses and imbibed. With a supersized smile, he informed me that I was officially “off the payroll.”
In late May of 2001, my brother called me with news that turned my world upside down. My father had been admitted to a local hospital. His liver was completely shot, and it was just a short period of time before the rest of his organs would cease to function. I remember one visit to the hospital in particular. My father looked very small in his bed. Seeing my hero slowly shrivel was tough, but the yellow tint of his skin made the entire experience a surreal one. He died a few days later on June 10, 2001.
At that moment, I decided that I would not depart the planet in a similar fashion and gave up all drinking and smoking. On one of the darkest days of my life I received the amazing gift of sobriety.
The 18th anniversary happened last week.