Autoblography Part 19: Four Dollars

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 28, 2011

Filed under: Personal 87 comments

I cut an entry from this series way back in part 11 or so, during the dark year. This ended up cutting the set-up for some later events,

So, here is a bit of the cut material from the dark year. Keep in mind we’re jumping backward in time to 1981 or so. Dad is still drinking, I’m still on drugs, Mom is single, and nobody is a Christian:

My dad visits from time to time. He lives mostly in Greensboro North Carolina, but once in a while he makes the trip to Pennsylvania. He'll visit us half a dozen times before vanishing again for a couple of years. He likes to visit us around Christmas. He tries to give us gifts, but the clothes he buys us are always too small. I assume this is because he got the gifts for us two years earlier and is only giving them to us now. (Much later, I'll realize he did this because he simply couldn't grasp how ridiculously fast kids grow.)

Just after the new year we get word that Dad is in the hospital, and he's been there for at least a couple of weeks. His legs and his right arm were broken. Only his left arm â€" the one that's paralyzed â€" was spared. His condition is serious enough that he needed to be sent to the more advanced hospital in Pittsburgh. We visit him, and I'm terrified when I see his condition. Much of his body is encased in plaster.

Dad is a man who loves coffee, enjoys smoking, and (as I'll discover later) craves alcohol. Here in the hospital, denied the use of his limbs, he is denied access to all of this. Someday he will find the strength to give up on the booze, and use the other two to soothe himself. Right now, he is without all three. He is a man tormented, and I can tell.

I don't really know him very well, but Mom comments now and again how much I look like him, or talk like him, or laugh like him. I know I'm patterned after him in some way, that there is some relationship between who he is and who I am. Or perhaps, who I will be. I don't understand it, but I know this connection exists. Seeing him broken and ruined is like seeing myself broken and ruined. I feel very small, and helpless, and aware of my mortality.

He explains to Mom how the injury took place: He was leaving our house after his Christmas visit, when he was hit by a truck. He doesn't know who hit him. The driver took off.

It will be years before I learn the other half of this story.

Now back to 1985. I can’t believe these events are only four years apart. They feel like two different lifetimes from this vantage point:


Patrick and I are still visiting Dad on Sunday afternoons. He moves roughly once a year, from one tired old apartment to another. Most of his places are one-room “efficiency” apartments. A single room serves as a bedroom, kitchen, and living room, which is inevitably connected to a tiny, under-lit bathroom.

His apartment is strewn with open books, which are lying face down on almost every horizontal surface. He’s got an overflowing ashtray beside every place one might sit or sleep. He brings the same four or five items of furniture with him each time he moves. It takes him about two months of living someplace to infuse the walls and carpet with the indelible smell of cigarette smoke, coffee, and Old Spice. There’s always a haze of dust and smoke in the room, and no amount of fresh air can dislodge it.

Our visits have a familiar rhythm to them. We arrive, make small talk, and have some food. Sometimes Pat and I cook a vat of Macaroni & Cheese, and other times – if he has a little extra money – Dad takes us out for lunch. After that, we play some chess and he’ll tell us stories. He tells us (selected) bits about his years in North Carolina. He shares anecdotes about how he met Mom. He talks about his time in the Marine Corps.

Once he’s out of stories and we’ve exhausted our repertoire of in-jokes (Coffee matter! Ha!) the conversation dies. At that point we call Mom, and she comes to get us. Dad doesn’t own a car, and hasn’t driven since the stroke.

Here are a few of his stories:


Long before I was born, before he even met Mom, Dad was in the Marines. He got in a fight a couple of days before boot camp, and wound up with a black eye. This was bad because it made him stand out, and standing out in boot camp is dangerous. His drill sergeant nicknamed him “Badass”. Dad was also a bit heavy when he went in, and so he was obliged to do all of the calisthenics while wearing a heavy rain poncho. It’s murderously hot and humid in Parris Island in the summer, and he was running around in that environment while encased in the equivalent of a heavy rubber coat. Years later Dad saw the movie Full Metal Jacket, and the depiction of boot camp was apparently so realistic that he was hyperventilating at suddenly reliving the experience.

In 1980, he attended an anti-inaugural hippie party where they hung newly-elected President Reagan in effigy. They were up on a second-floor balcony where they had erected the gallows, but the number of people overwhelmed the aging structure and it partially collapsed. Reagan was hung, but they had to vacate the balcony instead of gloating over him, or else risk having it fall off the front of the house entirely. That same evening, a woman pulled a knife on Dad when he made one too many drunken passes at her.

His entire worldview changed when he sobered up, and today Dad has a picture of President Reagan on his wall. I wonder if this is just part of the recovery process: Do alcoholic Republicans become liberals when they stop drinking?

The question is rhetorical. I’m not really interested in any form of political debate, especially not for this post.

At one point Dad had a couple of roommates, Alan and Terrance. Alan was a drinker like my Dad: They drank to get drunk. If anything fun happened while that was taking place, so much the better. But the goal was to be, and hopefully remain, drunk. Terrance was a wine snob. One day Dad and Alan were sitting around, frustrated. They were broke, and so no booze. Terrance showed up with a bottle of wine, and decided to impart some culture on these two cretins by introducing them to fine wine. He showed them how to open the bottle properly, how to let it breathe, explained the importance of using glasses with the right shape, and generally irritated Dad and Alan by putting a bunch of ceremony into the process of having alcohol in their bloodstream.

The bottle was two-thirds of the way gone when Terrance decided to go to bed. He was a little disappointed at how much of the wine was consumed. After all, wine is there to be savored and enjoyed, not guzzled. He told Dad not to drink the rest of it, and taught him how to lay the cork on top of the bottle to keep it from going bad. Then in a move of epic, foolhardy optimism, Terrance left a tipsy alcoholic alone with an open bottle.

Dad destroyed the rest of the bottle in a couple of minutes, and then the anger set in. He was out of booze, the wine tasted like grape syrup, and it had barely given him any buzz at all. Terrance was a douche, and Dad knew there would be bitching tomorrow when it was discovered that the wine was gone.

Frustrated and more sober than he would like, Dad decided to go to bed. He pissed in the wine bottle and then placed the cork on it, just as Terrance instructed.

The next day Terrance complained that something had happened, and the wine had gone bad.

I suppose most accomplished alcoholics have a broad selection of “one time I acted like a jackass to somebody” stories. Dad’s charm was such that the listener would side with him no matter how far or how flagrantly wrong he was.

Today Dad has another story for us. This one is more serious. He doesn’t get out the chessboard, and he doesn’t tell it to us over a meal. He sits us down at the table and makes sure he has our attention.

During the Dark Year, well before he sobered up, Dad was visiting us near Christmas. He was flat broke and sober. After Pat and I went to bed, he hung around and talked to Mom for a while. Maybe he was hoping she would offer him a drink. She didn’t. Even if she had booze in the house, she would have known better than to let him near it. He tried to borrow some money, but she didn’t have any to spare. Finally she said goodnight, and left him to see himself out. Dad got up to leave, and thought about the grim prospect of ambling home sober. Then he noticed the stockings that had been hung over the crappy space heater that more or less failed to keep the place warm. There were two of them, one for each of his sons. He reached inside, and found two dollars at the bottom of each. There were no other presents, which meant that the money had been overlooked at Christmas.

He took the money and left, planning to drop by Martin’s Inn, which was just around the corner from us. Four dollars wasn’t going to get him drunk, but it might take the edge off of sobriety. As he crossed the street he was hit by the truck, which resulted in his lengthy hospitalization.

Dad takes four dollars out of his pocket, and gives us each a pair of bills. He asks us if we understand. We do. He isn’t really giving us back our stolen Christmas money. This gesture is symbolic. The two dollars represent all the other things he took from us when he left all those years ago. He’s showing us what sort of man he was when he was drinking, and he’s apologizing for not being there for us.

Years from now, I’ll identify this as step nine of the typical twelve-step program:

9. Make direct amends to all persons we have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Of course, Dad can’t really make amends. He can’t repair the damage he’s inflicted, or give us back the childhood we might have had. He can’t be our father now. He’s a disabled man living on his veteran benefits, so he can’t even give us financial support.

He needs us to forgive him. This is a revelation to me, since I didn’t understand until now that he’d done anything that required my forgiveness. I’ve never connected any of my trials with his actions, or understood how his alcoholism affected me. I just saw him as a guy who was dealt a bad hand and played it poorly.

What would have happened if Dad had died in 1971? The stroke nearly took his life, and it was only blind luck that he happened to live near a hospital capable of attempting the procedure that saved him. Pat and I would have been left with the photographs of youthful Jim Young, the vibrant, well-liked, handsome, former Marine and dedicated scholar, the quick-thinking guy with a sharp wit and a radio voice. Instead he survived, and we came to know the limping, divorced, recovering alcoholic Jim Young, the heavy-breathing guy with the gravel voice and no income. We could have mourned him as a hero, but instead we’re with him as a broken man.

There is no good or bad luck, only the steady unrolling of random fortune, which is a heady mix of heartache and mercy.

I take the two bucks and blow it on candy, which is how I would have spent it when I was ten. Seems fitting.


From The Archives:

87 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 19: Four Dollars

  1. Dan Drewry says:

    Well said and a powerfull read.

    1. Lalaland says:

      I don’t have anything to add, thanks for sharing Shamus

    2. ENC says:

      Although I see the Sheldon smile runs in the family.

  2. Joe says:

    It’s hard to think ‘what if my perception of this person hadn’t changed?’ Especially when you consider that if your father had passed in ’71 he would still have been an alcoholic and never gotten to recover, even if your perception of him wouldn’t have included that knowledge.

    I’m glad that at that time you were able to forgive your father. The twelve steps really help a lot of recovering Alcoholics, and they are hard steps to take. I’ve been sober some three years now myself and I never had the balls to take the 4th step (I also eventually broke with AA entirely, due to the religious component of the program) and it isn’t an easy row to hoe, staying sober. Your (unknowing, at that time) support of your father helped him more than you can know, even now, I am sure.

    1. Zeta Kai says:

      Sorry, but you got the timeline a bit wrong. His father had his stroke in 1971, & THEN became an alcoholic. Prior to that event, he was apparently a fairly stand-up guy, & only became the man that he is remembered as afterward.

  3. TSED says:

    “I take the two bucks and blow it on candy, which is how I would have spent it when I was ten. Seems fitting.”

    There is something haunting about that comment.

    Really, what do you do with that money? You can’t hold on to it as a symbol of forgiveness, because, well, that’s kind of wasting money. You save it up and it becomes a meaningless contribution to some grander purchase. And cheap impulse buys – like, say, candy – feel… inadequate.

    Very haunting indeed.

    1. Cheese Wrap says:

      Take meaning in the gesture, the thought, and not the object. The scrap of paper is just a conduit for carrying the moment – it holds no inherent meaning in and of itself. After that – your mind, thought and memory is what matters.

      1. TSED says:

        Of course!

        But objects act as symbols. Some people do this mental practice more than others, and, well, disregarding that sentimental worth works well in this scenario but makes other acts less meaningful in the long run to the individual.

    2. chabuhi says:

      Isn’t candy a 10-year-old’s alcohol?

      1. Rick says:

        Maybe to most, but computers where Shamus’ addiction.

  4. Lanthanide says:

    “We could have mourned him as a hero, but instead we're with him as a broken man.”

    This is becoming an increasing problem as medical technology advances. People who would have been killed by car or other accidents 20-30 years ago now go on to live miserable disabled lives and (objectively) become a burden on their families and society.

    1. Zaxares says:

      That reminds me of something my uncle once said. It was after my grandmother (not my uncle’s mother) had suffered a severe stroke that left her basically a drooling imbecile and confined her to a bed for the rest of her life. My uncle, who is himself a doctor, came by to examine my grandmother. He took one look at her, shook his head and said, “It would have been better if she’d died from the stroke.”

      At the time I thought that was an incredibly callous thing to say (although he said it when my father wasn’t in the room), and so unlike the intelligent, empathetic and principled man I knew him to be, that it soured our relationship for months afterwards. But as the years dragged on and my grandmother clung on to life as a bedridden invalid, I began to see the toll caring for her took on my uncles and aunts, both financially and emotionally. My grandmother never fully recovered from the stroke. At times, it was doubtful if she recognised who we were, or if she was even truly aware of her surroundings. When she finally died almost 6 years later, there was an almost palpable sense of relief that at last “the burden” was over.

      And I realised that my uncle had been right all along. That sometimes, it’s better to have a clean break, to go out with a bang rather than linger on and slowly wither away.

      A very profound and thought-provoking story though, Shamus. If I’d been in your position… I honestly don’t know if I could have forgiven your father. I’d have wanted to, most likely, but some things, some wounds, just run too far and too deep to ever be mended.

      1. Lanthanide says:

        My sister’s boyfriend is a clinical psychologist and has worked in a chronic pain ward at a hospital for a couple of years now.

        He says that really the idea that medical science should always try to save everyone isn’t necessarily the best moral outcome for anyone involved. Being stuck in a spinal unit for the rest of your life and causing massive stress to your family is often a worse alternative to death.

        1. Will says:

          The attitude that all life should always be saved under all circumstances is rooted in billions of years of evolution and the self-preservation instinct combined with our group nature as a species. It is a sad and painful reality that eventually we are going to have to work past that, because it does not seem at all unlikely that in the not too distant future it will be possible to keep people ‘alive’ well beyond any semblance of sanity or reason. (We can already sometimes do this, keeping people in a vegetative state and that is only going to become more and more common.)

          It’s not a nice thought and it’s going to take a long time, the attitudes towards euthanasia will have to change drastically and of course there’s always the difficulty with conflict around something as final as death. But it is inevitable.

          The problem is, as always, when and how to make the call.

          1. asterismW says:

            I think the bigger problem is WHO will make the call. If a person is cognitive enough to authorize their own death, that’s one thing. (Though not as easy as some people think. Like Will said, the self preservation instinct is incredibly strong.) But what about making the decision for someone else? Who’s going to do that? Who wants that kind of responsibility? How will the other members of the family feel toward that person? How will that person feel about themselves? And of course, there’s always the big question: What if you’re wrong? What if Grandma is perfectly aware, but can’t show it? What if she’s about to make a spectacular recovery next week? It’s much easier on one’s conscience to let death happen naturally. Then there’s no guilt, no questions of “Could we have done more? What if we’d waited?”

            1. CannonGerbil says:

              Wasn’t this basically the plot of Silent Hill 2? You know, minus all the sexually inspired monsters.

            2. Will says:

              Like i said, it’s tricky. I’m sure there is some form of solution (there had better be or there’s some serious issues looming in the future) but i’m not entirely sure what it is.

              I will add though that there are always what-if’s. You can spend the rest of your life thinking about what-if’s and be completely paralysed into inaction as a result. Asking “What if the future isn’t what we think it is?” doesn’t really help.

              I also find it kind of ironic that there exist states in the USA with the death penalty still in full swing, yet still stand diametrically opposed to any form of euthanasia or suicide.

              1. 4th Dimension says:

                There is a difference between suicide and euthanasia. Suicide requires a certan degree of ability to even think about it, and if you are contemplating it, or are able to do it, your problems are probably solvable and if you push yourself you probably can do something usefull. Suicide is ussually a ultimate temper tantrum. Life is not what I desire it to be, so I’m ending it.
                Euthanasia on the other hand is done by other people on someone who ussually is not even concous enough (sane enough) (too much pain, coma etc.) to make a rational decision weither he/she lives or dies.

        2. Meredith says:

          I completely agree. People should be able to die with dignity and not left lingering in a state where there’s no quality of life and possibly a lot of suffering.

          1. Destrustor says:

            Add to this the fact that those who are “lucky” enough to remain aware of their condition surely realise that they have, in fact, become a burden.
            Some can live and even thrive despite that, but I would be terribly anguished and sorry for imposing this on loved ones.

      2. ccesarano says:

        My grandmom’s sister was born mentally handicapped, and the last couple of years her mind had been going. Imagine your typical older person in their 70’s or 80’s beginning to go senile or demented, and now imagine it happening to someone that is still emotionally and mentally a child. My grandmom wasn’t able to take care of her at her home, so they kept trying to find hospitals or homes for her to stay at. Unfortunately, she pretty much fought every person trying to take care of her, and all my grandmother could see was her sister’s pain without the understanding.

        One day I confided with my Dad that, at this point, my Great Aunt was better off dying. I tried to make sure he understood why I was saying that, but I didn’t really need to. I take after my Dad in a lot of ways, and this was one of those practical moments where he understood. He was a lot more attached to her (I barely knew my Great Aunt), but he still agreed. So when my Great Aunt finally died, we were all more upset and worried about my grandmother, who took it really hard (within the span of one or two years she lost both of her sisters).

        However, everyone knew that it was better for my Great Aunt that she passed away. Sometimes, it really is just better in that way, and your story (Zaxares) sounds like a similar situation.

      3. PhoenixUltima says:

        I’m guessing that a person’s opinion on this issue is tied to how well they’ve dealt with the idea of their own inevitable death. After all, “what would it be like for this person to die” and “what would it be like for me to die” are intensely similar questions, and it’s not really possible to ponder the first without imagining the second on some level.

        To head off any arguing at the pass: this isn’t a question of “how much faith does this person have”, but rather “has this person actively confronted their own death and determined how best to cope”. A Christian who has personally thought about the idea of death and their personal relationship with Christ will deal with the problem better than one who just accepted Him because it’s what his parents wanted him to do and never really gave any thought on the matter. An atheist who has examined what it means to die without any kind of afterlife whatsoever awaiting them (or indeed any certainty that there is or isn’t an afterlife to begin with) will handle the issue better than an atheist who simply decided they don’t believe in God and never thought the issue any further.

    2. MichaelG says:

      As a disabled person, I resent that! :-)

      It really depends on the level of disability, particularly mental disability. A stroke or other mental illness that keeps you from doing anything with your life is worse than almost any physical disability.

      I’ve been in a wheelchair since I was 7, and still managed an education and a job and social life. It wasn’t much fun at times, but not a “miserable disabled life.”

      A lot of older people just give up on themselves. I remember when my father was dying of cancer, he made comments about quality of life and how he “wouldn’t want to live like this”. I had to point out to him that I had lived with worse most of my life. He and Mom just said “well, that’s different.”

      The difference is that they just refused to think of themselves as disabled by age and illness, and cope with that change. Instead, it was just “this isn’t a life worth living” and they give up and wait to die.

      There are a lot of things to do in life and they don’t all require perfect health. I understand how hard it can be to cope sometimes, but I don’t have much respect for the people who give up. This is the only life you’ve got, after all.

      1. Will says:

        There are a staggeringly vast number of variables involved, demanding a black and white resolution to a problem that is intricately shades of gray is foolhardy to say the least.

      2. Dys says:

        My first reaction to Lathanide’s comment was similar to this, but the rest of the thread shows a more nuanced opinion.

        Saving people’s lives is not a bad goal, but it most certainly needs to be tempered with the understanding that sometimes life really isn’t worth living.

        I tend to seesaw back and forth on this issue. An individual life is an unbelievably precious thing, but there must surely come a point where an existence of pure suffering should be prevented.

        Ultimately I will always come down on the side of choice. If you’re capable of making an intelligent decision in favour of your own death, I fail to see how anyone can justifiably stop you, regardless of their own opinions on the matter. Making that choice on behalf of someone incapable of making it themselves is a question without any good answer that I can see.

        1. Lanthanide says:

          The problem is really when you’re carted into the emergency room after suffering a massive car crash, the doctors don’t know what your ultimate recovery is going to be like.

          If they knew up front that you were going to be disabled in certain specific ways and the quality of life you could expect, they might be able to go to the family and say “this is it” and have them make the choice. The problem is that cases of incredible recovery aren’t that uncommon – like where people are told they’ll never walk again and in 3-4 years time they’re getting around with scarcely a limp.

          A particular problem in the US also is your insane legal liability system that forces doctors to do everything possible to save someone’s life, even if actually it’s not really worth it.

          1. Will says:

            Actually such cases are extremely uncommon, but you only hear about the cases of extraordinary recovery, you don’t here about the times when the doctors say “In all liklihood he’ll never walk again.” and he doesn’t because that’s not news. So you get a disproportionate idea as to how many times extraordinary recoveries occur.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          I was trying to fumble through this idea, but your opinion in that last paragraph is exactly how I see it.

          I think that if they are permanently hospitalized and WILL never be able to make that choice, then it’s not worth it. Now if it’s a coma and they COULD technically wake up, that’s a different story.

          1. Will says:

            It will be a very long time before we can say with definitive certainty that things will or will not happen. If at all.

      3. Mom says:

        A comment that I will take to heart. Thank you for that insight.

        1. MichaelG says:

          When my great aunt Nell was 93, my mother was taking care of her (she could hardly see.) Mom was getting on by then too, and said something to Nell about “not as young as we used to be”, commiserating with her.

          Aunt Nell said “Dear, when I was 60, I thought I was an OLD woman. And now look at me.”

          Mom thought that was just a funny thing for her to say, but I realized Nell had spent literally 30 years waiting to die of old age. She pottered around the house, visited her friends and did little things like that. She never pushed herself to get out of her rut. Because she was old.

          In fact, she had time and health to see the world, or go back to school and have an entire new career. She didn’t do any of that because she thought it was too late.

          They say “you never know how much time you have.” And people mean “you might die tomorrow.” But you might live a long time too. So really, don’t give up. Don’t tell yourself you are disabled or old or just too tired. You could end up staring at the walls for 30 years.

          1. Maureen says:

            I agree. And one gets tired of hearing “I can’t picture living with this, so nobody else possibly live with it either – die, burden, because you makes me cry!” Especially in connection with problems which often are fixable.

            I’m sad about the problems that aren’t fixable, and it stinks beyond belief for those people and their families. But there’s a lot about life that stinks and isn’t fixable, and that doesn’t make it all right for every depressed or unhappy person to off themselves, or to be offed by those who find them inconvenient.

            Euthanasia, every time, turns into “you get killed for my benefit, and then I pat myself on the back for my softheartedness.” Whereas disability and misfortune is often conquered by ingenuity or just mental attitude.

    3. If medical science advances very much further, though, it should reverse again. Personally derived stem cells grown into nerve tissue for the win! I can see regrowth of spines and chunks of limb on the horizon.

      Fixing the results of strokes is another matter, mind you.

  5. Jarenth says:

    Wait, hold on. “As he crossed the street he was hit by the truck, which resulted in his lengthy hospitalization.” I don’t remember reading about this, to be honest, and a quick search through the rest of the Autoblography doesn’t reveal any truck-related stories — all I know about your dad’s hospitalisation is his stroke. Was this in reference to something?

    Beyond that, I’ll once again go with ‘thanks for writing this’. I can’t image it being easy putting a story like this on a public place like the Internet, but I’m very grateful you did.

    1. Shamus says:

      Gah. Yeah. My bad. I cut an entry back around part 11 and mention of this was dropped.

      (This is a long and complicated series, behind the scenes, with pictures and shifting chronology as I try to keep it all in proper order.)

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Achronological storytelling isn’t necessarely a bad thing.

        Although I guess it’d be nice to have links to find easily the plot points you elaborate on in earlier/later entries. But that’s just nitpicking. Each of your chapters are a good read by themselves, and should be taken as an independant story in your whole chroniques.

        Kinda like Unfinished Tales.

    2. Shamus says:

      I’ve edited today’s entry to restore the missing passage. Not a perfect solution, but it’s better than leaving it out.

      1. SteveDJ says:

        And yet, I felt it read much better this way. No need to go looking into the previous posts to refresh memory of a truck incident — it is all presented here. IMHO, well done!

      2. Jarenth says:

        This works perfectly fine. Thank you.

  6. SolkaTruesilver says:

    As a fellow Wine Appreciator, I feel bad for that Terrance fella.

    The man was a Wine Geek and tried to share his passion with people who couldn’t be bothered to try to understand why he was so enthousiast about properly drinking the stuff, and ended up with drinking piss for his trouble.

    Imagine trying to show Firefly to someone who’s only interested in seeing Irana’s tits, and grumble whenever she isn’t half naked. You leave a bit disgusted and when you come back the next day, he replaced some parts of your videos by porn.

    1. Methermeneus says:

      As a fellow Wine Appreciator and son, nephew, and great nephew to alcoholics, Terrance was being kinda stupid, trying to get alcoholics to appreciate fine wine. Not stupid enough to deserve drinking piss, but he shouldn’t have expected it to go well on any level.

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Point. He should have known better.

        But he was still not the man in the wrong..

    2. Another_Scott says:


    3. Aldowyn says:

      I think a more applicable example is asking someone who just plays CoD to play… so many games I could put here… Shadow of the Colossus, the original Mass Effect, Heavy Rain … and expecting them to appreciate the artistic merit of them. They’d probably just say “not enough stuff blowing up! Or “too much talking, not enough shooting!”

      1. krellen says:

        And so Mass Effect 2 was born.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Why do you think I specified the ORIGINAL Mass Effect?

          1. MadTinkerer says:

            Oh yeah, and did I mention my friend likes the direction the Mass Effect series is going? *double facepalm*

        2. MadTinkerer says:

          I have a friend who is like this. He likes his Call of Duty, Gears of War, World of Warcraft and so on.

          He doesn’t like Portal, Minecraft, or Team Fortress 2. At all. I keep trying to point out to him that he never finished Portal (just the demo) and therefore he can’t dislike it as much as he claims, and that his views on Portal 2 are completely off because he doesn’t even know who Wheatley is, but he won’t listen to me.


  7. George says:

    I just want to add to the myriad of comments saying that I’m really enjoying this series. You write with a real sense of sincerity, but with just enough detachment from the events you describe that we can appreciate them.

    I’m feeling nostalgic now. Maybe I’ll go play Alter Ego again….

  8. asterismW says:

    Just wanted to leave my two cents (again; I think I must be up to a dollar now) and say how much I’m loving this series. These memoirs are some of the best things you’ve ever written. I’m simultaneously touched, saddened, and inspired while I silently laugh or cry as I read them.

  9. Blanko2 says:

    you’re a pretty damn good writer.
    hope you get your book to a point that i can buy it

  10. ccesarano says:

    I’m finally starting to see where young Shamus in the photos you post becomes Dork Shamus on your bio and Experienced Points pages.

    I actually find the reflection of remembering your father as a hero versus knowing him as an alcoholic and such really interesting. Personally, from a “can’t really respond on a purely emotional basis” level of practicality, I’d say what you had is better. You actually remember the man for who he was, especially considering what you just wrote here. You never blamed him for how things turned out. You never viewed it as his fault. This feels like you kept your feelings objective, and knew the man as he was the best you could.

    You actually know who your father was, what he became, and what he wanted to be after he gave you those two dollars.

    If you remembered him as a Hero, then would you really be remembering your father at all? Would we rather be remembered as something we weren’t, even if it is better than who we were?

    1. Armagrodden says:

      Another important consideration is that Shamus was wrong when he said he and Pat would be left hearing stories about James Young the hero. Shamus would have been left with those things, and Pat would never have been born. Also, remembering the people who told Shamus that his father saved their lives through AA, it sounds like he was a hero for someone again, even if he wasn’t there for Shamus while he was growing up.

      But on the balance I agree with you; I’m glad that Shamus got to have a relationship with his father, even if it was a complicated and tragic one, rather than being left with stories of his father the hero.

      1. Shamus says:


        Of course. All the time I’ve spent pondering this, and I never considered that Pat wouldn’t have been born. Wow. How could I overlook a OBVIOUS DETAIL like that? Amazing.

        It makes the whole “what if Dad had died” thing a lot harder to consider. I can’t imagine growing up without Pat.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Ha. Exactly. It’s something so unfathomable you never even thought of it.

          Personally, it sounds to me like he IS a bit of a hero – he may not have been perfect, and he may have been troubled for a long time, but he TRIED, and you eventually understood and respected him for what he was, not some imaginary idol.

  11. Eruanno says:

    Dear Shamus,

    I wish this Autoblography was published in book-form so I could buy ten copies and hand out to my friends. It’s super-interesting and really, really cool.

    That is all.

    EDIT: Wait, you can’t do comments in books. Hmm, maybe this is cooler, because people can ask you questions directly and share their own stories.
    Interactive E-Book! Yeah!

  12. Ruthie says:

    I’m going to ignore the incredible writing, and the awe that I have for you persevering in life’s circumstances, and how proud I am to be your littler sister, and say:…. whoa! those curtains!!!!!!!!

    1. Shamus says:

      You don’t remember those? That picture was taken in the kitchen. That’s the door to the deck behind us. Sometimes when I picture that door I STILL see those curtains. I guess we had them a long time.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        I think my mother gave me those exact curtains just two years ago.

        1. TSED says:

          Why doesn’t your mother love you? ):

          1. Cuthalion says:

            Because his father made her give him a name like “Zukhramm”.

            (Presuming that’s just a handle. Google indicates it’s not a real name, so I think I’m safe joking about it. :P)

      2. Reet says:

        I think curtains like that are just one of those things that you overlook. Growing up in my house we had the ugliest curtains (actually look a bit like those) but I never really thought about it because they were always there. Come to think of it the entire house was really ugly. I still liked it though. I never formed many opinions on interior decor.
        On a different note, I just want to say that I’m finding this autobiography quite interesting. I normally don’t read this kind of stuff, I guess I read it on a whim and got hooked. Reading about someone elses life is a good way to get perspective on your own. I feel that reading this has turned out to be worthwhile and enjoyable for me and I get the impression it has been for you as well. Hope to see more.

  13. Meredith says:

    This is a very touching story. All I can say is thanks for sharing it.

  14. Jon Ericson says:

    The true sign of character isn’t in not making mistakes, but in how we recover from them. Your words give me a deep appreciation for your dad. If I could have known him in life, I’m certain I would have been unable to see past the drinking.

    But I know men like him. Some of them may be overwhelmed by the sorrows and strife of this world. They may be hiding behind alcohol (or some other vice) to ease their suffering. Those of us who don’t know their pain ought not be quick to judge.

    Thank you for honoring your father.

  15. SoldierHawk says:

    Um. I don’t think reading a blog has ever made me tear up before. This did it, for a lot of reasons.

  16. Dys says:

    My own father died earlier this year, from complications related to his drinking. He lived a damn hard life, but held himself together long enough to give my sister and I a good childhood. I believe my mother was the only reason he avoided killing himself, one way or another, before I was even born.

    Those two guys, the young marine and the recovering alcoholic, they weren’t two people. They were both your father, and the strength of character present throughout his life belongs to both men equally.

    I know from watching my own dad how damned hard it is to get sober. He avoided drinking for a year before he died, but the damage he’d already done to himself was too much.
    The sense I get of your father from these posts is one of a strong, proud man who had some really shitty luck, but still managed to get through everything life threw at him. Maybe not without scars, but still standing.

    I can’t help wishing I’d said the same to my own father.

    1. Steve C says:

      I completely believe they were different people. I’ve seen it happen.
      My grandfather had a stroke. His personality changed significantly. He recovered physically from the stroke and I don’t believe he suffered from a mental disorder either. But he was a different man after it happened.

      Any stroke will alter a brain. A guy with a knife physically altered Shamus’ dad’s brain. One man collapsed from a stroke, another man went home from the hospital. Both his father, but different people.

      1. Maureen says:

        So someone is a different person asleep than awake, or with a broken arm than not? Circumstances alter the expression of personhood (and neurological circumstances more dramatically) but not personhood itself.

        1. Steve C says:

          Broken arm, no. It’s not disability, it’s brain damage. You can have one and not the other.

          Asleep kinda… depends on circumstances. Someone who is sleepwalking isn’t the same person as someone who’s awake. (For example, Kenneth Parks.) It’s also why there’s a distinction between someone in a coma and someone in a vegetative state.

          There’s a book about it:
          Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio
          Here’s a quick writeup about the subject.

          If you ever have the misfortune to witness the changes in someone due to a brain injury then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

  17. Methermeneus says:

    It’s interesting hearing about how you were somewhat shielded from your father’s alcoholism by distance, only truly discovering why he had been separated from you and seemed so different from other people you knew later in life. My own father was an alcoholic (among other addictions), and even though I lived with him right up until I turned eighteen, I still never really had any bad thoughts of him. When you’re a child and a close relative is an alcoholic, so long as they aren’t abusive I think you just kind of get a sense that they’re there, and, while in retrospect you can track their level of addiction by their level of involvement in life, at the time it doesn’t seem like a big deal unless someone makes you stop and really think about it. Most of my friends don’t even know my father was an alcoholic simply because I can’t imagine how life would have been different if he hadn’t been, so it never really comes up.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      If you don’t KNOW that someone’s an alcoholic, even at a young age, or at least has some problems probably related to that stuff he drinks, it’s probably not a huge issue. Not for the kid, anyway.

      Of course, you only saw him once a week for an afternoon, so you probably missed the bad parts. Combined with the fact that he doesn’t sound like an angry drunk, and all in all it wasn’t too bad for you.

  18. Alex says:

    “What would have happened if Dad had died in 1971? The stroke nearly took his life, and it was only blind luck that he happened to live near a hospital capable of attempting the procedure that saved him. Pat and I would have been left with the photographs of youthful Jim Young, the vibrant, well-liked, handsome, former Marine and dedicated scholar, the quick-thinking guy with a sharp wit and a radio voice. Instead he survived, and we came to know the limping, divorced, recovering alcoholic Jim Young, the heavy-breathing guy with the gravel voice and no income. We could have mourned him as a hero, but instead we're with him as a broken man. ”

    That’s poetry. This paragraph I think says all that needs to be said. It talks about the classic dilemma that we see in many things: how the shining star has faded. How do we deal with the loss of that dream? For you, the dream was never there, and its absence only became apparent to you later in life.
    I wish I could remember things about my life with such veracity. The blank, forgotten spots in my memory eat up so much space that I can barely discern the outline of those events that have shaped who I am.

    I really enjoy these entries. You are very good at writing and your life has more substance than I think you had pictured when you started. Please keep going.

  19. Dwip says:

    This is pretty powerful stuff. I feel pretty blessed that I can’t very well relate to it. My family has had its own share of alcoholics (and worse, drug addicts), but I was sheltered from most of it.

    On the other hand, your dad got some help and seems to have had an ok relationship with you. That’s rarer than you might hope for. I’ve disowned a pretty large chunk of my family, and that’s not much fun.

  20. Alexander says:

    This one hit me harder than any other story. I’ve been reading the whole thing since the start, except where I couldn’t bring myself to. The sections where nothing but misery happened, these are important, but grim and tough to read. The improvement times, they’re good, if often ordinary. This? This was a tale of simple redemption that felt straight of a movie. Symbolic, no “happily ever after” but a sign that things could be better now. And I’m glad you spend the money. I was expecting you to frame it: this was better.

  21. Aldowyn says:

    Impressive. Easily the most inspirational of any of these autoblographies, and one of the most well written. Someone said above that this was the first one that made him tear up – the same goes for me.

    I can relate to some of this. My family’s had (is still having, in fact) a lot of troubles. My father has a lot of anger management issues, and they’re made worse by the incredible stress he’s been under in the past year or two. Occasionally I’m amazed at how well he handles some of it.

    Actually, I do too (have anger management problems) upon occasion. Not impressed with some of the things I’ve done in certain situations…

  22. silver Harloe says:

    I realize you don’t want a response to the rhetorical political question, but I have to address it. I’m not going to delve into the politics of it, though.

    When you asked, rhetorically, “Do alcoholic Republicans become liberals when they stop drinking?” It seems you got the question backwards (NOT commenting on the politics): in the story, he was an alcoholic liberal who became a Republican, not an alcoholic Republican who became a liberal. At least that’s what I got from “… he sobered up, and today Dad has a picture of President Reagan …”

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Not to mention he was at a hippie thing before, and hippies are definitely NOT republicans.

    2. silver Harloe says:

      I realized I might just be stupid.

      I read it as: “my dad was an alcoholic hippie who sobered into a Republican. Does this happen to all of them?”

      but it might have been: “my dad was an alcoholic hippie who sobered into a Republican. Does the converse also hold?”

      1. Rosseloh says:

        “Does the converse also hold?”

        That’s how I read it.

    3. Shamus says:

      Hm. Maybe I could have phrased that better. The question was, “Is the reverse also true?” Like, everybody changes alliances when they change lifestyle. Obviously not everyone, but I wonder how common it is, and if it goes more one way than the other.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        In any case, I’m pretty sure it’s mildly oxymoronic to say sobered into a hippie. Assuming stereotypical hippie, as opposed to actual realistic tree-hugging peace-loving hippie.

  23. Cuthalion says:

    As others have said, this is really touching.

  24. Dave says:

    “There is no good or bad luck, only the steady unrolling of random fortune, which is a heady mix of heartache and mercy.”

    Brilliantly put, daring and real.

    1. Gordon says:

      I came down here to say basically the same thing. That line is particularly well put.

  25. We think your dad should have told you instead of leaving.

  26. Patrick the Other one says:

    I’ve read this whole thread, or book I guess, several times. Every time it feels familiar enough to be accurate….. but foreign enough to remind me that while we both lived through the same circumstances, we experienced them very, very differently.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.