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Dad Was an Alcoholic. The Untold Story.

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mantleWith a boisterous rolling chuckle you could hear from another room, he was loud and red-faced. Distinguished by a Tom Selleck mustache that hurt when it pressed in on you.  He had a peacock tattoo between his thumb and index over his left hand and a hard firm grip. His lean 165 pound frame didn’t impose.

A successful businessman despite his lack of formal education, he drew people in for friendly conversation with inviting eyes and a Duchenne smile that belied his pain.

dadChristmasDad was an alcoholic.

A steely hard man forged from a dysfunctional childhood, raised as the blacksheep among two other siblings in a bible-belt family where redemption was a weapon wielded by an abusive father, an ex-merchant marine.

He was often the recipient of a down-right-whoopin until one day around 12 years old, he threatened to beat back – and meant it.  With grit teeth and fire in his eyes, he carved out respect with the only thing he knew to use, power and fear.

A runaway by 13, a drug dealer by 16, and an inmate before he was 21, he knew how to run, how to fight, how to keep his own, cuss, cut and shoot.

He was street tough and made-mean.  A brave willingness and sharp mind earned him shelter amongst other hard men operating in the same power and fear lifestyle. A child among men loved and protected by an extended street-life family of criminals, vagrants, and thugs.

Shot, stabbed, drugged, and chased, he made many wrong turns in his first 25 years.

dad2Dad was an alcoholic.

In a time when most men are just starting life, looking to start a real job and build a family, he was spiraling out of control after nearly a decade of a troubled street life.

Ready to bottom out, nowhere else to go, he sought help by turning to family.  In their care, seeking recovery, he entered a neurological hospital against his will where he received electroshock therapy for weeks and weeks and weeks. Until finally, he couldn’t recall a single memory of himself.  And for months, thereafter, he struggled to regain his identity.

Dad was an alcoholic.

He struggled to get his life together until crossing paths with my mom. They ran to the big city and then again to another big city until circling back to their hometown.  With a steady job, a little house, and a hope and a dream, they got married.  Mom got a fair share of his hard life and recognized his demons, she had her own.  He couldn’t calm his rebellion or turn his vices.  Something had to change. I was born in ’77, they were divorced by ’82.  At five years old, through tear-filled eyes, I watched him leave.

Dad was an alcoholic.

dadIn a short while, he got right. Maybe he found Jesus, or buried some hatchet, or just through determination and will he fought for what he wanted – a good life.  They remarried in ’83 and he took on the family business under his father, the ex-merchant marine.  He worked hard and grew the business to four offices; one in Texas, one in Louisiana and two in California.  He became the sole owner of the company. Like a phoenix, he had risen from ashes.

A world traveler, his name renowned in his industry as one of the world’s finest in his field.  Negotiating million dollar contracts with big oil, he made things happen, and made a lot of people wealthy.  That smile, confidence, and boldness served him well.

He took calls all hours of the day and night, smoked like a chimney, and drank – a lot.  He worked all the time, across all time zones from here to Japan.  He did it for us, he did it to us, he did it without us.  He did all he could.

Dad was an alcoholic.

dadfishHe brought us on vacations where he stared off in the distance or left us staring in disgust as he drank away the reality around him. He was a mean drunk, he hurt us, easily. He knew it. But it didn’t stop him from keeping a stocked fridge of beer and empties that filled the garbage can daily.

I grew mean spirited against him and one day, while giving me a serious-whoopin, I took it and when he was done, told him that was the last time – and meant it. And he knew it. I carved out my respect with boldness, power and fear. It was a tactic he understood.

And we drifted further apart. He missed many of my days in school, in sports, and in life.  And when he was there, I often wished he wasn’t.

Dad was an alcoholic.

DadMomMeHe watched me grow into a man, a good man. During the ages he had run away and gone to jail and recovery, I had instead gone to college, married, and bought my own home. He promised my mom a better life for her and for me.  And, in an odd twist, he gave it. It wasn’t easy for any of us, but I was not following his rebellious footsteps.

He lost his business about the time I started my first one in the late 90’s. He had a kind heart when he was sober and he loved me. I always knew he loved me and that he always wanted the best for me. He did all he could to help me and my business, at one point being my assistant.

He tried, but could never stop drinking.  His past was too hard to let go of. With me gone, out of the house, married and starting my own life, mom divorced him in early 2000. She was done, tapped out, and couldn’t take it anymore.

Dad was an alcoholic.

He was left alone and any time we dropped in unexpected, he was intoxicated. It was sad to know he was at home, alone, drinking away the day. He had Hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver. He was in pain and self-medicating with alcohol.

dadwithMasonHe came to the hospital when Mason, my first child was born in 2005.  He was friendly and loving and very happy.  A proud grandparent.  He wanted to connect, but we wouldn’t let him.  My walls were still up, but I knew I needed to give way. I wanted Mason to have a relationship with his granddad that I never had with mine.

On Masons first birthday, he came and gave gifts and took pictures.  He looked bad, was walking with a limp, had lost weight and he didn’t look healthy.  He was still drinking, he said, but not like he used too.  I believed him. He gave me a letter addressed to Mason for me to read to him.  He hugged me hard, I let go easily.

gravesiteSixty-four days later, he was found dead in his bed on January 3, 2007.

Dad was an alcoholic.

His letter to my son six years ago still remains unopened. His estate, gone, with only a box of his things I couldn’t part with still in my possession. After the divorce he tried hard to reconcile with his parents, to forgive and be forgiven. His heart was big and all he wanted was to be loved and to love those around him.

He had overcome great adversity in his life, and had set my life off on a positive direction despite the circumstances.  While he was an alcoholic, he was also an inspiration to how far good a bad life could become. He overcame his past to become a successes and he did it through sheer will and determination. He loved me, and I loved him.

dadBuildMuch of this story, I pieced together over years of questions, not knowing the real truth of his young life until I, I myself, was an adult. The thing is, now that he’s gone, I don’t think of the bad times.

I think of what he smelled like fresh from the shower, the smell of Marlboro reds and coffee, the way he cleared his throat (it’s the same way I clear my throat) and how my hands now, look like his hands then.  I think about the fishing trips, the two-day drive to California in the summer of ’91 only stopping for gas.

dadweddingI think about the building projects we did, the days on vacation when those few good times would happen on each trip. I remember the way he looked at me and my wife on our wedding day and the way he looked when my son was born.  I remember the drawing of my hand inside his hand from when I was just a kid.  I remember the sound of his voice, his laugh, and his goofy phrases. I remember how he always called me junior and Leroy Brown.  He was always calling me Leroy.

Last year, about this time, I was thinking about him calling me Leroy… why’d he do that all those years?

Have a listen for yourself.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce on Grooveshark

Leroy’s the baddest man in the whole damn town, Badder than old King Kong, Meaner than a junkyard dog.

Leroy is my dad. If you listen verse by verse, it may as well be the highlight reel for my dad’s life before I was born. He was one bad son-of-a-gun and he’d been telling me his story all my life, and I just never understood it.

Today, he’s remembered with love.

Dad was more than an alcoholic; he was my father and my friend.

Today, Glen Ray McCullough is my inspiration for a better life. A whole life.

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Justin McCullough About Justin McCullough

Justin is a business builder, speaker and author. Over the last 15 years, he has delivered more than 500 critical projects ranging from launching businesses, websites, ecommerce sites, custom apps, newspapers, magazines, books, advertising campaigns, and strategic marketing initiatives. Co-workers, vendors, and clients work with Justin because he listens, clarifies the ambiguous, sets goals, inspires action, and delivers results. Justin is married, the father of two young boys, and Christian. He likes smart people like you!

  • Phil Gerbyshak

    Seriously inspiring story my brother. Your dad’s failure is your success brother. You worked through it all to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better friend, than your dad. And you do it every day.

    I’m proud of you, inspired by you, for sharing this. It probably poured out of you, like a tidal wave of emotion, and now it’s out there, showing us all how success can come to us all, if we don’t let our past dictate our future.

    Love ya Justin! I’m glad for your dad. Here’s to Glen, but mostly, here’s to you, and your mom.

    Thanks for being you – vulnerable, real, and bold.

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Phil, means a lot to hear your encouragement. I appreciate your friendship and support.

  • Christi Lloyd Harris

    I type this through tears… What a wonderful, wonderful, story that is not a “story” at all. As a recoverying addict/alcoholic, I thank you for this… I hope it is okay that I share this with my recovery groups facebook page: Call 2 Recovery.
    Christi Lloyd Harris

    • Justin McCullough

      Yes Christi, Please share. It’s important that a message like this meets the people who need it most. My dad is honored by it. God bless!

  • Lucinda Unger

    Justin, this is a very touching and heart-wrenching tribute. I know what it took for you to write it. When I was about 18 my grandfather died. He was an alcoholic and fell asleep with a lit cigarette. He was burned over 40% of his body. He lived about 3 weeks and died of pneumonia. I remember when Dad took the call from the hospital staff. I still get a lump in my throat. No matter what my grandfather had put my Dad through – He was still loved. We can’t pick our family – but through it all they are still our family. I applaud your courage and admire you even more.

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Cindy. I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather – tragic. Love takes all shapes and sizes and we see it best in the family, warts and all. I appreciate the encouragement.

  • Oleatha Morphew Holley

    U know that was a very moving story if everyone could do what u did good r bad about there life there would probably not be so many mad people walking around. Your story made me think about what I need to do with my dad my be it is not to late Thank U….. Oleatha

    • Justin McCullough

      It’s never too late to reconnect. I hope you do.
      Thank you for reading and acting on it!

  • Aaron Davis

    Amazing story, inspiring.

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Aaron.

  • Demian Farnworth

    Great job, Justin. I’m sure that wasn’t easy.

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Demian. It was a hard life for all of us, but I’m stronger because of it.

  • Daniel Rose

    All I can say is “Wow!” You have honored your dad while at the same time being completely honest about the devistation that addiction brings to an individual and family. The real beauty of your dads life story is not found in the abuse he suffered or in the addictions and brokenness he battled but in the legacy he leaves through you and your family. Thank you for sharing the story it caused me to think of my dad- with thankfulness. That has not always been the case. God bless you my friend.

    In His Service

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Daniel. I appreciate what you do for me and my family. This story was hard to write with. I agree, his legacy continues. I’m glad this story connected with you and made you think of your dad.

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  • Sherry

    Touching and inspirational read. Thank you for sharing it. And now could we all take a moment of silence for the alcoholics and addicts that will die today never knowing that recovery is possible. There is a solution ans thank God for those who share it~Love & Light

    R.I.P. Leroy

  • Tracey

    Very moving story Justin. I, too, struggled with alcoholic parents. The best part is that you have taken the past and remembered the good times and have decided not to live there, but in the present. The past can wreak havoc with us if we let it. God bless you and your family and thank you so much for your story.

    • Justin McCullough

      Thank you Tracey.
      It’s our choice to forgive. It’s hard, but the good life only comes by being able to forgive. I’m glad I did. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  • Vikash Lata

    The transformation in your father is quite inspiring and inspiring is the way you do things with words! it’s a pleasure reading you!