For the rest of my time, I will remember the exact stretch of woodland I was in as the origin of this post was forming. Across the stream, a break in the trees opens onto a miry marshland where a Golden Retriever, tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth, is doing his upmost to find the muddiest patches.
At that moment, I was mentally writing a post in my head about alcoholism. After weeks of hearing no words to write, finally the thoughts were coming in relation to my own Dry January, which lasted just a fortnight. Mostly the thoughts would have been an unintended sequel to this post from 2016. I wanted to confront myself about my relationship with drink during lockdown and how an interest and hobby can cross over to something much more dangerous without realisation.
Little did I know, as I mentally formed the words in my head between the occasional calls to my dog, that my phone was ringing in my pocket to allay me with news that would be much more significant.
Whilst I am not inordinately spiritual, I believe in more than coincidence. I believe there was a reason those thoughts came to me at that time. I believe there was a reason that I chose to put my Beatles playlist on in the office that very afternoon, for the first time in over a year, without the knowledge that my Dad lay dead on his living room floor at that exact moment.
In the years that have followed since that initial post in 2016, that acted as positive cognitive therapy for myself, I’ve allowed a more empathetic view of his struggles with addiction. At that time the hate, disgust and mourning for the lifestyles lost were too raw to empathise with the power of addiction.
For it is true that many of us are just a few ladder rungs above those on which my Dad fell down. In January last year I wrote with controlled confidence about my love for the “Three pint buzz.” But with an eternal stream of lockdowns and pub closures throughout 2020, that love had morphed into craving the “Three DIPA buzz” in less than 12 months. The transformation was occurring. A few strong beers barely had an effect on me over Christmas yet I found myself wanting more. I had caught myself and so I stood on that woodland mentally writing about how a meagre two week dry spell at the start of January had been life changing and incredibly important to my own drinking habits. Perhaps there is something in it to explore further; to talk more about how social attitudes to alcohol become transformative and impactful.
But I just can’t manage to find those words right now.
In the blinding light of hindsight it is naive of me to believe that I couldn't fall to the same fate as my father. When you feel that a parent has failed, you internally vow that you will never become that person; that you will always better them. But deep down I know that I am so much more like him than I ever cared to admit, certainly over the other siblings.
It was I, on his third child attempt, who became a huge Beatles fan just like him. He is the reason that I suffer through season upon season of Huddersfield Town highs and lows. I unfortunately developed his irritable and surly personality, as I'm sure many of my nearest and dearest can testify. He is probably the main factor, although I never considered it until writing this, that I chose not to have children of my own, because I think many of his failings are due to him never really wanting children in the first place. Societal pressures to have them decided it for him. I have made the choice instead, because I’d be just as interested and committed to the job as he was.
And it is through him that I have the love for good beer and pubs that forms so much of my life now. He took me through the doors of many of my favourite pubs - Stalybridge Buffet Bar, The Marble Arch Inn, The Grove (Huddersfield) and The Three Stags’ Heads Inn - for the very first time. He took me to my first beer festival and bought me my first legal pint as tradition dictates.
If it wasn't for that first family party shandy made with Worthington's Bitter or driving 18-year-old me to Wardlow Mires for a pint of Abbeydale Brewery's Absolution at The Three Stag's Heads Inn or taking me to the 2006 National Winter Ales Festival then I wouldn't have this blog or my weekend hobbies or many of the friends that I have made through beer. His larger effect on the positives in my life is enormous.
Yet the memories made with him faded or were replaced as times became tougher. The joy was stripped from sharing those occasions when the necessity outweighed the pleasure. I was so disappointed and let down by him because I loved him enough to believe he should have been better.
Forgiveness didn't come easy but it took me years to see the real reflection.
As a family we were enraged by the seeming futilely of it all. A homeowner, a loving wife, three children doing okay, relative job and financial security, grandchildren, both parents still living, friends, days out... he had everything people wish for. What purpose was there to this debilitating sorrow drowning? Why would you sacrifice your health and mobility? It didn't add up.
It was in these intervening years that I finally understood the mathematics. At the time, I was too controlled by my own demons to accept the reality of addiction. There is no rhyme or reason that can be explained or justified. The incline from hobbyist to functional alcoholic to entirely dysfunctional is steep in theory, but in practice was a gentle hike performed over many years. A social lubricant. A means to an end. But eventual inevitability.
His demise came from the same foundation that leads me to talk so openly about my mental health struggles; to encourage others to talk about it as much as they can. His inability to discuss such issues in the 60s and 70s, and his upbringing in the ridiculous masculine world, led to his alcohol dependency. All the positives and outwards glossy shine meant nothing when the inner conflicts couldn't be discussed.
I became him in so many ways that it was naive to think that one day I couldn't suffer from the same addiction. That is the post that I was mentally concocting in that woodland. It is a dangerous game that we play, always a sad dip in our lives away from having just a few beers too many. Always just a few days away from reliance or, at the very least, over-comfort in the hobby that we portray it as.
My Dad died alone, spending his final years staring at the rooms and empty chairs at home; daily reminders of what alcohol had cost. He never step foot in the houses that his three children proudly call their homes. He never met his youngest grandchild. He never met my partner or saw my animals or my life or all the things that matter to me. And whilst I write this wishing with every helix of DNA I share with him that he had seen it all, I remember the moment that he verbally told me that he would never give up the drink in his glass for his family. At the time it hurt me more than anything. I never felt ready for reconciliation but now I recognise it as the words formed by the shadows of addiction.
Now that he is gone I can let go of the childish belief that the recovery will occur and I will once again have a father. There are no more aspirations of us once again discussing the merits of Rubber Soul in his front room, or sitting together in the Revell Ward Stand watching Huddersfield lose again or sharing a Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild at a beer festival. Alcoholism took all of that from us long ago and never relinquished it.
Yet they are all still things that I love to do with my friends. I've been continuing that journey for years, just without him. When I next put on one of those LPs or walk down the steps to the John Smith's Stadium pitchside or have a pint of Absolution in front of the Stag's closed range fireplace oven, I can remember the reason why those things give me such joy and be thankful. It is time to mourn the lost time and put to rest the years of fighting
In the last 12 months, I’ve thought a lot about finding the strength to reconnect and reunite. Let it be now. Let it be this year. Let the hurt go. Perhaps there can be some forgiveness. And then inevitably, it is too late. The time has passed.
The time to write that post about alcoholism again may yet come. It is something we can all talk about more in the industry to continue to enjoy these spaces and these environments freely. We can change our language and flippancy. We can judge less and empathise more. We can always do better for everyone.
For now though, one man's fight against its power is over. It is time to try to reclaim the shattered pieces of my mental health that he always found a way to break from me and recognise that, in desperately trying not to take on his harder attributes, I absorbed many of the lost qualities. “Two grown men saying goodbye. No need to forgive, no need to forget. I know your mistakes and you know mine.” The time is gone.