The Happy Drunk
When he was 15 years old, his older brother woke him up at 4.30am to go get their father. The words used were ‘Let’s go pick dad up’ which makes the whole situation sound so mundane, like their father was stuck with his luggage at the airport with no Uber money. He is the middle child, meaning he, too, at some point years into the future of his time, is forced to have this same conversation with the youngest of them.
“To understand my story, I first need to tell you about my household,” his first text reads.
“Alright” I say, mainly because there is no other thing to say.
His parents are what he calls “busy people”. There are never around for a week straight… and if they are, they are cooped up in their respective study rooms [Yes, I too had to wrap my head around this. Each parent has their own study]. His father is a businessman. One of those who instead of using their early twenties to wild out and live by YOLO, were busy strategizing and working out plans to come up with the next big thing. He got into the shipping industry before people were even able to comprehend the potential ships held, other than sinking tens of people while allowing a flower-named woman to emerge with a tragic love story. He envisioned the company from his hostel room on campus and by the time he was graduating, he had secured funding to set everything up.
Business went well, and because it is an undisputed fact that every successful man has a woman at his side, he met a travelling agent when he was 25. She was just starting out, learning the ropes of a business she did not quite understand and he used his entrepreneurial brain to woo her. He helped her secure a promotion and she thanked him by proposing marriage. He said yes. He liked how aggressive she was. How she saw what she wanted and went for it…and she wanted him. What more could he ask for?
By the time he was 31, he had three sons. It was hectic, having to be responsible for four people in a span of just a few years. He had not prepared for it happening so fast and furious-ly, but it did, and he made the best of it. Work had to be his priority now. It was the only way he knew to take care of his suddenly big family. It did not help that his wife’s money remained just that, meaning all his money was what helped run the household. Late hours developed, which then became an issue with the wife.
What was he doing when he stayed out 4 nights out of five in a week? And what was with the going in to work on Saturdays? Sometimes Sundays? It was too much. The family needed him, not just his money.
The long hours were so he could make enough money to cater for the family. For clothes and school fees and groceries. But she would never understand that. She never contributed anything.
Did he just say that? Did he just say that to her when she is the one who takes care of their kids while he is out (mocking air quotes) “working”? The nerve of him. Such a man move. He could never understand what she goes through…
You know what, he is not having this conversation with her. (walks out)
She was a small town girl. Born and raised in Molo. Went to church every Sunday until she left home for university when she threw religion out the window because she was “sick of being forced to worship”.
“We never went to church as a family. Sundays were always family day when I was younger. My mom, and dad on the occasions he was present, always made sure we had family time. They said church was a waste of time. That the families who pack themselves into cars clad in their Sunday best were just pretenders, hiding in the supposedly sacred cloth of the church”
“Would you have wanted to go to church with your family?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Maybe it would have brought us closer…growing up believing in a higher being. You know this meme about fathers threatening to leave their families on Sunday morning?” I think I have seen something like it. “I wish we had that. But we didn’t. Instead, we were guilted to playing charades and monopoly with parents who spoke a total of two words a month to each other”
“Wait, it was that bad?”
It was. the more money they had, the more silent the house became. They talked amongst each other though, and he believes their parents’ failed marriage helped them bond more than they might have if there was a closer relationship. “We never had househelps. We ran our house. The three of us. Not that we wanted to. I remember complaining about it every night before bed. Mom always said that as boys, we were vulnerable. That you never know what strangers want with young boys from a well off family. She preferred that we stay alone than hire help. It was hell…but somewhere between the chores and writing grocery lists for our parents, we became the best of friends, and we have our parents to thank for that.”
One morning, at ungodly hours, his older brother woke him up to go pick their father up, and his view of their father’s constant frowning and solemn state shifted. He saw his father smile for the first time. A genuine smile. One that did not care about anything other than staying on his face.
“Dad has dimples?” he asked his brother.
“Dad is happy here. He is also drunk.” There is a bottle of Blue Label on the table in the airport’s lounge.
“What? But he drinks at home. In his study. I’ve never seen his dimples at home”
“Exactly, his dimples remain here. Do you understand? They remain here because they don’t belong at home.”
“Wow man,” he scratched his head in a confused daze. “What does this mean?”
“Nothing. He brought me here one day and showed me this side of him because he trusted me. And now, I am choosing to trust you. You will tell no one. Do you understand?” He understood. The brothers could be trusted with their father’s dimples, no one else.
“Do you think your mom has seen your father drunk?” I ask.
“No. She calls him a “responsible drunk”. He only has like a glass of whiskey while home. But you know… I have seen him drown half a mzinga on his own, while we wait for the sun to rise at the airport.” They always meet him at the airport, when his business trips end and he comes back home. That is their sacred time. Their church, and they could ask for nothing more. Their youngest turns 17 next month and they plan to wake him to show him their father’s dimples.
“Why does he get to see this at 17 when you did at 15?”
The youngest is their mother’s baby. They are not sure about him. Whether he will keep their secret or he will rat them out. He is unsure of their youngest because he sits with their mother, whispering. But he has never told on them in the times they vowed to keep something secret, and hey hope this too, will be among the brother’s secrets.
He does not know what happened to their parents, because their earlier pictures look happy. But those smiles faded with time. Now, they don’t take pictures anymore. It feels fake to smile when immediately after the flash it is back to business as usual. But he has photos on his phone, of genuine smiles, with his happy drunk of a father and older brother. He sends me one. There is an older man, with a dash of white hairs on his head and his arm placed over the shoulders of a boy of about 20. Their smiles are identical to the boy taking the selfie (the one I am talking to). The photo has the brightness of the first rays of the morning. It is a good picture.
“Don’t you think he is only happy to be with you guys in that time? And it is not the alcohol that makes him happy, but being with his sons, in an empty airport lounge while the sun rises?”
He says it is possible. But in that narrative, his father is unhappy in his life as a husband. He is unhappy to have said yes to their mother when she proposed, and that is something he does not want to believe, because that is still his mother and father, and mommys and daddys are supposed to be together, and be happy. So he is convinced that his father lives in this solemn state. He has embraced this fact. And he wants the world to understand that his father shows his dimples when he is drunk.