Irish Pride

By Lucas Costello

The first time my dad died, I was five. He was standing at the top of the staircase, proclaiming “the Chinaman kept giving me tequilas.” Then he fell flat on his face. The rest is haze: me in a room reading a Walt Disney activity book with “Kiki”, my Filipina nanny, while my Filipina mother, bawling, called the ambulance, and tall men in uniforms with stripes down their pant legs showed up to save the day.

My father didn’t actually die that night. In the end it was cancer, not directly alcohol-related, that brought him into the black. The years in-between are spotted with memories: him fighting with my mother on a night that she dumped out all of his expensive scotch; me, still a child, waking up to find out that he had driven our TransAm into a ditch. Our big alcoholic-and-son bonding moment was a night in Mexico. My mom took off after Dad refused to not drink x amounts of tequila. He ended up unable to walk, so I helped him back to the hotel room. It was Angela’s Ashes meets Wall Street, with Lionel Richie as the soundtrack. Luckily for all of us, Dad was a gentle drunk; our family didn’t have to deal with the trauma of physical abuse that so often haunts families with alcoholic parents.

 My mother is Filipino, and her family doesn’t have much of a culture of drinking.  On my mom’s side, alcohol and the foolish things it made you say and do was always a point of embarrassment or shame. (I’m sure there’s an Ilongo word for that, but I don’t know it.) This distinct difference was very apparent at my Dad’s wake. I had just turned fourteen, and the miserable summer was punctuated by a grievous day, exacerbated by the well stocked bar. My Canadian/Irish/white/whatever relatives shed tears jet-fueled by beer, and were comforted by my mostly sober Filipino relatives. This was the day I learned that getting shitfaced was a magic place, one where you could be numb while puking your emotions all over anyone in your proximity. The Irish way.

The drunken Irishman. The Fighting Irish.  What came first: the colonization or the booze? A friend once said that the British learned their colonization techniques on the Irish and perfected them on First Nations.  Despite the notable professional and artistic achievements of many, many, many members of these communities , the drunkenness and fighting can often drown the rest out.

Take James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, two canonical Irish writers whose well-known struggles with alcohol seem inseparable from their literary contributions. The fable of alcohol or substance dependency leading to great art isn’t propagated solely by Irish artists, but few cultural identities are as attached to alcohol.  If there are any other Catholic saints (St. Patrick, not actually Irish) whose feast day is advertised by multinational booze supplier Diageo (owner of Bushmills and Guinness), I have yet to hear of them.

What if, instead of allowing the great works to stand as apology for the artist’s alcoholism, we mourned the great works that were never created, due to premature deaths and lives ended in squalor?

Absurd.

Total buzz kill.

I know.

A few nights ago, I called my mom to ask her about my dad, the time his heart stopped, and whether it was just because of drinking. She told me she had blocked most of that time out.  We don’t talk much about Dad anymore. Time doesn’t necessarily heal, sometimes you just forget that you’re still hurting. Play through the pain.

I pushed a bit. “Was it cocaine?” I asked (it was the 80s after all, maybe my dad was like Jim Belushi).

“No, god no, I don’t remember, I only remember the time after chemo…his electrolytes were…”

“Electrolytes?”

“Yeah he…this was when…”

“Oh yeah…” It’s all fuzzy, I didn’t really remember.  Kiki, the bedroom, Surrey.

“I think he was just so drunk and I couldn’t move him, I probably didn’t know what to do.”We don’t talk about this time. A new country, a young child, her husband on the floor immobile. Dead drunk.

For twenty plus years I’ve been carrying this idea around of my dad as my own Patron Saint of Reanimation, a fighter. But it turns out his resurrection was just another dead drunk Irish story.

Lucas Costello in an arts worker and activist living in Parkdale. He is the progeny of a Filipina beauty queen and a Vancouver disco king. He likes Toronto better, yes, really. Yes, really, he is half Filipino. He will eat all the lumpia. 

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4 thoughts on “Irish Pride

  1. HI GUY: I absolutely concur, with everything you say, you still feel an bit, that’s important, you had an rough go. It’s good you do feel, but let it go. Be Thankful your clean, ethical, & loving. That’s incredible stuff. I wish ‘you’, and your family…the best of health, and happiness, your an new generation.
    Our family, some anyway, are Heinz 57, part— English, Scotch, & Irish, it was largely now Canadian, surely we go back an long way, but that old ‘era’, 1900’s. BUT, when, we, our/there were – sometimes personalities of great-effervesce, most pleasant, and to celebrate, they said he was more Irish. The staid, penny-wise, industrious, conservative, were the Scottish sorts. The English strain, more revered, arrogant, to manipulate, urbane, successful, religious. It’s an ‘myth’, because at times, I got into an Tri-mode like that, by accident or design I still, DNK. “I was never able to prove any of that”, outside the Home/Large-Families environment, and like YOU…moved to another, even larger Urban place.
    Not an single member of our family ever came to the conclusion, that they needed to be either saved by themselves, or saved from themselves, even unto death, but for I, didn’t want to arrive at that an possible precipice, gave up on that untoward drinking, life-style. Later on in Life, I better realized some odd co-incidence this can perpetuate itself, through inter-marriage, the trend continued, in seeking that same wanton image. But, there had been an terrible justification of selfishness, and an willful way to do what ever, ‘you wish to do’, that prevails, mostly when the booze was flowing, nothing seemingly will stop it.
    Other times, it seemed to be the perfect family, sooner or later, ‘the music stopped’, an lot of those, ‘family members’, were more sensible, for better for Peace prevailed, non-imbibers, did set a more ethical, example. In fairness, at one time or other, ‘everybody want’s to be Irish’, not all Irish drink booze, many only an few hours, on St. Patrick’s Day, an little Joy, an little fun, surely that can be an good thing, so that in itself, can be an myth. But in this limited context, and my limited experience,….either the excessive booze, or with it stupidity, or if so, addiction, knows no cultural difference. I pride myself in this Tri-Cultural aspect, and try to take daily…the best, most ethical attribute I can/had identified, for my success, happiness, frankly I would have preferred an sole cultural heritage, but it was not to be. This confusion, took an really long time to figure out, I had some help.
    The primary men of influence, in my life, & 1 woman in the my ‘environment’, yet my mother, & sibling’s did not, were down-right-boozers, all somewhat…until later I grew up, & married an ‘teetotaler’, her first drinking experience-went awry…she remains the smartest, but we remain-both sober. So, she wouldn’t tolerate my shenanigans…& we just celebrated [15th] our 44th. anniversary. Definitely, not in the presence of an drunk, we don’t fear, don’t desire to entertain such things, or contribute to the nature of such. We, mostly have empathy for the mother’s of the world that do. You, can find more simple, quality of life thing’s to more simply celebrate, and less expensive, but just as much, ‘fun’, really most people do. I keep Green Thing’s around the hearth, all the time….to remind me of the nice guy’s of the world, whether I meet those standards or not is not for me to say…I try, and I fail, the same.
    I’ve concluded mostly if you have an [larger] but healthy liver, & similar kidneys for comfort to boot can outlast the weekly paychecks, even for years. In modern times, I notice there are many more opportunities, for all kinds ‘addictions’, but I’m fairly certain…besides the so-called environment, the genetic aspect is still suspect to me.
    Actually, I pray an lot about these matters, my journey was so short….others decades, an lifetime….how/why was ‘I’ spared such man made, self-will, adversity.
    So, now I don’t blame ‘anybody’….it’s an ‘God’s Gift’, that we don’t all, have to continue…making the same errors over and over again.
    My response, is mostly…to be Thankful.
    These are merely my thoughts out of an myriad of thing’s, as I put-away-some-anger, about the thing’s of the past, an heritage mostly proud of, ‘best of fellows, far and wide’, they are gone, or disappearing fast…it’s our time to hold the flame at high, for perhaps your child, or kin anew.
    There is no simple message here, GOD, uses us-all, both in our going in, and our going out, our doing good, and our doing bad, and let’s face it, were all the same, were all-doing something, all of the time….that remains the big/ an big challenge, always.
    So long,

    Have an Good Life, U, have touch’d mine.

    k +
    [signed simply wkeithscott] not anon….neither an *

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