Today, my friend has agreed to post the touching story of her father’s journey of addiction, homelessness and redemption. He walked a road many of us don’t understand. His life ended on the street. This is quite a story. I pray it touches your heart. – Connie
When he was sober, my dad was the most amazing man in the world. Smart, funny, creative, outgoing, attractive, and successful. My friends all loved him and we had earned the reputation as the ‘family who had it all together’. He worked hard to provide for his wife and family, and did everything he could to give me everything I desired. He was beloved and respected by many. His relationship with my mom was one that was admired and envied by every woman we knew. No matter what they were doing, you could always see how deeply in love my parents were. For the first few years of my life, I had everything a girl could want. Although we started out very poor, by the time I was 7, my dad had established himself in the business community and we were well on our way to living the dream. As a young girl, I remember thinking ‘when I get married I hope it is to someone like my dad’.
But alcoholism has a way of destroying lives and families completely. I was 14 when my mom announced to my older brother and I that my dad had a drinking problem. This news was not unexpected. I had known for sometime that there was something wrong with dad. His behavior was unpredictable, his temper was out of control at times; he would say hurtful things and not seem to realize what he was saying. Add to that the slurred speech and the fact that I would often come home to find him passed out in the truck or on the couch. I had pretty much been able to draw my own conclusion. But I had no way of knowing how much my life was going to be impacted by the truth.
My mom is a fighter. She doesn’t give in easily and she doesn’t let go of the things that matter without a struggle. In an attempt to bring the truth to light and set our family back on the right path again she decided that she, my brother and I were all going to confront Dad and let him know that we wanted him to get help. She knew how much he loved us all and thought that if we asked him to get help, he would. He didn’t. In fact, he was already drunk when mom sat him down to have the conversation. I will never forget the look on his face when Mom said “I told the kids about your drinking and we all want you to get help to stop”. I think it was the first time I remember him looking at my mom with not love, but contempt. He laughed at us and walked away.
I don’t know if it was because he was angry or because he no longer had reason to hide his addiction, but things rapidly got worse. My dad never raised a hand to me my entire life, but it is safe to say that the damage was done in other ways. It took me years to overcome. Over the course of the next 3 years, I would come to realize that alcoholism was the least of our worries.
There is not enough time or space here to take you fully into our lives during that time so I will focus on what stands out. A reputation and lifestyle that had taken Dad years to build deteriorated almost over night. First the alcohol. Then the other women: local women, random women, prostitutes. The very relationship that had been my source of security for so many years was unraveling before my eyes. My dad was lost in a dark and lonely world where nothing seemed to satisfy. My mom was just lost. Then came the drugs. And finally, the crime to support the addictions.
The drugs had taken over my dad’s personality so completely that there seemed to be no way to reach him any longer. The loving, caring father I had once known was nothing more than a shell of his former self. The woman he adored more than anything began to fear him. One day, I had to phone the police when he put her head through a wall. I had done the only thing I knew how to do to keep my mom safe. Dad didn’t see it that way; he saw it as a betrayal. That was when he told me I would never be his daughter again.
The details blur a bit at this point between my parents’ separation, our family home burning down and my getting pregnant while I was still in high school; but they come back into focus with one pivotal event:
I was 17 when my dad went to jail for theft and sexual assault. While it seems that would be the lowest point a family could reach, it was there we began to find hope. My dad met Jesus in jail. In his darkest hour, he came face to face with the one who had been waiting for him all along. He softened. The light came back into his eyes again and he was back to his old self. Visiting him (albeit in prison) became a joy I looked forward to every time I had the chance to go.
When he was released I thought we were finally headed for our happy ending. He and mom were reunited, he was working, and he was soberly getting to know his family again. He even had a brand new baby granddaughter. However, my joy was short lived. The addictions crept back in and over the course of 9 long years, he slid back down into the lifestyle that already robbed him of everything once. The difference now was Jesus. No matter how much he struggled with his own pain and losing his wife yet again, he was always ready to serve someone else. He walked with those who couldn’t walk alone. When he knew someone didn’t have enough food, he brought them some. He clung to God with every fiber of his being. But no matter how hard he fought, how much he gave, or how strongly he believed, he couldn’t break free.
This time, the addictions took it all. By 2007 Dad was living on the streets. In and out of shelters, in and out of cheap hotels, in and out of rehab. Finally, on January 5th, 2009, alcohol took Daddy’s life. He died on the street outside the library in the dead of winter, a bottle of vodka tucked under his arm. He passed away in the most humble circumstances. He had nothing to pass onto his family but some clothing and a backpack. Inside that backpack I found what has become one of my most prized possessions: Dad’s Bible. The only Bible I will ever preach with and the only Bible I have never written in. When I officiated his funeral, it is the Bible I used. I preached from the verses he himself had underlined, memorized and clung to in the depths of his bondage. The verses that personified my dad: the beatitudes. And I got to see first hand how, just because someone’s life is not glamorous and they do not seem to have much or be much, they can still leave their footprint on the hearts of everyone they meet. I know this to be true because the ones he touched while he was here came forward after he was gone and did what he would have done: they paid for his funeral.
Despite the addictions that would eventually rob him of his earthly body, Daddy loved Jesus and he loved others the way few people who “have it all together” do. My dad’s name was Mark Fillip. He was not just a “homeless man”; he was a living testimony to the grace and love of Christ in dark places. As a little girl I used to want to marry a man like my dad. As a grown woman, I hope I can learn to be like my dad. He may have died on the street, but he will forever live in my heart and the hearts of so many he helped while he himself was hurting so deeply.