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Making Amends to My Dead Father

One of the mysteries in AA is making a Ninth Step amends to the departed. One AA member recalls how he went about it. 

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By John Dee

04/24/13

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My Dad died a month before my 18th birthday. When he passed away my family didn’t have enough money to get a tombstone (let alone an engraved one), so he was buried with my mom’s family; they had extra space in their burial plot, and how much space can ashes take up anyway?

I had tried beer one time before my Dad died and thought it tasted like shit. I wondered how anyone could drink such a foul substance. I only had one sip and I spit it out.

About a week after he died, I decided to give acid a go. Why not? The first half was amazing. I felt united with the universe and everything fell into place. The second half, I started thinking about my father and how much I missed him. The trip quickly turned from bliss to wanting to jump in front of a truck.

I went to the cemetery to make my amends knowing full well that I had just made them with that kid.

From that point, I went to my first party, tried my first full beer—full cans upon cans—and smoked my first joint. I felt like I had arrived. I didn’t realize I had the self-critical voices spinning around in my head until they were finally gone: I could talk to girls. I was funny. I was attractive. I was smart. This was amazing.

If alcohol was around I drank it. If drugs were around I used them. Alcohol started becoming more and more important to my life and my sanity. It helped me feel human. This continued and got worse and worse. It eventually became a daily thing. By the time it became daily, it wasn’t really working for me anymore, but I needed it just to function.

By the end of my drinking, I didn’t drink in the morning, but I didn’t wake up until two in the afternoon. I would go to work at the restaurant and immediately do eight shots of warm vodka. I would continue to drink glasses of wine throughout the night, go downstairs to do a couple bumps of coke, steal some high-end scotch and beer, and go home with a six-pack and drink it by myself until I passed out, while my long-term girlfriend was asleep in the bedroom. Wake up and repeat.

Needless to say, that relationship ended. I called a friend to tell him about the break up. He said he was going to a meeting the next day, and suggested I join him for a cup of coffee. I didn’t hear “meeting,” I just heard "coffee." So I went.

There, I met a man who became my sponsor and suddenly I was a member of AA. Just like that. I started working the steps. One day I arrived at the Ninth Step. And I needed to make an amends to my Dad.

I hadn’t been back to his grave since we buried him, so I didn’t know where it was located. I called my Mom and she told me. I called the cemetery and a woman said she would highlight a map showing me where he was buried.

In order to get there, I had to take a train to another train to a bus, and then walk a couple of miles. I took the train to the second train and was waiting at the bus stop. I turned around and saw that I was standing in front of a rehab. I thought, "That’s strange." I turned around and waited some more. A young kid came and began waiting for the same bus. I asked him if he came from the rehab.

He told me that he was 16 and he couldn't stop using heroin and that he'd been in and out of rehabs for the last two years. I told him why I was waiting at the bus stop. "I'm an alcoholic, I'm sober two years and I'm on my way to make amends to my father's grave."

The boy knew where the cemetery was at. The bus came and we got on. We talked the whole way about sobriety and the steps and making amends. We got off the bus and he pointed me the way to the cemetery. A friend of mine had given me a One Day at a Time coin for my one-year anniversary. It had some Native American quote on the back that I can’t remember. I took the coin out and gave it to him.

I went to the cemetery to make my amends knowing full well that I had just made them with that kid. As promised, the highlighted map was taped to the door. I found the plot and there was no trace that my father was there—no name, no tombstone, only the fluorescent yellow “X” on the map. It was a beautiful day out and I sat and talked to my dad for the first time in 20 years. It was awkward and strange but I did it anyway. I felt like I had begun to develop a relationship with my father that will continue as time goes on.

I headed back home. I was reading a Harry Potter book at the time and I was only a couple pages away from the end. So I stood in the train station and read on. I turned the page and this is the next thing I read:

“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him.”

My dad is with me wherever I go.

John Dee is a pseudonym for a television actor in New York.

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