BY: DAWAYNE KIRKMAN
I grew up in Elkton, Kentucky (one hour north of Nashville). My dad had a drinking problem (that is probably the most polite term that I can use to describe his situation) and was forced to go to a detox center after many arrests. I was in third or fourth grade during this time. We would go visit my dad after church on Sundays at Western State in Hopkinsville, Kentucky during those weeks of his mandatory stay. When he arrived at the rehab facility, he had been given a marble which represented sobriety. No more drinking allowed if he wanted to keep it. He could keep it in his pocket as long as he did not ever drink alcohol again.
My mother (my hero), my sister (three years older than me), and I all found those Sunday conversations to be initially awkward, as we were not used to talking to a sober Stanley. But each Sunday, he would be so excited to pull his marble out of his pocket. As the weeks passed, we also got excited to see his beautiful marble. He finished the program and we all went to Bonanza to eat and went to look at new trailers. It was a new beginning!
However, after being away from his siblings and other family for weeks, he naturally wanted to visit them. They loved the fun loving, drinking Stanley. We begged him not to go as we were afraid he would drink, but we were unsuccessful in our plea. Very shortly after arriving at his brother’s house, my dad started drinking beer and it just got worse from there on.
I remember after he drank several beers he threw the marble across the field, cussing at it and laughing. It seemed like everyone was laughing at it. My mom, sister, and I were devastated though. The next day my dad, in a very hung-over condition, went to that field to look for that marble that he so easily let go of the day before. I could tell his heart was broken from literally throwing it all away. Even as a child, I knew he would not be able to find that marble in that big field, physically or mentally. But, I did find that marble. Maybe not literally, but I did find it and I have carried it for years.
The last time I saw my dad alive, he was in jail on Christmas in 1995. My dad took his life in 1996 when I was twenty years old and a junior at Berea College. I always promised to carry that marble for my dad. Sometimes we have to carry things for our family who are unable to do so. He was an alcoholic, yet I have never had a beer or been drunk or done illegal drugs. He did not graduate from high school, yet I am finishing up my dissertation at the University of Dayton. He did not work, yet I have been working at Sinclair Community College for almost 16 years. He did not go to church; I have been a Sunday School teacher for more than 18 years.
I am NOT a better man than my father; I have just been a blessed man. And, it has been an honor to have had the opportunity to carry a marble for a man that I will forever owe for getting me to this earth—even though I hardly knew him. When I get to my heaven, I will hug his neck and say “no apologies needed, Dad” and grab his hand and give him his marble back and declare we made it.