NOW THAT I WASN’T GOING INTO THE MILITARY, I was free to get married as planned. On March 6, 1971, Angela and I were married in a huge Italian/Irish wedding at St. Ann Catholic Church and Horse Barn in Bartlett, TN, a suburb of Memphis. I thought the church was just an ultramodern, ugly building. I had wanted to get married at Immaculate Conception, in my opinion, the most beautiful church in Memphis, but Angela’s father insisted on their parish church. Period.
It was a lovely ceremony, at least what I recalled was. I was so nervous that I couldn’t remember much. I do remember whispering to Paul how radiant and beautiful Angela was, and Dad said that in my cutaway tuxedo, he had never seen me look more handsome. Earlier, as the wedding date approached, Mom and I were worried. Would Dad get drunk and funny, or would he get drunk and withdrawn? It was a moving and frightening time for my family. After the last few years of struggling with alcoholism, Dad had approached me several days before the wedding. He looked ill, pale, and anxious. He said to me, “Son, I couldn’t bear to ruin your wedding, so I have stopped drinking. I called the V.A. Hospital, and the day after the wedding, I’m going to check in and get help.”
It was the first time Dad had ever spoken to me openly about his drinking. In our home, just as in most Irish homes, painful, embarrassing incidents weren’t spoken about. (That was the reason I never told anyone about the bullying I had endured.) I was relieved but frightened, grateful but wary. Could he do it? Would he follow through on his promise? I knew that up to this point, Dad always did whatever he said he would do. Twice in the previous year, I saw him suffer seizures. He was withdrawing from alcohol when the seizures occurred, but we didn’t know that abruptly stopping drinking caused them. We suspected it, but we didn’t know for sure. In that moment, I became afraid for him. I became sad too.
By this time, Dad and I weren’t very close. We had similar temperaments, and we had learned to give each other plenty of room. Still, as I looked at him I realized how awful he felt and how sincere he was about doing the best he could at my wedding. Memories flashed through my mind of all the times I saw his help and kindness for others, for my family, and for me. How could I do any less for him now? In that moment, I felt only love and compassion for him.
“That’s great, Dad. Thanks. I know you can do it.” I grabbed his upper arm and squeezed it firmly, and I saw him wince in pain. Until a person experiences it, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, there is no adequate way to describe the horror and terrible sickness of alcohol withdrawal. The pain is worse than death, and too many times, alcohol withdrawal does cause people to die. (I would later lose one of my brothers-in-law this way.)
Dad was very sick, yet he made it through the wedding and reception reasonably well. The day after the wedding, he entered the hospital and received the help he needed. Dad never took another drink for the rest of his life.
After the wedding ceremony, Angela and I went to the reception, and I didn’t have one drink, not because I was being cautious, but because there were so many people there—I couldn’t get close to the bar to get a drink. I heard later that there were about a thousand guests, and they were there because Angela’s father was very well known. We even received wedding gifts from Hollywood folks (no name-dropping), if that’s any indication. Angela’s father knew everyone in the Western Hemisphere, and I think he invited half of them to the wedding. A waiter brought Angela and me each a glass of champagne to sip as the photographer shot our picture. When I set the glass down to adjust my tie, someone took my glass of champagne and drank it.
For our honeymoon, we went to New Orleans. I had chosen New Orleans, the only choice I had in the whole wedding, because at age nineteen I could legally drink there. I was pleasantly drunk a lot of the time but manageably so. Well, there was that one afternoon when it was raining, and as we ran across Canal Street, I fell in a large puddle and a bus almost ran over me.
At the end of the honeymoon, we returned home, moved into our two-bedroom flat at the Regency Apartments, and settled down to married life. Angela went to work at a wholesale jewelry company. I had changed to part-time student status at the university, because I had to work full-time now to support my new wife. A career in medicine was out, but through a couple of Dad’s connections, I got a job as a sales representative for Malone & Hyde, the largest food wholesaler in the MidSouth.
If you had ever told me I would be a salesman when I grew up, I would have said you were crazy. I didn’t have the personality or inclination to be a salesman, because I was so shy, introverted, and withdrawn—when sober. I thought I would have made a good mortician except that I hated being around dead people, so that was a no-brainer. During my training, by watching how other salesmen worked, I was able to mimic their behaviors. I learned how to become a polite, determined, smiling, backslapping, problem-solving, and occasionally forceful salesman extraordinaire.