In my wallet, I carry a coin. My fingers have dulled the polish and discoloration spreads from the center in spirals, evidence of the moments I have spent lost in memories.

“Arms Acres,” declares the front.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” cries the back. My coin is a memento of my father, and of my childhood ruined by the adult world.

One day, my mother could no longer handle the strain my father placed upon my family. The doorbell rang, and men, wearing carefully composed faces, entered our apartment. My mom’s sharp voice told me to leave. I wanted to help. I had seen those flashes of fear masked by indifference. I saw the heartbroken expression on my mother’s face, and then everything happened. I never said goodbye.

My father was admitted as a patient at Arms Acres. We had no contact with him all summer. They said it was best that way. They wanted him to have a chance to begin reinventing himself, to build a new foundation.

Months later I received a letter, and the familiar handwriting, so impossibly messy that I could barely read my name, was visible on the envelope. I torn it open, not knowing what I would read or how I would feel.

I’m sorry.

I love you.

You’re the most beautiful, intelligent, wonderful girl I know.

I ripped the notebook pages into pieces.

This is how the series of letters began. My father wrote pages, which talked about choices, addiction, pain, God, and failures. I read pages, which talked about choices, addiction, pain, God, and failures. I saved his letters, then threw them out in fits of rage. I asked myself why it had to be my father, my life.

He returned. Sadder, quieter, sober. He loved me. I was his Capricorn, his Kat, his Queen of the Yoops. Every morning I took the collar stays from his shirt, and he gave me a hug before saving the world, one financial portfolio at a time. We skied, hiked, canoed, explored. He taught me Latin. I learned about Johnny Cash, and that Navy SEAL boot camp was just good exercise. I learned how to be independent and I learned what I needed to know in order to look after my family, because my father told me everything that he had failed to do. I learned how to destroy people without ever touching them. But more importantly, I learned that you can never rebuild a relationship unless you try. He failed dismally almost every time, but not with me—I gave him an impossible number of chances, and he finally managed to put the pieces together.

One Saturday I found new accessories on the floor, a cushy carpet, and my unconscious father. The world ground to a halt. I thought that we had turned a corner, that the promises stood for something and would not slip through my fingers and join the piles of forgotten words. The weeks fell into a pattern: checking hospitals and bars and staying up all night wondering if my father was alive.

My father stopped saying that he loved me. Going through detox, he told me to “beware of younger men with promise, and older men with gifts.” He told me to never become like him.

I was not surprised by the phone call. I did not cry at his funeral. People spoke about how incredible he was, and I was astounded by how willing they were to forget his faults.

In health class, we learned of the dangers of alcohol.

Drinking can kill.

Yeah, I noticed.

I sorted through his possessions – clothes, books, workout videos, hospital records, bottles still filled with pills. In one of the piles, I found the Arms Acres coin. I have carried it with me since that day.

It is happiness, sadness, hatred, and longing, pounded into a tiny disc. It reminds me that my father was a statistic, an alcoholic, but also that he was so much more. It reminds me that he tried and failed, tried and failed, and tried again. In the moments when I felt his love, the failures were meaningless.

“Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Nothing can undo the past, and this is what makes life so meaningful. I have twenty-four hours to fill, and whether I hurt or help others, build up or tear down relationships, press forward or shrink from the thought of another day, I always have a choice. “Courage to change the things I can.” When I disappoint those around me, it is a wake-up call, a reminder to avoid making my father’s mistakes. “Wisdom to know the difference.” Am I wise? No, I am a flawed human being, but I have gained a better understanding of priorities. My father put himself first, and he lived his last days isolated and alone. I try to hold true to my words. I will never be like him.

I’ve learned that I can give second, third, and fourth chances, but they will sometimes disappoint me. I fight this battle daily with nothing but memories. It is a struggle, but I keep going, walking away from the broken promises, the destroyed trust, looking back only to learn. I can love and be loved, and I know that time heals. I live freely, without being tied like my father. He asked me to, and I will not break my promise.