Those who read me regularly know i’m regularly down on myself. Part of it is my self deprecating nature, the rest of it is the rigorous honesty required by Alcoholics Anonymous: what i do not broach, i cannot get past. i cannot overcome what i do not confront. Airing my dirty under-past here is also a way for me to embrace humility and fix my “egomaniac with an inferiority complex” fixation.
But today i’m not here to belittle myself. i’m here as the alcoholic father of two teenage children. i got sober three years ago, when my son was 16 and my daughter was 13. Naturally, i often wonder how much my disease affected them, and if i hurt them with my drinking and if those wounds left scars. Honestly, i worry that seeing their father try to kill himself fucked them up permanently.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Today, i realized my son spent more than a week preparing a Valentine’s Day for his friend. He set up his room with candles and roses so it would be ready when they came home from the restaurant he went to beforehand to ask them to set up the table with the supplies he’d brought. My daughter saved money for three months (and she can usually hold onto it no longer than a week) so that she could take her friend to Disneyland, paying for the tickets, the train to get there, the meals while they were there and the souvenirs to keep. She texted me a pic of their trip and their obvious happiness was the best Valentine’s Day present i’ve received in recent memory.
My children are not perfect. Like all children, they have many defaults and defects and my drinking maybe caused some and exacerbated others.
But my children know how to love with a selfless love, a deep love, a giggle out loud love and they are not afraid to show it. i’m relieved they’re more resilient than i’d given them credit for, and that they are brimming over with the kind of love that can conquer the world.
Sober parents are stars shining over the sea of their kids’ lives.
In times of smooth sailing our stars are simply a reassuring and pleasant presence, but in stormy times our children will be able to look up to us, and navigate through their difficulties by the light of our examples.
My daughter turned 16 a couple days ago. i took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner, just the two of us, and bought her a variety of gifts that reflect her so well as she sits poised on the point between childhood and womanhood. Among the loot she hauled in were a visit to her favorite candy store and then expensive perfume from an upscale boutique. That in itself is a photo of where she is in her life.
i’m worried about her. The first day in her high school, she sat in the back row and befriended the only two girls who had failed a grade. Her behavior has been suspicious for the last year but i have no concrete proof that she’s done anything seriously wrong.
And it doesn’t matter. She knows where i’m coming from and where i’ve come from.
She’s 16 now, and she’ll make her own choices. But instead of giving her the choice between hanging out with losers and an angry parent, i’m giving her the choice between getting lost with losers and the feeling of having fun with a sober parent.
Time for a…
Blast from the Pabst
When my son was, let’s say 12 (and we’re saying that because i have no idea how old he was), he belonged to a theater “club” that met every Saturday afternoon. The community center was 20 minutes away on foot, and after lunch i would walk him there, come back home for an hour, and then go back to pick him up.
One Saturday, my daughter (and if 12 is the age we’re going with for my son, we’re stuck with 10 for my daughter) decided to walk with me. As we approached the center, she wanted me to hide and surprise my son by showing up alone. i agreed and dutifully waited behind a bush to watch the scene play out.
My son exited the building and was obviously surprised to see my daughter unaccompanied. As they passed in front of my hiding place, i heard her explain that “Dad drank a lot of wine and fell asleep on the sofa, so I came to pick you up by myself.”
And he believed her; after all, why wouldn’t he?
As telling as this story is, the footnote to this story occurred about two months after i went into recovery. i took both of the kids to a teen al-anon meeting at a church here, then waited for them in a cafe. When the meeting was over and we were riding the subway back home, i asked my son what he thought of the meeting and he said he felt that he didn’t really belong there. While other kids told traumatic stories of their parents’ drunken escapades, he said i’d done a rather good job of keeping my drinking from spilling over onto them.
i’ve been sober for over 19 months (still not long enough) and in that time i’ve tried to make up for my down time with my children. i find that i’m more present in my sobriety than i was when i was drinking, and that i have more energy to spend on them and more patience to accord them. i like to think we’re close (my son now lives with me and i have my daughter almost every weekend) and i see they are beginning to trust in my recovery. They are relaxed around me. They make jokes about subjects that could be sensitive considering my drinking life and my bottom, but they feel safe.
i want to be the perfect father. i will never ever be the prefect father. Right now, though, i’m a better father than i was, and my children need that a hell of a lot more than they need perfection.
They never stopped loving me, but now they can look up to me.