Coming from a family of Irish descendants, alcoholism is a common theme. Many aunts, uncles, and cousins have struggled with The Drink. Most are functioning alcoholics, able to hold respectable jobs and care for their families while consuming a case of beer every night between quitting time and The Late Show.
Others have watched their lives, and families, fall apart.
Children pick up on this dynamic fairly early; therefore addressing the issue of addiction and how it affects family, friends, and retirement options is a good call. Jake and Zach were very little when they asked me why I call their Grandpa by his first name instead of “Dad.”
“Because he’s my stepdad,” I said. “I feel for him like a daughter feels for a dad, but he came along when I was eighteen and so I always called him by his first name. But he’s your grandpa, just as if he were my dad from the very beginning.”
“Who is your dad?” Jacob asked. “And where is he?”
It’s time for this story, is it?
Born while my father served in the Army overseas, I woke every morning to look over the edge of the crib and find only Mom, ready to indulge my every emotional whim. Life was good. Until one morning, a few weeks after my first birthday, I awoke to find a man lying next to her.
I imagine, in my toddler brain, thinking, “What the fuck?” However, lacking sufficient verbal skills, I grabbed the side of the crib with both hands and screamed until every blood vessel broke and squirted through my eyes.
That’s how we met, Bio Dad and me. Our relationship never really improved.
I did have a fairly happy childhood, interrupted every so often by my own bad attitude and Bio Dad’s lack of patience, which was followed by a sometimes-sad adolescence, when his drinking got out of control. At fourteen, I threw a party when my parents finally divorced. His taste for beer, and eventually cocaine, led the man to greater parts unknown.
He came back to our hometown for a few years toward the end of the 1980s, and then disappeared again.
When he reached out to me a few years ago (gotta love Google), he’d been clean and sober for over twenty years and so I reached back.
I told my children that we keep in touch through sporadic emails.
Yes, re-connecting was uncomfortable and is still uncomfortable at times; but I believe it was the right thing for me to do. To those who would say, “Why let him back in your life?” I have some concerns.
How do I teach my children to honor their parents, if I am unwilling to do so? “Honoring” is open to interpretation; however, rejecting someone who is trying to make amends seems cruel and unjust.
I want my children to forgive any mistakes I might make; how better to teach forgiveness than by modeling it?
Holding on to bitterness and anger is ugly. I learned a lot from having a flawed father. I learned about what kind of man not to marry, learned a lot about alcoholics and how to break the cycle, and learned about myself in the process. Wonderful lessons I’d never have experienced without a strong mom, a heavy dose of grit and an iron constitution. I’m a survivor, which is a lot better than being a victim.
I’m not saying every estranged parent deserves open arms and a ticket to the annual family barbecue. I just believe that Bio Dad, someone who paid dearly for his mistakes, deserves more than a slammed door in his face.
In the end, I explained to Jacob and Zachary that the past has passed and no matter what has happened in my life, good or bad, all of it made me who I am.
Many friends with “perfect” dads went on to make some lousy choices in men. I learned early on what alcohol can do and as a result, married someone who doesn’t touch the stuff.
Many people have said to Marc, “Oh, are you in recovery?” Not quite.
Maybe that old saying is right; Jews don’t drink because it interferes with their suffering. Or maybe Marc never developed a taste for it. But his not drinking was part of why he appealed to me. I might not have appreciated him, had I not learned that lesson as a young girl.
I encourage Jake and Zach to take after their father and keep away from alcohol. If they get older and would like a glass of wine every now and then, like their Mommy, I hope they don’t go overboard. I’ve only been drunk a few times in my life and assure them that hangover headaches are a bitch.
But most of all, I hope they learn that they cannot look back and curse those things that have shaped us; we can only forgive those who have wronged us and hope that those whom we have wronged extend that same forgiveness. If I’ve modeled anything, let it be that.