Why My Alcoholic Dad Decided to Change
Life is so short. It’s critical to use what time that you have wisely; once it’s disappeared, you’ll never have it back. This is a lesson I learned from my stepfather. He was addicted to alcohol. He chose to embrace change to use what time he had left to form a strong relationship with his grandson, my son. He knew an alcoholic dad, or grandad rather, couldn’t make the most of the time spent with his grandson.
My mother married my stepfather, who I called Dad, when I was in fifth grade. Unlike other fifth graders with new stepfamilies, I was excited. I gained a new dad plus my brother, and I now had a new stepsister and stepbrother to have adventures with. We made blending two families a wonderful experience. Life looked promising.
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Awakening the Hibernating Bear
Dad enjoyed drinking beer at dinner time. No one seemed to mind, and it seemed a normal thing. However, the one or two beers after work escalated over time. By the time I’d entered the seventh grade, Dad stopped at the beer store every evening after work. He’d pick up a six-pack and drink two or three on the drive home after work. We still didn’t see him as an alcoholic dad, though. It wasn’t that bad, yet.
Evenings turned from happy and relaxed to tense and quiet. Dad seemed angry all the time, and you never knew exactly what would send him over the top. I always thought of it as living with a hibernating bear. We knew that if we tip-toed quietly, things would remain calm. But if we woke that hibernating bear, we might get lashed out at.
Mom made excuses for him and called it stress. After all, our six-member family was expensive to maintain. Plus, Dad’s manager had just been fired, so his work life was stressful. While Dad was promoted during that time, the prior manager had left a very messy situation that required a lot of clean up work on his part.
Mom encouraged the four of us kids to do extra chores to relieve Dad of his household burdens, but that didn’t help. His drinking continued.
The tension was so intense, it felt like you could cut right through it. I started high school, and my stepsister and stepbrother chose to live with their biological mother. My elder brother graduated from high school and was off to college.
I was the only child remaining in the house. It became a living nightmare.
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Dad was hurt his kids had chosen to leave our household. He exploded regularly. Most kids think of home as an escape from school; it was the opposite for me. Home was a living hell. My parents fought almost nightly. When my parents were not fighting, Dad spent his time brooding in the basement. He pretended he was tinkering with the lawnmower, but it was really a cover for his drinking
By my sophomore year of high school, he was drinking a case of beer every night. It increased even higher by my junior year. He stashed his beers in a cooler in the basement so that we couldn’t see exactly how much he was drinking.
I realize looking back that he knew deep inside that I had an alcoholic dad, but at that time he wasn’t ready to admit it.
I started a summer job, saved money to buy my first car. It was bittersweet freedom to leave the house when the going got rough, as long as I returned in time for 10 pm curfew. At that hour, Dad had normally passed out. I was able to sneak past to my room without awakening him.
This cycle continued throughout my junior year when things finally came to a head. I arrived home one evening and hugged my mom goodnight before bed. She whined and drew away from me. This surprised me. I pulled the collar of her shirt down and saw a line of dark bruising around her collarbone area.
She said that she’d attempted to tape record him, so she could prove to him how badly he behaved while he was drunk. She wanted to make him hear for himself that he was an alcoholic. He caught her recording him and picked up a hammer to break the tape recorder. Instead of connecting with the tape recorder, he missed and smashed the hammer onto her instead. Of course, she made the excuse that it was an accident.
I left the house, went to the neighbor’s house, and called 911. This all happened in the 1990s before we all had cell phones. I knew that alcohol and domestic violence went hand in hand, and it would only get worse.
Instead of being upset with Dad, Mom became furious with me. She refused to give a statement. Even though I showed the police where Dad had left bruises on her body, they couldn’t do anything. She was silent, so their hands were tied. I do think, however, that it became a bit of a wakeup call to both of them.
While Dad did not stop drinking altogether, he did cut down a little bit. For me, it was too little too late. I could not forgive him for hurting my mother. As for my mother, she could not forgive me for calling 911 and “airing our laundry to the public.”
I moved out the day after my 18th birthday, and I never once looked back at my abusive, alcoholic dad or my mom who defended him.
At 21 years of age, I married my high school sweetheart. We eloped which broke my mother’s heart. We did not include my parents in our plans. Dad’s continued alcoholism had turned my brother’s wedding reception into a fiasco, and I wouldn’t put my own wedding at risk.
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I gave birth to my son the next year, and he changed everything.
I decided to allow Mom and Dad to see him in my own home, as long as Dad was sober for the visit. Spending time with his grandson broke through to Dad, and he suddenly saw what he had been missing.
Around my son’s first birthday, Dad began alcohol rehab. His goal was sobriety so that my son could visit overnight. He wanted to teach his grandson how to fish and take him on camping trips. Mainly, he’d decided that he did not want his grandchildren to have an alcoholic grandfather, like I had an alcoholic Dad.
Through the next decade, I witnessed Dad build the type of relationship with my son that I’d always wanted to him to build with me. He was present when my son took those first precious steps and introduced him to the outdoors. He was also there four years later when I had my daughter.
Dad had shed the skin of the hibernating bear. Spending time with Dad and Mom became joyous. We took family vacations over the summers, and my brother, stepsister, stepbrother, and their families would all join us. We got to experience being a family again.
Dad suffered a fatal heart attack when my son was 12. I am so very grateful for those last year that we spent with him. Yet, I still mourned all those that we missed due to alcohol. I reflect and think what high school and college would have been like with my Dad present. I wish he could have given me away when I got married.
Make wise use of every moment of your life. You cannot get time back, and addiction is a thief of those precious moments. Don’t allow drugs or alcohol intrude on—or destroy—your relationships. Seek treatment, get help, and cherish every minute for the rest of your life.