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Families of Addiction - The Father-Daughter Relationship!
I had a father…I wanted a dad!
I was ten years old, sitting in my living room, crying for my father. It was the first time in my life that I had seen my father cry. I can still feel my heart aching for him on that day, but I also recall not being able to move or even attempting to console him. My mother had just finished telling him that she was taking her three girls and moving back to the United States. That was the only time in my entire life that my father appeared helpless to me!
My journey with addiction began at a very young age. My father was an alcoholic. He started drinking heavily well before I was born. So, until the very end, it was not really something for which I witnessed the progression. All of my memories of my father are of him holding either a cup of coffee or a beer. As sad as that may sound, I am not sad. I still loved that man as much as any daughter can love her father.
Dad was not a bad person: he was simply emotionally unavailable. He was not capable of giving any of himself to my sisters or me, and he sure as heck never qualified for the “Husband of the Year” award.
I never realized at the time, partially because I was too young, how badly he treated my mother. We were living in Belgium at the time, some 3,500 miles away from my mother’s hometown of Cohoes, NY. She was alone in a foreign country with three very young girls and no emotional support.
My parents didn’t really fight; in fact they rarely even talked. There wasn’t much communication between the two, and when there was it was in the form of sarcasm, or in some cases, very condescending and nasty comments that my father spat at my mother.
Dad always maintained a good job. In fact, he was quite brilliant. He graduated from RPI in New York State with an Engineering Degree, and spent a good portion of his life as an International Marketing Manager. He then went on to become a well recognized Technical Writer. Although his work ethics did not suffer from his drinking, I do believe that he was capable of doing much more with his life, had it not been for his addiction to alcohol.
My mother was a “Stay at Home Mom”, and dad did a lot of traveling for his job. Life at home with mom was always pleasant. She never outwardly showed how difficult life with my father was for her. I am still, at 46-years old, learning more about what my mom had to deal with…all of which I never had a clue. She was always able to keep things together enough (for the sake of her girls) when dad was around.
I do remember times that I thought were funny (mainly because they were) when mom used to do things just to piss my dad off. Just about every time we went on a road-trip, as a family, mom would hand each of us a piece of gum. She taught us at an early age how to blow and snap bubbles with our gum. Shortly after we would take off, all four of us would be snapping and popping our gum. Dad would get really angry and demand that we stop, so we did…for about 5 minutes. Then mom would start snapping her gum again and we would follow suit. I could see the veins in dad’s neck popping out.
Then there were the times that mom would walk around the house with Barbra Streisand songs blaring on the stereo. She would be singing right along with it, and so would I. What I didn’t know, until recently, was that those were the days that dad had done something to anger my mom, and dad wasn’t a big Barbra fan, therefore…retaliation! Mom became very good at that.
We never spent a whole lot of time with my dad when we were young, and when we did it was usually hanging around in a local bar. We would drink hot chocolate or tomato juice, while he drank beer, smoked cigarettes and played pool.
Dad always seemed preoccupied when we were at home. I don’t remember seeing him stinking (fall down) drunk, I just remember seeing him angry when he didn’t have a drink in his hand. We weren’t allowed to talk much at the dinner table and God forbid one of us ever had the inclination to sing at dinner…NOT ALLOWED! Of course mom didn’t really care…and we did as mom did, not as dad said.
We eventually moved back to the States without dad. My parents tried to give it another shot after a year of being apart, but that was short lived and they were divorced when I was thirteen.
We spent every other weekend with my dad after the divorce. It was almost the same situation as when we were younger. The only differences then were that; during the day he would drop us off (with money) at bowling alleys or movie theaters, and at night, especially in my later teenage years I would drink beer with him. That is when I realized that my father was an alcoholic…I was already becoming aware that I also had a problem.
After graduating from high school, the time I spent with my father became very minimal. I was entering my own alcoholic world at a rapid pace. I took time off from drinking during pregnancies, but was right back at it shortly after giving birth…each time.
I divorced my first husband when I was twenty-eight years old. That is when I began to harbor a lot of anger towards my father. I would go as far as calling him on my birthday, every year, and yelling at him because he forgot my birthday…AGAIN! This routine went on for quite a while.
I would call him, and buy him presents, at Christmas and his birthday every year. Still no calls ever came in from him. This wasn’t exclusive to me; my sisters were getting the same amount of attention from dad as I was. I still don’t know why it seemed to bother me so much more than it did them, but it did.
Then one night, shortly after I gave birth to my youngest child, I reached my breaking point. I was drinking an excessive amount of white wine…couldn’t even tell you how many bottles I polished off on my own. Sometime around midnight I broke down in tears and called my father.
I poured my heart out over the phone. I was switching back and forth between crying and yelling at him. I basically told him what a rotten father I thought he was, that he had never been there for my sisters or me, and that he should be ashamed of the fact that his three daughters turned to their stepfather for a father figure instead of him.
The phone rang the next morning…it was dad laughing as he asked me how I was feeling. He wanted to know how much I had to drink the night before, then he told me he was coming down to spend some time with me the following weekend.
The timing was perfect. My mother and stepfather were taking my two older children to a race in the Pocono’s that weekend. I was finally going to have the chance to get to know my dad. Not quite!!!
For beginners, dad professed to me that he DID NOT have a drinking problem. He was well into his second six-pack of beer while he was telling me this. It was a beautiful day and I did not want him smoking around the baby, so I tried to keep him outside as long as I could. He only lasted until mid-afternoon, he claimed he was freezing and we went into the house. I brought the baby upstairs and opened all of the windows on the first floor.
During his visit, which lasted less than a full twenty-four hours, we managed to drink nearly 3 cases of beer. I’ll admit that I drank a good share of it myself, but my husband (at the time) had to make two extra trips to the liquor store in order to keep him going. He woke up early the next morning, with very visible DTs, had a cup of coffee and left.
By the time my mother returned with my children I had already steam-cleaned all of the rugs, scrubbed the floors and the walls and cleared every empty beer can out of my house. I couldn’t seem to get rid of the smell of smoke or alcohol. I felt disgusting, guilty, and anxiety ridden. I was sitting on the front porch crying uncontrollably when mom pulled into the driveway. She simply sat down next to me, gave me a knowing look and held me tightly.
There was nothing anyone could say or do at that point…my eyes had finally been opened, and now I just had to accept. I struggled with this realization for a long time, but eventually I came to terms with it. I went right back to the little girl who loved her dad unconditionally. I also learned to detach myself from the situation and only saw him on special occasions until his untimely death at sixty-five years old.
Being a recovering alcoholic myself, I am in no position to judge anyone else’s actions. I know first-hand that unless you recognize, and are willing to fix the problem yourself, there is nothing anyone can do to change the situation. I can only say that, even though dad had his faults, he was still my dad and he was not an evil man…he was simply sick and deserved to be loved as much as any other human!
I also thank God for my mom, because without the strength, courage and love she displayed throughout my life, I’m not so sure where I would be right now.