Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

Pops. Daddy. Father. Dad. The Old Man.

We have a lot of names for our fathers (and some I won't post here because I like to keep it family-friendly!). We have all sorts of words we can use to describe our dads, too. And in honor of Father's Day, I want to tell you a little bit about mine.

{Dad getting excited about socks at Christmas. No really, he was excited!}

Throughout my childhood, I was a TOTAL daddy's girl. I loved to sit with him in his recliner (my father is a skinny man, and I was in 4th grade before I hit 40 pounds, so we could easily squeeze into the seat). He always took my side when my sister picked on me. I loved the days when he drove me to preschool (let's not talk about the lack of airbags in his little tiny 1988 S10 pickup truck and that I could ONLY sit in the front seat (there was no back seat!). Cars like that are why we have safety ratings these days!).

As a young girl, I knew that most nights my daddy had one thing he would drink. It was a grown-up drink, usually in a silver and blue can. Beer.

And it took me until I was in the 7th grade to understand that the amount of beer he was consuming, and the regularity with which he consumed it, wasn't healthy. At that time, I became aware of the fact that my dad is an alcoholic.

My dad was never physically abusive to my mom, my sister, or me. He was emotionally absent, however, and that is a kind of abuse that is hard to identify, and hard to acknowledge, too.

I spent the 5 years between 7th grade and my junior year of high school trying to hide my father's disease from my friends. I hated it when he drove me anywhere--I could never be sure if he was sober. He was laid off from work several times throughout his career, finally ending up working as a Wal-Mart associate by the time I was in high school. I attended a high school in one of the most affluent areas of Knoxville. It was beyond embarrassing to answer the question "what does your dad do?" among my friends whose dads were doctors and lawyers and successful business men. Over time, I became incredibly ashamed of my father.

The summer after my junior year in high school, something finally broke me, and I told my friends about my dad's addiction. It was so freeing to be able to tell them the truth about me and my family. I was, of course, terrified of their reaction. My goal was to live a perfect life (Hello! Overachiever!), and the truth about my father ruined that image I wanted for myself. But there was SUCH freedom in confessing to them. They may not have ever experienced an alcoholic family member first-hand, but at least they were finally able to understand a little bit of where I was coming from. Of why I am the way that I am.

Part of the reason I was able to tell my friends about my dad is because I came to the understanding that addiction of any sort--drugs, alcohol, anorexia, bulemia--is a disease. I could write a whole post on the science of this and why I truly believe this is the case, but I'll save that for another time. However, it is important for me to say that my view of my father changed once I realized that addiction is a disease like cancer or diabetes. Yes, his actions led to his disease (as does smoking to lung cancer and unhealthy eating can lead to diabetes), but it is a disease nonetheless. I wouldn't stop loving my dad if he was diagnosed with cancer, so why should I stop loving him if he is diagnosed with addiction? And while addiction may not have a specific prognosis attached to it, addiction can  kill the addict.

Fast forward to my junior year in college. I didn't hide my dad's addiction from my new friends in the new state I called home. I didn't drink at all in college (nor have I ever had a drink, actually), and my friends who knew that about me knew it was because my dad is an alcoholic. Dad floated in and out of different jobs my last year of high school and first three years of college. He worked at Target and Kroger after he was let go from Wal-Mart. He entered an outpatient treatment program, and he managed to drink his way through it, fooling all of us for at least a short period of time. But it didn't take long for my mom to recognize that he was drinking again.

One day my mom came home from the grocery, after she had gotten off of work from her second job. My dad was unemployed at the time. She brought all the groceries inside, she and Dad had one of their typical arguments that happened every time my dad drank (i.e. daily). She told him to leave. He told her she should leave. And to my dad's great surprise, she did. She packed her bags, took all the groceries back out to the car, and was gone. (side note: I love that my mom took the groceries with her.)

My dad didn't know this, but my mom had a plan in place. She knew she would eventually need to leave, and she made arrangements to do so. That night, the time was right.

Over the next few weeks, my dad's sister reached out to him, offered him help getting into a residential treatment program. At his entrance interview, he was asked 2 questions:
  • Do you want to get sober?
  • Are you willing to go to any lengths to get there?

Thankfully, my dad answered "yes" to both questions.

At that point, my dad moved into a halfway house, and he stayed in the program for 100 days. He invested himself in the Word of God. He attended AA meetings and got a job. He started to regulary attend Celebrate Recovery, a powerful and life-changing ministry at our church. My dad has been sober for more than 3 years now.

I am so proud of him.

{May 23, 2009. Back to being a Daddy's Girl}

Since he sobered up, my dad is a new man. He has a relationship with Christ (he went to church with us before, but never had any kind of personal relationship with Jesus). He's funny. He's fun to be around. He loves his family something fierce. (I know he always loved us, but it was a "daddy loves me because he's my daddy." Now I KNOW he loves me!) My mom moved back to our house after Dad entered treatment, and after he "graduated" from the halfway house, he moved home, too. Their marriage is stronger now than it ever has been!

 {Also at my wedding. Aren't they cute?}

He has a great relationship with both my husband and my sister's husband. They were the hardest to win back over after he stopped drinking. But now the three of them will run around town together and hang out in my parents' backyard smoking cigars when my sister and brother-in-law are in town. Dad has a new job, and while it's not glamorous (He's a custodian at our church), I know he is proud of the work he does, and I am proud of him for it. After all, his cleaning and stacking chairs is a ministry! He does it because he loves God, and he loves our church.

I could go on and on and on about the things that I love about my dad these days. He was always there, he was just trapped by his addiction. I am so thankful that my mom had the courage to leave. Her action that night paved the way for my dad to seek treatment. And until an addict wants to be clean for him or herself, healing has to wait in the wings. To continue the disease metaphor, my dad had to agree to chemo before he could kick the cancer. Thankfully, Dad made the decision to get clean. He made it for himself. And I love him even more for it.

{With his first grandbaby, Hannah Grace}

Father's Day hasn't always been an easy holiday for me. I've not always been appreciative of who my dad is. And while sometimes I wish we could have all those years back, I am so incredibly thankful for the time we have now. My dad is a hero to me. Just like daddies are supposed to be.
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1 comment:

CJ Sime said...

Wow I bet this was an incredibly hard post to write. Addictions are funny things and completely alter reasonable thoughts. I am impressed with your perspective (though I bet it took a while to get where you are). I hope he adds several more years to his 3 year streak.

Thanks for posting this!!