Following in Dad’s (Stumbling) Footsteps
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Following in Dad’s (Stumbling) Footsteps


There was an interesting read on ESPN last week, and trust me, I—a longtime sports-loather—seriously wouldn’t say that if it weren’t true. No, seriously, trust me on that.

Father Son Dynamics

The article is a sort of double-trouble profile about a father and son who share similar demons but differing paths. James “Jim” Irsay is the current owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League. His father, the late Robert Irsay, owned the Colts franchise from 1972 until his death in 1997.

But the story’s most interesting elements surround the difficult and complicated relationship the two men had, plus the degree to which their relationship was influenced by, well, being under the influence. See, both men were alcoholics. But were, for the most part, quite different otherwise.

Robert had the reputation of being, well, an ass. Jim Thompson, owner of Daddy Jack’s restaurant, describes Robert’s general countenance: “He used to come in a lot. I never saw him sober. I’d go to shake his hand, and he’d grab my hand and pull me over the table and knock over glasses, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ He was not really that nice of a man, to tell you the truth.”

Jim, however, vowed not to follow in his dad’s messy footsteps. Jim learned from Robert’s mistakes and “spent a lifetime vowing to be kind and rational, sharp and football savvy. He’d be one of the NFL’s best owners instead of the worst.” By all accounts, Isray was a lovely man who maintained long periods of sobriety.

Like Father, Like Son…Not Always

And he pulled it off. At least somewhat, before he was pulled over by cops in Carmel, Indiana, in March for driving while intoxicated and possessing a controlled substance. Now he’s in inpatient treatment at a faraway rehab while ever-disturbing new details about his troubles emerge. But at least he’s getting treatment! Sadly, his dad never squashed his addiction; he went on to die from it.

So does this mean that the children of alcoholics are destined to follow the parental path toward self-destruction? Clearly not; on this very site, we have examples of those who grew up with alcoholic parents and never struggled with addiction themselves. But it’s important to remember that the children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. And a simple decision—”I’m going to be different than him”—isn’t, alas, enough. We like to think we’re so, so different from our ancestors—and some of us clearly are—but more often than not, our demons aren’t uniquely ours.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.