Thinking about My Drunk Dad on Father’s Day
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Thinking about My Drunk Dad on Father’s Day


The other night I was at a meeting listening to an old timer named Bert tell a recovery story that must have been especially gratifying for anyone who spent any portion of his life being a drunk dad. He spoke about how, when he was about 10 days sober, he had gotten into one of those horrible early sobriety self-pity loops that alkies are prone to when we’re looking for someone to blame for how badly we fucked up our own lives.

It happened about 35 years ago, and that day, this guy met his sponsor for lunch so he could start dumping his shit. He said he launched into a tirade about how everybody—his wife, his co-workers, the boss—sucked. His sponsor just listened disinterestedly, and when the guy was done complaining, the sponsor hit him on the arm, said, “A grateful heart will never drink,” and walked away.

This only made him more furious, so he added his sponsor to his list of assholes, thought about firing him and spent the rest of the day stewing. But when he went home that night—sober—and got to his front door, his seven-year old son and nine-year old daughter attacked him in that fun way that kids do when they’re happy as shit to see their Dad.

This was absolutely not the way things had gone when he was drinking. And while they were rolling around on the floor laughing, he looked up and caught a glimpse of his wife smiling at him, something else that he hadn’t seen much of when he was drinking. Then he remembered what his sponsor told him that afternoon. He concluded by saying that he thinks of that scene when he loses perspective, and tries to use it to remain grateful.

It was only a three-minute story, but it’s one that speaks to the benefits of recovery and forgiveness and how the lives of those around you can change when you get sober and into recovery. I’m not saying that the guy has behaved like St. Francis of Assisi for the rest of his life, and I know from personal experience that he can be a pretty angry guy at times, but at least his wife and kids were spared the horror of living with his active alcoholism and addiction. And his kids are still in his life.

A lot of alcoholics and addicts aren’t so lucky.

I have never been a drunk Dad, but my Dad was, as was his Dad was before that. And I believe the reason that I have never for one second wanted to be a Dad is that my Dad and his Dad were drunk Dads. By the time I was 19, I (correctly) feared that I was going also going to be a drunk, and I didn’t want to inflict that on any kid.

My younger siblings and I don’t remember much about our childhood—our father left when I was eight years old on Christmas Eve—and I have zero recollection of him, but my guess is that his behavior wasn’t particularly loving. My father’s Dad once made him put on a dress and stand in front of the house all day because he had pissed the bed, so I imagine he learned some pretty fucked up lessons on how to be a father. He never got sober, never returned and was never a part of our lives.

I didn’t see or hear from him for 10 more years. I think I hated him and had the usual abandoned-kid revenge fantasies, but when I was 18 years old, I took a cross-country trip with my friends, and I met him at his house in California where he was living with a girlfriend. It was awkward, but after my friends went to bed, he and I got drunk together and talked. I was drinking beer, but he was drinking Seagram’s Seven and milk (he had developed stomach ulcers from the booze and it was the only way he could keep it down). He was 40.

I actually felt some compassion for him, because he was so pathetic, but it didn’t keep me from exacting my boyhood revenge. “I think your mother still loves me,” he said to me through teary, bloodshot eyes, and it was almost like a plea for confirmation.

“She doesn’t give a flying fuck about you,” I responded with a backlogged load of venom. I hit the target, and his already sad face fell. I got up, went into the next room and crashed. The next day I left, and I said I’d stay in touch, but it was another 15 years before we spoke again.

The next time I saw him, I was in my 30s and he was in his mid-50s, but he looked like a banged-up 70. I was on another cross-country trip, but this time I had just come off a bender after not really drinking for about 18 months. He had to use a walker, and when I drove him down to his local watering hole, he tried to convince me that he was banging the beautiful bartender, who was younger than me. Any vitriol I felt towards him was pretty much gone after that, because he had become such a sad case, but I still left the next day.

A couple of years later, he called to reconnect, but by then he was dying. I told him I’d try to get out to see him, but my own booze problem now had me in its grip, and I never made it. My sisters and brothers, who are much nicer people than me, also declined to visit him, and he died without the benefit of seeing his children before the booze did to him what it did to his father and eventually his son, my brother (who died five years ago). My dad was 57 when he died.

This story isn’t about me, and it isn’t really even about my father. It’s about what booze and drugs do to a human being’s capacity to care about their own children, and miss out on their lives. I don’t know what Father’s Day or any other holiday was like for my dad, but I imagine it was full of a lot of guilt, shame and remorse. I haven’t felt any anger towards him since I was 18, but I do feel a sense of sadness for him.

It must have been tough for him, knowing that he had chosen booze over his family, but my guess is that he would have preferred to have a life like Bert’s rather than the one that he lived. Some of us just got lucky.

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About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.