Looking through my family album, one thing you will notice is that there’s a beer can or a bottle in practically every photo. There’s one of my father holding me when I was an infant. In his other hand he’s holding a can of beer.
In another one, my grandfather is sitting in his favorite chair with a bottle of Bacardi rum by his side. There’s one with me and my dad on the ferry boat going to the Statue of Liberty when I was 6. Again there’s that familiar can of beer in his hand.
Throughout my childhood my father always put liquor first. He rarely thought about me. I used to like to go parks and the movies with him but he was always hanging out with his buddies in the bars.
When he did come to see me he always said, “I ain’t got no money. I’m broke.” I’d look in his wallet and I’d find that he was putting extra money aside for his drinking.
My father rarely treated me with any love. He would get aggravated easily and lash out at me. He had no patience and would curse at me and tell me to get out of his face.
Once I asked him to come to parents’ night at my school and he said, “I don’t want to go to that sh-t. Leave me the hell alone.”
I tried to talk to him about his problem but he only denied it.
I would tell him, “Dad, you’re drinking too much. Stop drinking. It’s bad for you, you hardly have no money.” I would beg him to just try, but he refused.
A Family Tradition
“Stop nagging,” he’d say. “You sound just like your mother.” Sometimes I would get so frustrated that I would yell, “Do you want to die like your father?”
My grandfather died from a heart attack when I was very young. I remember seeing him every day in his chair with a bottle of vodka on the table beside him.
Now my father was becoming just like him. He sat in that same lounge chair in front of the TV, drinking beer. My worst fear was that he would die like his father had and leave me all alone.
I couldn’t understand why he did it. He had a job, a home, and a family who cared. He didn’t need to drink but I couldn’t make him see that. There were times when he would tell me that I was the reason he drank.
At night I would cry myself to sleep, desperately wanting to believe it, just so I could know that there was some reason.
After a while, I gave up. I stopped fighting with him. I didn’t try to talk him out of drinking. I avoided him as much as possible. I just didn’t give a damn anymore.
But he got worse. He’d get up in the morning and grab a bottle of vodka from under his pillow. If he didn’t get that first drink his hands would shake so badly he couldn’t even hold a cup of coffee. It became too painful to watch.
One time he was drunk on the job and miscounted $1,000. They suspended him for two weeks during the holidays. That year he spent Christmas drinking and sobbing about how he had no money.
Then one night we were sitting in the car and again I told him that he was drinking too much.
“Shut up!” he screamed. “I don’t want to hear it.”
He put his trembling hands over his ears but I wouldn’t stop talking about how he was losing everything: his family, his friends, and soon it was going to be his job.
Wouldn’t Let Him Off the Hook
He said he was tired of living this way. He wanted to kill himself. Then he collapsed in tears and admitted that his mother and I were the only reason he lived.
“Then tell me why you are killing yourself by drinking?” I asked. “I can’t stop,” he said. “I’m an alcoholic.”
He finally admitted that he was an alcoholic. I knew that was the first step to recovery.
A couple of days later he found out from his union that his job covered treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. He told me he was going away for one month, that he wanted to straighten himself out.
The next morning he was gone before I could say goodbye or good luck.
He went to Pennsylvania to a treatment center. The first four days there he had to go to detox and go cold turkey. That’s when you get all the alcohol out of your system and your body is craving for liquor so badly that it hurts.
He had to stay in a cabin away from everyone. They do that because the person gets frustrated, angry, and desperate. It must have been horrible for him.
The Recovery Process
After a week, he started to call and tell me how he was doing. At the medical center, he learned that he had a swollen liver and a stomach ulcer. He was treated by a doctor.
He said he was going to counseling, support meetings, and physical activity programs. He was eating regularly and learning about his problem.
After two weeks, I got a phone call from a counselor asking me to visit the clinic for family week. I was excited about my father’s recovery but somehow I didn’t believe that he would ever truly stop.
When I arrived, I stayed in a house with other patients’ family members. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one suffering. We had sessions where we learned about the things we were unconsciously doing to support the person’s habit.
There are times when we mean to do well but instead we provoke the person to drink more. People think that if they get rid of the liquor, they get rid of the problem. WRONG!
Every time I used to take the beer out of the fridge and pour it down the drain, my father would only go buy more.
I wasn’t helping him. I was only making him more rebellious. He’d go out and get drunk because he couldn’t stand to hear me nag.
At the treatment center I got a chance to tell my father how I felt for the first time. They gave us a piece of paper with incomplete sentences and we had to fill in the blanks: “I never understood why you. . .” or “It makes me angry when you. . .”
My father was given the same paper. Then we exchanged papers and sat in a circle and read each other’s answers aloud.
I found out the one thing that got him upset was when I nagged him. I knew I had my faults too, but I also knew that it wasn’t my fault that he drank.
Opening Up to Each Other
Then he read my answers aloud. He read how the one thing that I never understood was why he never showed any love toward me.
As he kept reading, I could see he was trying hard to hold back his tears. His voice was trembling and he managed to say he was sorry, that he never realized the pain he caused.
Everyone in the room was crying. I didn’t think my answers were going to affect anyone but me and him.
Since that day a year ago, my father has changed. He wakes up, only to struggle not to have a drink. My father tells me he could easily “relapse” and take a drink at any time. He did relapse once.
Luckily I was there to confront him and help him face himself and his problem. He received treatment and is now recovering again.
He has taken me out to places on special occasions. We go and visit family for dinner and see movies together.
I’m Proud of Him
My being supportive has helped his recovery, but he is the one who is overcoming his own alcoholism. He attends his support meetings once a week and visits his alcohol counselor every other week.
This past Father’s Day I was so proud of him because it had been almost six months that he remained sober.
I gave my father a special gift. It was a poem entitled “The Man in the Glass” to place by his night table. It described how an alcoholic goes his whole life cheating himself out of the truth.
I gave it to him to remind him that when he drinks he isn’t fooling anyone else. He’s fooling the most important person of all—himself.
When I read the poem it made me wonder how my father could look at himself and live a lie. I pictured his reflection on a glass of liquor, the reflection of a face that told a thousand lies all his life.
Now that my father is sober, I hope he will never have to face that man in the glass again.
This classic story is reprinted from the September/October 1992 issue of YCteen, Youth Communication’s other teen magazine.