TAMPA, FL - Jake and Zach were seven or eight when they asked me why I call their Grandpa by his first name instead of “Dad.”
“Because he’s my stepdad,” I said. “I feel for him like a daughter feels for a dad, but he came along when I was eighteen and so I always called him by his first name. But he’s your grandpa, just as if he were my dad from the very beginning.”
“Who is your dad?” Jacob asked. “And where is he?”
Born while my father served in the Army overseas, I woke every morning to look over the edge of the crib and find only Mom, ready to indulge my every emotional whim. Life was good. Until one morning, a few weeks after my first birthday, I awoke to find a man lying next to her.
Lacking sufficient verbal skills, I grabbed the side of the crib with both hands and screamed until every blood vessel broke and squirted through my eyes. I scared my parents to death.
And that’s how we met, Bio Dad and me. Our relationship went downhill from there.
I did have a fairly happy childhood, interrupted every so often by my own bad attitude and Bio Dad’s lack of patience, which was followed by a miserable adolescence, as his drinking got out of control.
At fourteen, I threw a party when my parents finally divorced. His taste for beer, and eventually cocaine, led the man to greater parts unknown. He came back to Tampa for a few years toward the end of the 1980s, and then disappeared again.
Bio Dad was gone. And I was left the victim of addictions.
There are other addictions besides alcohol. Parents should think carefully before allowing a doctor to drug their children in any way. I taught teenagers who’d been on mood-altering drugs for years and were stuck, for the first time, trying to control themselves without pharmaceutical intervention.
It wasn’t pretty.
Those teenagers never cultivated the necessary traits to go it alone. At sixteen or seventeen, they hated the acne, fogginess, and zero sex drive. Addiction is real and lasts a lifetime.
I do not have hope for so-called cures either. Scientists and doctors are actively researching and using new vaccines (read: more drugs) that will cure addictions to anything: other drugs, hedge funds, cigarettes, brownies, alcohol, maybe even redheads.
And so with this dependence on liquid courage and manufactured willpower, we take another step in the long journey away from personal responsibility. A journey that will never bring us back.
Like everything else, the roots to a national problem begin at home with our kids. Then, as adults, they continue giving up their own personal power to a drug or drink and then pretend a new drug will somehow “cure” them.
Addicts trading one addiction for another is nothing new.
Smokers can give up cigarettes for Cinnabons. Opium and cocaine were first sold as cures for alcoholism. Food addicts find new love with exercise equipment or extreme sports.
And then there’s Jesus. He’s the drug of choice for many people who’ve made such catastrophic mistakes, blinded by artificial highs, that they need the blinding high of forgiveness and redemption just to make it through each day. Blind either way.
Although, I’d rather someone put a “Beam Me Up, Lord” bumper sticker on their car and set out to convert the world than continue beating the wife and kids.
But I’m afraid that if we focus on medicine instead of ourselves, we’re missing a golden opportunity. Whipping a demon is awesome. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and ending a vicious cycle Grandpa started is something to treasure. There’s nothing in a pill to be proud of.
Tests of character and strength make us stronger. Granted, there are people who fail such tests and wind up dead as a result. Okay. Drug them because the alternative is unacceptable.
But many people who could find the strength within will choose the easier route instead.
Come on. Don’t pretend we’re not the laziest generation ever. Our kids may even surpass us. Remote controls, drive-thrus, online investing, and Michael Bay movies are popular for a reason.
New and more expensive drugs are not a way out of our drug problem. Addiction vaccines don’t tackle the root of addiction; they simply mask the symptoms. It’s not always better to just make the bad go away. We need to help our kids develop the skills for how to prevent it all in the first place.
When Bio Dad reached out to me a few years ago (gotta love Google), I reached back. He’d been clean and sober for over twenty years and I told my children that we keep in touch through sporadic emails.
Yes, re-connecting was uncomfortable and is still uncomfortable at times, but I believe it was the right thing for me to do. To those who say, “You shouldn’t have let him back into your life,” I have some concerns.
How do I teach my children to honor their parents, if I am unwilling to do so? “Honoring” is open to interpretation; however, turning away from someone who is trying to make amends seems cruel and unjust. I want my children to forgive any mistakes I might make; how better to teach forgiveness than by modeling it?
Holding on to bitterness and anger is ugly. I learned a lot from having a flawed father. I learned about what kind of man not to marry, learned a lot about alcoholics and how to break the cycle, and learned about myself in the process. Wonderful lessons I would never have experienced without a strong mom, heavy dose of faith and an iron constitution.
I am a survivor, which is a lot better than being a victim.
I am not saying every distant family member deserves a ticket to the annual barbecue. My own love and attention goes to the dad I have been blessed with since 1989. I just believe that Bio Dad, someone who has paid dearly for past mistakes, doesn’t deserve a slammed door in his face.
In the end, I explained to my sons, Jacob and Zachary that the past has passed and no matter what has happened in my life, good or bad, all of it made me who I am.
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