I remember the day I found out that he was an alcoholic. I was twelve. I was babysitting for Steve, our ex-alcoholic, ex-drug abusing, single-biker-dad neighbour. Steve was nice, a solid guy. He was hard, but soft at the same time. His face decorated with weathered lines of time and strife, his eyes filled with knowledge from the School of Hard Knocks. Knowledge that can only be gained from life itself. First hand knowledge of struggle, loss, loss of oneself, and loss of control. Steve knew loss. His eyes told a lot.
Steve lived with his 1 ½ year old daughter Jessie, and his younger brother Jeff. It seemed strange that two men in their thirties could take care of a baby by themselves… But they did. I never asked what happened to little Jessies mom, but I concluded that Steve had made some positive life changes, that she was not capable of mirroring. Obviously him, being the more responsible (and sober) of the two, was granted custody of little Jessie. He wasn’t a perfect dad, but he loved that little girl to no end and would sacrifice anything for her, and she would grow up knowing that.
Jessie was sleeping soundly in her crib, and I was watching television, when Steve and Jeff came home, around 11. He handed me my pay as I put my shoes on. I could tell that he wanted to say something to me, he was having trouble finding the words. He disappeared quickly into the kitchen and returned with a brochure in hand. “Give this to your father”
“What is it?” I asked “Look… Your dad has a problem. I used to be an alcoholic and I know one when I see one, I know the signs. Life will be much better for him and your family if he gets some help. Alcohol and drugs can ruin lives. I know. They ruined my life. I almost died a few years ago in a major bike accident. I don’t want to see your family in shambles. Just please, give him this brochure. Tell him he can come and talk to me if he wants to. I will even go to a meeting with him.” I glared at the Alcoholics Anonymous brochure with tears in my eyes. I felt the whole weight of the world fall on my twelve year old shoulders. I felt sad and helpless. I had never really considered whether his drinking was a problem before, and certainly nobody had ever said that it was. I just thought it was normal for adults to drink. It didn’t seem abnormal to me, until Steve told me that it was abnormal. Suddenly things that I hadn’t given much thought to started becoming glaringly obvious. Of course he was an alcoholic… That’s why his eyes were always bloodshot and droopy, and that’s why he sometimes slurred his speech, and that’s why he sometimes seemed angry for no reason, and that’s why he fell asleep every night by the glow of the television in the dimly lit basement. It all made sense.
I went home $30 richer, but feeling like the poorest kid in the world, the kid who’s family was “in shambles”. My dad was supposed to be my security net, my strength, my tower of courage… Suddenly he seemed weak, irresponsible, and out of control. I folded the brochure in half and wiped the tears from my cheeks as I walked into my house and yelled “I’m home” before darting up to my bedroom. I never came out of my bedroom that night. I just crawled under the covers with the brochure, reading it over and over again, until I could recite every word. I fell asleep with my clothes on, and an intimate knowledge of alcoholism and it’s effects on families, children, and relationships.
I never did give the brochure to my dad.