February is Valentine’s month, and I like to write about love. This month, my article is a different kind of love: the love of a father for his children after a journey that included alcoholism and divorce.
Here are his words.
I started drinking in high school. I had friends that did, and I drank with them. Lots of gory stories. After I graduated, I worked for a while, went into the service, got married, got out of the service, started a work career and had kids. My drinking got worse, and as it did, so did my marriage. Got divorced. Remarried, and things were OK for a while until one day, my second wife told me she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life married to a drunk. Went to AA, got sober, lived happily ever after … Well, sort of …
I don’t drink any more, but I still have to live with the results.
Alcohol was my psychological crutch, my problem solver, my good friend. Since in reality, alcohol is none of those things, when I finally emerged out of that boozy darkness, I was older but still pretty immature and irresponsible. I reviewed my “bad” list.
It was scary huge. There were so many failures, but my most regrettable mistakes were those I made as a father.
In the beginning, I was feeling sorry for myself, until I remembered the confusion and fear I caused my kids. The realization of that was shaming. It started with that. I have had to confront the bad things I have done. Being in denial is no longer an option.
I have had to learn how to show my heart. How we communicate our love to our children is different for all of us. Some ways are quite expressive. Some ways are subtle. For the alcoholic so well practiced in hiding and denial, this can be difficult. There’s the fear that after telling my children that I love them … they will not answer in kind.
This didn’t deter me.
I’ve acknowledged my mistakes and described my failures. I didn’t want my children to feel they were to blame, and I am fine with any criticism they have of me.
My love for my children is not predicated on whether or not they love me back. Their reluctance is a way they have learned to protect themselves.
I’ve learned much by listening to my kids. Once in a while, the revelations are pretty uncomfortable, especially when it relates to my past bad behaviors. Therapy sessions with my children have revealed some things I am not proud of. But I had to listen. Silencing them would only give more life to unspoken sadness and fear. Defending my behavior would only tell my children that their feelings did not matter … that they did not matter.
Their expressions of anger may help to relieve a little of the pain they hold inside.
It can be a new freedom for both of us.
I am grateful for the wisdom my children have taught me. It has become the difference between moving through an experience instead of slipping around on the periphery of it. When it happens in the moment, there’s a spark of energy that raises my spirit and kindles warmth in my heart. When it doesn’t, it just means that there is a little more work left for me to do.
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As I was in the middle of writing this month’s column, I came upon a book recently published by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. It is called “The Power of Showing Up.” I think this father is trying to show up for his children. Like me, he may not be perfect and is still finding his way, but he is doing the best he can and wants to do better.
I applaud any parent who continues to show up for their children and works on repairing their relationship no matter what past mistakes they have made. I wouldn’t have the relationship with my children that
I have if I didn’t say I was sorry and if I didn’t continue to show up, even though I feared
I might be rejected for past missteps I made.
As I grow older, judging my past just doesn’t seem as important — spending time loving my sons now and in the future is. And like this father, if the spark of energy that comes from our hearts being connected is not present, then I, too, know there is more work to be done.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”