When I was actively drinking, the last thing I wanted was to be present for my children. That’s one of the worst things to come from my inventory; the fact that I couldn’t wait for my kids to go home or go to bed when they stayed with me, so I could keep drinking. Sometimes I’d be drunk when driving them home. Or when cooking them dinner. Or I’d be having a fit because my daughter was refusing to stay asleep and she was killing my buzz.
Needless to say, I wasn’t a very present father.
When I was still with the mother of my youngest, I remember leaving the baby swaddled in a bed, tucked between pillows so he wouldn’t roll around, and I’d be in the den playing video games and getting trashed. I remember leaving my oldest alone in the house at night so I could drive to the store and buy more beer. Or stalk his mom at work, to confirm my suspicions of having an affair.
Looking back on this, I should have been arrested for my neglect. I realize now that I was in the throes of an illness I didn’t understand at the time, and would take another ten years to figure out when I finally returned to AA.
Because most of my time as a father has been as a single parent, isolation was a big part of my story. The children always came back clean, and fed, and cared for, so nobody had any reason to suspect that I wasn’t present, at least not emotionally. I spent so much time going through the motions of care, while being so self absorbed, that I couldn’t muster the energy to provide emotional support.
Not even to myself.
How could I manage to give my kids what I couldn’t give myself?
In isolation, tucked away in a small apartment, I fed the kids, bathed them, changed the diapers, and then stuck them in front of the TV or on a tablet while I hid in the kitchen nursing beer after beer. Staying coherent enough to ensure relative safety, but never truly being there. It’s a monumental regret of mine. One that I struggle with overcoming.
But I know if I work it, I can get there. Through amends to my children, the past behavior is changing and I’m slowly becoming the father I want to be.
I took my children to a birthday party for a friend from daycare yesterday. I didn’t know these people and was scared to death of putting myself out there, but I went anyway. Hiccup was super excited to see his friend and I was present enough to enjoy myself and allow my two year old to engage.
Afterward, I helped Starbuck put her make up on so she could look like Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony, to go on a Trick or Treat Tromp in town.
I never used to appreciate these little things. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have cared that my oldest had a super cool plague doctor costume. I wouldn’t have bothered with the birthday party, and the make up would have been a no go. Just because it was too much work for me.
I’m happy I can say that these short examples are not the first occurrences of a renewed presence, but an accumulation of a year and a half of renewed self care and a love of myself. These kids deserve a father, not a drunk. Day by day I’m becoming more of that father and less of the alcoholic.
That’s a great feeling to have.