No one in our family realized Daddy was an alcoholic, even though he drank every evening. After all, he was not a drunk. Nor did we realize how deeply his drinking affected his thinking, his health and our lives.
I was nineteen the first time I even heard the word alcoholic. My parent’s marriage counselor had asked Daddy if he thought he was an alcoholic. He told me about her ridiculous remark. I replied, “Your drinking isn’t a problem for me, Daddy. I always like it when you drink. That’s the only time you tell me you love me.”
Daddy was shocked and asked with amazement, “Don’t I tell you I love you when I’m sober?” When I shook my head no, he put his arms around me and began to sob. “But I do. I do love you so much.”
“I know that, Daddy, but it’s still important to hear it.” I said.
While our conversation didn’t inspire him to quite drinking, he did change the way he related to me. He no longer needed bottled courage to express his love. Every time he saw me, he gave me a hug and told me he loved me.
My father wasn’t a drunk. That’s probably why his problem went unrecognized for so long. While he seldom drank enough to be considered drunk, he drank steadily every evening. Since he never drank in the daytime, his drinking didn’t seem to interfere with his work. Without any of us really realizing what was happening, the alcohol was slowly eating away his brain cells, which interfered with every area in his life. His disease was subtly eroding his confidence, job performance, and enthusiasm for life. As his disease got progressively worse, no one in the family recognized the problem.
I moved to Iowa where I made friends who were in AA, Alcoholic’s Anonymous. They taught me about alcoholism, but I didn’t have to see my father’s problem progressing, because I lived 550 miles away. Maybe I didn’t want to see the problem. I just wanted to get along with him without fighting as I had done all of my life.
Mom began calling more often to complain about Dad’s drinking. Living with him had become increasingly difficult. He had blackouts and would do strange things without knowing he was doing them; things he would never have done otherwise. Although he was a difficult man, he had very high moral standards.
One night Mom called, terrified. During one of Daddy’s blackouts, he had taken a gun and held it against her head. He thought she was a burglar and threatened to kill her. It took a long time before he could recognize who she was. She said,“I could have been killed! This has gone too far. You have to do something, Kalie. You have to get him to stop drinking right away.” In keeping with the tradition of our dysfunctional family, my mother made me responsibility for the problem.
Mom reminded me that my two year old son, Michael, would be in danger, if Daddy continued to drink. I was taking a trip to Switzerland in three weeks and leaving Michael with my parents while I was away. Mom told me that she couldn’t guarantee Michael’s safety while he was with them. She didn’t know what Dad might do next.
My AA friends primed me on the necessity of confronting my father with his drinking and forcing him to get help. They told me that people don’t get help without a heavy confrontation, usually from a number of people working together. At that time in my life, confrontation meant conflict to me, and I wasn’t willing to be in conflict with my father. Conflict went against everything I was learning about how God worked in our lives.
After years of struggle, abuse and fighting, I finally had a loving relationship with my father. While he was still a very critical man, we had made peace with each other and forgiven the past. He was always nice to me when he drank. I had never criticized his drinking before, and I didn’t want to start now. But, according to my friends, there was no peaceful way to confront him. I didn’t know what to do. I only knew one thing – – – I wasn’t willing to fight with my father.
I drove to my parent’s home a full two weeks before I had to leave for Switzerland. I had a mission to accomplish, and I needed time to do it. I had to provide safety for my son and my mother before I left. I desperately needed God’s help. All the way there, I prayed, “I want peace, and I am not willing to fight with Daddy. There has to be another way to get him to quit drinking. Show me a loving way to help him.” I decided I wouldn’t say anything to Daddy until I felt God’s Presence guiding me.
Dad got mad at me as soon as I got there. He had found out I was on an all protein diet. In spite of his alcohol and cigarette addictions, he was a health fanatic and organic gardener. He knew the value of a balanced diet and wanted me to be on one. After his initial outburst, he tried not to fight about it. He limited his comments to little digs and well pointed jabs, just to make sure I didn’t forget his disapproval of my diet.
One week went by and I still didn’t know what to do about his drinking problem. I had waited for a sign from God, but nothing happened. I couldn’t see a peaceful way to fulfill my mission. Had God forgotten me? Was this the exception, when peace wasn’t possible? If so, I would have nothing to do with it, because I wasn’t willing to fight with him anymore.
At breakfast, on my eighth day there, my father got angry at me again over my diet. However, this time he said, “You have no right to be on that diet! You have no right! You have a family to think of. You owe it to your family to be in good health.”
Here was the moment I had prayed for. I silently thanked God and said, “You’re right, Daddy. I do owe it to my family to be in good health.” I stuck out my hand to shake his hand. “I’ll make you a deal, Daddy.”
My father became very quiet. Slowly and reluctantly, he took my hand, saying softly, “I think I’m going to regret this.”
I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “I’ll go off the protein diet and eat a well balanced diet, so that I can be in good health for my family, if you will go off alcohol and attend AA meetings, so that you can be in good health for your family.”
My normally loud and outspoken father saddening became very still as I heard him say softly, “I’ll try.”
Then I turned to Mom and said, “And you’ll go to ALANON? Mom.” She nodded in agreement to my request.
I called AA immediately and got someone to come to the house and take my father to an AA meeting. He attended an AA meeting everyday for the next week, while he continued to drink. We all knew where he kept his bottle hidden and watched the level of it go down at the same rate.
During the week, I never mentioned his drinking. I just continued loving and supporting him in whatever way I could. I prayed everyday and put the drinking problem into God’s hands. I never thought for one moment the problem wouldn’t be resolved before I left.
The night before I left, I asked him, “How are you coming with your drinking, Dad?”
“The same as usual,” he snapped. My father never lied, and I was grateful for his honesty at that moment.
Then he blasted me with his anger. “How dare you call someone to take me to AA!”
I said, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I probably did it all wrong, but I only did it because I love you. I didn’t know what else to do.”
He continued to yell at me, saying, “Don’t you know that people have to stop drinking for their own reasons? No one can stop drinking for someone else.” He continued to blast me with one volley of anger after another. But, no matter what he said, my only reply was, “You’re right, Daddy. I probably did it all wrong, but I only did it because I love you.” I don’t know how many times I repeated that same statement, refusing to fight with him.
He ended our conversation by forbidding me to ever bring up his drinking problem again. I agreed not to speak of it again, simply because I wasn’t willing to fight with him. I just surrendered the problem to God.
The next day he drove me to the airport. I realized he was still drinking, and I was leaving my child in danger if he continued to drink. But somehow, I wasn’t worried. I trusted God and believed a miracle would happen to keep my father and my child safe.
As I went through the boarding gate, I said to my Dad. “Before I go, I’m going to break my word to say one thing to you. When I leave, I’m going to pray for you. I’m going to pray that you find your own reason to quit drinking.”
From that moment on, my father never took another drink. He became very active in AA, reaching out to help others as he helped himself. It was through AA that he experienced God and a passion for life I had never seen in him before. It was like he had really found himself at last.
Years later, after my father’s funeral service, his AA buddies told me how Daddy loved to tell the story of how his daughter got him to quite drinking by confronting him with love.
© 1984-2014 Kalie Marino, 215-672-1599