Staying sober on Father's Day can prove to be just as challenging, if not more than the more popular holidays such as Christmas, New Year's Eve and Thanksgiving. For some, Father's Day can bring back awful memories of childhood. Some of our fathers fought demons every day. They struggled with addiction, mental illness, marital problems and career woes. Father's Day can also prove to be an extremely heavy weight for one to bare. In our diseased mind, even ones that have seen significant recovery, we still can find ourselves focusing on the negative experiences we have had as fathers, or the negative experiences we have had with our fathers. Father’s Day can be brutal for some of us and when I find myself floating off to that land, I remember the day, the moment, I became a father.
July 27, 2012, I entered fatherhood. That morning I watched my wife give birth to our son, Killian. It was as equally mind-blowing as it was amazing and beautiful. Soon after though, reality set in. I realized I knew very little about what being a father meant. My father split when I was about 8 years old. Unfortunately, he fell victim to alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, PTSD, and suffered great trauma serving in the Vietnam War. He got sober a handful of times, but he could never really string any significant time together to make an impact. His disease was severe. However, he did the best he could and he taught me what not to do as a father. For the first two years as a new father, I focused on doing what I knew not to do, like don't smoke crack Sean, don't sell diapers for dope money Sean, don't roll over on my son in a drunken relapsing debacle Sean, and don't give him whiskey because he's teething.
It took me almost two years to realize I wasn't experiencing fatherhood; I was simply doing what I knew not to do. I wanted to change that, so I applied my recovery program to the concept of fatherhood. Our programs aren't just for getting and staying sober. They're a blueprint for living. Over the next two years, I refocused on being a father rather than focusing on not doing what my father did. I realized I was playing defense the first two years and to my credit, I am a good defender. But when the opportunity presented itself where I could play offense as well, I leaped at the chance, cautiously. That's how you win games and championships, through fundamentals, and I took the step to strengthen my fatherhood fundamentals.
Thankfully, my sponsor at the time was also a father and we’d spend much of our time talking about fatherhood. I don't think we ever discussed drugs or alcohol. We took the 12 Steps and discussed how we could apply them to anything, how to measure our improvement and how to get better at working the Steps. He believes fatherhood is the antitheses of recovery. In recovery we’re supposed to take, take, take, and eventually start to give back to others when we’re ready. Whereas Fatherhood we're never to take, were always to give. Fatherhood is altruistic in nature, whereas addiction is total self- centeredness.
Another friend in the program who is also a father took the time to explain to me the five love languages. More importantly he encouraged me to find out which ones my son responds to: Words of affirmation, Quality time, Receiving gifts, Acts of service or Physical touch. That was huge, I soon honed in on which languages my son responded to best.
An old friend of mine, who is a world away today, as he still lives in NY and I live in Texas, was a big influence on me in early recovery. He was one of the only guys in my support group who supported my decision to move to Texas at 3+ years sober. He believed in me. He helped get me my first job in recovery. He showed me how to fill out a FAFSA so I could return to school. He helped train me in the gym because I didn't know what I was doing. I did know that I wanted what he had and I told him so. In return, he took me under his wing and showed me how to get it.
My grand sponsor also was a big influence on me during early recovery. We were NA cats, but we did our Steps out of the AA Big Book. He explained that the Big Book was the original recipe, and we were throwback guys, we belonged in the 1950’s but were living in the new millennium, 2000 and beyond. We were spiritual warriors, not spiritual soldiers. He explained that soldiers only know how to fight. But Warriors, they not only know how to fight but they also know how to live, they know how to dance. All four of those men helped shape me into the father I am today.
Today fatherhood for me is about remaining emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically and financially available, at all times. Fatherhood demands that I learn new things, take new risks, step out of my comfort zone, sacrifice myself, teach and listen to my son. It's about loving, laughing, crying, and being vulnerable. Fatherhood is not about being afraid of doing things differently. I realized two years into fatherhood that I did not want to be the father I never had, or the father I should have had. I wanted to be the father my son needs. I want to make a difference in his life. As Ian McKay from the band Fugazi said in a song titled Blueprint, "What a difference, yeah what a difference, a little difference would make."
Father's Day comes around once a year, the difference is, I celebrate fatherhood every day and so can you.
Happy Father's Day everyone.