I had sung in a small school choir in a theatre production. After the performance at a theatre in a not so nice part of an inner city, on a Saturday night, my father who was supposed to pick me up, never turned up. Home was 30 minutes away. I had never used public transport alone. All the other boys had been picked up, but the mum of one of these other boys noticed I was waiting and waited with me and her son. We waited and waited. She checked the pub across the road- no sign. Eventually she called my mother who came and collected me.
My father was picked up by the police whilst drunk at the wheel, later that night. It was the first of several drink driving offences. I never spoke about what had happened with the other boy when I saw him at school the following week. But 25 years later I thanked his mother for her kindness that night. He then revealed that his father had also had problems with alcohol and this had been one of the reasons for his parents’ marriage falling apart. He said it had caused him unhappiness at school. Perhaps if I could have opened up more at that time, we could have helped each other more.
My father’s drinking continued and still continues though to a lesser extent. He drank in binges and was never physically dependent. I try not to think about it now, but the worry, uncertainty, embarrassment and shame you have when a parent drinks is hard to describe. Being picked up after school, hoping that he would not be drunk. Being left waiting in the dark, alone at night after all the other boys have been picked up. The fear of being driven in a car by someone who is drunk. The shame when your father turns up drunk to your school prize giving where you are getting a prize. The sniggers and snide remarks the next day from other pupils and staff even.
And the irony is that I had what by most accounts would be a privileged childhood. My father was a doctor, I went to public school and then university to also become a doctor. I spent part of my career working with other doctors helping them with alcohol problems. Like many of them, my father faced the GMC because of his drinking. I kept my own experiences tightly bound yet always accessible to me.
The effects of my father’s drinking, as well as the above, were feelings of low self-esteem. It created great insecurity in me. As a child I always wondered why my father would drink as he had a wife and 2 children who loved him. My escape was university, new friends with whom I could speak about what has happened (I only told my best friend from school about my father’s drinking 7 years after we left) and putting distance between me and home. It still rears its head- a few years ago when my father came to visit me in the city where I had moved to, he got drunk on 2 nights in a row. Both times he was picked up by the police. That feeling of worry, shame, anxiety, concern for your parent and utter rage and anger against them all at the same time, is hard to describe.
I have put my father in a distant place for some years, held there by my anger and resentment (he never once ever apologised). But I can see that that is self defeating. He succumbed to some great pressures he was under at the time. He had choices and made bad ones repeatedly. He lacked insight into his drinking for many years. He was an addict. But my hatred just made me feel worse.
As an adult with a loving supportive wife who has helped me to start speaking more about my experiences and also as a father of 2 small boys, I know that acceptance and forgiveness can be the only real solutions. I am conscious of the generational legacy of addiction and the high risk of passing it on. I watch myself. For a long time I never wanted to be anything like my father. But that cannot be. We are alike but different. I can see that now the positives that he gave me in my makeup and in life. But I am my own man. And I am determined to never let my boys face anything similar in their lives.