Tell Me About It: My alcoholic father’s actions have made me a social outcast
PROBLEM: I grew up in living in a relatively middle-class city suburb. I didn’t have any siblings and throughout my childhood my parents were hardworking and dedicated to giving me the best start possible.
When I was very young I realised that my father was an alcoholic, he would go to business meetings several evenings a week and arrive home late very drunk. The weekends would follow a very similar pattern when he would spend both Saturdays and Sundays at the golf club. I suspect little time was ever actually spent on the course.
He was never unpleasant to me or my mother when he was drunk and at that time I never thought badly of him.
My mother has always loved him dearly and appeared to ignore his shortcomings. She was a strong and supportive parent and I never felt that his difficulties impeded on my childhood.
Sometime ago my father was having an affair with a young woman in our neighbourhood and while drunk he assaulted her causing her a lifelong disability. After he was arrested. It took a while to go to court but he pleaded guilty and received a short custodial sentence.
When he was released from prison my mother took him back home without question.
I was appalled by his behaviour but understood that it was her choice to take him home. He has undergone an addiction programme and no longer drinks and leads a fairly sedate lifestyle.
I am now in my mid-thirties, have a lovely wife and three beautiful children. We live in my childhood home and my parents live in a large detached extension.
While we live in a city the area we are in has a very tight-knit community. I go to the same sports clubs that I went to as a child and my mother knows all her neighbours from the shops, societies and church and on a very regular basis we both experience the backlash from my father’s actions.
People that I considered as close friends have accused me of harbouring a criminal and I know that my mother has also heard similar. While these things don’t happen on a daily basis, we are usually ignored by our closest neighbours, and that is very painful. I know that people also harass my father on the street, but my sympathy towards him is limited.
I don’t know if I can continue to live in an area where my father’s actions have made me notorious. I am worried about the impact that this will have on my wife and children. I do not think that my mother will ever leave him.
Our house ownership is very complicated as myself and my wife re-mortgaged the property and completely renovated it and we are now the sole owners. My parents have a holiday home in the countryside and some savings and if we sold up they would not be destitute. But I feel that my mother would once again be punished for my father’s actions.
ADVICE: It seems that the court of public opinion has decided that your father has not received enough punishment and that you and your family are complicit in this. This is a tricky situation as you are expected to carry the cost of another’s crime and while this seems unjust, there is a case for understanding where the community is coming from.
It is possible to look at your situation from the question of “what is best” for each party involved and see if this helps clarify the problem. Your father pleaded guilty, served time and completed his addiction programme and it is probably best for him that he is now supported and made safe in his home. However he has an alternative home to go and this needs to be taken into account.
Your mother clearly sees that keeping her marriage at all costs is the best for her but she also has to take some responsibility for all those years of unchallenged alcoholism and absence from her husband and father of her child.
The victim of your father’s crime is a young woman, now disabled, and if she continues to live in your community, it may be best for her not to have to fear running into her attacker in her own neighbourhood.
Your community is very articulate in demanding that what it sees as best is that your father leaves and is seen to suffer for his actions as his current comfortable and unchanged position is a constant reminder of injustice for them.
This leaves you and your immediate family: your wife and children are likely to be the innocent carriers of your father’s actions and as communities have very long memories, this could continue for years and have a huge affect on their wellbeing.
Your children’s identity (in local schools and clubs) may always be that of the grandchildren of a criminal and this is a huge and unfair burden for them to carry. Your wife may have continuous worry as a consequence, and this will put a strain on the marriage and on your social lives.
Then there is you. No doubt you wanted your Dad to be a fully-fledged adult as you were growing up and to have the courage to take responsibility for his life and actions. Now, you are in this position and your own family need to rely on you to make difficult decisions, so they don’t carry the brunt of your inaction (which is a family trait from both your mother and father).
You have a difficult decision to make but it must be faced now so that you become the person you wish your father had been. No-one will be homeless as you have very real options at hand, and you can focus on what is best for those who have the biggest burden to carry: your children.
You need to set up a family discussion as soon as possible where the consequences for everyone are outlined and tough decisions are taken and followed through. Your family know, to their sorrow, the effect of ignoring issues so force an honest conversation now.