Recently, I was watching a documentary about teenagers. The reporter asked a seventeen-year-old teenage boy abandoned by his alcoholic and drug addict father at the age of two, “If your father was here sitting in front of you, what would you say to him?”
Without hesitation he replied, “Why were alcohol and drugs more important than me?”
I am proud I made the choice to be involved in every aspect of my children’s lives from the day they were born so they would never say this about me. However, I was not the perfect dad. No man is, because fatherhood is a learning process and mistakes are inevitable. I admit I made many errors in judgment.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for fatherhood. The dynamics of every family is different. Each child is hard-wired differently, but the challenge is to find the best possible methods to teach each child to become a responsible and productive adult.
One thing I felt I did correctly was in staying true to my ethical values. I worked hard to instill a good value system and code of conduct. I believe life is about choices and the choices I make, make me. I held them, and me, accountable for our choices.
These standards were put to the real test when my boys became teenagers.
A friend once told me that raising a teenager is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. He was absolutely correct. (For therapeutic reasons, during the teen years I nailed a box of Jell-O to a tree in my backyard. It felt good!)
The teenage years are a handful. Biological changes occur in the body and mind. There is a lot of peer and social pressure. Sometimes the teen develops a distorted view of life as a result. Mark Twain once wrote, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”
Teenagers are very impressionable, particularly to influences from their peer group, and there is not a lot a father can do to prevent other people from becoming a bad influence. It is a very helpless feeling.
When my oldest son was twelve, I noticed some significant behavioral problems. I thought and hoped it was just a phase that would run its course and resolve itself. It did not. I consulted a therapist, who suggested my son and I attend therapy together. My son attended the first two with his mom in attendance, but then both his mom and he refused to continue. The behavior and attitude got worse.
The day I caught him red-handed with an illegal drug in his possession and almost placed his younger brother’s volleyball career in jeopardy was the day I said enough. I confronted him about all the behaviors that were destructive to him and those who loved him. I attempted to convince him to consider how his actions affected him and others, but his mind was elsewhere. My patience grew weary. I strongly requested he attend therapy and adhere to the values I modeled and taught him. He chose not to cooperate. Today, at age 26, my oldest son continues to flounder through life and blame others and me for his misfortunes.
I am sad and disappointed he chose drugs over his family and a healthy relationship with me. What pained me even more was the presumption by other people, even relatives, that my son’s actions were somehow my fault and that he is the victim of a bad childhood and parental abuse.
One example was from one of my ex-wife’s friends, who mailed a letter to me, in which he wrote, “Your son needs help. He is lost and confused. Do you want him to grow up like you did-never knowing/having a dad? I don’t think you want him to be hollow inside like you.”
I was a stay-at-home dad throughout most of my son’s pre-adult life. I played with him, cared for him, helped with his homework and tried to instill the values I felt he needed in order to become a successful adult. All three of my boys grew up in the same environment with the same dad. The two younger boys are living productive, responsible lives. I sincerely believe I am not the cause of my adult son’s choices and destructive behavior.
During this stressful time, I attended therapy and ALANON. Through therapy I began to accept that my oldest son’s troubles and woes are a result of his actions, not mine. I did my best to teach him right from wrong. It is his choice to live his life this way. It is his responsibility, as an adult, to find his way back to living a functional, constructive life.
Saying no to my son and holding him accountable has been one of the most painful decisions I have had to make as a father. It does not diminish my love for him, though. I look forward to the day we can again be father and son.
If he drummed up the courage to sit in a room with me, what would I say to him?
“Why were alcohol and drugs, more important than me?”
from Dads Behaving DADLY 2: 72 More Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood
Copyright © 2015 Motivational Press. Reprinted with permission. Edited from original.