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On August 30, 2016 my wife came home and asked our nine-year-old how here day was. She said, “I’m disappointed.” This was on a day I told her I would make her feel special. What did I do instead? I sat on the couch and got drunk. All day long. When my wife told me what Melody said, every lie I had been living caught up with me at the same time. It’s the worst I have ever felt about myself. After ten years and a million failed attempts I stopped drinking. I’m being honest with you today because my daughter had the courage to be honest on that day. She hadn’t even started Grade Four.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years understanding how things got to that point. I thought I was a superhero who’d proven I could survive anything. I was an absolute believer in my own PR. I thought I was fitter, smarter, stronger and more successful than other people. Yet somehow I ended up a terrified, emotionally-stunted drunk without even realizing it. I was a liar because I was too afraid to be honest. It was impossible for me to be honest with anyone else when I couldn’t be honest with myself.
I spent six years trying to keep my first wife alive while bipolar disorder strangled the life from her. On March 26, 2010 she suffocated herself with the exhaust fumes from her car. You never know how you’re doing to react when you’re pushed beyond your limit. I did a lot of things I was proud of. But I said and did awful things too. Waking up in the morning after being unfaithful to your wife is bad enough. Doing it while she’s locked up in a psychiatric ward is another level of shame. But I never told people those stories. I told the version where I where I was a hero.
“Look at Jason, he’s such a great father.” “Look at the way he is standing by his wife during these terrible times.” “Where does he get the strength?” I loved when people talked about how heroic I was and I convinced myself this was the version they liked the best. It didn’t matter that much of it wasn’t true. So I lied to myself and by extension I lied to everyone else. I lied about how much I drank. I lied about how often I made mistakes and felt shame and regret. I lied to myself about how much I was really lying to myself. It was eating me alive but I was too scared to tell the truth and set myself free.
I thought after we buried Cindy I could just turn the page and move on. I was sick of everything to do with bipolar disorder and the havoc it wreaked. I had a new life to create and that was the most important thing. What was the point of grieving? That’s what weak people did while the strong people took care of business. I drank a lot every day for four years after her death while telling any one who’d listen how great I was. The most terrifying moment of my life was when Tanja stopped believing my lies. I knew my day of reckoning was fast approaching. I had no idea what choices I would make when the time came.
I was teaching my kids that it was perfectly normal to pour a glass of whiskey thirty seconds after walking in the front door. Then another and another and another. I was teaching them they weren’t worth being fully present for. I was showing them I needed to be altered when I was with my family. And by drinking my pain away I was refusing to let them into my life in the way they deserved. All the while I told myself, and everyone else, I was a great man and father. Lies.
I define vulnerability as having the courage to look yourself in the mirror and be honest, and without judgment, about who you see staring back at you. Once I did I stopped being afraid to share the real version of my story. I realized I was unique and stopped trying to shoehorn myself a stereotype. I showed people my authentic self and in so doing I created a place of safety for other people to do the same with me. That’s where real magic happens. When authentic human beings connect and create together there are no limits to what’s possible.
Most importantly of all, I’ve become the father my kids deserve. Once I started being honest with myself I started being honest with them. Being able to admit when I’m scared shows them we feel the same emotions and that brings us closer together. Admitting when I make a mistake let’s them know we all make mistakes. Understanding I am unique let’s me teach them that they are unique. Ultimately my life was shaped by my choices. When I made different ones, I created a different life. Instead of telling them what to do I teach them the power their choices have to shape their lives. I’m giving them all of me and it’s the greatest gift I have to give.
August 30, 2016 was the two-year anniversary of the day I told Melody I’d make her feel special and failed so miserably. You know why her saying, “I’m disappointed” had the impact on me it did? Because I was already so disappointed in myself. Her having the courage to say it to her mommy gave me the courage to say it to myself. And that changed everything. I looked her in the eyes and thanked her for being courageous enough to be honest. I told her she changed my life and how grateful I was. “Wow. Thank you Daddy. You just made me feel really special.”