Self-Supporting Through My Own Contributions?

By Arthur Becks 02/17/17

Even after I got sober, I still relied on my father's money to get me out of trouble. It was demoralizing and eventually I drank.

A child surrounded by flying dollar bills.
My parents saved me.

I always we knew we had a bit of money tucked away somewhere. It was the type you don’t really know about. The reason I didn’t really know we had it was because my father, who got sober when I was eight, was obsessively modest. He’d been enabled something awful by his own father, who bailed him out of jail again and again, kept the stories out of the papers, replaced the cars, and even the French doors at my aunt’s house when my father drove through them after a long night out.

There was the convertible he’d driven into a pool—only to sit on the trunk with his friend afterwards and have another beer—and the embarrassment he described when the white-gloved chauffeur carried his surfboard down to the beach. His favorite movie was Arthur, and when he got sober he decided he did not want me to live like that. He wanted to protect his children from the trappings that had enabled him to avoid hitting bottom.

With my dad sober, we moved to a modest house in a good part of town, but not the best. We went mostly to the local public schools. When the time came, I went to the good-enough prep school, not the prestigious one he’d been to. My parents drove used cars, bought us secondhand clothes. My dad always said, “I want you to stand on your own two feet, my boy.”

Things went well until I started drinking at 14. I was at a friend’s place out at the beach the first time I drank. They were all a bit older, so drank with ease and moderation. I blacked out. I vomited all over the place. I touched someone’s boob. I told someone else I was gay. The next morning, my friend’s father told me this was the way of my people.

“There’s something about you guys,” he said, “you just can’t drink.”

And I couldn’t. He’d been through this with my dad and his brother so he knew, as I started off to the races again that afternoon. I drank to excess again that night and returned to the new school year determined to organize my life entirely around booze.

“I’ll be a diplomat,” I pronounced grandly.

I studied French and German. I cultivated a sophisticated circle of friends with whom I could party. I worked my way through the stock of wine we had at home, through my friends' parents' wine cellars, started smoking, and eventually stopped playing school sports because I was too hungover. Initially there was little in the way of consequences. I had an allowance, there was a cleaning lady. My parents were lenient and were always out. When I needed more money to keep up with my new friends, I got a job and my grades fell off. My first consequence was that I was politely asked to leave my high school. I went to another that specialized in the troubled children of the well-to-do. Then I went to another. I crashed a motorbike. Then a car. Each time I was bailed out without question. But when it was time for me to go to college, my dad was worried.

“I’ll put you through college,” he said, “but then you’re on your own.”

To prove his point, he had me sign a contract agreeing to his ending my financial support upon graduation. And he did! I saw college as a blank check, a cloistered environment in which I could drink with impunity. I saw no reason to leave and because I liked it, I did well. The terrible thing is that my father, judging my escalating drinking, did exactly as he said when I graduated. The results were dramatic. It was clear I had no idea how to manage my life. I washed up in AA ten months later. I was 24.

I waited till I had 90 days to tell my dad I had stopped drinking. He was heartened, and the doors to his financial support started to open again. It started with an international trip, but eventually I was creating situations where I needed to be bailed out. Health costs. Credit cards. Overdrafts. We’d sit down every few months and look over my disastrous finances. He’d write a few checks, bail me out, and then I’d be “standing on my own two feet” till we met again. It was demoralizing and I wasn’t finding my way towards reality. I didn’t do the steps or get a sponsor either, and eventually I drank.

By the time I managed to get sober again, I was really beat up. My finances were a mess. So much so that I couldn’t get a cell phone. I was too proud to ask my father and intuitively knew that I needed a time-out from our relationship to get sober. I cleaned up, dried out, did the steps and with the help of a sponsor came to see that the inventory we talk about in AA was indeed mine. Not my dad’s. I was beginning to get better by focusing on my behavior and shortcomings instead of other people's. With this in mind, I asked myself how I had behaved as a son, took stock, and soon realized my score card in that department read: zero. I made amends to my dad and the rest of my family, and told my dad I was standing on my own two feet after all. I made a point of paying for meals when we were together, and always told them I had a fantastic life and that they had nothing to worry about. I saved my troubles for my sponsor—who it turns out is much better at dealing with them anyway.

But old habits died hard, and I let slip that I hadn’t been working for a while and that I was a little worried. That’s when I got the e-mail from dad offering to support me, or offering me a lump sum to get through the tough patch. Initially I thought this was God doing for me what I couldn't do for myself. But then I spoke to my sponsor and therapist about this, and in availing myself of the counsel of others wrote back to my father declining his offer of financial support. It was probably the most healing thing I’ve ever done. I told him that he had no need to worry, and that I would not be too proud to reach out if I did need help, but that I was doing okay.

I couldn’t be that person anymore. I’ve changed my actions and in doing so have changed my relationship with my dad. I imagine how proud he must feel to know that his son is finally, however haltingly, standing on his own two feet. I imagine him telling his friends he offered to support his son, and his son said he was doing okay.

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