A daughter's faith in her father is restored when she realizes his devotion to his sobriety touches others. By Allison Mitchell, Woodland Park, Colorado.
“Remember, your father is only one year older than you.” That was Mom’s usual excuse when Dad said the wrong thing or did something dumb. Like the other night when I modeled my new dress and sequined shrug for my parents.
“Ta-da,” I said, spinning around so the sequins caught the light. “What do you guys think?”
Dad barely looked up from his paper. “Great,” he said, “for a Vegas showgirl.”
“Don’t take it personally, dear. You look lovely,” Mom said. “Remember, your dad is only a year older than you are.”
As with all family jokes there is truth to that. Exactly one year before I was born Dad quit drinking. He said it was because alcohol made him do and say crazy things. He joined a group of other men and women who had also stopped drinking, and he hasn’t had a drink since.
Each year on his sobriety birthday, as he calls it, he brings home a metal coin. He carries it around in his pocket. I’ve seen him take it out and rub his thumb across it absently, a satisfied look in his eyes.
I loved my dad but I hated the way his weekly meetings took him away from Mom and me. It seemed like they were more important to him than we were. But with my sixteenth birthday coming up I figured even Dad would make an exception.
I announced, “Only one week left before my birthday. Hope you guys have something great for me!”
Mom smiled. “Don’t worry, honey. Your dad and I haven’t forgotten.”
“Where are you taking me for dinner? Are we going someplace fun?”
Mom exchanged a look with Dad and then cleared her throat. “We thought we’d wait until after church on Sunday to celebrate. Your father has his meeting Saturday.”
As if I needed to be reminded. “You’re always at a meeting,” I moaned. “Can’t you skip it just this one time? Saturday is my birthday and I’m only turning sixteen once.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Dad said. “I’m chairing the meeting that night. The group’s counting on me. We’ll have your party on Sunday.”
“You care more about a bunch of stupid drunks than you do about me!” I shouted. “I don’t care if you drink. You’d probably be more fun if you did.” I stomped out of the room, ignoring Dad’s hurt expression.
Saturday evening I sat on my bed, my iPod cranked, feeling terribly sorry for myself. Dad poked his head in my door.
“Happy Birthday, sweetheart,” he said. I grudgingly took my ear buds out. “I’m heading out soon for my meeting, but tomorrow is the big day and I’m looking forward to celebrating with you.”
“Whatever,” I said.
Dad started to leave then paused.
“Why don’t you come with me tonight? It’s an open meeting. All are welcome.”
“I can’t go to a meeting of alcoholics. Everyone will think I’m one too.”
“Trust me,” he replied, trying to hide a smile, “no one will think you’re an alcoholic.” He looked at his watch. “I’m leaving in fifteen minutes. If you can be ready by then come with me.”
What would I do at a meeting? What would they talk about? They’d stare at me and I’d feel weird listening, like I was spying on them.
But again, maybe I needed to see why something Dad did every week mattered so much more than his only daughter’s sixteenth birthday. I got off the bed and changed clothes.
We didn’t talk much during the 10-minute drive across town. Dad parked in front of an old church and I followed him into the basement. It was no frills. Dim fluorescent lights, two tables pushed together to form an L.
The room smelled of coffee. Several people—men and women—were already seated. Dad pulled out two chairs for us. We sat down and he rapped his knuckles on the table to call the meeting to order.
“My name’s Mark,” he said, “and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi, Mark,” the group chorused. People went around the room, introducing themselves, always adding, “I’m an alcoholic.”
When it was my turn I looked down at my lap and muttered, “My name’s Allison.”
“Hi, Allison,” they said warmly.
Dad announced that the theme of the meeting was going to be gratitude. One man told of how his wife and daughter had left him, but added that he was grateful they did because he finally quit drinking and was now starting to build a real relationship with his daughter.
A woman talked about how her sister refused to speak to her, but she was grateful she didn’t have to take a drink to ease the pain.
Then it was Dad’s turn. “Today I’m celebrating seventeen years of sobriety,” he said. “One year into my sobriety I received the most precious gift of my life, my daughter.” My eyes stung. “I was one mean drunk and I’m so grateful,” he went on, “that my daughter has never seen me drunk.”
Shame washed over me. I looked at Dad and it occurred to me that he came to meetings not in spite of Mom and me but because of us. He did it for us. But I still wondered why he couldn’t skip a meeting every once in a while, especially when something really important came up. It seemed like overkill.
Then a burly lumberjack of a man held up his hand. “My name’s Dave,” he said, “and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic.”
“Hi, Dave,” everybody responded.
“As many of you know,” Dave began, “this has been a very difficult year for me after losing my job.” He paused.
“What you may not know is that we are also losing our house.”
There were some gasps around the table.
“Not long ago I received the foreclosure notice. I decided I’d had enough. I was angry and felt abandoned by God.
Years of sobriety and it didn’t make any difference. It would have been one thing if this had happened because I was drinking, but I was sober. Life seemed pointless. I decided to go buy a bottle of vodka, down it and end it all.”
The room was totally quiet.
“I drove over to the shopping center and parked a few spaces away from the liquor store. Just as I was
stepping out of the car, Mark walked up. He told me he was picking up a gallon of milk for his wife. He asked if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee.
“I figured my plan could wait because obviously I couldn’t walk into the liquor store now with Mark standing right there.”
Everyone laughed, which kind of broke the tension.
“At the coffee shop Mark told me about some of the struggles he was facing in his construction business and the fears he had of losing his house,” Dave went on. “But he reminded me that while jobs and houses are replaceable, people are not.
"He left his gallon of milk in the passenger seat of his car and I don’t think that hour in the sun did it any good, but that hour saved my life. I’m certain Mar
Dave stood and fished something out of his pocket, a ceremonial coin.
He held it up and spoke, “This chip reminds me that through another year with God on my side and the support of all of you in this room, I can face life without taking a drink. Now I would like to pass it on to my friend Mark. He is the reason I’m here today.”
Dad rose, took the coin and hugged the man fiercely. Then he passed the coin around the room and everyone touched it. When it finally came to me I stared at the XVII on its face.
How might my life have been different if Dad hadn’t come to his meeting all these years? And Dave’s? Showing up week after week and meeting with people in this church basement, and in parking lots and coffee shops, Dad was changing lives. I was so proud of him.
“I love you, Daddy,” I whispered.
I was startled to feel Dad’s hand on my shoulder. “I love you too, sweetheart,” he said, “and don’t you ever forget it.”
That night when we got home Mom had a cake ready. “Happy Birthday, Allison,” it read.
“Wait a sec, Mom.” I grabbed a tube of icing and added “And Dad” under my name. “It’s his birthday too, after all. He’s just one year older than I am.”