Thursday, September 12, 2019

Caregiving on alcoholic father

GUEST POST by Alan Oakman

Alan is an online STEM tutor, teaching K-12 students. His love for learning new things as he traverses the world of caregiving has prompted him to start blogging. Apart from being a science geek, Alan loves jazz music and occasionally plays the guitar.   You can follow his blog and he is on twitter too. He is also the caregiver to his alcoholic father.

Being a Caregiver:
Reflecting on Supporting an Alcoholic Father in Old Age

A loving nuclear family in the beginning. Father drinks socially but loves his family and provides for them. Father drinks a little more and stays out late but still loves his family. Father stays out a lot and comes home drunk and, in that unreliable state, professes his love for the family, but never shows up in real needs. 

Many stories of alcoholic parentage have this template with customized variations. The tragedy is doubled when a child grows up in an alcoholic home where both parents are more dedicated to the bottle than him/her. What this childhood journey doesn’t mention is the father in old age needing support and emotional caregiving. 

Majority of the available literature on alcoholism focuses on the period when a child is dependent on the parent and the negative repercussions of psychologically, emotionally, and financially depending on an absentee father. More work is needed to understand the scenario when a once-dependent child becomes the caretaker of the now dependent parent.

The Highs: Feeling of Home

When my father was absent in my childhood, it was an unconscious thought pattern formation that there were other things that were definitely more important to him than me. I did not necessarily dwell on feelings of abandonment as much as navigating through life without his support and care. Therefore, when the possibility of taking care of him appeared in my adulthood, I was frankly thrilled. 

The notion of creating a home together was founded on the concept of making up for lost time and connection. Emotionally, the responsibilities did not take up too much time and had a breezy manner to it. I was also over enthused to fill the gaps in my memory with stories of when he was away. He told engaging stories about his job and his trips that kept him away. While his health was not what it used to be, he was functional and did not require focused palliative care. The experience was one of re-connection.

The Lows: Feeling the Need to Cut Off and Live My Life

The shadow side of this re-connection arose as we spent every Tuesday taking a leisurely walk across the park. In all this, two episodes of disconnectedness were starkly noticeable. Firstly, it was like befriending a new person and I am not too social. Further, it was like making friends with someone you have not confronted for their bad behavior. I attempted to bury these feelings as it was very evident that, emotionally, he was in a horrid place. He felt lonely and hopeless along with encountering the truth that time brings along- everyone ages and the body does not remain invincible. 

The second reason for episodes of disconnectedness was the fact that he did not believe he had done anything particularly wrong. He did think that he used to enjoy a drink but doesn’t see it as a cause for his absenteeism as a parent. It was difficult for me to even listen to the complete monologue, much less accept it without questioning. I had to cut short the walk on that day and process this new information. I felt cheated as I discovered that I had unconsciously assumed that my father had reconnected due to guilt. I had assumed that he was not apologizing overtly only because of the certain unyielding predisposition of his generation. To learn that this apology was not even covertly intended or formed was definitely a shock.   

The In-Betweens: Learnings and Re-Learnings; Doings and Un-doings

Giving emotional care and support to a former-alcoholic parent is a mixed bag and more difficult than I was prepared for. However, these coexisting feelings of home-making & belonging and disconnectedness & dread made me reflect on my choices. 
  1. Emotional Well-Being : It is common knowledge that children of alcoholic parents have a troubled relationship with authority and assertiveness. These are only a few of the behavioral concerns that have been studied as a result of growing up around alcohol abuse. With this knowledge, I found it important to accept that drawing boundaries is very important, especially with the person who had caused much of this. I demanded an apology from my father and explained to him how shirking his responsibility regarding the past was unforgivable. It has led to a much healthier relationship between us currently.
  2. Consciousness: Alcohol, infamously, is one of the most available and abused substances in all age groups. The easy availability and legally permissible status makes it the most popular, therefore harmful, substance in college too (see the chapter on ‘Consciousness’ in Psych 5: An Introductory Psychology Book). It can become difficult to mindfully engage with alcohol in a measured manner due to its sheer availability. It is an important part of learning for me to understand sobriety and practise mindful Buddhism. These are practices that I adopt in the knowledge that I might be genetically predisposed to alcoholism.
  3. Parenting: One doesn’t have to be an alcoholic to be an absentee parent. I have notions of the manner in which I should behave to be a parent who is present in my children’s lives. It is also important to see that I am not necessarily dependent on them in my old age. It would be an aim to bring up my kids in a way that makes them come, meet their old man out of their own will. 
In conclusion, my unfortunate experience has helped me understand the mixed nature of being a caregiver to an absentee, alcoholic father. In addition to compassion, I have learnt to accept the conflicting emotions of anger and overwhelming love that associates itself to my new caregiving role. It also has been an educative journey that molds my future and my relationship with my loved ones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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