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My alcoholic dad

I pay for everything — but my dad still makes me out to be the villain.

Let’s get one thing straight, says our elder. You don’t owe your dad anything.

Dear EWC

I’m 21 and taking care of my dad 48. He is an alcoholic and I recently told him I’m done supporting his habits. All I’m now going to pay for is his food and meds. He lashed out at me for being selfish and brought up the times he’s taken care of me and my brother when he could have been free when my mother passed. He said I never returned anything he did for my brother (19) and me, and much worse. I don’t know what to say to him to not break him like he’s broken me by saying all those things. He lives with me and I’m taking care of most of the bills. He does give me money but not really enough. I don’t have the money or the patience to give him money for that stuff anymore.

He is in a very big hole with a money shark so he doesn’t have money that he could have had before. This is the second shark he’s been with in just 10 years. We ran from the first and he then died. He did pay me back but very slowly over the course of several months, but while he’s paying me off he’s still borrowing money from me and the shark. I told him I want to move out someday and be on my own, then he called his friends to make it seem like I’m the villain. I just want to know what to do/say to him while still being my dad/friend.

Nick replies

Let’s get one thing straight: you do not owe your father a damn dime. He is dead wrong in manipulating you with such garbage as, “he could have been free when my mother passed” but he chose to raise you and your younger brother. He didn’t choose. He was simply living up to his parental responsibility instead of shirking it. In other words, if he had not raised you and instead gone out and raised hell “free of you” it would be himself who was not living up to his obligations. He simply was doing what he was obligated to do as your parent. You weren’t his investment account where now you have to pay interest on his investment. He did nothing more than what he was supposed to do.

Once you became 18, his obligations towards you ended. The day you turned 18, any kindness you extend to him, any love you have for him, any debt you cover for him, is not done out of any obligation to him because he ‘raised’ you. It is done because you choose to do it. And it can be stopped when you choose to stop it or he ceases acting as someone worthy of your care, support and love.

I’m going to be blunt: your father is only 48. You are enabling him to remain an alcoholic by supporting him and being guilted into taking care of him. I have known many, many recovering alcoholics — friends, co-workers and employees — at different times in my life. I got to know some of their AA sponsors as well. Absolutely every one of them has told me that only when no one enables them to continue drinking by covering for them, paying their tab, giving them money or support so they have money for their booze, only when they are left on their own, is there a chance they will turn their lives around.

This is the very reason Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) formed AlAnon for spouses/adult loved ones who are in a relationship with an alcoholic, as well as AlaTeen for children living with an alcoholic parent. It is to teach the other family members how to stop being enablers.

Your heart is in the right place because you wrote that you don’t want to hurt your father. But tbh, to an alcoholic, anyone standing between him and his next drink, is nothing more than an obstacle they have to get around. Believe me, they become very crafty in manipulating that obstacle out of their way. You are being manipulated big time.
If you really want to help your father or at least give him a last chance to turn his life around, you have to pull out all the props you are providing to prop him up, like a roof over his head, food and meds. Dick van Dyke was a comedian way before your time (he just turned 94 or 95). He is a recovering alcoholic. He wrote in his memoir that it was only after his wife kicked him out, his children would have absolutely no contact with him and he was sleeping off a bender literally in a gutter where he fell the night before, that he realized what his rock bottom was. He said that for a drunk, only when they hit their personal rock bottom do they have any chance of shaping up. For him, it worked. He went on to become a very successful Broadway star, TV star and created an iconic role in Mary Poppins on screen.

Your father has never hit rock bottom because he’s been able to manipulate and guilt you into cushioning his fall every damn time. It’s time for you to stop.

I strongly recommend that you follow through on your plan to move out “some day” and make that day as soon as you can secure another place to live. I don’t know if your brother is still living at home with you but if he’s able, he should leave with you. Simply let your father know he’s now on his own, loan sharks and all. Let him know that the only support you will provide is helping him find an in-patient rehab and you will no longer financially pay for anything. If he has a dollar for booze, he has the money to pay for his own food and medicine and debts. When he realizes you will no longer be manipulated and you are serious, he will have one of the first sober moments in his life when he has to face himself in the mirror and take responsibility for his own bad decisions.

There is an entire movement called “Tough Love”. You can look it up and Google to see if they have a local chapter in your area. Essentially it’s a support group for family members who have to show “tough love” towards another family member who might be addicted but shows up repeatedly for help, support, shelter, money, etc. It teaches you how to remain tough when they are nasty and name calling. They teach you that you are not being unloving by being tough.

Sometimes in life, the most loving thing you can do for someone is to be tough. Otherwise they will never shape up and kick their addiction.

I know my advice is blunt and won’t be easy. I suggest you find a friend or even a relative who can be a sort of support for you so you don’t buckle and absorb your father’s alcohol-fueled hatred which he spews at you. If you have any chance at a decent relationship someday with your father — a relationship where he is sober, coherent, loving and appreciative of you and your brother, you will have to exert some tough love now.

Questions? Send me a follow-up. Otherwise re-read my advice and try to implement it. If you have future questions on any other topic at any time, please feel welcome to contact EWC as often as you need. We are here for you.

Letter #: 454225
Category: Family

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