Dad's a drunk.
January 23, 2009 9:55 AM   Subscribe

My ex is a drunk, so I threw him out. However, we have a young child, and I'm having a hard time figuring out where to go from here.

...I used to drink a lot myself, but we got the idea to have a baby, and -- well, of course you sober up for that, right? So I stopped smoking, stopped drinking; he whittled down, and things were nice -- briefly. He drank around six-plus beers nightly through his paternity leave and ramped it up from there for a while. There was a horrifying incident where he was violent and quite out of his mind, imprisoning me in the house, when our daughter was a wee baby and I'm unlikely to let go of that anytime soon. He continued to drink. He came close to being violent a second time.

Eventually he was hectored into cutting down with the booze. He was grumpy and dreadful to be around.

About once every two months he goes on a sizable bender -- disappears overnight if not longer -- and about twice a year these benders involve crack cocaine.

He went off on a crack bender a year or so ago and I threw him out briefly. He went back to drinking. He went on a non-crack bender, got so drunk he slept in the street. I threw him out. I believed 'I'm sober now' after a month. He was sober for two weeks. I threw him out, changed the locks, and put a divorce attorney on retainer [where she remains]. This was in September.

I and our toddler daughter are living in the jointly owned house. I am a SAHM with no immediate employment prospects. (I am this person, now looking at a technical writing course at a local college. Thanks Ask...) The bills are paid and so on. Money is tight given debt he's racked up drinking, but he's a well-educated, white-collar professional with a decent salary and very secure job; 'tight' is a relative term here... I have some savings, which are going to repairs on the house -- which I hope to eventually rent out -- and possibly to a car when my learner's permit status allows me to drive alone this summer. I am in the sticks and quite dependent on the ex for drives to the supermarket or anywhere else right now.

Ex is living in a nearby B&B and comes over on the weekends. Kicked out, he is -- has always been when kicked out, but only when kicked out; what's the deal? -- an extremely loving and attentive father. He is also the witty, warm, intelligent man I was attracted to. Our daughter loves him. He was not a bad father to her while living here aside from the drinking -- er, to the extent that that is possible -- but he was morose and crabby. This weekend-visit Dad is full of smiles.

However. We did not see as much of him as planned at Christmas because I was disgusted over a pre-Xmas bender. 'Disgusted' and scared. The time with him boozing heavily with a baby in his house was pretty awful at times and he could be quite frightening, and given a couple of incidents I'm not ashamed to be scared of him when he's been anywhere near a bottle. And just recently he's gone on another bender where he ended up smoking crack.

I have a lot of stress about his debt load and my dwindling savings and the house we own, but these are all secondary to my worry about how to protect my daughter. She has a fantastic time with Dad when she does see him, and he loves her tremendously. I don't know that 'No more visits until you're sober' is best for anybody, or even realistic. He has been doing these benders for a decade and a half now and may never sober up entirely. I am not shocked and horrified by drugs, but I am shocked and horrified that he can smoke crack despite being a father. He is sick, addiction-wise.

I don't know how to respond to the latest crack jag. I've told him I'm pretty much grossed out by him and that I expect he can understand not wanting one's child around a crack smoker. I've again pushed him towards AA/NA.

He has devoted a lot of energy over the past couple of years to telling me "AA doesn't work." I am trying to impress on him that it's pretty much his only chance. He is not a young guy, too; I really do worry that one of these benders will be his last. (He does not drive drunk, though.) I have suggested what amounts to a period of penance, 'ninety meetings in ninety days' and a second job to pay off his debts. He is going to give AA a shot, it looks, but I don't know that his heart is 100% in it. This is a shame given that he is exactly the sort of drunk AA seems best for -- fine if he doesn't have the first drink, totally out of control if he does.

So I may have a daughter with a father who periodically disappears. I would've been traumatized if my Dad had ever simply gone missing. Or if the next time I'd seen him he'd had scabs on his face from where he fell down in the road drunk. The way things are now it could be several years before she figures out anything's wrong with Dad, but eventually it'll be apparent. He has so little control over the benders that I would not be surprised to find him AWOL from a birthday party or something similarly important to a child.

She loves him a lot and I'm often nearly in tears thinking about this. We do live in the same area as my parents, and they are extremely devoted, involved, loving grandparents and I'm really hoping good grandparenting -- and uncling, and aunting -- will do something to offset the crappy single mother/drunk father situation that my daughter's been stuck with.

'Cut him off entirely until he's proven himself totally sober' is something I've debated. He would agitate for access. I do have the lawyer on retainer and enough evidence of problems that his getting any excessive amount of visitation is unlikely, but I'm running out of funds to finance a big court battle and really would rather avoid that anyway; I think those should be avoided unless absolutely and indisputably in the child's best interests.

In his favour, he admits to a lot. I think he could've hidden some of these benders if he'd wanted to now that he's not living with me. I put the $4k retainer on a credit card he pays the bills for; response, "I can understand, I haven't been very stable lately."

But he does get upset when confronted -- quite a lot of self-pity, blaming others, denial, some anger -- about certain unpleasant realities (you are in debt because you drank a lot, not because the normal utility bills and mortgage payments did not leave you enough leftover cash to drink piggishly; crack smokers are not good Dads). He won't be the one to find a solution to this in the short term.

Any advice on where to go from here -- with the probable reality of a guy with a substance abuse problem being Dad -- would be appreciated. I have found counselling for myself, but transportation hassles are limiting that right now. Apologies for the length of this. Again,
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible for you to move in with your parents while you figure things out/take that college course/go to therapy? Would they be willing to help with the babysitting and possible drive you around? Having an on-call support system sounds like what you need right now.
posted by jrichards at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2009

Hi Dear.
I like the solution I saw in the movie Pay it Forward. The grandmother in that movie could come to birthdays and visit the child if she was sober when she showed up. If she showed up drunk or high she wasn't allowed in.

Continued sobriety takes a long time and may never happen, but if he can be a good father then it should be okay for them to hang out together as long as he doesn't have sole responsibility for her safety. I personally think he can stay kicked out until he gets sober. The End. If he can't be reliable on a consistant basis, then he can't be a full time dad. If he's reasonable then hopefully you can do this without going to court to enforce it.

You really should stop relying on him for rides if you can. If your parents live close ask them to help you. I understand about living in the sticks, but do what you can. Rely on friends. Ask if some mefiers live close or maybe carpool with another parent. Good Luck. The only one who can really change him is him. Just be clear about boundries and why he can't live in the house until he's sober and consistant.
posted by CoralAmber at 10:36 AM on January 23, 2009

I saw having an alcoholic for a father destroy my two cousins. No matter how much my parents and grandparents helped out and supported and encouraged her, she 'loved' him and wouldn't get rid of him. It was hard to watch, and it's even harder to see my cousins (who are in their mid-thirties) try to hold down jobs because they've turned into addicts themselves (although, one had a kid a few years ago, and seems to have straightened up since). I think you might need to make a clean break, at least for a while, for the kid's sake.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:39 AM on January 23, 2009

I don't know that 'No more visits until you're sober' is best for anybody, or even realistic.

No, that's not realistic. Just make one rule, and tell him, "You can't come over unless you're sober at the time." And stand by that. If he shows up drunk or stoned, don't let him in the house. If he comes back the next day sober, he can come in. But otherwise, I think you need to stop trying to reform your ex because it's useless, and concentrate on making a good life for you and your daughter.

Get a legal separation in place so you won't be responsible for any further debt he racks up. Figure out how to earn a living. Be the best parent you can to your daughter, and give her a happy, stable home with a predictable schedule. If you've got any family members and friends who are willing to provide practical or emotional support or just be a good presence in your life and your daughter's life, make full use of those ties. Do research on social aid programs that may be available.

It'll be hard to protect your daughter from the damage her father can do. It'll be hard on her when he says he'll show up at a specific time and then doesn't. I'd avoid telling her about plans with her father in advance to avoid the let down, and don't disparage her father to her or in front of her. When she starts to ask questions or criticize him, say something along the lines of, "Daddy has problems that he finds hard to deal with, and sometimes those problems get in the way of him being a dad. But he loves you very much, and you can enjoy being with him when he's here and do other things with me when he's not."
posted by orange swan at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a close friend who was in a similar situation (depended on alcoholic bf for money since she was unemployed and dealing with the baby, but minus the crack and shared house).

You have to get away from this man. I know that it's horrible to think that you're taking away the child from her biological father, but damn, chances are good that someone is going to get hurt in one way or another if you keep bringing him back into the house and letting him think that he can just ply you with 'I'll be sober for [x period of time], lemme in.'

[You didn't mention anything about married to this dude, so I'm going to assume that y'all were just dating.] If you can, I think that you should try to get your own place, in your own name. Second, see if you can get some kind of paperwork drawn up at the courthouse (I know for my friend with a public defender that it wasn't super expensive, but it was worth it in the long run because it eliminated the whole 'you're asking me for too much because you're a bitch' kind of arguments) for support payments and visitation.

I second the whole 'if he shows up intoxicated, don't let him in' but this would be easier to enforce if you have the paperwork on file and a place in your own name.

Good luck.
posted by sperose at 10:49 AM on January 23, 2009

Has he tried any programs other than AA? Is there a provincial or other substance abuse program that isn't AA you could point him to?

Obviously, you know him and we don't, so you're going to know more about whether such programs are worth the effort, or whether he's going to reject them like he did AA.
posted by oaf at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2009

nthing "he can't come visit unless he's clean and sober"

not to be all '12 step' about it, but i know some folks who have done well in similar situations with support from 12 step groups. if nothing else, it might give you some safe space with people going thru the same kinds of issues so you can talk about your situation and talk thru available solutions.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:00 AM on January 23, 2009

Another vote for: "he can't come visit unless he's clean and sober"

I grew up never knowing my dad. A broken dad would have been, in many ways, preferable to a totally absent dad, because of the things that imagination can build in the cracks of absence.
posted by anastasiav at 11:16 AM on January 23, 2009

Check out Al-Anon, not for him but for you. It's full of women and men who have been through exactly what you are experiencing and have come out the other side intact and healthy.
posted by Xurando at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Most of your post is about his drug/alcohol abuse and the things you've done to try to help him or live with his problems. I suggest changing your focus. Yes, it's a shame about his life; yes, I'm sure he's charming at times; yes, you want to help him. But you've got to look after yourself and your child, for your child's sake.

There is not even one thing you can do to fix his problems. So, right now my advice is to work on getting yourself on track. I read your previous post and this one: No degree, no work experience, no drivers license, no job. There's a lot to be done!

Work very hard on quickly becoming financially independent from him. Yes, right now he's got a job, but if he goes on crack benders twice a year, he may find himself without a job... or even in jail.

Get a job -- any job. Get your license. Save up some money for a cheap car. Return to school at night. Ask your family to watch after the child while you are getting those things done.

And, as best as you can, stop worrying about his non-sobriety. You can't fix him. Focus all that attention on your child and yourself, paving a path to a better future for the two of you.
posted by Houstonian at 3:19 PM on January 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I forgot to add: You may want to start documenting (and quietly collecting evidence) of his substance abuse and alcohol binges. If he ever does fight for custody, and if you decide your child may be neglected or not safe in his care, then you'll want all that documentation and evidence. If that never comes to pass, then it hurt nothing to have it.
posted by Houstonian at 3:24 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Xurando has it exactly right. Please, please, follow his link, give Al-Anon a call, go to meeting and tell the people you meet there what you have told us here. I believe strongly in the wisdom of the hive-mind but what you need is a chance to talk with and listen to others who have been where you are, they will be able to tell you what they did, and what worked and what didn't work.

The Al-Anon preamble reads in part: "Al-Anon is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization or institution; does not engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any cause. There are no dues for membership. ... Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics." Basically you have nothing lose by checking out a meeting - there are no recruitment drives, they are not going to ask you for money (they will probably pass a completely optional collection basket), and no one is going to tell you that you have to do anything. Really all they want to do is find a way to live a happy and fulfilling life while dealing with a loved one's alcoholism and they do this by helping, sharing with, and supporting others in similar circumstances.

If Al-Anon is not listed in your local white pages the 800 # in Xurado's link will be able to put you in touch with a group in your area. When/if you go to a meeting it would be a good idea to tell the person leading the group that it is your first meeting and they will most likely try to tailor the discussion to an appropriate topic. If child-care is an obstacle most Al-Anon meetings I am familiar with are alright with parents bringing their children (the person answering the phone should be able to give you more/better guidance on this.) At the meeting you will probably meet some people with stories very similar to yours and some with stories that are very different if you make an honest attempt to listen for ways that you identify with the people who share their experiences with you, you will get a lot more out of it than if you focus on the ways that your situation is different from theirs.

You are very insightful to describe him as "sick," try to remember that what you are angry at is not him but rather the symptoms of his sickness. Just as you would not expose your child to a coughing-sneezing-snotty flu patient while he is displaying symptoms of his sickness you may choose to shield your daughter from him. That choice is one that only you can make but please do not lay down any ultimatum that you are not 100% ready, willing, and able to carry out. He may recover from this or he may not but remember you did not cause it, you can not control it, and you most definitely can not cure it. The only thing you can control is your response to him - congratulations for taking that bull by the horns.

There is a lot more that I could say about this but this comment has already gone on longer than I intended it to - please feel free to send me a Mefi mail if you would like to discuss this further.
posted by Bango Skank at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

the crappy single mother/drunk father situation that my daughter's been stuck with

My cousin's wife grew up being a little girl in "the crappy single mother/drunk father situation." She's a wonderful, kind human being. She's responsible and organized and has her life together. She's loving and self-confident and has an incredibly strong relationship with her mother. The mom did essentially cut her dad out of her life, so I'm not sure if that had anything to do with it. She said she felt some anger toward her father when she was in her teens, for disappearing, but her mother always told her that he was sick and just was not able to be a good dad, and she seems to have forgiven him.

So, don't worry about how your daughter is going to turn out and do the best you can. Focus on being the best mom you can be, and get the help you need to do so.
posted by salvia at 7:40 PM on January 23, 2009

"the jointly owned house"

You are dealing with a lot right now. And you have tons of good advice to which I add: Do what you can to straighten this house out. If you are not already in touch with legal aid or a Women's Shelter, call the local library and find out what local agency or charity can best help you un-jointly this house.

And does dad have sober, or at least moneyed, parents who might go legal? Something to think about.

You nee someone in your corner now, right now, for property and custody issues. (The issues may not come up, but you need to have a plan.)

Even though you must feel overwhelmed, you are trying do the right thing and, I promise you, other women have gotten rid of the drunk, gotten a job, and raised their children.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:13 AM on January 25, 2009

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