Throughout my childhood, he was a “functioning alcoholic.” Sometimes he held a job in music, and sometimes he was available as a father. I saw his addiction as a thing of the past; my father used to be an addict, but now he’s better. Whenever addiction was brought up in grade school, I felt proud to say my dad used to be an alcoholic, but don’t worry because it happened before I was born. I was the kid who had addiction “in the family.”
It is so incredibly draining to be let down time and time again. I believed every excuse he told me. I trusted him and helped him keep it up. First alcohol, then pills. I now understand why he shuttled me around to various doctors for his back problems. I was a moving piece in his game, an innocent target. Now I know addiction does not end—it is a daily battle.
Today, my father is homeless. He lives in a warehouse where his failed motorcycle business used to be. He sits in an office chair fixing guitars from the Internet that he hopes to sell for “big bucks.” His companion is a pit bull. They sleep on the couch together and eat the same foods—I am thankful he has company.
I do not know what his day looks like or whom he interacts with in the real world. I pray he is not drinking or playing poker with his friends or spending time with his old mistress. He turned 54 a few weeks ago, marking the 11th month since I have seen him.
Parents are expected to be there for you, love you and teach you. They brought you into this world and are responsible for helping you navigate it. For me, it’s different. At Bowdoin, I put on the façade of a normal student, one who worries about her next paper or dinner plans. Yet I carry this unbearable weight on my shoulders. And I know others do the same. We try to hide our anxieties, our fears, our past, our present, but it’s important to be open about them and to speak about them, because this façade is not healthy. It is not real.
Last semester, I read an article titled, “9 Signs You Have a Toxic Parent.” Number five hit me hard. “They refuse to let you grow up.” It is impossible for me to be a woman in my dad’s mind because that means I have become an adult worthy and willing to fight back. Saying this feels right but neglects to take into account his sickness. I can scream and yell at the top of my lungs how sad I am, how depressed I am mourning the loss of my parent to addiction, but it won’t make a difference until he decides to change the course of his life. I constantly ask myself, “Why am I or why is my brother not a good enough reason for him to get healthy?” I cannot apply reason to these questions because he is incapable of being rational. I think back to the time he called me from jail when I was at a Baxter affiliate night during my first year or the time I got a text in the Pub when he told me he was thinking about killing the pit bull puppy. Every time I would tell my friends and laugh it off. I was oblivious to the unhealthy extent at which he confided in me as a teenager and then young adult. No kid knows the protocol when a parent wants to kill a pet or be picked up from jail.
Another element is the constant struggle of sharing or not sharing. I often wonder, “Do I want this person to know this part of my life?” “How will their perception of me change?” “Am I scaring them by sharing my father’s story?” I thought about these questions for a long time before writing this article. I ultimately decided that knowing such an intimate part of my life is essential to knowing me.
We do not know a person’s journey prior to Bowdoin or what they are currently experiencing. I believe that many are often quick to judge and categorize others based on appearance and secondhand stories. We see the girl with the Canada Goose jacket and may think, “That’s an expensive jacket. I bet she also has a beach house.” We see the boy not going to Cabo for Spring Break and wonder, “Why? Isn’t he rich? He hangs out with all the other kids who are going.” We do not always have the whole picture, only bits and pieces. Why make the rest up?
I strongly believe we do not deserve to know just because we ask. Our stories are ours, and we get to decide what to do with them. I am sharing my story with all of you because without it, you cannot fully grasp my identity and my perspective. My reality is that I have a toxic parent, and silence won’t change that—being open is my preferred mode of coping. As Bowdoin students, we are encouraged to share our opinions, but it is also important to just listen.
No matter what age, gender, sexuality or class you identify with, it is our duty as kind peers to be there. I urge whoever is reading this to just sit and listen to your friends. Personally, having someone simply sit with me and physically be present is more than enough if I can’t quite sort my emotions yet. I hope they will do their best to be there for you too. Life is full of surprises, and it’s a missed opportunity if you write someone off based on superficiality or something you heard over brunch.
Abby Motycka is a member of the Class of 2017.