I feel it is important to reiterate that these posts are a reflection of my own personal perspective. Despite his addiction, daddy was a very kind and generous man throughout his life and it is my sole aim, through these posts, to retell his truly inspirational story.
My first letter to daddy was written in 1985 and, whilst a letter is a very personal thing, I am sharing it because he told me it was an important part of his story. He often referred to the role my two letters played in his journey, and he also wanted his story to be known in the hope that others would be helped by it.
It is now the 11th April and I have been meaning to write to you since the end of January. Well, I was never very punctual with letters! But why write at all? Why not just phone or visit?
The fact that I am writing to you is an illustration of two things:
1) I can express what I feel much better on paper.
2) As we have never managed to develop the ability to talk about anything except on a superficial level, this is the ONLY way I can get your total attention so that you will really listen to me.
Now, you can read this when you are alone, nobody else need know about what is written here, but please read it all and promise me that you won’t read it unless you are 100% sober.
This is the story of my life, or at least part of it. It is so close to you and yet I don’t believe you know anything about it – or so I hope. You’ve probably guessed that this letter is basically referring to your boozing and its consequences. Well for many years now I have heard your version of how it all began and how everyone else is to blame etc. Now it’s my turn to give you my view, honestly and sincerely.
Firstly, let me make it 100% clear that I love you, I always have, I always will and it is because of this love that I am writing. I just have to tell you how much I hate your drunkenness; the things you say when you are drunk and how the whole business has affected me since my early teens and is still affecting our family.
My aim is perhaps to shock you into reality but even this is only in the hope that our home and family may be kept intact, and indeed become a home in the proper sense. At present it is not.
To do this I have to write some things that are hard to say. If these things hurt you, then I am sorry, but they have hurt me for many years and now I feel they have to be said.
I mentioned that I meant to write to you from the end of January. Now I will tell you why. As you know, my friend Jean’s daddy died a year ago on 27th January. One night when Jean was at our house she and I were chatting as we were doing the dishes. It was coming up to the date of the first anniversary of her father’s death and Jean was talking about how difficult the past year had been. Then she said the one thing that helped her was the fact that she had many happy memories of her daddy. And, while I was sorry for her grief, I thought how lucky she was to have such happy memories – after all it’s all we can leave behind us.
You see daddy, when I look back over the years all my happy memories of you are over-shadowed or ruined by the effects of your drinking. From my point of view, I see many hours when you were not there, because you preferred to spend the time with your friends rather than with us. Your life, as far as I can see, has been centred on your friends at the expense of your family. Even those times when you had stopped drinking, you continued the trend of being out and about rather than being at home or visiting me and your two grandchildren. It’s like a kind of restlessness. But daddy, if you can’t feel at home with your family then, when all is said and done, there is nobody else to feel at home with – or at least the family should be the most important group. The end result of this is the most tragic thing of all i.e. we don’t really get to know each other the way we should. Why? Because we don’t spend enough time together.
I am 27 years old now and in many ways I feel I have been deprived of a father. You have other things that claim a higher priority on your time. If you think this is not true then think again and ask yourself how much of your spare time (when not working) have you spent with me since my teens? Or, bring it more up to date, how often do you visit Matthew and Marianne?
Yet do you know what you tell me when you are drunk? You tell me that you are a “legend”; you tell me to go into any pub in the country and there will only be good words about you. (And I believe you). You boast about how you preach the gospel; how you have never broken any of the 10 Commandments; and how you have never done anyone any harm.
Well I’m sorry to disillusion you, but while you have been building up your reputation as “one in a million”, you have caused me a lot of pain, heartache and frustration. I’ll list some examples of what I mean:-
1) Being afraid to ask my friends to come to our house in case you arrived home drunk.
2) Walking from the school of music late at night, at the height of the troubles, because I couldn’t depend on you to collect me in a sober state.
3) Lying awake at night worrying about where you were.
4) You have insulted both Dan and me while you were drunk.
5) You have said things about mum and you that you should never have told anyone.
6) You have used crude and vulgar language.
7) You have phoned me in the early hours of the morning.
The list is endless but it boils down to much heartache and many tears. Therefore, being a legend in the pub is no consolation to me.
As to your views of God and salvation, I’m not quite sure what to think as you only discuss these important things when ‘under the influence’. However, your idea of God’s salvation seems to be slightly warped by experiences and the ‘counsel of men’. But if you truly believe you have never broken the 10 commandments then I must tell you that, according to the Bible, you must be the only person ever to do this! Furthermore, if you truly believe that doing good works, exercising tolerance for other people, and trying to do your best etc represents the way to salvation and a place in heaven, then I must stress, you are on the wrong road.
God paid a high price for our salvation. He sent His son to earth to take on Himself the limitations of a human form, and teach God’s ways to people who generally didn’t want to know. Eventually He was nailed to the cross, as God put on Him the sin of the world. The only way we can be forgiven is to believe that Jesus died in our place and make the positive response in faith that He requires. It is not enough to believe there is a God or even that Jesus died and rose again from the dead – after all the devil believes these things. Yes and the devil is very deceptive. He fills our heads with notions such as “I’m not all that bad” or “A loving God won’t put me into hell”. Satan gives people a false religion – a social gospel – “do good and God will forgive your minor sins” or “there is no hell, how could a loving God allow such a thing”
However, the Bible tells us God’s version. I’ll outline it briefly and then give you some illustrations of what it really means.
1) God is Holy; Just; and hates sin.
2) All men are sinners since Satan deceived Adam and Eve
3) All sin is the same in God’s sight
4) We are totally unable to do anything to pay for our sin or win God’s favour.
5) God has given us a way to have our sin forgiven, but only if we accept it.
6) Christ is that way. We must believe that we are incapable of winning God’s favour. We must accept that when Christ died for sin it was our personal sin that caused Him to die. He took our place. We deserve hell but God sacrificed His son to give us a way to escape.
7) We must accept God’s way of salvation – by praying sincerely, confessing that we are unable to help ourselves to defeat the evil of sin.
8) We must ask His forgiveness and acknowledge that Jesus died to give us this forgiveness.
9) Then we must believe that He has forgiven us and commit our lives to living for Him.
10) Through prayer and Bible study we are spoken to, guided and strengthened thereafter by the Holy Spirit.
11) Those that reject God’s way, however ‘good’ they think they are, will go to hell.
Here are some helpful illustrations:-
Source: ‘Google images’ (to replace my original drawings).
The Bible says that without this total commitment to Jesus, when God looks at us He sees only sinfulness. God cannot look at sin. On judgment day those without Christ will be sent to hell.
However, when God looks at a man, woman or child who has made this total commitment to Jesus, He only sees His Son. The people are basically the same as those who have not committed their lives to Jesus, but the difference is that Jesus now stands before each one of them and blocks out their sin. God can therefore look at them, bless them and admit them to His everlasting kingdom in heaven. But this is only because of what Jesus has done. You see He paid the price that nobody else was able to pay.
Well, enough of sermons, except to say I truly believe that God can give you a new life if only you will allow Him. If you do then I’ll be very happy; our family will be healed; we will put the past behind us; you will be at peace with yourself and lose your restlessness. I will gain a father and, in the time we have left in this life, we can create many happy times to remember. It’s up to you.
I’m praying for you.
I left this letter at home addressed to ‘Daddy’ and marked ‘Private and Confidential’. He did read it but he didn’t mention it to me for a very long time, nor did I mention it to him.
Time passed and his drinking continued. Sometimes he would be sober for several weeks or even months but invariably the bing-ing would start again and we would be back to square one.
Later that year I attended a Christian counselling course. It was a very interesting and helpful course but the highlight for me was the night we had two guest speakers from the Starus Foundation. ‘Starus’ was, and as far as I know still is, a locally based group in Northern Ireland that was set up to work with alcoholics and people with other addictions. It is based on Christian principles. The two men were Arthur Williams and John Brown and I identified with everything they said that night. When their talk was finished I spoke to John. I will always remember his response to me when I explained that my dad was an alcoholic; he wouldn’t listen to me; how I thought he would listen to them…because they understood the way he thought; and I was so sure they could help him. John, who is a lovely, quietly spoken, Christian man, looked me straight in the eye and said “We can’t help your father, until he recognises that he needs help”. John went on to talk to me about support they could offer mum and the family, but my heart sank as my hopes were dashed. He gave me his card and assured me they would help daddy if he ever contacted them.
I could have cried! During their talk I had thought – “these are the people daddy needs to talk to”. “These men know what daddy’s world is like, especially Arthur, who has been an alcoholic himself. If I can get them to come and reason with him… then surely he’ll give up drinking!” However, they didn’t do ‘help by proxy’ – not even from concerned daughters …and they were right! The words, “Until your father recognises he needs help” echoed in my mind and I wondered how or when this would happen. I’d prayed for him for years and years; I’d talked to him when he was drunk and sober; I’d written to him, and nothing made any difference. I felt despairing about the situation. But, as I prayed about it, I came to the conclusion that I would write him another letter and make him aware of the existence of this group. After that I would continue to pray that he would see his need and seek the help Starus could offer him.
Another note from your one and only! This time I’m not going to do any preaching.
The reason I am writing is the same as before. The content is more or less stating the obvious and I think you will agree that this is the case.
You could benefit from help for your ‘problem’. The family is too close and too emotionally tied up in the situation to be any good – and I include myself in this. We all think that we have tried our best to help you in the past, but time has shown that we have probably only made things worse.
I think I know the basic weakness in our type of help. We do not really understand the problem you are facing. (We all have various notions that we do understand – but, in reality, I feel we don’t, and in a way I don’t think we ever will).
So then who can help you? Well there is God of course and I know you are genuinely seeking his help. The other source would be someone who God has called to help people with your specific problem.
Now I know that you don’t like to go to other people for help, and this is a common attitude amongst most human beings. However, God made us in such a way that we need other people. And He often teaches us to be more humble about ourselves by using other people to help Him help us.
With all this in mind I would like to suggest that you contact either of these two men. They are very sincere, genuine, Christian men and they have been called by God to help people like you. The difference between them and the family is that they really understand your problem and are fully equipped to help.
The key to success is within the person seeking help i.e. you. You must recognise that you have a problem and you must be willing to give them a chance to help you. Therefore, I’ll give you their names, addresses and phone numbers and leave the rest to you.
One thing I should emphasise and that is, these men are not ‘the goodie, goodie type’, they do not carry out ‘Bible-thumping exercises’ either. They are ordinary, down-to-earth, sincere people who want to help God help you. I know, having met them both, that they are the kind of men you could easily accept as helpers. They understand your kind of world and one of them lived in it for many years but has learned how to conquer it. They know how to help others to do the same.
So then daddy, I feel this is the last ‘help’ I can give you in any practical way. I will of course continue to pray for you, as I have been doing for many years. I know, through prayer, that God wants me to pass on these names to you. I also feel very sure that you won’t ever regret the day you contact either one of them. However, if you ever will contact them I don’t know at this point in time – I’ll pray that you do, but doing it is up to you.
They make themselves available 24 hours a day and meet people anywhere.
Give them a ring, just for me.
Ps You’re going (DV) to be a granda again!! Around the 23rd November, 1986
(In my original letter I gave daddy the contact details for Arthur and John, but I decided not to print their details as I believe they have now retired)
There was a year between my two letters and there was no immediate response to either. Several months after the second letter, the situation at home became so bad that mum decided to leave daddy. This was something I had been telling her to do for some time. His behaviour, when under the influence, was becoming more unpredictable and at times dangerous. When sober he was his normal self – a really kind and generous man. But the great sadness of alcoholism is that it robs a person of themselves and they sink further and further into an unrecognisable mess!
This was the lowest point of daddy’s journey. His wife was about to leave him; his sons did not respect him; his grandchildren didn’t know him; and his daughter had given up on him!
The story will continue in Part 3.