QUESTION: My problem is my two sons, both in their 20s. Their mother died four years ago and after that they both began drinking heavily. We were a very happy family, and they adored their mother. It was hard for all of us to watch her waste away with cancer. Of course I miss my wife and although I’ve moved on with my life I can’t say the same for my sons. Both are college graduates and both are employed. Neither is married. They both have the potential to succeed, but I believe they’re using their mother’s death as an excuse for not being responsible.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve bailed them out of jail and paid for attorneys because of DUIs. I’m at a loss of what to do. I welcome any suggested course of action.
~ Bedraggled Dad
Dear Bedraggled Dad,
I feel for you in your situation. We fathers want to enjoy the fruit of our efforts raising the kids – taking pleasure seeing them succeed, and feeling that sense of accomplishment for having had a little something to do with it. We expect to watch them graduate and get careers, get married and have grandkids for us to toss in the air around the Labor Day barbecue. It’s still on the table for you, but you’re right – these young “men” you’ve sired need to get past whatever’s holding them back and if it’s the terrible loss of their mommy, then they need to get some good professional counseling. They probably won’t go unless you insist, and I’d say you probably should, and then go with them. If it were me, I would also let them know that the day of bail-outs is over, and that if they drink themselves into jail again they will be staying there. Let them know of your own high expectations for them. You will always be dad, so draw upon that position to press some forward motion into their lives.
Love is hard sometimes, but necessary. Think of Jesus on the cross. Now, there are many diversions in life to which people often gravitate as coping mechanisms. Whatever is pleasurable is just that, a source of pleasure. People need to experience things that feel good to offset the things that feel bad, and food, sex and drink or drugs are probably the standard go-to resources for such. I am not of the opinion that people who get excessive should run straight to AA, but some help is needed to get beyond the thing before it becomes a life-destroying burden.
As a pastor, I would also appeal to God’s input on matters. Beyond His divine condemnation for profligate drunkenness, He offers the grand promise that our lives have huge purpose, and that at their conclusion we are rejoined with our loved ones in heaven. Perhaps that motivation alone could do what just living, working and drinking cannot.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Dear Bedraggled Dad,
My sympathies for the loss of your wife and the difficulties you’ve faced with your sons. It must be extremely hard to deal with the challenge of guiding your sons into adulthood without the help of their mother. I hope you have extended family you can draw on for support. A family gathering on her birthday or Mother’s Day or some other holiday to share memories and photographs of their mother might release some unresolved grief. There might be other family members with similar losses who can talk about their process of overcoming the sadness.
Despite medical advances, we all eventually experience heartbreaking loss. We all must develop a way to cope with the pain and move on. Perhaps a different role model will help your sons. Grief counseling or support groups might still be appropriate. It’s not unusual for people to take different lengths of time to absorb the loss of a loved one and your sons might be open to talking about their loss now that some time has passed. A trained therapist can help you determine if your sons’ behavior is within the normal range of grief or needs some sort of treatment. There are a several organizations that help with overcoming alcohol abuse; Al-Anon is specifically for loved ones of alcoholics and their group meetings allow people to share their experiences. Many recommend not “enabling” the drinking by shielding users from the consequences of their actions, such as bailing them out.
If your sons want to try dealing with their feelings without alcohol, there are Alcoholics Anonymous and Secular Organizations for Sobriety groups to help them. Now that they are adults, of course, all you can do is recommend help to them and make sure they know you love them.
My best wishes for your family.
Atheist/Agnostic/Secular humanist/Free thinker
QUESTION: Our daughter, I’ll call her Jane, is graduating from high school in 2015. Several of her best girlfriends, six in all, are planning to backpack through Europe after graduation, staying at hostels and visiting museums and points of interest. Our daughter wants to join them, but we’re reluctant to let her given the tumultuous world situation. In the meantime, the girls have collected maps and brochures and are planning their travels.
We’d never forgive ourselves if something happened to her or any of the girls for that matter. Each and every day, Jane pleads with us to let her go. We’re worn out with her persistence and the worry about the trip.
What would you do if Jane were your daughter?
~ Protective Parents
Dear Protective Parents,
Wow, this is a tough one. As a dad of two daughters, your question sure hits home. I have several families in my church that would absolutely say no under any circumstances. I have others who would consider it if certain criteria are met.
As I have thought about this dilemma I put myself in your shoes. What would my wife and I had done if our daughter made this request? So I discussed it with my wife and came up with a few ideas.
First, does your daughter have the skills to make decisions that she will face on the trail – what to do if emergencies come up, for example. Is she familiar with the dangers of the journey and how to prepare for these? Do you trust her to keep in touch, to keep you up to date with where she is where they will be going?
Second, are her companions really committed to going or will they back out as the time comes closer, or have you talked to their parents about this? Perhaps a parents’ meeting for all involved is good to plan. Are they people you trust to have your daughter’s well being at heart?
Third, can they take a backpacking trip here in the states first to get an idea of how to prepare and what to take? This means just those going on the trip would go. This would be a good team building activity and may help with seeing what the European trip would be like.
Fourth, once the planning has begun it is good to know where to go when they feel any problems. Churches, hostels, etc. are all good places to get support along the way. Are there areas they should not go? My eldest just returned back from her European honeymoon and there were certain cities where they felt safe, other cities that had dangerous sections or entire cities or towns where they felt unsafe.
Lastly, pray and keep talking to those who you trust about this. I imagine you will get advice and guidance that will help shape your decision. In the end it needs to be a family decision, and it is a good one to work through in a way that is healthy for your lives in the future. Communicate your fears, and concerns, listen to her hopes and plans. Keep the lines of communication open!
Dear Protective Parents.
I’m sitting in a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico having just heard six hours of spiritual teaching by Richard Rohr whose Christian contemplative and wisdom teaching you can read in his books “Falling Upward,” “Breathing Under Water” and “The Naked Now,” and many others and Rob Bell whose books include “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” and “Love Wins.” I can be pretty confident that your daughter will like what I have to say, but you will probably not. Having said that, here I go.
The spiritual practice of letting go of my children has been probably one of the most painful pathways I have endeavored but which has brought me to a greater understanding of myself, them and the nature of the teachings of Jesus. The creation of something new comes out of our willingness to let go and jump into the deep of end of the pool. In this case, the deep end of the pool is unwrapping our parental, protective arms from our children and letting them step out into the world alone.
I answered a question like this not long ago, and it’s telling that it comes up again because my son has just decided to do a six-month service commitment in Thailand teaching English to novices and monks in Laos. Had I not let him make that decision for himself and tried to enforce my agenda, i.e. college, that would have been the death of my son spiritually and emotionally.
I am a follower of Jesus and this morning I heard this: Jesus didn’t die on the cross for our sins so that we could believe in him so that we could go to heaven and live eternally, later, after we die, with God. Jesus died on the cross and rose again so that we could faithfully die to ourselves, our old ideas, our agendas, our egos, our expectations, so that from that painful ego death new life can burst forth and we can experience the divine here and now.
Life will teach us every spiritual lesson we need to know if we let it. And the divine? It’s in the face of your daughter and her friends as they get on an airplane to go across the ocean, the awe and wonderment when she lays her eyes on the Eiffel Tower or experiences the creation story of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It’s in her taste buds when she has her first sip of a real caffé latte at a coffee bar in Rome, or a bite of fish and chips in London. The divine is in your ears when she calls you from Europe and you can hear in her voice how she’s grown up in just a month or so.
The world might be dangerous – parts of it, small parts of it. But it’s also a sacred place, a holy place a place where the divine lives in every nook and cranny, every cobblestone and step. Because where we are God is also.
And I leave you with this: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Ph. 4:7 And may it be with you and your daughter, and my son, now and forever. Amen.
Postulate for the Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church