I Should Video Tape This

I recently watched several old VHS tapes with recordings of family on them, and cried more than a few times as memories of moments gone by came rushing back.

Some of these recordings were from the family vacations my wife and I took our son and daughter on, while others showed us doing different activities with them. And some were of the kid’s birthday parties and family get-togethers my wife loved to have.

I saw happy people laughing and having fun, while being the camera man and making comments that I thought were funny, but I’m sure some people didn’t. And I saw myself in the videos as well.

The recordings were from an 8 mm camcorder I bought in 1993, and even with poor picture quality due to time and other factors, they were still fun to watch. Well mostly fun to watch.

The recordings on ten VHS tapes show moments from September of 1993 to New Year’s Day 2000. But the first two and half years are from my drinking days. Vacations where I was clearly buzzed on the boardwalk. Stuff I did with the kids, like making funny videos, where drinking beer was also involved. (Just me, not the kids.) And the birthday parties and family get-together my wife loved, where I made sure alcohol was on hand for the adults.

One of these videos, recorded in January of 1996, stuck out though, because it involves my children and was recorded just four months before I quit drinking for good.

I had been drinking for over 18 years and was very unhappy at that time, plus I didn’t have a clue what life was about. But there the answer was being recorded yet again, as I drank instead of truly enjoying moments like this with my kids.

I cried at times while watching it. And it made me wish I had quit drinking much sooner.

Although the video shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, it also shows the behaviors of a man who thinks he’s being a good dad, but sadly, like life, doesn’t have a clue what being one is about.

Besides my obvious drinking in it. (I take a few sips of beer on film, and make a joke about it each time.) The fun we were having, while not bad in any way, clearly demonstrates the sometimes subtle and hidden dysfunction within a family that a non-stereotypical drunk like myself, can create. (I didn’t drink every day. Still had a job, a home, and some money in the bank.)

What the video doesn’t show, however, is what contributed to the dysfunction, and to my drinking. The fears and insecurities I had all my life.

Here I am in this video, 36 years old, and you would think I was more of a funny friend than a father to my children. My immature behaviors and sometimes unfiltered words are anything but role model quality. And although no one would shudder or think what they saw was awful. I saw a lack of emotional growth in myself, and someone who used alcohol to face their fears and insecurities.

I don’t beat myself up over my past anymore, and even through my tears I knew I was at least trying to be a good father back then. But I simply was not capable of being a better one. (Thankfully they had a wonderful mother who knew how to be a parent.)

I wrote about my childhood in my book, which was far worse than anything my kids ever experienced. But I know my mom and dad tried to be good parents, and I watched them change for the better through the years. Which brings me to the video recordings after I quit drinking.

Watching those tapes, I can honestly say I slowly improved as a father, and as a husband. I wish I had tapes of family recordings up to now. I know they would show my continual improvement as a father and husband. And perhaps more importantly, continual improvement in myself.

As I remained sober, first through Alcoholics Anonymous and then on my own, improving on myself contributed to becoming a better parent and spouse, and certainly my long-term sobriety.

Actually there is another video that stands out that was recorded in August of 1996. It’s the first family vacation we went on after I stopped drinking. Like the other one, it shows a mix of fun, happiness, laughter, and togetherness, but doesn’t show the fears and insecurities I had.

What’s different, though, is that in this one, I was ready to face life sober, and finally become the person, father, and husband I never knew how to be.

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Changing Ourselves For The Better

An emotional excerpt from my book. I was writing about an AA speaker’s meeting in 2004, where I shared my story to celebrate my eighth year anniversary sober.

“I would also reach my eighth year sober that month and once again share my story. This time, however, not only was my wife there, but my daughter as well, and it would be a very emotional day for me. I was fine in the beginning, but when I got to the part about how I often chose drinking over being with my children, I began crying and had to stop for a few seconds. I was still quite emotional as I told everyone that despite this, my daughter was still a daddy’s girl when she was little, and after explaining how this changed as she grew older, I once again had to stop as I sat there and cried. I finally regained my composure, and confessed how sorry I was for not spending more time with both of my children, and then talked about other regrets I had because of my drinking. Although my daughter and son weren’t exposed to every argument I started with my wife, they both heard more than they should have growing up, and as I was telling them this, tears once again came to my eyes. Other people started crying too, including my wife and daughter, and after a few moments passed, I went on to explain how my drinking had affected the whole family.

I also shared what my daughter had recently said about my drinking and the impact it had on her personally. She moved out when she was 18, and she said it took her a few years to come to terms with certain things from her childhood. I then added that what was important to me now, was that she had forgiven me, and that my relationship with her and my son was good today.

I then went on to say that I believed this was made possible because of how the Twelve Steps helped me stay sober and change as a person, and explained how this change also helped me believe in the possibility that something created life and the universe for a reason. After that, with time running out, I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket and told them that another reason I believe what I do is because of this poem my daughter wrote for me last Christmas. I then cried a little as I added that even though she may never be a daddy’s girl again, this poem shows she loves me and has forgiven me.

If  you taught me just one thing
It is to love with all you have
But you taught me so much more
Through the good times and the bad

You showed me how to feel
Or at least passed this along
Even when I felt pain
You taught me to hold on

You proved that anyone can change
If you look within yourself
Even if you are feeling lonely
There is no need for someone else

You see the good in people
And have no tolerance for hate
I keep this in mind wherever I go
Even if I am always late

Genes have given me your sense of humor
I am goofy just like you
But you have made me realize
I can laugh at myself, too

There is no shame in crying
But self-pity is a waste of time
You and I have learned together
The power of the mind

You encourage me to believe
In more than just this life
Even when things look all gray
I know it will soon be all right

You are aware of your past
And have learned from your mistakes
You have taken your weaknesses
And turned them into strengths

You have shown me how to face your fears
And always tell the truth
Everyday heroes do exist
And you are living proof

The times when you thought you had failed
The times when you didn’t know what to do
These are the moments you had no idea
That I would learn so much from you

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