LIVING BEYOND: FATHERHOOD – EMBRACING AND SUPPORTING A CHILD STRUGGLING WITH ADDICTION

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

The burden of addiction is challenging enough, but when your child has an addiction, the burden goes well beyond explanation. Fatherhood should be a time of joy, happiness, development, and when the occasion calls for it, a time of support; for the child and the father. The child, nor the father, should ever face the egregious burdens of addiction, but the reality is we live in a time of countless addictive habits.

THE FATHER’S ROLE
A father’s involvement and influence on the health and well-being of his child can have a profound affect. For many fathers, they only wish to prove a counterbalance for the negativity that their child may face. Unfortunately, a father is merely human and he is only capable of proving an opposing force when the child so requests. For many addicts, they either avoid asking for help; fear asking for help; or may have inherited the addictive habit through the modeling of a parental figure.

A father’s role is not to be a superhero, but rather, a father’s role is to be fatherly. Being a father or fatherly requires an emotional and psychological investment. No father is capable of being perfect or reaching perfection, but a father is always capable of sharing in the good and the bad. A child reaps many benefits when witnessing a fatherly figure accepting responsibility for his achievements and his failures. Accepting responsibility is not intended for the dwelling on the past, rather it is the acceptance of our role in this game called life. A child witnessing the exercise of personal responsibility is in essence witnessing a person taking ownership of his life.

Fathers are not perfect nor are we intended to be perfect. However, as fathers we are often called upon to be an earthly superhero. Not unlike our counterparts; we are often called upon to face the imaginary demons of the night and the real life demons that may one day plague our children. A father’s role does not end upon conception or at the age of maturity. A father is a father throughout the life of a child.

FATHERING THROUGH ADDICTION
It is never too late to be fatherly. Even if a father has had an intimate role or responsibility in the addictive habit; he may prove to be the greatest asset to his child’s recovery. For many children, they never refrain from looking upward to his or her father. Inherently, a child simply wants the love, admiration, acceptance and respect of his or her father. Sadly, many fathers dismiss or disregard the ability of proving an asset to the life of their child.

In the 1980’s, the tough love movement played a significant role
in the way with which parents parented children of addiction. The tough love movement used a stern hand and an uncompromising premise to manage addiction. The movement was an exercise in discipline, intolerance and a punitive approach to care. While this addiction model was well intended, it placed the parental figure between the child and the addiction. Whereas, the parental figure should have been focused on parenting and providing emotional support; the tough love campaign informs the parent to allow the child to hit rock bottom.

As fathers we need to approach our child’s addiction from an unconditional perspective. We need to seek to be well informed and guided by professional practitioners. As fathers we may prove the greatest asset to our child’s recovery. Fathers have a unique role in the recovery process because they have a biological and emotional connection. This connection may prove to be the greatest asset to the child, because for many fathers, they are willing to be unconditionally supportive throughout the process of recovery. Fathers may also be capable of influencing a child to enter therapeutic care. While the child is in care, it may be of equal importance that the father considers joining his child for family therapy, as well as individual therapy. As fathers, we are invested in the life of our children and it is through our instinctual desire to protect and nurture our children that we can prove to be an asset.

THE RECOVERY PROCESS
The addiction and the recovery process can take a toll on the family. Thus, it is of vital importance that the family considers therapeutic care throughout the process of recovery. Family support can prove a game-changer in the life of the addict. As a clinician, I have been informed by many addicts that they are facing this process alone. Frustratingly, the addict often has a yearning to be connected to his or her family, but the old model of tough love places them at odds.

For many addicts, the recovery process has a greater chance of success when they have healthy and constructive social supports. In some cases, the social supports may not be family, but if family is involved, such a social support may prove a tremendous asset. Either way, those offering social support should have a healthy and positive influence on the addict.

It is of the utmost importance that anyone offering the addict support throughout the process of recovery should consider care for him or herself. Even for clinicians, it is always wise to find a time for personal care .

THE FATHER AND THE ADDICT
The father is no superhero, but he is a father and his child is suffering. As a father, I know the pain that comes from witnessing your child suffer. There is no similar agony or discernible pain. Whether your child is suffering from a flesh wound or an emotional wound; a broken limb or a broken heart; or they have an addictive issue; the pain of seeing your child suffer is unbearable. For a father of an addict, you are at the mercy of the addiction, but your unconditional support and love can prove to be your child’s greatest asset. Do not forget to practice self-care. For fathers need to remember that they need care too.

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S. Website: www.asadonbrown.com
References Provided Upon Request