I have struggled with alcohol all of my life. However, it isn’t my addiction to alcohol with which I’ve struggled. My biological father has been an alcoholic all of my life. Some of that time I would have called him a functioning alcoholic, other times I would characterize him as nonfunctioning. I’ve spend untold hours reading and studying the addictive characteristics of alcohol and the chemical dependencies that are established in the brain. Much of that study and grace given by Jesus has allowed me to forgive and turn loose of the hurt that plagued my childhood.
While I’ve been able to forgive my father for the drunken words, actions, and attitudes that he has inflicted on me and others in our family through the years, one aspect of my relationship with him continues to be a struggle – his selfishness.
As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend the feeling of abandonment that I felt from my father. It wasn’t a physical abandonment, but it was certainly an emotional abandonment. It was in my twenties that I was able to identify this sense of abandonment. All of my life I had felt that my father chose alcohol over me – his own son. I felt as a young boy and today as an adult that my father’s selfishness has prevented a close father-son relationship. Additionally, now that I have children of my own, my father’s selfishness has cheated my children out of a grandparent relationship.
Why do I refer to my father’s addiction to alcohol as selfishness? First, let me say that I do not discredit any of the facts regarding the addictive nature of alcohol. Nor have I ever suggested that breaking free of the bondage of such an addiction is easy. I simply see it from the viewpoint of that young boy that wanted to spend time with his father, but was unable to do so because his father had decided to get plastered the night before. Addiction or not, my father made the selfish choice of an alcohol buzz over time with his son. And this selfish choice has been made time and time again for all of my forty two year.
Now, this article isn’t about alcohol – it’s about selfishness. It may not be alcohol for you, but be careful that you don’t feel you are immune to selfishness. Maybe it is your career. Maybe it is fishing or hunting. Maybe it is golf or football. Maybe it is the television. Maybe it is the computer or internet. Are you certain that your children do not feel emotionally or physically abandoned by selfish choices that you continue to make? Sure, you can have hobbies, watch television, and spend time with your buddies. But make sure that your children understand by your actions and choices that those activities are less important to you than your relationship with your children.
So let me share with you a few things I always wished my dad would do to resolve my feeling of abandonment and my perception of his selfishness.
Say yes and mean it
Maybe you’ve heard the wise time management principle that when you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. The inverse of this statement is true with our children. Dad, when you say no to your children, they internally realize that you are saying yes to something else. So be intentional to say yes often. Dad, can we go outside to play basketball? Yes. Dad, can you help me with this math problem? Yes. Dad, can we… You get the point. Actually you may not get the point entirely. When you say yes, you’d better mean it. Dad, can we camp in the backyard on Friday night? Yes. But then you work so late that your son falls asleep on the sofa waiting for you to get home. Say yes, then be willing to move mountains to make your yes be a yes.
Ask your children
Be willing to sit down with your children and ask them a really tough question. It isn’t likely that it will be tough for them to answer. It will likely be tough for you to hear. Ask your children what they most wish you would stop doing. Don’t make it all complicated. Don’t ask something like what do they feel is more important to you than they are. When you ask them what they most wish you would stop doing, it will certainly be related to whatever they feel trumps them in your priorities.
This obviously assumes the answer your children give warrants repentance. If your children say they wish you would stop snoring because they hear you all the way across the house and it keeps them awake, you need to hug them and commit to research ways to stop snoring. If they say they wish you would stop spending so much time at work, you need to repent to them and to Jesus. Remember repentance has two elements: sincerely seeking forgiveness without making any excuses and a commitment to turn away from your sin.
Are your children negatively impacted by your selfish choices? How did your children respond to the question of what they want you to stop doing? How can we better say yes and mean it to our children?