This Father’s Day, for the first time in my life, I find myself nearly struck dumb with fear. I am the proud father of a one-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl whom I love more than the sun and the moon—more than I love my own being. I am also the founder and CEO of an addiction treatment center, where I see the horrors of what can happen to human beings through their own bad choices and being taken advantage of by others. Until this year my kids seemed so little, so young. They were at home; I could protect them. This year, I am looking at kindergartens for my eldest and I can’t help but see the world through the lens of my profession. What I see is terrifying. I can’t protect them, not all the time. In this world of temptation and sometimes danger, the best I can hope is that my children will learn to become responsible for themselves.
Part of these lessons in personal responsibility is making better decisions than I made when I was young. But times are different now than when I grew up. I’m afraid of the naïveté with which children, sometimes very young children, abuse substances at “pharm” parties. I’ve sat with parents whose children were left to die from alcohol poisoning by friends who were afraid to take them to the emergency room because they were all underage. I’m worried that if my kids do ever experiment with drugs or alcohol, that on the nod, passed out, or too drunk to care, they will be targets for predators. Robbery or rape: the blame for such horrors absolutely always belongs with the criminal who perpetrates them, but I still don’t want my children ever to experience those horrors, especially because they were vulnerable because they made a poor choice and did not have their wits about them.
And so I beseech my children to not follow in their father’s footsteps of using drugs and alcohol to dull the pain of his problems. At the top of the list of things that I want for my children, which includes things like education and quality relationships and happiness, is the hope that my kids will take personal responsibility for their own safety as best as they can.
I don’t want my daughter to be taken advantage of sexually when she’s too drunk to consent. I don’t want my son to be beaten into brain damage while stumbling home drunk. I don’t want either of my kids to be taken advantage of, physically, financially or sexually, because they are too drunk or drugged to take care of themselves.
Children cannot be kept under our watchful eyes forever. Maybe we do our best until they’re 5 or 12 or 18, but then what?
Here’s what: we love them. We love them fiercely and fully. And by loving our kids even through the clouds of our own pasts and current challenges, we can show our kids their value. Because at the end of this Father’s Day or any other day, it’s our children who will be safe and strong and, if needed, resilient. It is our sons and daughters who will eventually have to stand up tall in this world of temptation and danger, and take responsibility for their own safety. By doing so, maybe our children can help their fathers see, minute by long minute, that maybe we can look at the world with a little less fear and a little more hope.
Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author with Constance Scharff of the book Ending Addiction for Good.