“You want to be the one on the court the whole game, not just at halftime.” Words from my father as he was encouraging me to try out for basketball. I thought to myself, “That sounds like a great idea.” I declined the pom-pom squad position and the next day he taught me how to shoot my first lay-up. I secured a spot on my middle school basketball team shortly after I mastered the lay-up. Dad was grinning ear to ear when he found out. His encouragement was endless and he did not treat my sister and I differently than my brother when it came to academic, athletic or career advice. This was truly a gift that I would not fully realize until I met other girls while I was in college who did not have this type of encouragement growing up.
Being emotionally present however was not always the case for my Dad. He battled the demons of alcoholism and landed himself in the intensive care unit after going into withdrawal while on a cub-scout trip with my first grade brother. I remember the day the phone rang from the hospital and the look of terror on my Mom’s face. I was in third grade and was told “your father could die if he keeps drinking.” After he made it out of the hospital he half-heartedly participated in rehab. It was two years later after relapses, hidden vodka bottles, and guilty bribes of Neapolitan ice cream after he “messed up” until he would realize the magnitude of his addiction. He could lose his family!
My Mom set a hard line and said you have to leave if you are going to choose alcohol over your family. “I turned to faith and God, Denise. I did not want to lose our family.” He checked himself into rehab and became sober when I was 11 years old and for the rest of his life. Do you know what an impact this had on my entire family? His sobriety was the biggest gift of my childhood. My Dad was my hero for being able to stop having an affair with the bottle.
It is never too late to become more present for your child. My Dad was a great listener and validated my fears and disappointment in his past foibles. I forgave him, we became closer. He believed in me when I tried out for varsity soccer in high-school, I made it. He was encouraging of my decision to pursue medicine. He was a patient listener when I made mistakes and showed unconditional love in all situations. His life experience with addiction made him a better husband, father and friend to all. His laugh was contagious and he taught all of us that your character and how you treat others is your most important virtue.
I have exponential gratitude for all of my life experiences and would not be the mother, the wife and the doctor that I am today without every life lesson.