Inheritance of loss

These are the things our parents give us (and that we, in turn, bequeath to our children). There are the deliberate gestures – the passing on of certain attitudes and behaviours:

  • no shoes in the house
  • a love of good cheese and chocolate
  • an appreciation of literature and classical music
  • frugality that morphs into a penchant for recycling
  • disdain for flashiness and the pursuit of financial gain at all costs
  • the pursuit of education at all costs
  • a deep sense of justice and fairness
  • a secret love of meringues

And then there are the accidental loans  – the unconscious drip-drip of patterns and behaviours that leak out despite (or in the absence of) the best intentions:

  • a tendency to criticise and judge others harshly
  • an inability to deal with rejection
  • lies and subterfuge
  • moodiness and depression
  • prejudice
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • cowardice
  • indecisiveness
  • alcoholism

Last week, Ben told me his dad went into detox. My response was less than charitable.  I was still angry at him for failing his son – and me – so spectacularly when Ben needed him most. I remembered the addled and circular conversations we’d had when Ben was at his worst and I had been desperate for someone from Ben’s family to come and take over, instead of leaving me to handle it on my own (which they happily did in the end). I realised that Ben’s dad had been drunk on the few occasions we spoke over the phone – much as I’d suspected.

And then I blamed him for Ben’s alcoholism, too. Here was clear evidence that almost every disappointing element of Ben’s character – the cowardice, the weakness, the lying, the drinking – all of it came from his selfish, cowardly, alcoholic father.

In one gesture, I’d managed to shift the blame from Ben to his father, paradoxically opening the door to compassion. As long as Ben’s father was the bastard, Ben was just the victim. I chose not to look too deeply into the fact that Ben’s paternal grandfather was also a severe alcoholic (like his grandfather on his mother’s side).

When I look at Rosie and think about her prospects, I’m filled with dread. It is because of the sheer hopelessness of her paternal genes (when it comes to alcohol and addiction) that I have sworn off alcohol for good. I am keenly aware of what image I want to pass on to her vis-a-vis drinking. It’s her inheritance on her dad’s side that worries me. Is she already lost?

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13 thoughts on “Inheritance of loss

  1. Rosie is not lost. She will learn responsibility, awareness, and self-awareness from you. Genes are genes, but with your guidance, she will learn to understand hers.

  2. In the USA, we have Al Anon meetings that run concurrently with Alateen meetings. Kids as young as 9 (in my state of PA) are welcome. If you worry about Rosie, this option is likely (hopefully) available to you. Anytime a family experiences recovery, there is always a chance that the rest of the family will benefit. As always, best wishes.

  3. Just because her father likes to drink doesn’t mean Rosie will grow up to do it. My father liked to drink and smoke a lot and it’s something I’ve never done. It wasn’t because I didn’t like the way my father got when he’d had too much to drink, it was my own decision not to do it. Even as a teenager, when all of my friends were happily drinking and getting drunk I stayed away from it. It just wasn’t something I ever felt the need to do. So I think that Rosie has a good chance to not be like her father.

  4. OMG, this is my biggest fear. I am raising two boys. My in-laws raised two boys. My father-in-law was an alcoholic and died of complications from that. My mother-in-law is bitter. Will I be bitter? Will my children become alcoholics?
    I analyze everything that they do. If they become angry and react in a manner that I think is more extreme than it should be (like most hormonal teens do), I nearly panic. What if they become abusive?
    If they act irresponsibly (like most teens do), I worry that they will fall into the same immediate-gratification, selfish, narcissistic pattern of their father.
    Its so hard to decipher between normal teen behavior and signs of the future. I want them to be sweet and kind and forgiving and positive and put others first. What if they got those other genes? And what if they will sabotage their own good fortune with addiction without even realizing it?

  5. I am someone who is following this blog because my aunt drank herself to death. I have alcholics on my Dad’s side, from some of my great-grandparents up. Some distant relatives are alcholics.

    Yet none of my immediate family are alcoholics, neither are any of my cousins or uncles were and only one aunt was.

    So Rosie and Stronger Me’s children may not be alcoholics.

    A final word about genes : a noted psychologist in The States was studying sociopaths closely and realised that he showed all the markers (both genetic and behavioural) for sociopathic behaviour, yet he had never committed a crime. In my ‘umble opinion genes are funny things that we don’t really know all about yet.

    • Quercus Robur, I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. In fact, alcoholism exists in my maternal family, too. All my maternal uncles, bar one, drank/drink. One is currently in the ICU, receiving urgent medical care, because he is an alcoholic in an advanced state of physical and mental deterioration. You’re right, really. Just because it’s in the family, doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. But I will always be fearful.

      • I will always be fearful too, as was my mother before me. I am not a Christian, but the Bible says “it will follow you unto the fourth generation” (I don’t think I’m quoting accurately). As a child I thought that this was so unfair, but now I see that it is true. Alcoholism casts a long shadow over us all.

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