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How Recovery Shapes Fatherhood: Dads in Recovery Tell Their Stories

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For these three fathers in recovery, the best Father’s Day gift is the ability to be present for their children.

It’s no secret that being a parent and having a substance use disorder do not go hand-in-hand. The ability to stay in recovery and be a father is not an easy feat and not something to take lightly.

For these three fathers in recovery, the best Father’s Day gift is the ability to be present for their children.

How recovery shapes fatherhood

For some, getting sober comes before fatherhood. Brian List, of Arizona, was in his 18th year of recovery when he found out he was going to be a dad. Still, the news was overwhelming.

“I had a tool kit and I was well equipped to handle the massive amount of feelings I was having about becoming a father,” he said. “I always had this belief that I didn’t have enough selflessness to be a dad…I was filled with love and anxiety and wondered if I was father material. I couldn’t wait to meet him but I was so scared. Will I break him? Will he like me? I was scared of this whole new responsibility.”

Sam Kratzer of Minnesota was also sober when he became a father, but that didn’t stop an influx of emotions.

“My first feeling when I found out I was going to be a father was honestly terror,” he said. “I was over 2 years sober at that point but I didn’t feel prepared for the responsibility. I guess nobody really is. Then there was another shot of terror a couple of weeks later when we found out it was twins!”

For others though, fatherhood is the catalyst for making the choice to get sober. Nate J, of Minnesota, is a father of two. However, he did not get sober until after his second child, a daughter, was 6 years old. It has now been more than three years since he stopped drinking.

“My son and my relationship was bad,” Nate said. “I always felt he loved his mother more than me, so being the dad I thought I should be never materialized. I continued to drink and blame all my failings with my children on everyone but myself.”

After choosing to stop drinking, Nate says fatherhood becomes a different journey.

“My father was not there a lot so I made the choice to be different than him.”

“Being sober, being a father took on a whole new meaning,” he said. “There’s a lot more time to do what my kids want to do. My father was not there a lot so I made the choice to be different than him.”

For Kratzer, being in recovery has given him the opportunity to truly be there for his children in a positive way.

“Being sober has shaped the way I father basically by allowing me to be present,” Kratzer said. “When I was drinking, by the end of the line I was usually either angry or absent – not the kind of person who would have been a fit father. Being sober has given me the tools to engage with people in a healthy way and be present and contribute to my relationships, including those with my kids.”

The path to recovery applies in other aspects of life as well, List says, as he tries to live by the 12 steps in his relationship with his son.

“I try to practice the principles of the 12 steps in my relationship with Easton,” he said. “I realize I can’t control him. I dont own him. He is his own being so I must let go and just be. I can be reliable so I must be present. I can love so I must love him. I get resentful at him so I must be willing to walk through that skillfully. Sometimes I handle things unskillfully so I can make amends to him. Trust me, that is humbling. Because of recovery in my life, Easton has a safe place to call home.”

“Being sober has shaped the way I father basically by allowing me to be present.”

Advice for sober dads

When it comes to sober parenting, struggles are to be expected. However, they don’t have to be faced alone. For Kratzer, connecting with other fathers in recovery has been vital.

“Make friends with other sober dads,” he said. “One of the things about being an alcoholic is that you’ve got this idea that nobody understands your struggles, and I found the same to be true with being a sober dad – especially a dad of twins. Find people in the same situation you’re in and support each other.”

List recommends acknowledging the fact that love alone will never be enough to mend a broken relationship with your children, and recovery has to be the solution.

“Make friends with other sober dads. Find people in the same situation you’re in and support each other.”

“All the love in the world for your little one won’t fix the problem,” List said.  “It can move you in the right direction but that’s not the cure-all. I know this because I’ve seen it. I’ve watched fathers welcome their newborn into this world then go and get high. I’ve watched men sober up for their son or daughter then relapse and go to jail, or die”

For List, recovery came by way of a 12-step program, which he recommends for anyone wanting to get and stay sober.

“We can talk about the messy situations that we’ve gotten ourselves into,” List said. “We can talk about our struggles and fears. We can talk about hopelessness and unmanageability. Then we can talk about wanting to change and what we need to do to get to a better place. As an addict and alcoholic in recovery, I can share with you what I did to get free from the struggle.”

In the end, Nate says, it comes down to being honest with yourself and with your kids.

“Wake up,” he said. “See the damage you are doing to your kids and yourself. You have a problem, and your kids see it. You are hurting them and others, and it is not fair…Your kids will understand and support you as long as you are trying.”

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into substance use disorder and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a web designer and photographer in Minnesota. Follow her on Instagram @beth_leipholtz and on Twitter @el9292.

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