At the age of 28 this writer is finally having her first Christmas with her recovering alcoholic dad, this is why it means so much.
Christmas can be a polarising time. It’s a holiday bursting at the seams with almost sickly amounts of merriment, largely characterised as the happiest time of the year. But the pressure this creates – particularly around having the best of times with family and friends – can throw into harsh relief the relationships in our lives that are less than perfect.
My mum and dad broke up when I was a toddler and promptly moved to different cities some 50 miles apart. The plan was simple: I would live with my mum 99% of the time, but I would see my dad every other weekend. Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be. Because, even though I idolised my father in an almost Tracey Beaker-like fashion, his destructive drinking problem meant that my on-and-off weekends with him were erratic at best, non-existent at worst. The idea of spending Christmas together was never on the cards.
For almost 20 years, my dad remained gripped by alcoholism. Sometimes, he would fall off the radar for months on end, leaving me wondering if he was still alive. And, when he did stay in touch, it felt bittersweet as he struggled to remember anything about my life I’d told him when we last spoke.
If we managed to pin down a treasured meet-up, he’d often arrive hardly able to stand. Despite this, though, I clung onto the slithers of sparkling wit that would seep through the fog of alcohol. His warm, bubbly personality felt magnetic to me, and I always felt a connection to the charismatic and intelligent man I knew he was deep down.
It carried on this way for such a long time that it became the norm, so much so that I never dared to hope that dad would seek the help he so desperately needed. But, one day in 2015, everything changed.
I hadn’t heard from dad in over a year, and decided to surprise him at the temporary accommodation he’d found with other addicts. I knocked on the door filled with anticipation and waited, only to be greeted by a stranger. The youngish man – clearly struggling with problematic drug use – nodded when I told him why I was there, and led me upstairs via a dark warren of hallways and endless doors. Although I felt intimidated, I was still looking forward to seeing my dad, and waited excitedly in the hallway as his housemate informed him that his daughter had come to visit.
It was not the reaction I expected. Dad’s shock was so overwhelming, and he was so unable to believe I was really there, that he told his housemate to get lost and stop lying to him. It wasn’t until I poked my head around the door that he burst into tears. It was the lightning bolt he needed, and a firm reminder that his family still cared about him. The following week, he travelled back home and moved in with his mum. And, within a month, he finally checked into rehab.
It has been four years since I turned up unannounced at dad’s shelter, and things couldn’t be more different for him now. I’m incredibly proud of him: his commitment and strength has seen him not only complete a year in treatment, but go on to volunteer at a nearby rehab, become promoted to a member of staff, and eventually go on to become the site’s manager.
Dad hasn’t just worked on changing himself, though: our relationship has grown stronger than ever. We’ve celebrated his sober anniversary together every year with a weekend away just the two of us. In 2018, we took our first ever holiday together. And now, this year, it’s time for another first: we’re planning our inaugural Christmas as a father-daughter team.
While he was fighting to get sober, my dad relied heavily on his mum – otherwise known as my jolly, overly-Irish nan. She was the kind of woman who always had a naughty twinkle her eye, would tease me and my cousins relentlessly, and do absolutely anything for her family. However, earlier this summer, my nan passed away.
It was a loss felt by all of us, but none more so than my dad, who she had never given up on. I took time off work to be with him as he came to terms with his grief, and have been there for him when he’s felt low. And, as this will be our first Christmas without nan, it feels like the right time to be there with my dad.
Yes, it feels a bit weird to have my first ever Christmas with my dad as a 28-year-old woman. Most of my friends have grown up spending the 25 December with their dads, whether splitting the day between two families or not. But, having always known and cared about my Dad, I can’t quite believe this will be the first time I’ll wake up with him on Christmas morning.
This year, I will finally get to watch as my dad opens his presents, scoffs Quality Street, and flicks around the TV channels for the best festive specials. We will eat a roast dinner together, pull crackers, and cringe at the jokes hidden within them. And I’m filled with a child-like excitement about it all: I’m going to see what Christmas is like with my dad around!
I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was eight years old. It feels incredibly special, after all of the hard work my dad has put in, to see that dream come true at last.
Images: Megan Murray / Instagram