Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mother's Day / Father's Day

(Note: This blog is also published on The Huffington Post's blog site as "Why Father's Day Is So Difficult for Me.")

I didn't write a blog post this past Mother's Day. As I explained on my Facebook page, I started to write a blog post that Sunday morning; then I realized that the Mother's Day post I wrote in 2014 still applied. So I saved myself some keystrokes.

But after the day was over, I felt like I needed to document it in some way. I also started having some thoughts about Father's Day, which is right around the corner. And this is the result: A post-Mother's Day/pre-Father's Day post from my crazy mind.

Mother's Day was spectacular in every way. It started off with me making my amazing wife an omelette for breakfast, and ended with me cooking burgers and brisket for my amazing wife, two sons, all but one of my siblings, and my amazing mom. The day was perfect. To have all of those people who are so special to me at the dining room table at the same time just felt so good.

The happy face omelette I made my wife for breakfast on Mother's Day.

It really was the best Mother's Day celebration--as low key as it was--that I can remember. My wife and mom were both so happy. And they deserved to be happy, because they are both such loving, caring, unselfish people. Without a doubt, they are the two most incredible women I have ever known.

Me and my mom on Mother's Day.

A few days after Mother's Day passed, I started thinking a bit about Father's Day, which is coming up on June 21st. (The longest day of the year. Coincidence? I think not.)

Father's Day has always been an uncomfortable "holiday" for me. For most of my life, I struggled with it so much because my dad and I didn't have a very good relationship. In fact, for many years the only relationship we had was the standard biological one. Yes, he was my father. But I never felt the things that a kid should feel about his father: love, respect, gratitude, etc.

That's what happens when your dad's an alcoholic.

I remember countless Father's Days when I wouldn't even want to pick up the phone to call my dad, because saying "Happy Father's Day" to him was just me going through the motions. I got through those calls somehow, but it was not without a lot of anguish.

Then, in February of 2012, my dad passed away, just a few months after he and I reconciled.

As I wrote in my Father's Day post in 2013:

It's funny how things work out. I went 40+ years despising Father's Day because I didn't want to make that phony phone call or give the obligatory card and gift because I felt like I had to. Today, I wish I could make that phone call and give that card and gift...because I want to.

This Father's Day will no doubt be the same. I'll be missing my dad and wishing I had just one more Father's Day to spend with him so I could give him a hug and tell him I love him--and actually mean it.

Father's Day is also a stressor for me because I constantly struggle with a question I ask myself almost every single day:

Have I been a good father to my boys?

My younger son made this for me years ago.
Because of the relationship I had--or didn't have--with my dad while I was growing up, I would constantly tell myself that the one thing I was bound and determined to do in my lifetime, more than anything else, was to be a better father to my kids than my father was to me. Not just a better father, but a damn good father. Someone my kids would look up to and aspire to be like.

Given the fact that my father was an alcoholic/workaholic who put his whiskey and business ahead of everything else in his life, you'd think that meeting that goal I set for myself would be a slam dunk. I mean, how could I not be a better father? I should be able to do that blindfolded, with both hands tied behind my back. And how hard could it be to be a damn good father? Love your kids, say and do the right things, set good examples, teach your boys to be good men, etc. It all sounds so simple.

But you know what? It's not. And I'm not sure I've succeeded.

This really hit me hard over the last 36 hours or so. Yesterday, I had an email conversation with a younger friend--and by younger, I mean I'm old enough to be her father--and she said something that should have been very flattering to me. She said: "You are so awesome. Seriously. You're like the dad I always wanted!!!"

Wow. What a great compliment, right?

Except that the night before, something happened between me and my younger son that made me feel like I was anything but a good father, let alone the type of dad someone would actually want.

Over the years, my family has gone through some difficult situations, and we've all said and done things that we didn't really mean or ended up regretting. In life, when we're angry, we sometimes do some inexplicable things. But when I replay certain events in my mind, I feel like I've done way more than my fair share of these things. I've said things--hurtful things--to my boys in anger that I could never have imagined saying. Things that my dad, as shitty as he was for so many years, never said to me.

So I have to ask myself whether or not I am a good father.

Yes, my boys regularly tell me that they love me. And, over the years, both of them have also told me, on more than one occasion, that they hate me. (That's what teenagers do, right? RIGHT???!) But I often wonder how they really feel, deep down inside. I guess I think this way because I know that I put up a facade with my dad for all those years. I said one thing, but I felt another. It was just the easiest thing to do.

Nobody ever knows exactly how another person feels. That superpower does not exist. At least not on this planet. People tell us things and we have to take them at their word, because that's all we have to go by. If you spend your time second guessing what someone says, you'll drive yourself crazy; which is exactly what I've been doing to myself lately.

Someone I work with in my addiction/recovery advocacy work said something during a conference call a few months ago that I thought was brilliant. It was said in the context of parents dealing with an addicted child, but I think it applies to pretty much every aspect of life.

"You do the best that you can with what you know at the time. You learn as you go along, and you try to do better. And you can never go wrong with love."

That's some pretty great stuff, isn't it?

As parents, I think we're constantly learning. After all, parenting is one of the most challenging things in life. So I will continue to learn as I go along, and I will most definitely try to do better. Because no matter how good you are--or think you are--at something, there's always room for improvement.

Most importantly, though, I will continue to throw an abundance of love in my boys' direction. Because I love them more than life itself.

When Father's Day arrives in a few weeks, I will no doubt sit and ponder about all this stuff yet again. But until then, I'll try to clear my head and not be so hard on myself.

Damn. I like Mother's Day so much better.

"One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage." --Anne Lamott

The awesome bookmark my older son gave my wife for Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mom's birthday.

My mom is an amazing human, and she has a heart as big as the biggest thing you can imagine. (Maybe bigger?) She is always there for anything anyone needs help with. She has also been a constant source of support for me for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, my dad and I had issues because of his alcoholism. Whereas a lot of boys look to their father as a role model while they're growing up, I didn't have that luxury. My mom was my role model. She showed me how to live life, how to be kind, how to love unconditionally, and how to be grateful. In short, she made me who I am today.

We don't get to pick our parents--that would be weird--but I couldn't have special ordered a better mother. I appreciate her so much every single day.

My mom turns 84 today. That seems strange to me, because even though she may be 84 chronologically, she acts more like 44. I don't know where she gets her energy from, but maybe it's an indicator of what may be to come for me. I sure hope I got her 84-going-on-44 genes!

Happy birthday, mom. I love you. Puno puno. :)

Mother and son. Then and now.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Scholarship Contest Update

It's been three weeks since the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest officially got underway. So far, we've received four entries, which, to be honest, is a couple more than I expected to have at this point. With the deadline being July 3rd, my calendar tells me we still have seven weeks to go. Hopefully there are kids out there who are working on their essays, or maybe plotting their essay strategy. I would love to get a bunch of entries submitted as the deadline date approaches.

The entries submitted thus far have come from California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Delaware. If nothing else, this shows that the thing we call the Internet reaches from coast-to-coast. Apparently, it reaches around the world, too, because I received inquiries from people in Canada and South Africa who wanted to know if they could enter the contest. (They can't. It's only open to students in the U.S.)

Reading the first four essays was pretty emotional for me. All of these kids who have been affected by their sibling's addiction have such similar stories and experiences; yet, at the same time, each story is unique. I found things in all of them that resonated with me as things that my younger son experienced during his older brother's struggle.

While reading these courageous stories, two thoughts kept popping into my head:

1.) I'm so glad I decided to do this.

2.) I wish I could give money to everyone who enters.

I know $1,200.00 isn't the largest scholarship anyone's ever given away. But I also know that when it comes to paying college tuition, every little bit helps. I'm thrilled that this scholarship will be that "little bit" for someone.

As far as wanting to give money to everyone who enters goes, I think that's only natural. In my mind, every young person affected by their brother or sister's addiction deserves a little something. Lord knows it's going to be incredibly tough to choose just one person as our winner.

If by chance you or someone you know would like to contribute to this scholarship fund, the GoFundMe campaign is still up and running. Feel free to head over there and make a donation. If more money is contributed, we can consider giving scholarships to more than one student. Maybe a runner-up prize, or second and third place.

Here's the link to the GoFundMe page:

If you've ever been affected by addiction, either directly or indirectly, please consider making a donation, even if it's just a few bucks.

Siblings of those who suffer from addiction go through so much that they didn't ask for. A lot of times, the shit hits the fan for them at a very young age, too. They grow up seeing and hearing awful things, and wondering if the person they love is going to live or die. Sharing their stories is one way for them to get rid of some of those negative feelings they have.

Be sure to share the details of this essay contest with anyone who might be interested. Everything they need to know should be at these two links:

(NOTE: These links are to Microsoft Word documents saved to Google Docs.)

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Rules

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Application/Entry Form

If you have any questions about the scholarship, or if you have any problems with the documents, please contact us at:


"Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience . . . . Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it—it can’t survive being shared." --BrenĂ© Brown

Who doesn't love SpongeBob?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Latest Heroes in Recovery Blog: Siblings and the Ripple Effect of Addiction

Greetings, blog readers.

Just stopping by to let you know that my newest blog for Heroes in Recovery posted this morning. It's called "Siblings and the Ripple Effect of Addiction." As you probably already know, I'm a big advocate for siblings who have been affected by their brother's or sister's addiction, and this is just another way of raising awareness.

You can do me a solid by heading over to the newly redesigned Heroes site and reading my new blog. While you're there, please consider giving it a "Like" and sharing it. Also, if you left a comment on the blog after you read it, that would be way cool.

And while we're on the subject of siblings affected by addiction, here's a reminder: The My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest is going on now. It gives a young person the chance to take a negative and turn it into a positive. So if you know any young people who will be attending college this fall and might be interested in a shot at a $1,200.00 scholarship, make sure you let them know about the contest. (Here's a selling point: It's likely the only scholarship contest they'll enter that has an Emmy Award-winning actress--Kristen Johnston--as a judge!)

Here are some direct links for you:

My new Heroes in Recovery Blog:

My blog post with all the information on the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest:

The scholarship contest rules:

The scholarship contest application/entry form:

As always, thank you so much for your continued support.

I hope to be back here sooner rather than later with a post that talks about this past Mother's Day and the rapidly approaching Father's Day.


"First and foremost, we have to love them. Just like parents of addicts, siblings of addicts have been thrown into a firestorm they didn’t ask for or anticipate." --From my new Heroes in Recovery blog

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Has the Time Come for Mandatory Ignition Interlock Devices?

(Note: This blog post was originally published on The Fix's website on March 25, 2015.)

It's no secret that drunk driving is one of this country's biggest safety concerns. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every day almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes. In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S.

Wow. Those statistics are pretty sobering (pun intended).

If the cost of human lives isn't enough, drunk driving also costs this country billions of actual dollars each year. An NHTSA study cited on the Centers for Disease Control website states that the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. totals more than $59 billion.

Wow (again).

So how do we prevent the lethal combination of alcohol and automobiles from killing so many Americans going forward? Is there anything out there that could help reduce those astronomical figures stated above?

There is, and it's called an ignition interlock.

Historically, ignition interlock devices (IID) have been installed in the cars of people who have been convicted of driving while impaired. They prevent operation of the vehicle by anyone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a specified safe level. The concept is simple: Before you start your car, you exhale into the device. If it detects an unsafe BAC level, your ignition is locked and you can't start your car.

I've thought for a long time that IIDs would be an effective way to prevent people from driving while intoxicated. More than 20 years ago, after my father racked up his last of many DUIs, he had a court-ordered ignition interlock installed on his car. At the time, I was working for my dad and driving him around on sales calls. So I experienced firsthand what it's like to operate a car with an IID. And I had no problem whatsoever with it. It also kept my father from drinking and driving, which is something no one or nothing else had been able to do up to that point. As someone who worried constantly about my dad possibly hurting someone with his car, the IID actually provided me with a little bit of comfort. (That might sound silly, but it's true.)

"Why don't they just put these things on all cars?" I would frequently ask myself.

My interest in the IID idea was rekindled recently when I opened my email inbox and saw the latest daily news blast from "Join Together," a news service of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The headline for one of the articles read:

"Putting Alcohol Ignition Interlocks in New Cars Could Prevent Many Deaths: Study"

When I clicked through to the story, I was shocked by what I read.

[Over a 15-year implementation period,] if all new cars had devices that prevent drunk drivers from starting the engine, an estimated 85 percent of alcohol-related deaths could be prevented in the United States, a new study concludes. The devices, called alcohol ignition interlocks, could prevent more than 59,000 crash fatalities and more than 1.25 million non-fatal injuries, according to the University of Michigan researchers.

Wow (yet again). Those numbers are ridiculous, but in the best possible way.

The findings from that University of Michigan study were published in the March 15, 2015, issue of the American Journal of Public Health as "Modeling the Injury Prevention Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Ignition Interlock Installation in All New US Vehicles."

The lead author of the study, Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, said most drunk drivers make about 80 trips under the influence of alcohol before they are stopped for a DUI. "If we decided that every new car should have an alcohol ignition interlock that’s seamless to use for the driver and doesn’t take any time or effort, we suddenly have a way to significantly reduce fatalities and injuries that doesn’t rely solely on police,” he told Reuters.

The study also concluded that over $340 billion in injury-related costs could be avoided over the same 15-year period.

Reading numbers like those cited in the U of M study make me think of a blog I wrote about a year ago called "Aren't All Lives Worth Saving?" The subject of that blog was the NHTSA's decision to require rearview cameras in all new cars sold in the U.S. by 2018. What prompted that decision? The NHTSA estimated rearview cameras in all cars could "prevent between 13 and 15 deaths and as many as 1,300 injuries annually."

Hmm. If you average the cumulative totals arrived at by the U of M researchers, ignition interlocks could prevent more than 3,930 fatalities and 83,300 injuries annually. That's way more than the backup cams' 15 deaths and 1,300 injuries. So let's mandate IIDs on all new cars. It's a no-brainer, right?

Of course, it isn't. In fact, it's a crazy idea, because it would make cars more expensive. Oh, and there's also the little issue of people's rights. This is America, dammit, and no one's going to tell people when they can or can't drive their precious automobiles, even if it means saving lives. Can you imagine the field day the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would have if the government required installation of ignition interlocks in all new cars? It would not be pretty.

Well, I've always enjoyed watching the ACLU do their thing, so maybe it's time for someone to officially propose mandatory IIDs and see where the idea goes. We learn from a very early age that if we abuse the privileges we have, those privileges sometimes have to be altered accordingly. Driving a car is a privilege, and if people can't do it responsibly—which means NOT doing it after they've been drinking—then maybe it's time to put a new technological safeguard in place.

If I recall correctly, a whole lot of people weren’t real thrilled when they were told they had to wear their seatbelt. But people adapted, it worked out okay, and we’re all safer because of it. Is this so much different than that? Is it really asking that much for people to be sober before they get behind the wheel and drive their car?

I think not.

What do you think about the idea? Feel free to weigh in by commenting below.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest

Welcome to the official announcement of the first My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest.

The idea to give away a college scholarship to someone who has been affected by their sibling's addiction came to me after I wrote a blog post a little over a year ago. That blog post talked about what I would do with the money if I ever managed to win the lottery. One of the things I mentioned was starting a foundation to assist younger siblings of addicts, because of what amazing people they are.

Then in November, I decided that winning the lottery was pretty unlikely. So my wife and I decided to put up some of our own money and create a scholarship that would help a sibling affected by addiction pay for college. The original idea was to award the scholarship to a younger sibling, but we later decided that addiction--the ultimate family disease--doesn't care if a sibling is younger or older, so why should we?

This $1,200.00 scholarship is a small one. With the cost of college tuition these days, it's not going to make a huge dent in anyone's college debt. But it will help, which is exactly what my wife and I wanted to do. We put up half the money, and the other half came from generous people who contributed via a GoFundMe campaign. (FYI: That GoFundMe link is still active. If anyone wants to donate more to the cause, we can increase the amount of the one scholarship, or give out multiple scholarships.)

And here we are.

This is the first time I've ever put together a college scholarship, so if there are little glitches here or there I hope people can deal with them. I thought we'd just gather up some money, find a deserving person to give it to, and send a check to their school. Then I realized there needed to be some kind of application and--gulp--rules.

I poked around on the Internet, looked at some scholarship applications and rules, and created a couple of documents that I hope will suffice for the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. (Note: Links to these documents are at the very end of this blog post.)

By the way, my wife and I decided on an essay contest because we thought it was way cooler than randomly drawing a name out of a hat. Plus, we both like to write and appreciate others' writing. Our younger son--one of those amazing siblings affected by addiction--also likes to write. So it was kind of a no-brainer. The topic for the essay contest is:

“How has your sibling’s addiction affected you and what are your dreams for your future?”

Oh, one more thing! I almost forgot! We needed judges. We needed actual living, breathing caring humans who knew a thing or two about writing, addiction, giving, etc., to read the submitted essays and figure out who deserves to win.

My wife and I made a list of people we wanted to help us with the judging, and it turned out that rounding them up was the easiest part of this whole deal; because everybody we asked said yes.

So, in addition to my wife, my younger son, and me, these are the folks who will be judging the essay submissions:

Kristen Johnston
Kristen is an Emmy Award-winning actress who starred in 3rd Rock from the Sun on NBC and currently stars in The Exes on TVLand. She is in recovery, and wrote the brutally honest and funny book Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster about her experiences. She is also a co-founder of SLAM NYC, an organization committed to starting the first sober high school in New York City. And, as if all that wasn't enough, KJo also writes an awesome blog called "One Big Mouth."

Jeanne Keister
Jeanne and her husband Don lost their son Tyler to addiction on December 23, 2012. Since then, they have worked wonders to help break the stigma associated with addiction and evoke legislative changes through their organization atTAcK addiction.

Hannah Miller
Hannah is an incredible young person in recovery who is part of the University of Michigan's Collegiate Recovery Program. She shared her story with Heroes in Recovery back in December. You can read it here: "Nine Lives"

Munchie Morgan
Munchie is a fabulous writer who lost her younger sister to an addiction-related suicide just over a year ago. She has shared her story on the Heroes in Recovery site, too. You can read it here: "My Sister Sarah."  Munchie also writes a great blog for a treatment center, the latest installment of which can be found here: "She Survived."

Jillian Speece
Jillian is one-half of the ridiculously talented husband-wife musical duo called The Bergamot. Not only does she have a phenomenal voice, but her outlook on life is one my wife and I admire so much. In addition to making music, Jillian sells her own line of wellness products on Etsy and writes a blog that is full of positivity. The Bergamot's new album, Tones, drops on May 5th. (Here's a sample of their work:

Cathy Taughinbaugh
Cathy is a parent coach who recently started the Rise Up Moms group to help mothers make positive changes in their lives. She also writes a terrific blog and offers other great resources on her website: 

I think that about covers it.

If you know a college student who has been affected by their sibling's addiction, and they are attending college in the fall, please share this blog with them. Maybe they'll be interested in taking a shot at this scholarship contest. All the information they need to apply/enter--requirements, rules, deadlines, etc.--should be contained in the documents below.

NOTE: These links are to Microsoft Word documents saved to Google Docs.

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Rules

My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Application/Entry Form

If you have any questions about the scholarship, or if you have any problems with the documents, please contact us at:

I can't wait to give away some money in August.


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Red Roof Inn Incident

I've written in this blog on more than one occasion about how I became addicted to my son's addiction. The first time I heard that phrase--"addicted to my son's addiction"--was in David Sheff's amazing book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction (a.k.a., The Book That Saved My Life). Up until that point, I had never really noticed the stranglehold my son's addiction had on me.

This morning I flash backed to Tuesday, April 17, 2007, which was 10 months before Beautiful Boy was even published. I was looking through my electronic journal and read the entry from exactly eight years ago.

Damn, I was pretty messed up. How messed up? Here's your first clue: The journal entry was actually written from a Red Roof Inn about 10 miles from my house.

Eight years ago tonight, my son started an argument because he wanted to have a friend he had met during a recent hospital stay over to our house on Friday night. My wife and I didn't think it was the best idea for a number of different reasons (timing, our son's awful report card, etc.), but our son would not take no for an answer. The initial fight was between my wife and my son, but I eventually joined in. (Funny: When the argument first started, I told my younger son, "Great. Just what we need. Another fight." He told me, "Just ignore it. That's what I do." I probably should've taken his advice.)

When my son was using, he was full of anger. To make matters worse, I was full of anger, too. I was in the process of learning about addiction, but I was still in that "maybe-if-I-yell-at-him-loud-enough-it'll-make-him-stop" phase. Boy, could we yell and swear at each other. I'm surprised the windows didn't shatter.

The initial argument about having a friend over quickly deteriorated into something more. And worse. As I wrote in my journal:

"We then spent about 30 minutes arguing about school, smoking pot, [my son] wanting to be a rock star, [my son] wanting to drop out, [my son] wanting this and that."

It's amazing, really, how selfish people in active addiction can be. It's like self-entitlement on steroids to the nth power.

The journal entry continues:

"After 30 minutes or so of arguing, I just told [my son] and [my wife] that I would take the blame for everything. For [our son] being screwed up. For our family being screwed up. Everything. All because I likely spoiled [our son] because I wanted to be a better father than my asshole father was. With that I went upstairs, packed a bag, and headed off to the Red Roof Inn. Maybe my going away for the night will calm things down."

That's how addicted I was to my son's addiction. I let it rule my life. My emotional state and so many of my actions were totally influenced by my son and his substance abuse. When things with my son were reasonably okay, I was reasonably okay. But when things were bad, I was fucked up. And then some.

Another thing about that night eight years ago that illustrates my point: My wife and I had tickets to a concert we really wanted to go to. Of course, I couldn't go. At least that's what I thought at the time. In reality, I wouldn't go. Because I had let my son's addiction overtake my entire life. So instead of going to a live music show with my wife that night, I ended up in a Red Roof Inn all by myself.

I said in my journal that I went to the hotel so things at home would maybe calm down a bit. But deep down inside, I knew that wasn't the real reason I left the house. I left because I was running away from the problem. I had simply had enough that night and wanted to escape the pain. It was probably the coward's way out, but at the time it seemed like a damn good idea.

Addiction is a family disease. When a family member is struggling with substance abuse, every person in that household is deeply affected. That's just the nature of the beast. The trick is learning how to live a relatively "normal" life while all hell is breaking loose around you. Is it easy? Hell no. Is it possible? Yes, but it takes quite a bit practice. Thank God I eventually became reasonably good at it.


"Angry people are not always wise." --Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice