Annie Lane: Drinking divide

Published 6:03 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

Dear Annie: Growing up, my parents were alcoholics who got sober when I was 10 years old. Since then, my father has become very preachy about not drinking. I am now 29, and in recent years, my father has become a little less preachy. But at first, he assumed anyone who drank was also an alcoholic. It isolated my siblings from pretty much all of our extended family, all who casually drink. The isolation on my mother’s side has been remedied for the most part because of my maternal grandparents, who always made a special effort to connect with me and my sister.

However, on my father’s side, it did massive damage to our relationships, so much so that I have not legitimately seen my grandparents on my father’s side since I was 11. My parents always spun my grandparents’ abandonment of us as we were no longer young and cute and had minds of our own, so they were no longer interested in being a part of our lives. My brother, “Tad,” was especially close to my father’s dad, so the cutoff hit him very hard.

Recently, a relative passed away, and we all went to his funeral. My father’s sisters were there (I have not seen them in about 15 years), and one of my aunts brought her daughters who are now teenagers. We went to dinner afterward, and I found out my cousins have very close relationships with my grandparents to where they text and call each other regularly. My grandparents have missed my high school, military and college graduations, similar to my siblings.

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My father was staying with me at the time of the funeral and expressed that he was sad about the disconnect and blamed himself. In the weeks that have passed since learning that it is only me and my siblings my grandparents have abandoned, I blame my father, too. I also blame my grandparents. My father has reached out to me to try and talk about this, and originally, I wanted to as well. But the more I think about it, the angrier I realize I am, not just at my father but at my grandparents, too. I am mad that these adults could not put their emotions aside to be better for the children they were affecting.

However, now as an adult, I am not sure how to proceed. My father wants to talk to me about it, but I am not sure how without making him feel worse about a situation that he can no longer change. But I am also not willing to mute my feelings to make my father feel less guilty about how his behavior affected me growing up. Do I just move on from all of this and accept that I only have one set of grandparents (on my mother’s side)? Or do I try to proceed with talking this through with my father? And if I do proceed with that, how do I communicate my feelings without making him feel helpless to change history? My parents split their time living between two locations; one is a 12-hour drive, and the other is a six-hour drive, so regular family therapy is not really an option.

— Confused and Kind of Angry

Dear Confused and Kind of Angry: It’s wonderful that your parents attained sobriety, though very unfortunate that, in doing so, it came to fracture other family relationships. I am so sorry for the abandonment you and your siblings especially have felt over the years as a result of the family’s differing views on drinking.

There’s no way to change the past, but speaking with your father candidly about your anger and how everything has impacted you may at least allow you to make peace with it. At the end of the day, you are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions but your own, and speaking your truth might give you the closure you need to begin to move forward.

As for your paternal grandparents, there’s room to start a new chapter with them, if you want to. You are an adult now and capable of creating and maintaining relationships with whoever you please. Despite the family baggage, I’m sure they would be thrilled to get to know another bright, loving granddaughter of theirs. Better late than never.

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