How my dad’s alcoholism has cost me my brothers

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I first heard about my father’s alcohol problem when I was 18, had just returned from a year abroad, and was recovering from a surgery. Sitting in the park, my favourite aunt told me about his drunk driving, the passing out on our terrace, the tears on my brother’s face, the ambulances.

Four months later, my dad drove me to my student job for the first and only time. In the car, he attributed his “little problem” to the “Burgundian lifestyle” his father had instilled in him. He’d go to rehab, he said—an ultimatum set by my mother. Hours later, we all sat at the family Christmas party as if nothing was amiss. He drank iced tea, though. A first.

Ultimatums came and went. The stumbling increased, the bottles harder to find. Once, he fell asleep during my last driving lesson before my exam. I failed the test. We’d find alcohol everywhere. In hiking boots, between his collection of screws, in refilled water bottles in the car. Twice more, Mom took the first steps towards divorce. Twice more, Dad went to rehab and returned only to fall back into the habit.

In the end, I told Mom I wouldn’t come “home” again. I promised museum visits and going for tea in any city she’d choose. She could get a spare key to my place, if she wanted. But the house I grew up in became my personal no-go zone. I gave up on him, I told her. But never on family, I promised.

In the end, the divorce came, the alcohol stayed, and we didn’t give up on him. But years later, I wonder if it didn’t cost me my family after all. See, all we talk about is him. Our text messages are about him. Amid the problem-solving, I have lost track of the two other people on the sidelines—my brothers.

This story isn’t about alcoholism. It’s about what it does to the people around you. About the mounting debt, the financial handouts, the unemployment checks, the doctor’s visits, the strokes, the vision loss, the lies, the unknown, the suspicion and ultimately—about the stubbornness of those who can’t give up on you.

July 17, 2019

Incoming message from J**** 
Which strategy should we use with Dad?

August 2, 2019

Outgoing call to K***
He sounded off, like he does when he’s drinking. Have you talked to him recently?

August 10, 2019

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Update: Mom called. Dad snitched and ruined our surprise.

Outgoing call to K***
Mom’s been through enough, this was the one thing I wanted to do for her.

August 21, 2019

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
I forgot to help Dad with his inbox and his email address. I did everything else, though. Does anyone have time to do it for him before the 24th?

Incoming message from V******
To be honest, I don’t have time nor energy for him at the moment. 

September 2, 2019

Outgoing call to K***
How can you get so deep in debt in such a short time? We’ve been feeding him more money than I use on myself and it just evaporates. 

September 14, 2019

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Has anyone done groceries for Dad or asked him what he needs? I can bring veggies and chicken.

Incoming message from J****
I will call, I can swing by the store.

Incoming message from V******
I can bring chili con carne and fresh soup.

September 16, 2019

Outgoing call to K***
We might ambush him with an intervention, but at least his fridge will be stocked again.

September 21, 2019

Outgoing call to K***
What’s this about Dad selling grandma and grandpa’s heirlooms??

September 30, 2019

Incoming message from V******
Could you take Dad to the docter with a rental car? Otherwise, I need to cross the whole country in my van.

October 16, 2019

Incoming message from J****
Coucou, I have an appointment at the notary next Thursday to go over various options.

Incoming message from J****
Tuesday, I’ll take him to the hospital. I’ll call him on Sunday to get an appointment at the bank, too. 

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
To get access to the account?

Incoming message from J****
Yes

Incoming message from V******
I’ve been trying to get a hold of that therapist, G****. Tomorrow, I’ll email instead of call. 

Incoming message from V******
Appointment at the therapist: Thursday 7/11 at 9.

Outgoing message from J**** 
Yes!!!

October 26, 2019

Outgoing call to K***
Why is he telling you the complete opposite of what he tells me?

November 1, 2019

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
The deal: go to Dad’s at 6 for the new intervention. I’ll bring something to eat. J**** tells him we’re coming.

November 2, 2019

Incoming message from V******
OK, 6 it is. I had a few questions left:
Should we give our help under the condition of him getting admitted? Can we install a trustee? Shall we meet at 5 in the bar around the corner to get on the same page?

Incoming message from J****
Dad doesn’t have a landline, does he? 

Incoming message from V******
No, haven’t you been able to reach him yet?

Incoming message from V******
Any other ways to get hold of him? Can we email or is that weird?

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Weird af. Let’s just go.

Incoming message from V******
J, can you bring the spare key for Dad’s? He can’t be far anyway.

November 7, 2019

Incoming message from J****
I got a message from Dad this morning, saying he only has 150 euros left after paying the bills. I saw a payment from the credit card for 400 euros. Dangerous, that card.

Outgoing message to J****
Did you wire him the 800 this month?

Incoming message from J****
Yep!

November 9, 2019

Incoming message from J****
Electricity and the pharmacy has been paid now, his account is at 82. Brrr.

Outgoing message to J****
I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry and enjoy your trip!

November 24, 2019

Incoming message from Dad
J****, can you do a transfer (1,000 euros) please? Thanks, Dad.

Outgoing message to Dad
This is Pep, but I’ll tell J****. 

December 4, 2019

Incoming message from J****
I wired him 1,000 euros this month, 800 for his usual shortage and another 200 for a downpayment on the new set of teeth.

The question remains how much he’ll have to spare for food for the rest of the month. 

I don’t have another 1,000 euros floating around.

December 7, 2019

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
I’ll bring him his walking stick and groceries today.

December 19, 2019

Incoming message from J****
Just called with the notary, they’ll get all the files in order and we need to list all the outgoing costs.

Jan 6, 2019

Incoming message from V******
Can someone do Dad’s groceries? I can’t this week nor the next. 

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
I’ll go on Saturday.

Jan 9, 2019

Incoming message from V******
Should the three of us sit together to talk about how to fix this notary thing?

Incoming message from J****
I’ve been thinking about texting you for a few days now. Yeah, let’s discuss all of this live.

January 18th, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Hi, is anyone passing a store before M******’s birthday party. I can’t find a toilet cleaner without bleach and Dad only wants a bleach-less one.

Incoming message from J****
I’ll try to remember it when I pass by the shop

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Oh and he needs new pillows for his couch. I gave him head pillows in nice covers but “that’s not what he meant”

February 2, 2020

Outgoing call to K***
He’s told the unemployment office he’s been out sick—he’ll lose that but he might be able to get on disability. Do you know anything about it?

February 19, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
@J**** just wired 800 for two months in a row. Shall I take over? I got an extra freelance assignment so I have some money.

March 8, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
I’ll take Dad to the doctor’s office on Thursday to figure out if he can get on disability checks.

March 15, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
We’ll know more in about a month. The doctor didn’t ask much, just copied things from a dossier he already had printed out on his desk

Incoming message from J****
The great bureaucracy

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
At one point the doctor asked Dad to stand up and walk 10 metres, but as soon as he got up the doctor said he had seen enough.

April 21, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
I’ll get that budget up to date tonight.

April 22, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Are we doing Skype tonight? Dad has that, too, because they use it at AA. Or Whatsapp video?

Incoming message from V******
I don’t have Skype.

Incoming message from J****
I’ll send a link to do a video call with Microsoft Teams.

April 25, 2020

Incoming message from V******
Hello there, I realised we never “celebrated” the fact that we finally made that step.

Incoming message from J****
I still feel like 100 kilos have been lifted off my shoulders.

July 21, 2020

Incoming message from J****
FYI: Dad has wired 1,100 euros to his other account since July 1st. There is now 5.42 euros on his debit card. I’m afraid that he’s completely lost track of what he has and what he still needs to use for payments.

August 14, 2020

Outgoing call to K***
His walking has become so bad, even if everything else magically improves, I don’t ever see him working again. I’ve been talking to him about volunteering but his eyes are set on the big NGOs, and the important titles. He just asked for the details of my contacts at the TV station. I just can’t do that. I’m not even sure he’s sober. Well, judging by the many demands, I’d say he’s not.

October 21, 2020

Outgoing call to K***
But if he told me something else, and Grandma something else, and you something else… Why the lies?

October 24, 2020

Outgoing message to J**** and V******
Has anyone done grocery shopping for Dad? I've been asking him to try a delivery system, but he doesn't want to use it.

December 5, 2020

Outgoing call to K***
Hi, sorry I ghosted. I’ve been overwhelmed with calls from Dad. I think it’s going downhill fast. What’s your take?

December 31, 2020

Incoming message from V******
Are you also getting weird, sad messages from Dad? He’s been calling for four days straight.

January 28, 2021

Incoming message from J****
Talked to Dad today for 3 hours today. His head is running wild again. He wants to buy things at the second hand shop and resell them with profit. He saw it on TV. He also wants to start flipping houses with me. And he wants to buy the apartment back. 

January 28, 2021

Incoming message from J****
Talked to Dad today for 3 hours today. His head is running wild again. He wants to buy things at the second hand shop and resell them with profit. He saw it on TV. He also wants to start flipping houses with me. And he wants to buy the apartment back. 
Outgoing message message to J**** and V******
I am choosing to ignore this for now, I’m sorry.

January 27, 2022

Incoming message from V******
How about we get together for fun? Just us.
No parents.

Photography by

Hanna Torseke