How my father’s alcohol addiction impacts my life as a Umich student

Halfway into the 45 minute drive back to my hometown, she tells me, “We can’t find your father”

My first semester at Michigan was a pivotal one. I was learning to live on my own. I was becoming accustomed to the grueling workload. I was learning to regret my assumption that 9am would be an okay time to begin class. But while I was moving into my dorm room, my father was checking out of reality.

I knew things were bad at home, but I didn’t know how bad until my mom came to pick me up for a weekend in October 2014. Halfway into the 45 minute drive back to my hometown, she tells me, “We can’t find your father.” His problems with alcohol were notorious amongst our friends and family, and I knew he had been getting worse, but this was a slap in the face compared to what I was expecting. We turned onto the main road my suburban house connected to and saw his car up on a cinder block at the bar down the street. We immediately made plans to drop my younger sister off and drag him out of the bar, until we walked into the house and saw him lying on the couch.

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From there it was a flurry of confrontation: checking him into a rehabilitation center, watching him try and fail to stay sober, losing his job for the first time, rehab again, trying to stay sober again, kicking him out, moving him to his parents’ house, watching him do well for 6 months, seeing him lose his job for the second time and on and on and on.

My commitment to my family was tested. My commitment to my schoolwork was tested. It’s difficult to focus on writing a final paper when you’re worried about whether or not the family can make enough to keep paying for their home, or your very expensive school.

There’s no “father in the throes of addiction” box on the financial aid form. You have to talk to a lot of people. You have to send insurance forms to the financial aid office to prove he was in rehab twice. You have to update your close friends when something new happens so they know why you aren’t going to be in Ann Arbor this weekend. You have to ask your professors to extend a deadline because you have to go home to help your family. You have to help your mom buy only necessary groceries with gift cards from very generous, concerned friends, then go back to your job at the dining hall and close your eyes as you throw out entire pans of leftover food.
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Who can focus on building lasting friendships with your peers when your energy is being swallowed by work, school, and worry? Balancing school and problems at home is emotionally trying. It affects your ability to concentrate. You have to learn how to operate in two different places at once. There’s no way to set an exam back because you’re “worried” or “tired.” There’s no special university form to fill out for illness if you’re not the one that is sick. You just have to set your issues aside and do it.

For many of us, Michigan consumes our lives. Our friends are here, we live here, and we work here. I’m learning to separate my life here from what my father is doing with his, and, by the look of my GPA, I’m doing alright.

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