One of the best things about childhood is the complete and utter obliviousness to all things “adult.” We are either too young to comprehend the inner workings of our parents’ relationship or as we age, often too angst-ridden and self-absorbed to care.

As a young girl, I loved my father more than anything. He was my hero, always trying to teach me a life lesson or a new vocabulary word. He instilled in me a love for knowledge and exploration and adventure. He was thoughtful, spiritual, earnest, intelligent, and unapologetic. But he was also vulnerable.

beer, pizza
Ailish Dougherty

Yes, I heard the yelling downstairs in the kitchen while I was desperately trying to will myself to sleep. Yes, I noticed some nights that my dad would sleep on the couch instead of in my parents’ room.

Yes, I noticed when he would get angry with me sometimes, raising his voice so I had to cover my ears and cower. Yes, of course, I noticed when he moved out for a few years, living alone in his own little house while I stayed with my mom most nights. But he was still my dad, and he never stopped loving me.

wine, cocktail, ice, alcohol, beer, liquor
Katya Simkhovich

As I got older, I pieced the story together. I often went with him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where I'd huddle by the donuts as adults fawned over me. At the end, we'd join hands and chant the serenity prayer together, one of my small palms clasping my father’s, the other squeezed just a bit too tightly by a nice lady.

I witnessed first-hand the vulnerability of adults — proud mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers — imprisoned by the disease of alcoholism. It was destroying their relationships, their opportunities, their happiness, yet quitting wasn't a clear choice.

It is not an easy task to admit you have a problem and seek out the help you need, but I was so inspired by all the people I saw there in AA: committed to helping themselves and each other get better.

cocktail, juice, red wine, ice, liquor, alcohol, wine
Alex Frank

Even though I saw my father at his most vulnerable, I also saw him at his strongest: as a sponsor in AA helping others overcome their challenges, as a proud dad cheering at my swim meets, at church worshipping every Sunday.

I saw how he replaced his cravings with sugar and cigarettes – countless candy wrappers constantly littered the floor of his truck, and he always smelled like smoke. I somehow knew that anything was better for him than the alternative.

As a college student, I am hyper conscious of when I drink, how often, and how I'm affected. I am terrified to drink to the extent of "blacking out" or getting sick. While I'll brag about my "high tolerance," I'm scared that I have to drink more to be intoxicated.

I also magnify patterns of dependence in myself, like my uncontrollable sweet tooth, and how when I've had a bad day, I will turn automatically to sugar as a pick-me-up.

I fear that my lack of will-power (even when it comes to something as simple as desserts) is an ominous predictor of an addictive personality. I worry that I am just as vulnerable as I saw my father be. 

But I have accepted that not everyone is perfect — in fact, no one is. Everyone has vulnerabilities, even adults whom we admire, and it is healthiest to address them head-on and work through them, rather than trying to hide and pretend to be something we're not.