As the founder of the Center for Urban Families, one of my joys has been helping fathers defy the odds (and society’s low expectations of them) to change their lives—and create a better future for their children.
All transformations require courage and humility. But that’s especially true for dads who are struggling with addiction.
I got hooked on heroin as a 13-year-old kid living in Baltimore. Without a father-figure in my life, I began questioning my definition of “manhood” and gave in to the negative influences around me. By my early 20s, I had already been to jail multiple times and fathered my own child out of wedlock.
Despite caring deeply about my son, I continued to use drugs; ironically, I did so to deal with my fear of being a “bad dad” and worrying that I might have caused some of his early health complications.
When I finally went into treatment, my primary motivation was to avoid going back to prison. But my addiction had become so debilitating, I’m confident it was the miracle that saved my life.
Substance abuse hurts the whole family.
There’s no addiction—alcohol, street drugs, opioids—that doesn’t begin, in some way, because the user is in pain. Unfortunately, we often pass that pain on to our children.
Kids notice everything about their parents. All they want is to be around us … and be just like us.
In substance-abusing households, kids carry the weight of that addiction to school, little league, dance class, and everywhere else they go. They’re more likely to suffer abuse and neglect—and misuse drugs or alcohol themselves.
But here’s where my relentless optimism comes in…
Dads actually do possess the superpowers their kids think they have. I’m living proof that you can battle your demons, reconnect with older children, and become a great role model for younger ones.
Dads really make a difference.
Children with loving, involved fathers tend to be happier, healthier, and more successful—well into adulthood.
Simply engaging in everyday activities (like playing, reading, and eating dinner together) can influence everything from your child’s social skills to academic performance. And fathers don't have to share a home with their kids to make a positive, lasting impact.
But note: Dad’s mental wellbeing also matters, which is why it’s important to seek assistance if you’re feeling depressed or having trouble managing stress or substance abuse.
Will it be easy? Probably not.
When I first went into treatment, one of my counselors made me go outside with a bucket of water and told me to pour it into a giant hole in the middle of a tree. I rolled my eyes and picked up the bucket. Before I could start pouring, he handed me a teaspoon and said, “No, use this. That’s how hard getting sober is going to be.”
Kicking addiction requires looking at yourself in the mirror—something I was, literally, too ashamed to do for years. It requires healing whatever hole you’ve been trying to fill (or forget) with your drug of choice.
But it’s worth it.
Your sobriety will become the roots that ground your family tree—giving you the strength and capacity to nurture the people you love … and receive the love you deserve in return.
Joseph T. Jones, Founder/CEO, Center for Urban Families, Baltimore, MD