Choosing to Be a Dad Over Choosing to Drink

Keith driving with kids selfie

Nobody wants to hear it — even if it’s Brad Pitt saying it — but boozing and parenting don’t mix. In case you missed it, Pitt recently opened up about quitting drinking to GQ, and it made international headlines.

Now it’s Keith Harrington’s turn. His story is more than just a headline, though, it might just change your habits, too. What he’ll tell you is quite sobering: The day he gave up drinking is the first day he became a Dad.

Shedding The Chains

By Keith Harrington

Do you ever have those moments when being a mom or dad just hits you right in the heart? Some of us have several moments like this every day. It can be from when your child first smiles at you. First burps. First walks. First says a word. First asks you for the car keys. First asks you to stop glaring menacingly at their prom date. It can happen at the most unexpected moments, too.

Recently, I went with my family to Disney World and sat and watched as my fearless seven-year-old daughter volunteered to dance at the “Festival of The Lion King” show. There she was dancing with all of the performers, laughing with Simba, not a care in the world. She was so happy. I teared up. It was one of those times that an unexpected moment hit me. It hit me because if it weren’t for a choice I made in my life more than a year and half earlier, I wouldn’t have been there to see her dance with such a big smile. There is a good chance I would have missed it, because I would have been dead.

I am a recovering alcoholic. Things in my life prior to October 5th, 2015, had gone from bad, to worse, to dire, to absolutely unmanageable. Forget being a good parent. I was a ghost. I likened it to being like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol carrying all of those chains around. I was a person who solely lived to drink and survive and, towards the end, survival was a real struggle. Unemployed and unemployable without a place of my own to live. I do not want to go into how bad things got as those are personal details and I still owe a lot of people a lot of apologies. Just know that my problem had become so bad that I had to enter rehabilitation and sober living for about four months.

Forget being a good parent. I was a ghost.

I remember the day I dropped off my kids with their mom just a day before I entered rehab. They were too young to understand. I just told them that daddy was sick and that he needed to get better. In the three weeks I was in rehab, I saw the kids in person once and talked to them on the phone twice a week. While it was difficult, I knew that the time I was spending getting better was worth it and would mean many more days to spend with them, hopefully, as a person in sobriety. I was able to see them more during my time in sober living as my house was closer to home and my family. I was able to see them at my parents’ house, a safe place. While my body was healing after years of alcohol abuse the time I spent rehabbing myself as a parent was certainly healing my heart and soul.

It has been tough. Not just the day-to-day life of living in sobriety but the day-to-day life of being a parent for the first time in mind and body. My kids have become much more used to seeing me as a clear, coherent father, and our relationship is fantastic. They told me in rehab that the best gift I could give my family and children early on in sobriety is the gift of being present. Being there. I have learned in these past 580-plus days without a drink that being there is the best gift I can give them now and every day going forward, God willing.

I wouldn’t have been there to see her dance with such a big smile. There is a good chance I would have missed it, because I would have been dead.

My kids are still too young to realize just how bad my addiction to alcohol was. I know one day, when they are older, I will have to talk to them about it. To let them know that not all people can safely drink and that their father is one of those people. I just know that when I get them now for the weekend, they are much happier to see me. They are looking forward to our time together. They realize that I have an improving relationship with their mother as a co-parent. I realize how much my abuse of alcohol hurt my family and hope that things continue to get better. Hopefully they will reach a day in their lives where they have known me longer as a person in sobriety than as a person throwing his life away. I hope to be a tale of redemption for them as well as a cautionary one.

Addiction has long been a problem for parents. Sometimes it was hidden. Sometimes it was not-so-hidden. We have seen recently video of parents who have overdosed on heroin found in a car with their child in the backseat. Drugs and alcohol have killed so many families physically, mentally and spiritually. This is why I wanted to write this article. Regardless of how bad things are, how hooked you may be, there is hope. You just have to want it and work hard for it. You need to find that reason to live and be present. It is hard. It is very hard. However, the rewards are worth it, and you don’t have to be a mom or dad to enjoy them. There are people who want to help you. People who will be by your side when you are clean, if you slip, or if things just fall apart. It isn’t going to happen overnight. You have to remember just how long you had to dig yourself into that hole before you reached to come out.

Regardless of how bad things are, how hooked you may be, there is hope. You just have to want it and work hard for it.

My main two reasons for getting clean are my two kids. I realize how much I really missed since I decided to face my addiction. When I was in the early stages of recovery I was told about the rewards that would come with sobriety. Let me tell you they have come ten-fold. Not just with my kids but with life all together. I have a much better relationship with my family; I have found real love with an amazing woman who has held my hand for nearly a year; I have made amazing connections with friends both old and new. I see what life has to offer and enjoy every second of it. I know that none of this would be possible if I hadn’t said out loud for the first time that I was an alcoholic and I needed help. Sure, life isn’t perfect. I am still searching for full-time work in my previous field. Money is pretty tight. I have a lot of fences I am still mending. However, I have learned that nothing will ever be perfect. You just need a sense of content and a feeling of being alive.

My main two reasons for getting clean are my two kids.

I have realized that if I were to have just one more drink that I would be dead. Not physically, though the physical part probably wouldn’t take very long. I would be dead spiritually. This life I have realized in the past 19 months would be gone and that includes (most importantly) the life I have realized with my two kids. I would also be taking this special relationship away from them and with it would go a part of their spirit. Their hugs, their smiles, their laughs, their growth, their hearts and about 50 million other things are far more intoxicating to me than any kind of substance I could put in my body. I know that while I feel good today, tomorrow is just another day in the journey. Who knows what will happen. But for today I am good. I can laugh and cry and play with my kids, and it’s the greatest day in the world. My name is Keith Harrington and, as of October 5th, 2015, I have been a father.

Keith Harrington is a former writer/producer at CNN, HLN and WMUR. He is the father of two and currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and around Fenway Park.  You can reach him at productionstvk@gmail.com