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Jewish Journal

Parental Dishonor

December 1, 2005 | 7:00 pm

My Torah portion is the retelling and explanation of the Ten Commandments by Moses. A teacher of mine encouraged me to pick a commandment mentioned in my portion, and write about what it means to me. Five words instantly flew into my head: "Honor thy father and mother."

You see, at this very moment, my mom and dad are suffering from alcoholism and substance abuse. They have both relapsed recently, and I was, and still am, coping with the loss.

My mother almost had 13 years clean and sober when she relapsed. She kept it quiet until early this summer. A family member called me and told me the news. I remember the exact words she started off with: "I need you to be an adult."

After that, my memory goes a bit fuzzy.

I was devastated. After all this time, why did she relapse now? That's all I could think about. Had she forgotten that she had a daughter to support? I felt like my life as I had known it was crumbling around me and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I knew I had to deal with my family's newest problem and be strong, but I still wished with all my heart that I could crawl in a hole somewhere away from the rest of the world and cry.

I was living with my mother near Seattle, although I am close to both my parents. I called my father in Los Angeles. He didn't sound worried. He said that I was to be a good girl and that everything would be fine. He said that I would be fine. I didn't feel fine.

After finishing school soon after that, I flew to California to stay with my father. Los Angeles had always been a haven for me. It was a place to recharge the batteries that kept me going during the year. It seemed that as soon as I stepped off that plane that day, I felt happier and more alive than I had been in those last few weeks at home. Upon reaching my father's house, I wanted to stay there forever.

One evening, my father left for what was going to be a couple hours to play cards. A couple hours ended up being around 18, as he finally came home at around 5:30 the next morning. He had drunk alcohol while he was out -- my dad had relapsed.

Now I felt really stuck. The silver lining to my dark cloud was that my father and Carrie would let me move in with them. Now, that wasn't a possibility, as my dad had his own problems.

At this point, I was so confused I didn't know what to do. I had never really dealt with these diseases firsthand. I never saw my dad when I was younger, when he was using, and my mother had been clean and sober since the November after I was born. For my mom to relapse was a huge deal, but for my dad to also, a little over two months from when my mother had, was overwhelming.

I was furious with my parents for doing this, and I was so scared about what would happen in the future. I didn't even want to think about it all. How was I supposed to honor my mother and father?

The thing is, with my parents, there is so much to honor. One of the most important things my dad has passed onto me is the act of love and tolerance.

To me, this is one of the things I live by day to day, maybe more so than the average person. Because my mother is also a lesbian, I've dealt with some discrimination. People have openly told me that my mother's lifestyle is evil. With advice from my father, I can forgive and accept their blindness in this situation. My dad is loving when loving someone can be tough and listens when it seems no one can hear. Those traits to me are important and make him a really wonderful role model.

My mother has taught me numerous things and has raised me to be independent. She taught me how to laugh at myself and my mistakes. She has been a listening ear and has helped me with my problems. She has been the best mom a girl could ask for, and a best friend to me throughout my life.

But we're still stuck with that question. How do we honor our mothers and fathers? Better yet, how do we honor them when they dishonor themselves? There are numerous answers I'm sure. For me, I think honoring them would be to understand and be there for them. Children of addicts who aren't addicts themselves need to remember what these diseases do to our parents. They muddle their brains and mess with their priorities.

When they relapse, we have to try to remember not to take it personally.

They don't do it to intentionally hurt us. We can also remember what they teach us and follow in their admirable footsteps. When their own footsteps get shaky, we can also keep in mind that we can always make our own set of prints.

This ceremony is a bittersweet blessing. Now I'm going to have to be an adult. There will be more bumps in the road farther down this path, I'm sure, but I'm just going to have to keep my head up and keep going. Just like addicts on their path to recovery, I have to keep walking down my path to acceptance and support.

This essay was prepared from a bat mitzvah speech given by a 13-year-old last month.

 

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