How I became my father…a drunk, A memoir by William G. Borchert (BOOK REVIEW)
Alcoholism is often seen to run in families. In fact, research shows that a family history of alcoholism increases the risk of alcohol use disorder by 50%. While scientists may call it the “alcoholism gene” there is usually more to the story that just genetics.
The inspirational true story, “How I Became My Father…A Drunk” portrays a family impacted by the devastating disease of alcoholism for generations, but has a happy ending. Why is this book a honest and intimate must-read? How can it help anyone who reads it find hope, get in the shoes of an alcoholic, and understand the impact alcoholism has on families and loved ones?
We review this book here. At the end, we invite you to share your questions and comments as we try to provide personal and prompt responses to all legitimate inquiries.
6 truths about alcoholism and alcoholics
In How I Became My Father…A Drunk, Bill Brochert takes us on a journey that begins in his childhood living in a family impacted by his father’s alcoholism. It takes us through his youth when he starts drinking and into his adult years where he discovers 12 Step meetings and gets sober.
This story that evolves through a long stretch of time allows us to sneak a peak at some typical situations in the lives of active alcoholics and their close family and friends. Moreover, it shows how the effects of alcoholism are transgenerational and can influence anyone that finds him or herself in its path.
Here are some general truths I recognized in this book.
1. Alcoholism is a disease.
You know that there is something dysfunctional about the family portrayed in this book from the very start. Bill’s father can be constantly found in Moochie’s Bar and Grill. The family moves from place to place to be able to pay out debts and keep food on the table, yet Bill’s dad keeps on drinking every day.
One characteristic of alcoholism is continued drinking despite negative consequences. Eventually, the brain and body become dependent on alcohol for normal function. In the story, Bill’s father will continue drinking even as his brothers and drinking buddies pass away due to the same disease. This behavior will continue to inflict great pain to Bill, his mom, and his brother and sisters.
Later on, as Bill starts his relationships with alcohol, he will find himself moving his wife and children from one to another smaller house, owing large amounts of money to sharks, struggling to pay the bills, and even at a point living in his mother-in-law’s basement.
2. Alcoholics are not bad people.
We tend to view drunks as evil people. But the author manages to capture the other side. Bill’s dad will always try to compensate for his problem drinking. He tries to win the family’s affection in many ways: buying a new car, taking them to a carnival, organizing something special for Bill’s birthdays, etc. In fact, he will unsuccessfully attempt to quit drinking many times (right before he goes back to drinking), and in these sober times he is a very different and loving person.
3. Codependency is a real issue.
Out of shame and fear of losing face and the only income the family has, Bill’s mom will call the newspaper to lie and cover for his dad whenever he’s been drinking too much. She will also lie to relatives, try to keep the family’s image in front of neighbours, and for a long time act as if there is nothing wrong in front of the children. Many of these behaviors only enable the drinker.
4. Alcoholics are good liars and deceivers.
Although deep down they may be good, honest people, alcoholics will try to disguise their problems and would rather not talk about it. Bill will lie to his wife and to his employers. He will also deceive bar owners where he would frequent for several days just to get acquainted and then he’d say he lost his wallet or forgot he didn’t have any money. After such event, he would usually never show up there again.
5. Blaming fuels problem drinking.
As he starts drinking, Bill believes that the bad things that happen in his life are a result of bad luck. He places an external locus of control for what goes wrong. Progressively, everything is someone else’s fault. Moreover, everyone and everything becomes a reason to drink.
This is the vicious downward spiral that many people can relate to: your drinking causes problems in your life → you can’t deal with the pressure of those problems → you will drink because the horrible circumstances “force” you to.
6. Self-pity and a sense of entitlement are present during alcoholism.
As a spiraling alcoholic, Bill is a victim of what we now know as “stinking thinking”. Oftentimes, he will start to feel bad about the things that he does to his wife and children, but the only way he know how to soothe this pain is by grabbing a drink. He develops a bizarre sense of entitlement thinking that he’s not paid enough money at his job, so he starts to cover his private expenses with the newspaper’s money.
Sobriety: The power to turn your life around
As the disease of alcoholism gradually and insidiously strips everything away from Bill, he will find the strength needed to get help. In fact, it is his wife that will have the strength to stay with him and support him, and his mother-in-law that will have the faith to never give up on believing that he’s a good, but a sick man.
After one unsuccessful attempt to quit drinking, Bill will start to work the 12 Steps. Soon, things start going for the better. He can take his life back into his hands, pay out debts, and eventually save up to buy much better and bigger houses and progress in his career. The true blessings, however, come from the gifts that he is able to give others, like finally leading his father along into sobriety, making his mom happy by giving her the loving husband she always wanted, caring for their children and family, and helping out other people struggling with alcoholism.
Why we like this book?
William (Bill) G. Borchert is a great writer! This is a book that you will pick up and not be able to put down. His narrative is rich and simple, and you can feel he poured his heart and soul out into every sentence, page, described event.
Here is what I find to be the most important lessons from How I Became My Father…A Drunk:
1. Alcoholism is a disease with genetic predispositions. If you add up the environment that is the alcoholic household, as well as peer pressure, the road has been paved towards developing an alcoholic problem. Bill despised his father’s drinking and what it had done to the family, yet that wasn’t powerful enough to keep him from making the same mistakes.
2. The partners of addicts are extraordinary people. It is even incomprehensible where they find the strength to hold everything together as it all falls apart due to drinking. Bill’s mom and wife both are repeatedly loosing hope, feeling embarrassed and afraid, being lied to and disappointed. They tried to keep it all together, care for the kids, and pray for a miracle (a miracle which in their case eventually happens).
Becoming a drunk or getting sober: Do you have questions?
Do you have something that you’d like to ask or add? Have you read, “How I Became My Father…A Drunk?” Feel free to post your thoughts and questions in the comments section at the end of the page. We try to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly.
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