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A father’s reflections on an AA meeting

May 24, 2019

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette May 21, 2019

I recently attended an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting. I had been invited by a friend who was being recognized for 28 years of sobriety. I felt honored by the invitation and humbled by the experience.

When I arrived on the second floor of a former elementary school, the room was filled with approximately 60 people, seated in three concentric circles of folding chairs, a tall coffee dispenser and cups positioned by the door.

My friend, seated across the room, nodded with a smile at my presence, and I unfolded a chair that was passed to me by a woman who had entered the room just before me. Those present were taking turns sharing personal reflections about the significance of a passage that had apparently been read before my arrival, and their challenges and triumphs with a life committed to sobriety.

While I had never attended an AA meeting before, I was familiar with the purpose, practices and fellowship of AA, and the 12-Steps, or principles, of daily practice pursued by those who attend AA meetings. My understanding of AA is partly informed by my direct experience with Al-Anon, a fellowship for people who are concerned about and affected by someone with a drinking problem, which I attended a few times, nearly 25 years ago.

Now, as a father to Zoe and Adam, fast approaching 13 and 10 years of age, I am mindful of the impact of alcohol on both those who choose to drink and their family members, especially children. My wife Lori and I enjoy a glass of wine before dinner most weekends, and we openly share with Zoe and Adam that enjoying an adult drink is one way to celebrate the week’s end or a special event, as they often witness during summer gatherings at the family beach house. We also openly discuss the effect of alcohol on one’s body, the reason to limit consumption and the importance of not driving while under the influence of alcohol.

While recently attending an AA Meeting reaffirmed my commitment to both responsible drinking and parenting, I also began to think more deeply about what I had witnessed.

The gathering served as a safe space for those committed to the 12-Steps, a set of spiritual principles whose daily practice helps resist the compulsion to drink alcohol and, in turn, leads to a happier and fuller life. The first step reads, “We admitted we are powerless over alcohol-that our lives have become unmanageable,” and serves as the starting point in AA for the road to sobriety.

It was the combination of spiritual practice and fellowship, in particular, that left me reflecting on family and fatherhood. Lori, Zoe, Adam and I have identified a set of family values — Health, Kindness, Friendship, Love and Respect (oneself, others and Earth), which are written on the whiteboard hanging on our kitchen wall. We occasionally weave discussion of these values into conversations at mealtime and we lift up these values through other rituals and practices throughout the year. These practices include Friday Family Night when we pause to celebrate the week, enjoy a meal and watch an inspiring movie. We recently started Family Meeting Night on Sunday evenings, where we preview the week ahead during supper.

Inspired by the commitment I witnessed at the AA meeting, I am newly appreciating the importance of our own family rituals and the opportunity for us to deepen family conversations about our values, spiritual beliefs and the triumphs and challenges of navigating daily life.

So as I honor my friend’s 28 years of sobriety — and all those who strive to become, and remain, sober — I am also grateful for his invitation and for the positive influence the experience will have for me and our family.

For more resources about AA, visit aa.org and for Al-Anon visit alanon.org.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

 

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