Birthday Gift – or – My First Family Intervention (Part 1)

by Rod Smith

I think I was eleven. I might have been ten. I waited until Dad returned from the bar and until Mom and Dad were finished with the normal routine of shouting about his drinking and were finished with the attacks and counter attacks I had heard re-run for the full span of my life. I was very tired of it. When it was all said and done, all the topics covered, the room was quiet and she went into another room, I edged close to the wall and down the short hall between our bedrooms. I entered sideways to be less noticeable.

It had to be the two of us; I wanted no interference from anyone else in the family. I looked at him face-to-face.

“You’re a coward.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re a coward. I hate you.” The hate part I did not plan and wished I hadn’t said the moment it left my mouth.

I had his attention even though things were not going to plan. He turned red and sad and nervous. There was no backing down:

“If you’re not a coward, prove it by never drinking ever again.”

“I will.”

“Then sign this.”

From the pajama jacket pocket I took the contract:

“I, the undersigned Mr. E.W.G. Smith, will prove to my son, that from tomorrow (the date), onwards and forever, I will never drink again, ever.” Witness One, and Witness Two, and a line for E.W.G. Smith’s signature were at the bottom.

I could see his surprise as he read.

“I’ll sign it if I can have one drink on Christmas days only.”

I took the contract and I added with the way you add things to contracts that he could drink on Christmas days only. Forever.

I gave it back to him. He moved to sit up in his bed. I called for my mother to be the legal witness one and for my brother to be legal witness two, so when he awoke the next day and I showed him the signed contract, he couldn’t say that he did not sign it or that I had made him sign it or that he did not know what he was doing. I knew how contracts worked and for these reasons, I could not be one of the witnesses.

While there were some cynical comments from my witnesses, I was dead serious. He sat up in his bed. He signed it. I was happy about that. We were all happy. I had a good sleep.

He did not come out of his room for many days except to throw up in the toilet.

Mother took meals into him.

I heard her tell him how important this was to me, and that he could not let me down now.

I was sad when I heard him cry, but I knew I had done the right thing despite the pain he felt. He was “dry” (a word which I knew from books I had read) for a long time.

Everything was peaceful until midnight on the night I turned twelve or eleven cause my birthday is on Christmas Eve. He kept the contract perfectly and began with a bottle of brandy held up to his lips at exactly one minute past my birthday.

The next day, which was Christmas Day, he forgot there ever was a contract.

My whole body got very stiff in my back and my throat and my eyes not only until midnight on Christmas Day but for a very long time. I couldn’t wait any longer and in March of the following year, with the contract now perfectly broken, I threw the useless piece of paper away.

2 Comments to “Birthday Gift – or – My First Family Intervention (Part 1)”

  1. Although this is quite a sad story, its a beautifully written account. The writing was so good that I really felt connected to that 10 or 11 year old boy – I could have been that boy!

    The lesson that I took from this account is to learn that we can’t force, coerce or manipulate people to change. The person has to *want* to change in the first place, and the most that we could do is to remind them or inspire them.

  2. As a kid, I used to think that if my parents loved me, they would give up drinking. It seemed logical. I remember being a part of my aunt’s unsuccessful intervention at 7 or 8. I was coached by the interventionist the day before, and at the intervention, I was asked to read my letter first. It mostly consisted of a lot of tears and, “I just don’t want you to drink anymore.” I remember being so scared by this “adult” problem that affected so many people in my life. I couldn’t grasp it, and I couldn’t grasp that they were willing to choose alcohol over their own lives. Why couldn’t they just stop drinking…?

    Now that I’m an adult with my own addictions, those memories are enough that I never want to have kids. I would never willingly put a child through that torture, and I don’t trust myself enough to think that I could avoid the same scenario.

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