He added that the first phase of his revelation was acknowledging his problem.
For some fathers, Mitnick said, that realization is too little or too late.
“The problem is, when the light bulb goes off for Dad ... all the son can think about is looking up at the bleachers and his dad was the only one not [at his ballgames], and how hurtful that was,” she said.
‘The veneer came off’
William Moyers’ father, Bill, was present throughout his childhood even though he had a busy work schedule: White House press secretary, Newsday publisher, TV correspondent.
William strived to have as accomplished a career as his dad. That self-imposed pressure led him to years of substance abuse and eventually to a crack house in Harlem. But he didn’t hit rock bottom until 1994, when he was working for CNN in Atlanta. By then, he was a father himself.
“My father sees me as an addictive father — I’ve got two baby boys at home and I’m drunk and stoned again — and in that moment he said, ‘I hate you,’ ” Moyers, 54, said. “And of course I answered ‘I hate me, too.’ The hate was nothing more than fear cloaked in desperation for both of us. So the veneer came off our family.
“I think fathers can be convenient whipping posts or antagonists when we, as men, are struggling with our own shortcomings.”
The subsequent rehab stint found Moyers delving deeply into his relationship with his father. Two years later, he came to work at Hazelden in Center City, Minn., where he is now vice president of public affairs and community relations. Bill Moyers and his wife, Judith, wrote the foreword to William’s book “Now What? An Insider’s Guide to Addiction and Recovery.”
“In 1994 my father said in that moment ‘I hate you,’ ” Moyers said. “Now he has said, ‘Son, I am so proud of you. You’ve saved more lives in 54 years than I have in 80.’ I’m a fortunate son, a lucky man because I did get a chance to … make amends to my father by living my life to the best of my human ability.”
‘Just being there’
David Martin’s family dynamics were decidedly different.
Before adopting David, Paul Martin worked overseas for 17 years. When he returned to the United States, “the country had changed from what [my father] knew,” said Martin, 37. “He was learning the world anew, just like I was.”
Growing up in St. Paul, Martin felt “a great sense of disconnect” because of “generational issues and racial issues growing up black with a well-traveled, very liberal white family. The normal sources of identity, I wasn’t finding at home.”
“I felt different from anybody else. I was trying to find who I was in kind of an intense way, a kid making bad judgments, just trying to find myself.”
That led to some trouble with the law and a father who could sympathize, but had trouble empathizing.
“I could see he was doing everything he could to understand something that didn’t make sense to him, or even to me.”
Through it all, Martin’s father stuck with him.