May 27, 2020
Dan Peres thought his kids might find his sobriety ‘weird.’ Then his son surprised him.
Not all the time and not in a walking-around-town-with-my-underwear-over-my-pants kind of way. Generally speaking, in fact, I’m a relatively normal guy.
But to my kids, I’m embarrassing. And as luck would have it, embarrassing them is one of the great joys of my life.
To be clear, there are many joys of fatherhood: teaching my kids to ride bikes, watching them read, laughing with them about one of my bad dad jokes, picking them up from school, and I could go on.
Still, few things warm my heart quite like doing something that elicits an “Oh my God, Dad, please stop” or a “Please don’t be weird, Dad.”
Whenever I belt out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the way to school, my twin eight-year-olds, Sam and Julian, crouch way down low in the backseat of our SUV like a pair of bank robbers rolling past a police car.
Then there was the time I told my 12-year-old, Oscar, that I would show up at his middle-school cafeteria wearing a pair of his pajamas if he didn’t give me a kiss before going off to school. “I would die,” he told me, then kissed me goodbye. “Please just be normal.”
All kids want their parents to be exactly that: normal. But I am a little different from many of the other parents in my small, idyllic town just north of New York City.
I don’t have a glass of wine at the neighborhood block party. I always politely pass when asked if I’d like a beer at the Little League barbecue. No margaritas for me at the Cinco de Mayo celebration my friends throw every year. I’m a sober dad.
What started innocently enough in the late ’90s with a small prescription for opiates after routine back surgery blossomed into a massive addiction to painkillers that lasted for years.
When I finally got sober in 2007—not long before my oldest son was born—I decided not just to quit taking pills but to give up drinking alcohol as well.
This is hardly something to be embarrassed about. Actually, I’m rather proud of my sobriety. It’s a subject that I’ve comfortably discussed with friends, family, and anyone—frankly—who shows interest.
For years, though, I wondered how my kids would feel about it when they were old enough to understand. For my three boys, me not drinking has always been their norm. It’s not something that they’ve ever paid attention to—until recently.
Last fall, I attended an AA meeting on the 12th anniversary of my sobriety and was given a keepsake coin to commemorate the occasion. It’s bronze, about the size of a half dollar, and has the number 12 in Roman numerals (XII) on the back.
When I got home from the meeting, I tossed it up on the kitchen counter with the rest of the contents of my pockets and didn’t think much about it.
“Hey, Dad, what’s this?” Oscar asked later that night after noticing the coin on the counter. I guess I could have said a lot of things in that moment. But I did what I promised him years ago that I’d always do: I told him the truth.
He studied the coin as I told him about my addiction—and my recovery. Not knowing what to expect, I waited anxiously for him to speak.
“Can I have it?” he asked, and I gave it to him.
“Thanks,” he said, before wandering off, coin in hand.
When I went to tuck him in at bedtime, I noticed the coin on the shelf in his room where he keeps his most prized possessions: a Lego Millennium Falcon, his Harry Potter wand, and a deck of cards autographed by his favorite magician.
“Are you sure this is where you want to keep it?” I asked. I had spent a lot of time thinking about what my children would make of my recovery. Would they find it weird, or, worse, embarrassing? I was surprised to see that he gave it such prime real estate. I will never forget his response.
“Of course, Daddy,” he said. “I’m really proud of you.”
Now, if only that same sense of pride extended to my impromptu Journey concerts.