Growing up, my house was a completely different place from what it is now.
The overall atmosphere of my house changed one year, as well.
As a kid, I was extraordinarily sensitive. The fact that my father was verbally abusive toward me did not help the matter.
Years later, I came to realize he didn’t mean to be that way toward me. It’s just how he was when he was drinking.
On the outside, my father seemed like any other person you’d come across. He had a job he went to every day and friends he’d hang out with on the weekends.
He loved to golf and went to sports games with his buddies often.
He also was appropriately active in both my sister's and my extracurricular activities.
It was only on the nights he didn’t come home, at the games he didn’t show up to and at the father-daughter events he’d get drunk at that other people really saw his disease.
I grew up resenting my father a bit because I couldn’t understand the concept of what his disease was.
I was in elementary school the first time he got into a terrible drunk driving car accident, and no one really took the time to explain what or why this had happened.
Then, when I was 11, he got into his second car accident.
My mother gave him an ultimatum: Get sober, or we’re out of your life. I remember this night perfectly, as if I were standing in that room watching it myself.
My sister and I were cuddled up in my room while my parents screamed at each other. My sister held me and repeatedly told me it would be okay.
It was because thankfully, my father chose to get sober.
The person I grew up with began to change into a totally different man. He became a spiritual, kind and accepting person.
But being the stubborn person I had grown to be, I refused to even attempt to understand what was happening. I continued to keep a distance between us because I was still angry with him for how he had treated me as a child.
About a year into his sobriety, my father asked me to attend one of his meetings with him. I had just turned 13, and decided that maybe this would help me understand the struggle my father was dealing with.
So, I went.
I honestly believe this night was the turning point in our relationship.
As soon as we arrived, every person in the room welcomed my father. All of them were very excited to see I had agreed to come.
As people spoke, I began to see the struggle alcoholics go through, and the loss these various people have experienced.
When my father finally got up to speak, he started to choke up.
He spoke about the person he used to be and how much he regretted his past actions.
With a tear in his eye, he turned to me. He spoke about how badly he wanted to be able to have a relationship with me as this new person.
He knew what he had done, and he was sorry. I could see it in his eyes.
As soon as he finished speaking, I jumped up to hug him. I said “I’m sorry” as we hugged for a few minutes.
When we got in the car, we started talking about the Miami Heat game we missed that night because we were at his meeting. I was a total tomboy growing up, and loved all things sports.
We had found something we both loved, and we talked the entire way home. We were bonding.
I spent the next few days going back and forth about what I was feeling.
I finally came to the decision to forgive the person he was and become friends with the person he now is.
But who was this new person? I had to find out for myself.
Each day, we found new topics to discuss and bond over. I was slowly realizing my father was actually not a bad person.
He just had a disease he was not ready to overcome at the time.
But now that he was changing, his wonderful and caring personality started to show.
By the time I was in high school, our entire relationship had changed.
We had a lot of things we joked about, and I went to meetings with him every so often.
We were more than just father and daughter; we were friends.
When the time came for me to look at colleges, we took a road trip to Florida State to visit. I was 18 at the time.
He told me stories of when he attended the University of Florida and the crazy experiences he had back when he was drinking.
As we drove through Gainesville to Tallahassee, he joked with me that I could still go to his alma mater if I wanted to.
Unfortunately for him, I chose Florida State. This became our biggest rivalry: UF versus FSU.
Through this odd bonding moment, I grew to understand he had made some mistakes in the past, but he was trying to make up for them now.
He had shared some stories with me that helped me understand who he was when he was my age and how he came to be who he is now.
This trip was my real moment of forgiveness.
Ten years prior to this, he would have never allowed me to attend Florida State.
But as a sober man, he understood this was my decision to make. It seems as if this is something so small, but if you knew my father as a drinker, you would understand why this was a big step for him.
Once I began school and started living seven hours from home, we continued to bond over football and just the all-around experiences I was having in college. We talked (and still do talk) extremely often.
While some people may think my bond with him is overbearing, it isn’t.
It’s a love my father and I didn’t have when I was living at home.
Through all of this, I have learned many valuable lessons about people and how they work. I have learned that although people can have diseases such as alcoholism, they shouldn’t be judged solely on that aspect of their beings.
I learned how to look past the mistakes that were made while I was growing up and accept my father is no longer that person.
He is now 10 years sober.
In these years, he not only grew into a loving and amazing father, he also grew to be one of my closest friends.
For that, I am thankful.