My name is Dallas Clark and I’m a Certified Recovery Coach for MHA. I’m in recovery myself, which gives me personal insights that only someone who has lived experience with addiction can offer. I’m also a dad. My experience there confirms that anyone can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad. Involved dads are critical to stable families and healthy child development. When they aren’t present in family life, it really impacts others in the family.
I work with individuals in early recovery, including those enrolled in MHA’s GRIT residential treatment programs. Part of my role at GRIT includes helping young men who are also fathers to learn what it means to be a dad. My problems with addiction meant I had not been a good father to my own children. I needed to make the choice to work on my recovery first for myself, but also for my wife and my children. I wanted to be a good father, and I knew I could be a good dad, but first I had to want the change. Then I had to make the change.
An individual I’m currently working with who’s in early recovery is moving steadily toward his goal of being a good dad. One step toward that goal is getting legal custody of his daughter. He’s not mandated to be in treatment or to do any of the things he’s doing in the custody process. He’s volunteering to work with me on his recovery, and he feels great about the hard work that’s required because he wants to be a good dad. It keeps him going forward, focused on his recovery.
My own experience informs my work with this man. You see, I have two daughters, ages 14 and 12. It took time, but my girls know now that I can be a hero for them. If they are having a difficult time in school, I can help. I can be their mentor and father figure. When they have a basketball or soccer game, I go and cheer for them. It feels great to support them in whatever they do.
It’s much the same with my son. He’s is older now, 27, and my relationship with him is so much better than when I had problems with addiction. Then, I was in and out of his life a lot. He wouldn’t even let me hug him. Now that I’m in recovery and working to help other men starting their recovery, he respects me more than he ever did before. We talk two or three times a week and I see him in person, usually on the weekend. It’s important for me that he knows I’m there for him. Addiction really messes up relationships and we both needed time to heal. That’s a lesson I learned from a father’s group, Father in Trust (FIT) I was part of, and it’s a lesson I teach to the men I work with.
One catalyst for rebuilding a relationship with my son was a shared interest in a car. He was looking at a certain model of Mustang, a 4.6 liter GT, and somehow he remembered that I once had a Mustang from that same era, too. He was 4 or 5 at the time, but he remembered I had that car. It showed me how much impact we have on our children, even if we don’t realize it. He’s on his second Mustang now, a red one like the one I had.
I also have three grandchildren, ages 9, 4 and 2. Having grandchildren is a beautiful thing, and this is what recovery brings: the bond of family being together. That’s something to celebrate for Fathers’ Day. I can be a son to my mother, a brother to my siblings, a husband to my wife, a dad to my kids and a granddad to my grandchildren. Recovery is all of that. There was a time when no one would invite me to a birthday party or a family picnic, but in recovery I was able to walk my sister down the aisle.
To the fathers who are in recovery, do the hard work you have to do. Give your family time to heal and don’t give up. Recovery starts with you, but it affects other people. Understanding that, and acting on it, is one of those things that turns a father into a dad.