National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

The prodigal father

November 2019

Gavin started binge-drinking during his teenage years when heavy alcohol consumption was part of the culture at various places he worked at around country South Australia.

He believes his shyness made him easily led by other people in those days.

‘Maybe I used that as a mask to cover that up, but then I did it because everyone else did it’, Gavin says.

After getting married and having children, Gavin and his family moved to Adelaide, where he didn’t know many people. That’s when he began drinking by himself and the impact of his alcoholism on his family increased. Son Dion, who was five when the family moved to Adelaide, says while he didn’t recognise that his father’s drinking was the issue, he saw the impact on his parents’ relationship as a result of Gavin’s emotionally and verbally abusive behaviour.

‘Probably the biggest thing I noticed was the fracturing of my parents’ marriage and that was in the form of arguments’, Dion says.

‘I didn’t consciously recognise that it was the drinking at that point. It was only as I saw that Dad was different when he got home from work than at other times when he wasn’t drinking and I started to put things together and realise that there was a problem.

‘I didn’t like my parents arguing. I’d see my friends’ parents and how they were together and I kept thinking, “Why can’t my family be like that family?”.

Gavin, who was brought up in a Christian family and had continued to go to church with his wife and sons, says that for years he endeavoured to hide the truth about their problems.

‘We just acted like a normal couple and we hid everything’, he says. ‘[But] arguing all the time was the ugly part and [we’d] just argue over stupid things really, and once an argument started, it just didn’t stop and I didn’t know how to control myself basically. I would go outside and have another drink.’

After he’d finished high school, Dion left home and moved interstate to work at Warrambui Retreat and Conference Centre, a Lutheran camp near Canberra. Despite believing it was ‘inevitable’ that his parents would split up, he was still crushed when his father told him his mother had left.

‘I knew it was a possibility for many, many years. I remember Mum saying, “As soon as the kids are gone, I’m gone”. She recognised the marriage had broken, fallen apart, long ago. I was just crushed, but I was at Warrambui and I was so grateful that
I was in an environment, in a community that was so supportive and just surrounded me with prayer and love.’

The day after his wife left, Gavin had his last drink. His pastor had recommended he go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but he says he was ‘trying to think of all the excuses in the world’ not to go.

‘Eventually, I did and it was probably the best thing I ever did’, Gavin says. ‘I felt straight away I needed to be there and that was probably the turning point.’

The decision to attend AA not only changed Gavin, it also transformed his relationship with Dion, which had been virtually non-existent to that point, according to father and son. They met up a couple of weeks after Gavin quit drinking.

‘I [told] Dion I hadn’t had a drink for 15 days and he came and give me a hug. That was the first thing I suppose that I knew I hadn’t lost all the respect of my kids. And it also encouraged me to keep going on my track of recovery.

‘That was a big thing, a very precious moment.

‘I attended AA for 12 months. I had a wonderful support group of six people from the church and they still support me to this day. I couldn’t have done it without them.

‘I really turned to God a lot and it helped absolutely. So now there’s a very close relationship there. We can talk day-to-day and basically, I just treat him as another person.’

Dion also saw the good that came out of a devastating situation in his dad becoming sober and in their new relationship with each other.

‘My parents’ marriage had broken down, but there was also a joy in the fact that he’d walked away from the alcohol and that meant new possibilities, new things, new chances – a second chance really – and that was so much to celebrate and give thanks to God for’, Dion says. ‘Before Dad stopped drinking, I really didn’t know who he was, I didn’t have a relationship with him.

‘I would never have imagined that I could be such good mates with my dad before he stopped drinking.

‘I look at him and see his faith has just skyrocketed – because before it was essentially nothing. Now it’s real, it’s a living thing.’

Members of the LCA/NZ, Gavin and Dion originally shared their story of reconciliation and restoration through Lutheran Media’s Messages of Hope.