Father’s Day spurs a wide range of emotions and thoughts. I remember so many experiences with my children, like first words and first steps, guiding them through life’s many complicated choices, and helping them right the ship when it has gone off course. Mountains or valleys, the joyous and the sad times, all these moments are etched into the soul of a father and are part of fatherhood.
I have been blessed with four amazing children, three daughters and a son. Growing up, I never thought about being a dad, but once I became a father, spending time helping them learn and grow became a role I treasured. The smiles as they look up at you, the tight squeeze of a little hand in yours as you take a walk, the hug that comes flying at you as you return home from work are just a few of the moments that I treasure. Along with those joyous moments come those harder times, the times that really test your resolve.
I am no stranger to hard times. I was raised in a middle-class home with a caring family. But in that childhood home, there was a lot of pain as well. Alcohol use disorder had taken a stronghold in my uncle’s life. He lived with us and was a brotherly figure to me. Throughout my teenage years, I saw his horrible struggle with this disease and the pain it caused everyone who loved him. Years later, alcohol use disorder would ultimately resurface in my happy home of six.
Substance use disorders can have a genetic component and run in families. It affected my uncle, it skipped my brother and me, but my son has experienced it.
Jacob, at only age 10 or 11, self-medicated for his anxiety and ADHD. It began with marijuana, then progressed to opioid use until an accidental overdose when he was only 18. For those years in between, I did everything I could to help him. Sadly, the ending was not what I or he wanted. It was the most painful experience I have ever been through, and I continue to deal with it on a daily basis.
There will always be a hole in my heart, in my life, and in our family. But along with that pain there is a little band-aid that partially covers the hole left by his missing smile and warm hug. Thankfully, it grows a little bigger and stronger each day as we remember his love for us, and how he would want us to live our lives in his honor.
Through his struggles, my son taught me to be a kinder, more loving person. Our shared experience brought me to a place of self-reflection and change. In his memory, I am an advocate for those without a voice.
Being a father is not always easy but is a title I proudly wear through the best of times and the worst of times. Love those little ones each day for each day is a gift.
Tom Smarch is a Shatterproof Ambassador based in Georgia. He is father to Rachael, Sarah, Savannah, and Jacob.