Alcohol abuse has always been considered a big issue in New Zealand. Our binge drinking culture, perpetuated by peer pressure, has made it a harder one to eradicate. It follows that its effects of violence, illness and death have been experienced by many. Despite these atrocious outcomes and glaring statistics from organisations like the NZ Transport Agency, the majority of New Zealanders are still “blind” to the issue, according to Professor Doug Sellman, Director of the National Addiction Centre. In an attempt, perhaps, to draw our attention to this disturbing fact, New Zealand author M.O. Chamberlain reveals the harsh reality of living with an alcoholic parent in his memoir, With a Father like Mine.
Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this one took me considerably longer to get through. Chamberlain’s writing is raw and personal, at times confessional and dense. You get the impression he has a lot to say, and in his memoir he does so very well that you feel obliged to listen. His book displays family photos, a short story and other bits of memorabilia that reflect a life moulded by multitudinous experiences, from his exciting travels around South Africa, South America and the USA to his work as a probation officer in Kaitaia and a teacher in Saudi Arabia.
Yet, what intrigued me most, were the memories of his childhood and adolescence. Looking back at the sixteen years he spent under his father’s roof, he writes that his father’s dependence on alcohol caused poverty and disharmony in his family. Thence came the ruin of bodies and dreams. Chamberlain’s emotional reactions and internalised lessons while growing up may be familiar for some. As a young man he felt desperate to escape. Regrettably, substance abuse and violence seemed like viable options at the time.
The resounding message in Chamberlain’s memoir is that the cycle can indeed be broken. It requires strength and a will to take control of one’s situation. For Chamberlain, the indefatigable support and understanding of his wife and children was a powerful force that kept him on his feet. The coverage of serious issues in this memoir makes it suitable (and for some, highly relevant) for young people and adults. For all of us it is a reminder that in times of adversity, we should look for a way as opposed to a way out.