Charlie Ryder had a chaotic childhood growing up as the son of an alcoholic. It wasn’t until he found a community of young people similarly affected that he started to explore the roots of his father’s behaviour and reconcile with his past.

Growing up with an alcoholic father was extremely difficult, causing lots of family arguments and trauma. As a child I didn’t understand why my father hid cans of beer in the house and then spent the morning drinking them in the toilet. This sick behaviour would continue in the evening when he would spend most of his money in the pub and then come home drunk and verbally abuse us, and then end up stealing more money from my mum. I used to feel such shame and embarrassment when I caught him in the act. 

Undoubtedly my dad’s behaviour contributed to me growing up with low self-esteem, lack of confidence and depression. The mental, verbal and emotional abuse left me with deep emotional frustration. It was at college that a counsellor introduced me to Alateen, a 12-step fellowship of young people whose lives have been affected by alcoholism in a family member. It was here that I finally found unconditional love and a safe space to be myself. Through listening to others share I learnt a lot about alcoholism as a family disease and how it affects all the members emotionally and physically. 

Attending meetings with Alateen gave me a safe space to open up and share honestly about the shame and humiliation I’d felt growing up. I continue to attend these meetings and it brings me a sense of peace, listening and sharing with others who have the courage to be vulnerable about the abuse they experienced. 

It used to be very easy for me to list all the things that I hated about my dad. Much more challenging was making a list of things that I was grateful for. But doing this helped me to see that actually he had shown his love through pocket money and money for Christmas and birthdays. As I thought about his childhood growing up in rural Ireland and I looked at photographs of him as a child I realised he didn’t choose to be an alcoholic but his parents were alcoholics and he grew up in a culture of problem drinking. I came to understand that my dad’s denial of his addiction was because he didn’t have the tools to talk about his depression. 

Not till I was able to see that he was sick and that his behaviour came from hating himself, was I able to find compassion for him. I also didn’t want to carry around with me bitterness and resentment as I knew that I could have very easily followed him down the path of drinking.

It was in the final couple of weeks whilst visiting my dad dying in hospital that I was able to hold his hand and be at peace with him in silence. His last words to me were, “I’m sorry”, and my last words to him as I stood by his bed with my sister, were, “We love you dad”.

I realised then that I had truly forgiven my father for harming me as a child. Forgiveness is a very personal journey but it can be a wonderful act of self-love.
Charlie served 8 months in prison for his part in a protest against racism and fascism then produced a one man play about his experience inside. He has edited an arts magazine for people in prison for The Anne Peaker Centre and run volunteer mentoring schemes supporting people in HMP Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs. More recently he produced, The Art of Ubuntu, which was screened as part of Docs Ireland 2019. Charlie is currently working full time as an unpaid carer for his mother.

My Old Man by Charlie Ryder

“This puppetry video and song capture my experience of forgiveness and making peace with my dad.”