DEAR MIKE: My family has been harboring a secret for years that lately has been getting worse. I am 28 years old and my father has been a heavy gambler for as long as I can recall. My mother always made excuses for his behavior, telling us that Dad was ill and could not help it. My two brothers and sister always ignored what was happening.
We have had men come in the middle of the night to repossess his cars. Bill collectors were always calling the house. One night, two men came to the house and dragged my father outside and beat him within an inch of his life, yet my mother would not let us call the police. She claimed if the police came, the neighbors would find out what was going on.
My mother passed away last year from cancer and my father inherited $100,000 from her insurance policy, which he gambled away in less than six months. He did not even finish paying off her funeral expenses.
Now broke again, he has started calling us kids, looking for money. So far we have refused to give in. However, now he is threatening to kill himself if we don’t give him money.
While I don’t want my father kill himself, I also don’t want to bail him out of his gambling problems. My brothers and sister have turned to me to do something, which has pushed my frustration and anger to the boiling point. Can you make any suggestions? — Michelle
DEAR MICHELLE: You are on the right track by not giving in and enabling your father with his gambling problem. Yes, he is sick, and yes, he does need help. However, giving him money to continue is not the answer.
You should sit down with your brothers and sister and anyone else directly affected by this and map out a plan. You may want to consult a professional counselor about doing an intervention with the entire family. Reading up on gambling addiction would help you realize that your father has to want help in order for it to work. (Suggested reading: When Someone You Love Gambles, Hazelden Education Materials 1993) A treatment program would certainly help. (National Council on Problem Gambling 1-800 522-3833). However you must realize it is going to take some tough love, and that is not always easy.
As far as the threats to harm himself, let him know that if he continues, he will force you to call authorities. You must follow through with this. If he continues to threaten suicide you can call your family lawyer, family doctor, or go directly to the court.
If your father calls you or your siblings on the phone and says he is going to hurt himself and you even think he is serious, call 911 and let the police handle it. The police have the power to take him into a hospital and do a temporary civil commitment. Remember, it is far better to err on the side of caution when it comes to people threatening to hurt themselves.
Take your built-up anger and frustration and use it to end this horrible family secret once and for all. As you probably have already realized, this family secret is only a secret to the family. Good luck. — Mike
Michael Hayden is a certified anger management counselor who runs Bay State Anger Management and Counseling in Chelmsford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-606-3955.