Big Mother


DISCUSSED: The Exchange of Liberties for Protections, Reasonable Visitation, Hermit Crabs, Electronic Sentencing Alternatives, David Hume’s Notion of Morality and Mutual Benefit, The Crown Center Mall in Kansas City, Questions of Cowardice, Happy Choices

An addict promises everyone, with all his heart: “I’ll never use again.” Eventually his words become meaningless. But the need to be believed doesn’t go away. Every time he makes his promise, he means it. He is sincere. If no one will believe him, why make the promise at all? “Not that you lied to me, but that I can no longer believe you, has shaken me,” Nietzsche remarked. Fair enough. But that you can no longer trust me makes us both pretty shaky.

For a recovering alcoholic like me, the biggest obstacle to the successful co-parenting of your children with your ex—after successfully staying sober—is winning back the trust eroded by your addiction. So when my ex-wife finally stopped trusting that I wouldn’t drink around my children, I turned to infallible, impersonal technology.

Before I tell as much of the story as I can, I should say that one of the conditions of my current parenting plan, Case No. 1216-FC04987 in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, is that I “refrain from the publishing of nonfiction books, nonfiction articles, or any other such nonfiction media that discuss any traumatic episodes that the children have experienced.” So I cannot tell you any harrowing stories about drunken irresponsibility or stupidity my children witnessed. Like most children of alcoholics—I myself am the child of two AA lifers—my children have experienced traumatic episodes because of my addiction. (None of them violent, sexual, or physically harmful, I would immediately like to add.) My two youngest daughters were aged six and four when everything took a radical turn for the worse in both my second marriage and my sobriety—for the record, I had an affair and fell off the wagon—and it was not easy on them. As of this writing, in 2017, I’ve been sober for several years, they’re twelve and ten, and it still isn’t.

Trust is a bit like a right: we exchange liberties for protections because we want those protections, and we grant second chances for similarly practical reasons. A mother trusts her child because she doesn’t want to have to watch him all the time—she wants some time to herself. An ex-wife trusts an addict ex-husband because she knows her children need both parents—and because she needs some help with the kids.

So this is how it started. Flash back several years to the winter of 2011. I had the affair, I started drinking again, and, about a year and a half after my wife’s and my initial separation, I agreed to give my soon-to-be-ex-wife sole legal and physical custody of our two young daughters. (I would be allowed “reasonable” visitation rights, to be determined by her.) I had quit drinking, but my soon-to-be-ex-wife had quit believing me. Or perhaps she understood from hard experience that my new sobriety was very precarious. She needed guarantees, if I was going to visit the girls. She proposed random urine tests.

At first I refused. She shouldn’t be allowed to tell me how and when I could see my own children! (Though this was, of course, precisely what I had agreed to in the divorce decree.) And I didn’t have time to be driving several times a week to the nearest lab—a place called Quest—which was about twenty minutes away. And I couldn’t afford the three hundred to five hundred dollars a month the testing would cost. And anyway, it was none of her business whether or not I was drinking. All she should care about was whether I was drinking around the kids.

“Then you can’t see the girls.”

“They need to see their dad. And I need to see them.”

“I agree. So get the tests.”

Rinse, wash, repeat.

A couple weeks went by without me seeing the kids; I relented. I started driving to Quest two or three times a week for urinalysis, fifty-five dollars a visit. The woman who worked there and owned the place would come into the bathroom with me and watch me take out my penis. Just observing.

“You’d be amazed at how many guys actually want me to watch them peeing,” she told me. “They demand it. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll just stand to one side and make sure you aren’t using any kind of catheter. I’ve seen every trick in the book.”

“I have a bit of trouble peeing with someone watching,” I said. “It’s not you. It happens to me at urinals, too.”

“Yeah, that happens a lot. Performance anxiety.”

She laughed. I was standing there with my penis in my fingers and the little plastic cup, waiting. Come on. Piss.

After my initial resistance, getting tested regularly was strangely liberating. I’d listen happily, eagerly, for the call, which would come a day or two after each test: “Mr. Martin, you tested negative.” My not-yet-ex-wife could call anytime she liked to confirm the results. I got to see the girls. They would spend the night in my new apartment, about a mile and a half from the old house, sleeping on hide-a-beds that rolled into the walls, which they thought was cool. We bought movies and games at Target, went to Science City and the mall. They got two golf ball–sized pet hermit crabs and kept them at my place. The crabs lived in identical clear plastic homes—side by side, so they could look at each other. Me and Hermie and Goldie at 4215 Locust. “As in a plague of locusts,” I’d tell people when repeating my address.

After a few months of clean tests, my ex decided the testing was no longer necessary. A month or so later, visiting my girlfriend in New York, I ordered a whiskey while waiting for her at a bar near her office. I had this plan: I would drink only when I wasn’t at home, in Kansas City. After a few weeks, the plan changed. Now it was: Well, you can drink outside Kansas City and have one or two beers on the plane. Then: Kansas City drinking is OK, but not when you have the girls.

One night, my ex invited me over for dinner with her and the kids. I was anxious, scared even. It no longer felt natural to be around her and my daughters at the same time. She asked me to pick up a chicken and, on the drive to the grocery store, I was telling myself: You’re not going to have a drink, you’re not going to have a drink. By the time you’re telling yourself that, of course, you’ve already made up your mind. Or rather, you’re of two minds: your front mind is saying: Keep walking, don’t look at those shelves, just walk on by. Your back mind insists: Listen to that front mind while you buy the booze. Listen to it while you drive with it in the bag. Listen to it all the way until we take a swallow.

It was our old grocery store, the one where I’d always bought my booze when we were married. I grabbed the chicken; the liquor section was between me and the registers. I looked around furtively to see if there was anyone I knew who might spot me, bust me, witness my fall. In the liquor section they didn’t have a mickey of Jägermeister—years of secret drinking had taught me that a mickey would soothe without noticeably intoxicating me—so I bought a twenty-sixer. Before I went into my ex-wife’s house, I stashed it under a bush by the porch. Later, I offered to let the dogs out, and had a quick belt or two.

I don’t think she noticed I was drinking that night. But I was supposed to take the kids out for dim sum the next day, and I’d brought the bottle with me in my car to tame my hangover. I showed up thinking I felt OK. My ex glanced at me and her face wrinkled with fury and disgust. “You’re drunk,” she said. Visitation stopped.

Barbara Ludlow, my first visitation supervisor, was a kind, soft-voiced, heavyset, and very Midwestern social worker whose office was in a tall, lonely brown brick building. Most of her work was with sex offenders, and she gave me the impression that for her, I was an easy case. She was especially sympathetic to people struggling with addiction. “I am a food addict,” she told me, “so I know how hard it can be.”

Barbara Ludlow was also direct. “You owe them an apology,” she said, referring to my daughters, who were sitting with me at her conference table. Trying not to cry, I told the girls I was sorry. The younger one climbed into my lap and hugged me; the older one, half-laughing, leaned far back in her chair. “You can’t drink, Daddy!” she said. It was an admonition but also a request. She laughed as she said it because she was scared to say it to me straight.

I promised them that I never would again.

Barbara took me aside at the end of that visit. “You can’t promise them that,” she said firmly. It was the only time gentle Barbara spoke sharply to me. “Don’t ever make a promise like that again. You don’t know that you’ll never take another drink. You can promise only that you’ll try not to.”

During the time the girls and I spent with Barbara Ludlow—one hour once a week—we drew pictures together and ate chocolate mini-doughnuts from the vending machine on the third floor. It often seemed like we’d all forgotten, at least temporarily, how unnatural our situation was. If you focused in tight enough, we seemed like a normal family: safe, happy, morally legitimate.

All the while, unbeknownst to me, my own resistance to the kinds of supervision I was willing to accept was wearing down. I was being leash-trained. By the time Barbara announced that we no longer needed her help, I was ready for my next supervisor: the SCRAM anklet.

From the website of the Kansas City branch of Electronic Sentencing Alternative:

The patented SCRAM ankle bracelet is attached to the user with a durable and tamper-proof strap. It is worn 24/7 by the user for the duration of his or her court-ordered abstinence period. Every half hour, the bracelet captures transdermal alcohol readings by sampling the insensible perspiration collected from the air above the skin. The bracelet stores the data and, at predetermined intervals, transmits it via a wireless radio-frequency (RF) signal to the base station.

The eastern Missouri main office of Electronic Sentencing Alternative is in Blue Springs, about half an hour outside of Kansas City. When I pulled in to the parking lot of the little strip mall on the frontage road off I-70, I saw a cardboard sign stuck into the grass. we buy broken gold, it read.

Inside, it looked like a shabby dentist’s office. Another fellow was already sitting there in blue jeans and a Kansas City Royals jersey. I took a seat one over from him. The receptionist was on the phone.

“I understand that. I’m sorry, sir. Yes, we can send someone to the jail to attach the bracelet. No, I’m afraid you’ll have to pay in advance. No, we can’t send the device without the payment. I understand that they won’t release you without the anklet.” She rolled her eyes. “You can discuss that with your bail officer, sir. I have the number of several bail officers here if you’d like. No, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.” She hung up the phone. “Mr. Reynolds?”

The man in the Royals jersey leaned over to me. “You can beat it if you slip a piece of bologna between the anklet and your skin.” Then he stood up. “Yes, that’s me,” he said, and went in.

When it was my turn, a woman in her mid-thirties, slender, friendly, but all business—she reminded me of an accountant I’d used back when I was in the jewelry business, years ago—told me to take a seat and pull up the leg of my jeans. She had a special tool, a kind of secret, custom screwdriver, that she used to attach the device to my leg, while she explained the rules about bathing, exercising, and how the remote monitor worked.

“Is that comfortable? Not too tight?”

“If anything it’s a bit loose,” I said. “Is it going to slip down my ankle? I have skinny ankles.”

She tightened it a bit and I was on my way.

In my classes—I teach philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City—pacing back and forth as I lectured, I worried that my students would notice the bulge beneath my pants. It buzzed every so often against my anklebone, the medial malleolus, where I was getting a painful blister, and it was audible to me. Could they hear it? Could my students take seriously a philosophy professor—a guy up there talking about morality and the good life—who was in electronic handcuffs? I wanted to show it to them and tell them the story, but I knew the story would get around campus and, soon, some parent would call the dean.

“Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow,” I read from David Hume one day. We were discussing Hume’s notion of morality and mutual benefit. “Tis profitable for us both,” I continued, “that I should labour with you to-day, and that you should aid me to-morrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains on your account; and should I labour with you on my account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here, then, I leave you to labour alone: you treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.”

I finished quoting the passage and looked up at the students. My ankle did not buzz.

I had been wearing the monitor for about a month, showering with one foot in the tub and one foot on the floor, growing accustomed to teaching and driving with the thing buzzing away, and to the callus that had formed where the blisters used to be, when I got an assignment go to Brazil for a story. Going away to cover the story would make a big mess with my ex. But I needed the money and it was an unusual opportunity to study a particular Tibetan Buddhist practice that fascinated me. There was no way to wear the anklet through airport security in multiple countries, so I called ESA to ask what to do.

“You can’t wear that out of state,” the receptionist explained. “You can’t just go on vacation with that anklet on. That’s not the way this works.”

I told her that this was a work trip, and reminded her that my monitoring was voluntary. She acted as if I were obviously lying to her. “Uh-huh. We can remove it. But we immediately call the court. Just so you know. They’ll put out a warrant. It’s a same-day thing.”

“There’s no warrant,” I said. “There’s no court. I was never arrested. I am doing this because my ex-wife asked me to do it.”


what they believed were transparent lies: Here, they thought, is some guy who wants to go on a bender. Finally, reluctantly, the woman in charge took the anklet off. She looked up at me.

“Now don’t have too much fun,” she said.

One of the reasons I abuse alcohol is that I’m not good at dealing with the responsibilities and stress of being a parent. (I seem to be improving lately, maybe, but then, my children are getting older and easier.) When I return my children to my ex, in that viciously lonely moment of separation, what I want most is a drink. When I used to drop off my eldest daughter, bringing her “home” after a weekend together, the first thing I would do is drive to a 7-Eleven and buy a six-pack of Guinness. Sometimes, the stress of parenting my children, as much as I love them, makes me want to run to the nearest bar. Some days the fact that I don’t have the full-time job of raising my own children is a relief. That relief is further proof of something I really don’t want to admit to myself: that signing over full custody of my children to their mother was an act of cowardice. By giving up my rights to my children, I was giving myself a Get Out of Jail Free card. The kids were now her responsibility. If I fucked up, well, they had their mom: it was all right there on paper.

But I have to say these things if I also want to be able to say, sincerely, this equally true thing: that there’s nothing I want more than to be a good full-time dad who shows his daughters all the love and care they deserve. And this: that during all of the time I spent away from them, I missed them and worried about them and felt ashamed that I wasn’t with them and wasn’t a better father.

When I first met Ronnie Beach, the soft-voiced, redheaded, fifty-four-year-old mediator from Liberty, Missouri, he was climbing out of his Honda with a bag of McDonald’s in one hand and a milkshake in the other.

For better or worse, after my trip, the SCRAM anklet never went back on. I wanted to put it back on, but my ex wasn’t interested.

“You had it removed once, you’ll just get it taken off again.”

“I was traveling!”

“Sure you were.”

I was sober, and staying sober, but because my ex wasn’t—understandably—willing to take my word for it, we weren’t making progress on a regular parenting schedule. She was insisting on a new kind of supervised visitation in which a supervisor comes to your home or accompanies you on short outings with your kids. I was resistant.

“We already did that with Barbara. She said it was unnecessary.”

“It’s supervised visitation or nothing.”

At an impasse, I called my lawyer. “We can fight it,” she said. “It’s not necessary. No judge will require it in your case. But it might take a while.”

“How long is a while?”

“I can’t say for sure. A few months? If you want to see your kids right away, get Ronnie Beach,” she said.

Ronnie was a specialist in court-ordered supervised visitation. He cost a hundred dollars an hour, and we were going to be spending at least a couple of hours a week with him. “I know it sounds expensive,” he said on the phone. “But when people tell me that, I ask them: ‘How much are you paying your attorney?’”

In his office, the kind of modest, comfortable room one might expect a psychologist to rent out, he reassured me that it was not at all unusual for couples to go through a period of supervised visitation without a court order.

“Whether or not a judge is involved, it’s about reestablishing trust.” Those were more or less the first words out of Ronnie’s mouth, and they became my mantra. I couldn’t talk my ex into trusting me; I couldn’t even “sober” her into trusting me. I had to create the conditions under which she would decide, of her own free will, to trust me again.

“How long do you think this is going to take?” I asked.

“There’s no way to know that for sure right now,” Ronnie said. “It’s incremental. It takes patience. Let’s get you spending time with your kids again and then we’ll see where we are.”

Ronnie, I concluded, was going to be my daughters’ new dad for the next year, and I was going to be his bumbling sidekick.

The first time the girls and I met with Ronnie together, we were at Crown Center mall in downtown Kansas City. Their mom pulled up next to the fountain outside the large glass-fronted building while I waited inside and watched. Ronnie met them at the car and walked them in.

“Ronnie is going to be hanging out with us today. Sound good to you guys?” They nodded, a bit carefully. They knew that something wasn’t 100 percent right but they were willing to play along. I hadn’t told them what role Ronnie was going to be playing in our lives—just that he was going to be keeping us company during our visitation. We went to Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, where I got peanut butter custard and Ronnie and the girls got “Dirt & Worms.” We strolled around the mall and shopped and the girls and I played in the Crayola Store. After a couple of hours, we hugged goodbye, and Ronnie took them back to their mother’s car.

“On that first day,” he told me later, “I gave you a B plus.” I’m still disappointed that I didn’t make an A—though, since I’m laying my cards on the table, I’m probably about a B-plus dad on my best days.

The girls remained cautious around Ronnie. They were quiet and well behaved, always friendly and polite—they liked Ronnie—but part of his skill was making himself both ready-to-hand and unobtrusive. Ronnie’s calm, grandfatherly presence was always nearby, whether he was checking his email, writing in a notebook, or watching a movie with us at home. He’d play Scrabble with us if invited, eat pancakes, and sometimes take me aside to share observations—“You’re giving more attention to X than to Y.” He was himself a father. But they never got to know him well enough to really let their guard down around him, which, for me, was a comfort. It wasn’t that I worried they’d like him more than they liked me. But I guess I was worried that they might start to see us as co-dads, with Ronnie as Dad Number One and me as Dad Number Two. Maybe I was worried that they’d trust Ronnie more than they trusted me, or that, like their mom, their trust in me would depend on their trust in Ronnie.

I recently asked one of my closest friends what had made Ronnie special. “I mean, he turned everything around in my relationship with my ex,” I said, “but what did he do?”

“He made things normal again for you guys,” she said. “He took what was degenerating into a very unnatural situation and put everything back on solid ground.”

That was Ronnie’s gift. It wasn’t just that Ronnie assured my ex that I could be a good dad to our daughters. It was also that he reminded me that I was their dad, that I was supposed to be their dad, that I had a right to be their dad. Of course, if you’d asked me then, I would have insisted, at every stage of this process, that I had both an obligation and a right to my children. But somewhere along the line I had lost my conviction that this was true. Another ugly truth I shouldn’t say: I had given up on myself as a father.

One afternoon, after we’d been working together for several months, Ronnie called me and suggested that my ex and I talk about our parenting plan. “I don’t think you guys need me at this point,” he said.

He arranged for the three of us—me, my ex, and Ronnie—to meet at a local coffee shop, and over the course of a couple of hours we came up with a parenting plan that gave me regular, unsupervised time with the girls.

I walked into that coffee shop as a guy who couldn’t see his children without someone else in the room. I walked out an ordinary divorced dad.

“As long as he’s willing to agree to alcohol monitoring,” she insisted. “I have to know he’s not going to drink.”

“That OK with you?” Ronnie asked.

“If it’s one of those things you blow into, it’s totally OK with me. I just don’t want to pee into a cup or wear an anklet again.”

Ronnie suggested a device called a Sobrietor. According to the plan, I would have it with me whenever I spent time with the kids.

After we left the meeting, I called Ronnie. “You’re like a wizard,” I said. “I would have bet ten thousand dollars before we sat down that there was no way she was going to give me regular, unsupervised time with the kids. I don’t know how you did it.”

“I got there early on purpose, knowing she would be there early to talk to me. She asked me if she could trust you with the kids. I told her yes.” He didn’t add: Don’t make a liar out of me.

At 10:46 a.m. on Christmas morning, my cell phone buzzed. I was at the dining room table wrapping presents. “sobrietor reminder text: you may send your 11:00 a.m. test now. Do not reply to this text.”

The little blue light on the device flashed: I blew into it for four seconds. It clicked, registering my breath and taking a photo of my face. I waited for sixty seconds. Then my cell phone pinged: “Compliant Report Successfully Sent.”

There are three regular places I kept my Sobrietor in the house: in the butler’s pantry by the microwave, upstairs on my bedside table, and in my desk drawer in my office. All three places allowed me to keep it plugged in but out of sight of my children. The Sobrietor was black, about the size of a large, fat billfold—the kind you can keep your checks in—with a replaceable plastic tube that stuck out of one end. Without the plastic tube, it didn’t work: if you tried to blow directly into the monitoring hole, your face would be too close for the camera to get an accurate photograph. It was a good idea, I learned, to keep a back stock of plastic tubes—they were easy to lose. I kept a couple in my car and three or four in my desk.

Though I hadn’t had a drink in a year, I still got an irrational jolt of pleasure every time that “Compliant Report” text came through; it was like seeing an A on your report card or a wire transfer in your checking account. Often I’d blow a second time just to get a second confirmation, further proof.

I sent “Compliant Reports” from the Four Seasons in St. Louis, on a birthday trip for one of my daughters; from Worlds of Fun, Oceans of Fun, and Schlitterbahn; from gas stations and McDonald’s drive-thru lines in Texas, Kansas, and Iowa City; from movie theaters all over Kansas City; from roller rinks, bowling alleys, community pools, and Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead; from the zoo, public parks, Home Depot, Target, Costco, restaurants, and ice cream parlors; from my daughters’ elementary school. I shared more pictures of myself on my Sobrietor than I’d ever Instagrammed or Facebooked.

Normally when I used it I was sitting in a men’s-room stall, hiding, feeling dirty, like a shoplifter, a criminal, a tearoom trader. There was no guilty pleasure to it, like there was with secret drinking, which also took place in a lot of different bathrooms—only shame. Often the report wouldn’t transmit and I’d have to leave the bathroom and step outside to take the test again, in public, as discreetly as I could. People look at you nervously when you’re blowing into an object that resembles a Star Trek phaser.

Once, at the YMCA pool on Troost Avenue, I was sending a report from the locker room when a young man grabbed my shoulder from behind. I turned around, the Sobrietor in my hand; the plastic blowing-tube was pointing at him, so I pulled it out of the device and tried to put it into my pocket. Then I realized I didn’t have a pocket: I was in my swim trunks. So I just stood there.

The young man was wearing a royal-blue YMCA polo and khaki shorts. He had short brown hair. I was half-naked with a towel over my shoulder, my middle-aged body pale and saggy.

He frowned at me. He was probably twenty. “Excuse me, sir: what do you think you are doing?” He was trying not to tremble.

“It’s a testing device. It’s, you know, for alcohol monitoring. You just blow in this tube”—I showed him the plastic tube, which now looked obscene—“and it takes your picture… ” I trailed off.

“There are no cameras permitted in the locker room, sir,” he said, pointing to a sign. “You’re gonna have to leave. I don’t want to call the police.”

I thought: It’s not enough that no one trusts me to stay sober; now I’m going to be tried as a sex offender. I make it sound as though I were merely annoyed and feeling sorry for myself; the truth is, I was terrified.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, perhaps because of my obvious terror, the young guard seemed to understand the situation. His eyes changed; now they were worried, introspective. He looked as though he might have been thinking of someone he knew. He let me put my Sobrietor away in a locker, and I went out to the pool, my towel wrapped tightly around me.

I remember, years ago, when I first stopped drinking, talking to a friend about his father’s alcoholism. We were in New York at a bar together—I’d been sober about a year—and he was encouraging me to have a pint with him.

“All of you guys, the real alcoholics, start drinking again sooner or later,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time. You might as well start with me.” I was hurt by his cynicism, but I understood where he was coming from. He’d watched his dad climb out of the bottle and fall back in again too many times. He was all out of trust.

And once he’d given up on his dad, I also knew—though I didn’t tell him this—that his dad no longer had much reason to believe in himself. Don’t get me wrong: this was not in any way my friend’s fault; it was his dad’s. The addict, and most especially the addict parent, bears all of the responsibility for the destruction of trust. But if you understand that you can’t win back someone’s trust, you will stop trying. Eventually, you’ll give up any hope of trusting even yourself. (This is one reason AA works, incidentally: the people in your AA group will go on believing in you no matter how many times you screw up. They teach you, slowly, how to trust yourself again.)

By the time I hired Ronnie Beach, I didn’t trust my ex-wife any more than she trusted me. She didn’t trust me with the girls; I didn’t trust that she really wanted them to see me. This was what the Sobrietor liberated me from—not, as one might suppose, from the darkest, most self-destructive parts of my personality. No external constraint, like a blood test, a Sobrietor, an Antabuse pill, or even a parent supervisor, can ensure sobriety: when all that stands between you and your addiction is someone or something, your desire to satisfy your craving will only increase; inevitably, you will find some sneaky way around the constraint.

What a Sobrietor or SCRAM anklet liberates you from is the excruciating bonds of other people’s doubt. No one has to take you at your word that you’re sober: it has been demonstrated. It is a fact. You are free to expect trust the way ordinary people do, and that expectation of trust breeds more of the same. People can sense that you know you deserve their trust. The more they give you, the more you revel in it. Soon, you find yourself extending trust to people you had come to view with wounded suspicion. “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them,” Hemingway wrote. Most obviously, yourself. Because my ex was trusting me, I started trusting her.

It’s been almost four years now since I sent my Sobrietor back to John Wells in Topeka, Kansas. That was a satisfying day, packing up that black plastic son of a bitch in a padded envelope and then folding the envelope into a FedEx box and overnighting it down south. It wasn’t freeing, exactly; after all, I’d always been free to do what I wanted. I’d been free to see my children or not to see my children; free to drink or not to drink; free to try to work things out with my ex or to suffer the (yes, sickening) consequences of not finding a solution to visitation. But the urine tests and Barbara Ludlow and the SCRAM anklet and Ronnie Beach and the Sobrietor slowly, slowly taught me something: I am not the underground man who will demand his freedom even if it makes him sicker. For me, freedom is only as good as the range of possible happy choices it provides, and all of my happy choices involve other people.

Was I a coward through all of this? Maybe so. But now I’m a coward who gets to see his kids all the time.

“You can’t drink, Daddy!” my older daughter had said. She was wrong. I can, of course. I trust I won’t.

Clancy Martin is the author, most recently, of the novel Bad Sex.

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