I just wanted my dad to be proud of me. I wanted him to be so proud that he would stop drink­ing. But he couldn’t

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - FRONT PAGE - Jim Wilson JIMWILSON@SUNDAYPOST.COM


Grow­ing up, Mon­ica Len­non was al­ways a daddy’s girl. In all the ways that mat­ter most, she still is.

Now 36 and an MSP, she talks with pride about her fa­ther, Ger­ardWard, about his hu­mour, his so­cial­ism, and his love for his fam­ily.

About his drink­ing, how­ever, about the al­co­holism that killed him at 60, she speaks only with loss and re­gret.

She said: “Even when my dad was alive, when I stopped be­ing an­gry with him or feel­ing guilty about him, it was only sad­ness that was left.

“I’d of­ten be fu­ri­ous with him for putting drink­ing first, be­fore us, be­fore ev­ery­thing.

“There were blaz­ing rows but look­ing back, it’s just sad­ness. All that pain and tor­ment. We just wanted him to stop. That’s all we ever wanted.”

Only his death, would stop him and Ms Len­non is speak­ing about her fam­ily’s heartache in an at­tempt to be­gin a new na­tional dis­cus­sion about the dev­as­ta­tion in­flicted be­hind closed doors by Scot­land’s drink­ing cul­ture.

She said: “I was a daddy’s girl, al­ways run­ning to the gate, wait­ing for him to come home.

“Like any­one, I wanted my mum and dad to be proud of me but es­pe­cially my dad.

“I was hop­ing that I’d make him so proud that he’d give up drink­ing, that he would hang on my ev­ery word and stay out the pub when I asked him to.

“When my daugh­ter Is­abella was bor n, for ex­am­ple, I thought this would be the thing that changed ev­ery­thing.

“Dad ab­so­lutely loved her. He was re­tired by then and they had a lot of good times to­gether but he kept drink­ing.

“Or when I was elected as a coun­cil­lor in 2012. I hoped that might be the thing.

“He was al­ways a Labour man so I was hop­ing that me get­ting in­volved in pol­i­tics might get him go­ing again.

“He was bored and lonely and if I was go­ing to meet­ings or what­ever, I’d say, “Dad, come with me” but he was in de­nial, just full of ex­cuses. He couldn’t give up al­co­hol.”

Her dad was a so­cial drinker when she was a young girl grow­ing up in Blan­tyre but over the years, his vis­its to the pub be­came more fre­quent.

She said: “It’s hard to say at what point it went out of con­trol but it did. My dad was a health and safety of­fi­cer, mak­ing sure peo­ple were looked af­ter and pro­tected and he was good at his job. He could pro­tect every­one but him­self.”

Her fa­ther’s drink­ing got worse as Ms Len­non en­tered her teens and she re­mem­bers es­ca­lat­ing ten­sion be­tween her dad and mum, He­len.

She said: “As a young per­son, you’re think­ing what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? Why is he choos­ing the pub when we’re right here?”

A spell in re­hab was fol­lowed by Al­co­holics Anony­mous when Ms Len­non ac­com­pa­nied her dad to meet­ings in Glas­gow be­cause he didn’t want to be recog­nised in his home town. But his so­bri­ety did not last.

Ms Len­non said: “He had all the books and knew all the the­ory but, in his heart, he never be­lieved he had a prob­lem.”

“Peo­ple say it’s a choice but it’s no life and it’s no choice. My dad was steeped in de­nial.

“He told him­self that he didn’t drink in the house, that he worked hard, he sup­ported his fam­ily. He couldn’t see, or ad­mit, what his drink­ing was do­ing to us.”

Her par­ents sep­a­rated and later di­vorced, her younger brother moved out, and Ms Len­non, by then a stu­dent, was liv­ing alone with her fa­ther.

She said: “I was wor­ried sick about him. He would say he was go­ing for a walk and his men­tal health was so poor that I would be wor­ried he was go­ing to harm him­self.

“He was never ag­gres­sive but he was an­gry and de­pressed.

“Even­tu­ally, I ac­cepted my dad’s drink­ing. You have to, I guess. You try per­sua­sion, you try rea­son and com­pas­sion. Then when that doesn’t work, you try the tough love thing.”

It was the tough love thing, or

As a young per­son, you think, what’s wrong with me?

some­thing like it, that made her take the hard­est de­ci­sion, she says, to ask her fa­ther not to at­tend her wed­ding.

She said: “There are so many things that you can’t think about be­cause it’s too painful.

“I got mar­ried when I was 24 and my dad wasn’t there. That’s so aw­ful.

“His drink­ing was so out of con­trol that he couldn’t promise to be sober or that he wouldn’t be drink­ing in the days be­fore the wed­ding or drunk on the day.

“Ev­ery bride wants her dad walk­ing them up the aisle and say­ing nice things about them in their speech.

“I haven’t been to a wed­ding since when I haven’t got choked up when I see the bride with her fa­ther. It’s lovely to see but it’s still aw­fully sore.”

Ms Len­non at­tended coun­selling while a stu­dent to cope with the pres­sures caused by her dad’s drink­ing and one of the rea­sons she is talk­ing about it is to high­light the need to make it eas­ier for young peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly school chil­dren, to get help.

She said: “From ex­pe­ri­ence , I know that young peo­ple who are liv­ing with this are un­likely to open up about it.

“They might if there was a trusted per­son to speak to with no need for a re­fer­ral or to la­bel some­one with a men­tal health prob­lem.”

Ms Len­non first spoke about her dad’s drink- re­lated death dur­ing First Mi ni s t e r ’ s Ques­tions at Holyrood last month but, wants a wider de­bate about the dam­age done by al­co­hol in Scot­land.

She fears much of the miser y in­flicted by drink re­mains hid­den as fam­i­lies of al­co­holics suf­fer in si­lence while friends and fam­ily re­main re­luc­tant to in­ter­vene

She has now won cross­party sup­port for a Holyrood de­bate to high­light the ris­ing death toll linked to drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, and the need for ac­tion to re­duce the stigma and en­sure peo­ple can more eas­ily get help.

Ms Len­non, a Scot­tish La b o u r MSP fo r Ce n t ra l Scot­land, said: “There is still that thing in Scot­land where we press peo­ple to have a drink and treat any­one not drink­ing with slight sus­pi­cion.

“We need to be more aware of the dam­age be­ing done by prob­lem drink­ing and that will only hap­pen when peo­ple are com­fort­able talk­ing about it.

“We need to change the con­ver­sa­tion around al­co­hol. There is leg­is­la­tion, poli­cies and fund­ing that can help but the cul­ture has to change.

“Too many peo­ple are dy­ing and too many chil­dren are stor­ing up trauma for years to come, for us to do noth­ing.”

Af­ter a num­ber of hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions be­cause of drinkre­lated ill­ness, her dad, who suf­fered lung prob­lems, was taken to Hairmyres Hos­pi­tal, in East Ki l b r i d e, wh e re pneu­mo­nia was di­ag­nosed. His daugh­ter said: “He was only 60 but looked much older. He was so thin and frail.

“He was hooked up to ven­ti­la­tors and quite sleepy. It was hard to know how much he was hear­ing.

“We had a cou­ple of days like that. My mum came up on the Thurs­day night and we sat to­gether. He knew we were there. The next morn­ing we got a call to come up.

“You would think that you’d be pre­pared af­ter all the years wait­ing for the call. But you’re not, not one lit­tle bit.”

“I just sat and held his hand and sang to him. He loved mu­sic, all sorts of stuff.

“He was into Deep Pur­ple and Iron Maiden but then he loved the Drifters. He used to sing their songs at karaoke.

“I just sat and held his hand and sang Dirty Old Town, the Pogues’ song, un­til he closed his eyes.

“He died on May 22, 2015, a year be­fore I was elected to Holyrood.

“I wish he had been around to see that. I think he would have been proud.

“I’m sure he would have been. He al­ways said I was his pride and joy. I wish that had been enough.”

You’d think you’d be pre­pared for the call. But you’re not

Mon­ica Len­non MSP Daddy’s girl Mon­ica Len­non gives fa­ther Ger­ard a hug in this fam­ily snap, main, and, left, speaks out to raise aware­ness of dam­age done by prob­lem drink­ing

Mon­ica Len­non MSP

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