During my twenties and thirties, Goodtime Johnny was my best friend on the road. In fact, he was my only friend. But he wasn’t that great of an influence on me.
Whenever we were away on business, he’d usually take me out drinking. Sometimes he’d buy drinks for strangers. Everybody could tell he longed to be the life of the party, the guy seen as everyone’s friend. But they were all getting free drinks, so what did they really care?
At other times, he’d ask the drunk sitting next to us, “You know of any other bars that’re open later’n this one?” We’d stumble over to that bar and drink some more.
Then we’d fly home after the business trip—which, let’s be real, we should have just called a business bender. He’d drop me off at my house, nonchalantly wave goodbye, and say, “See you soon, buddy.”
I’d waltz into my living room, then kiss my wife and daughters. As I’d walk by the mirror, I could swear I’d caught a glimpse of Goodtime Johnny. But that was impossible.
I’d never allow someone like him to enter my home.
Playing the Victim
No, I don’t suffer from multiple personalities, but Goodtime Johnny might as well have been someone else living in my body for too many decades of my adult life. He was the man I became when left to my own devices and untethered from my responsibilities at home.
I allowed Goodtime Johnny so much freedom in my life because I loved playing the victim. Because my dad had abandoned me by committing suicide when I was eleven, I thought I could use my father as my excuse for all kinds of bad behavior. I thought, No one has ever or will ever experience as much pain as I’ve gone through, so I have the right to do what I want.
Even in my thirties, I still had a lot of growing up to do.
But that’s what a victim mentality makes you believe: that your past circumstances dictate your present situation—that you’re helpless to act against your lesser impulses due to forces outside of your control.
Sure, there’s probably some truth to that, but living from within a victim mentality is weak living. It blames the world for what’s ultimately your inability to wrestle with your own inner demons.
I was really, really good at playing the role of the victim. I had everyone, including my closest family members, fooled into believing that Goodtime Johnny didn’t exist. And what was so twisted about that time in my life, when I was already addicted to alcohol, was that I became addicted to the two-faced game of living as a victim.I loved the high that came with playing the game. I could be one type of guy at home and a totally different type of guy on the road.
But the victim-mentality card can only be played for so long before the consequences of your actions become too great to bear. Suddenly, you’re left with no excuses for what you’ve done or what has happened to you.
Suddenly, the facade you’ve created, the Goodtime Johnny you’ve tried to hide behind, disappears. You’re left with the mess of who you’ve become.
Victim No More
For me, I’d turned into a jerk as a husband—my wife can attest to this. I’d turned into the last kind of father I’d ever wanted to be—a mostly absent dad. My health was failing. I was deathly afraid of losing my job. And I thought I was the only one dealing with this issue and I was all alone.
At that rock-bottom place of loneliness, when it felt like Goodtime Johnny and everything and everyone I’d always blamed for my problems had abandoned me, I realized I had two choices:
1. Lose everything good in the life I still had.
2. Go to counseling to get help.
I chose the latter, and I was rescued from myself. For the first time in my life, I totally and entirely surrendered to the idea that I needed help—something I had lived in denial about for over 30 years.
In time, and with good counselors, friends and books along the way, I came to grips with how much I’d been blaming everyone—and especially my long-departed dad—for my life. When I finally took responsibility for my actions, thoughts, and feelings, everything changed, and often for the better. My wife and kids can attest to this too.
I consider myself very lucky. Not all victims or addicts are given those kinds of opportunities. They’re still being driven around by their own Goodtime Johnnys.
Tom Lane, an author and counselor, says it best in one of the interview clips shared while making The Father Effect documentary: “It’s not our wives’ fault. It’s not our boss’s fault. It’s not our dad’s fault. It’s our fault. It’s our choice. . . . The real issue’s going to be: What did you do with the life that you had, and how did you respond?”
John Finch is the author of The Father Effect: Hope and Healing from a Dad’s Absence and creator and storyteller of The Father Effect Movie.