Negative Role Models

by Sandy L on August 30, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I did a guest post on Punch Debt in the Face and spoke of Positive Role Models. I originally wrote the negative role model article first, and then realized positive role models might be even more important in the molding of a youth, hence the second article.

So here it is, Negative Role Models:

As a toddler, one of my alternate identities was the “kid in the bar”.  You see, my father had a drinking problem and he was also my babysitter. While my mother was at work, my dad would go to the bar and get plastered.   One of my first happy memories was sitting at a bar drinking ginger ale. The barman decided to give me a treat and put a maraschino cherry in it. I was thrilled because we never had soda at home let alone a jar of maraschino cherries.   While the other kids were playing at the park, I was sitting in a bar being a good girl.  What that meant was that I sat quietly and didn’t bother anyone while dad and his friends drank.  It was torture because we practically had to walk by the park to get to the bar and I loved the park.  As you can imagine, my socialization skills were a bit lacking as a result. From a psychologist’s point of view, I’m sure I wasn’t far off from one those kids raised by wolves.

Well, as a curious kid, you can only take so much sitting around and doing nothing, so one day I wondered off and decided to explore the neighborhood.   I was so young (3) that I don’t remember if I realized dad was so drunk he wouldn’t notice or if so much time had elapsed that I just couldn’t sit still anymore.   Either way, he didn’t seem to mind or notice when I walked out the door.   The bar was very dark and when I stepped out the door and saw daylight, it was truly intoxicating.  It was like leaving a movie theater after a matinee.  You almost forget that it’s daytime when you’re cooped up for hours in a dank, windowless, smoke filled bar.

As it was told to me many years later, the reason I did not get lost was that someone in a neighboring store recognized me as “the kid in the bar.”  But they also knew who my mom was because I would go grocery shopping with her.  So, a kind soul took me aside and called my mother to let her know I was wandering the streets alone.  These types of incidents would sober dad up for a few months before he’d go on another tear.

Dad always complained of the financial position he was in and always was jealous and bitter about people who had better lives than him, especially minorities. He was racist and during this time, the Cosby show was a big hit on TV. It drove him nuts that a black man was a millionaire and we were barely scraping by making minimum wage.

He was very good mechanically.  When he and mom were both working and not drinking, life was pretty good.   I digress, but in retrospect, I wish I could meet and thank his boss. Somehow he managed to keep his job despite being drunk for months at a time.  Imagine calling in sick for 4 months, then working 3, then calling in sick the next 2 months. It would never happen in this day and age.

Although he was good at his job when he was there, he was limited to how much responsibility he could have because he did not speak English very well.  He was told he could get paid more and get a promotion if he learned to communicate.   However, it was much easier for him to complain about how life dealt him a bitter hand, so that’s what he opted to do instead.

So, here is the moral of the story. I would look at him and think: maybe if you got off your butt and stopped complaining your life would be better.  My dad was not a positive role model. He was one of the worst ones I know.    I’m convinced it is part of the reason I am so driven. My worst nightmare was to end up like him.

Here’s what I learned from him:

  • Drinking can ruin your life.  Be very scared of drinking and drugs. They can control you and not the other way around.
  • Complaining, although effortless, does not make your life better, it only makes you wallow in your self-pity even more.
  • If you don’t like the situation you’re in, take steps to change it…even the smallest ones provide hope for a better life.
  • Even if a choice is difficult to implement, it’s still better than feeling trapped in the situation you’re in.

Over the years, my perspective has changed and I realize now that I may not be where I am today without also having a few very positive role models in my life as well.  I saw people like my mother, uncle, and friend’s parents working hard and having good lives.

Has anyone had a negative role model that provided a positive example of how not to live life?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan August 30, 2010 at 9:50 AM

While I don’t completely agree with your first lesson, the other 3 are amazing lessons! There is NOTHING more frustrating then watching someone bitch and moan about their situation and they literally do nothing about it.

Is your father still alive?


Cass August 30, 2010 at 10:21 AM

My dad was a heavy drinker also and I understand your message well. I was passed around as a newborn in a bar and my first best friend was a bartender named Eddie. Thanks for sharing!


Everyday Tips August 30, 2010 at 10:26 AM

I think I learned more from negative role models than positive ones. I grew up in a neighborhood that was full of drunks, and I just knew I wanted OUT.

Sorry you had to live that way. I cannot imagine…


Molly On Money August 30, 2010 at 11:40 AM

I wouldn’t switch my crappy role models for good ones. It’s what made me and I’m pretty happy with the road I’m on!


Sandy L August 30, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Evan, no he died when I was 14. That’s a whole other crazy story.

#1 is tricky. Fir years I wouldn’t touch alcohol or drugs. I have
Lightened up a bit and have drank moderately for years.
I realized avoiding it completely is ok but was it ruling me in a different way.
(I didn’t want to be that afraid of something).

Cass. Did you ever wonder what the bartenders were thinking?
Maybe they thought if kids weren’t allowed in, we’d be left home alone which was worse.


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 30, 2010 at 4:22 PM

The adults closest to me when I was growing up were mostly positive role models, but I swore I would never have a temper like my mom or grandpa (both of them are fantastic people, but they yelled alot). Of course I did get exactly that temper, but I’ve worked it down and started actually communicating a few years ago instead of just screaming to scream. Now I just walk away if anybody goes on a tear, thinking “I’m an adult now and don’t have to listen to that crap anymore”. 🙂


Sandy L August 31, 2010 at 5:07 AM

Fellow Peeps. It is comforting knowing others have gone through similar situations. I’m glad others have learned from them instead of turning into damaged goods…or worse fallen into the same trap to repeat their parent’s mistakes.

BFS, I notice that the traits that drive me the most nuts about my mom are the ones that I inherited. (Impatience, Stubborn-ness)


Kellen August 1, 2011 at 9:31 AM

I wonder what it is that makes some kids in that situation grow up to follow in their parents’ footsteps and repeat their mistakes, and what makes some kids like you (and my mom) decide to take control of their lives and swear never to be like that. I think maybe the positive role models are what tips the scales, so you know that there are other options for how to live?


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