They Did Their Very Best
Dennis's story appeared in the September 2008 issue of Newsweek Magazine.

I am an adult child of alcoholic parents! They loved my sister and me, they never abused us, but they were not there for us most of the time, and when they were it was usually in a blur. I think it’s fair to say we raised ourselves and for the most part did a fairly good job considering the lack of attention we received growing up. I knew we were loved, but I craved discipline, or at least some encouragement and guidance.

I was a not so typical juvenile delinquent who lived life as a bored and troubled Los Angeles long haired punk in the early 1950’s. My life revolved around hanging out with my friends, and cruising Hollywood Blvd after sneaking my Dad’s car down the drive way after they had gone to sleep. I spent a lot of time with my friends getting drunk and otherwise looking for adventure; We snuck in the Grauman’s Chinese theatre through the roof refrigeration room, got in fist fights with other teens, stole cars for personal transportation, hopped freight trains to points unknown, quit school in the 9th grade, and generally engaged in activity that would today put you in a juvenile facility. If nothing else, I had many stories to tell, and tell them I did.

I recall the year when I hopped a freight train at the Los Angeles freight yards with my pal Tommy, and a few days later, ended up alone somewhere in Texas. Tommy had, in an unusual demonstration of good sense, jumped off somewhere before our final destination and I continued alone. I was 15. After spending a day in the freight yard in Dallas, I met an ex-convict recently released from a penitentiary in Oklahoma, who was headed in the same direction and decided to share a car with him for our trip back to LA. I jumped from the train at a remote outpost somewhere on the Southern California desert close to Barstow because the ex con I was traveling with had on more than one occasion make me uncomfortable.

I finally arrived in Barstow after being on the road for a week and borrowed a nickel from a cop and called home to let them know I was on my way. I was convinced my parents missed me, but as I remember, they hadn’t been particularly concerned. I had done this before.

By my early mid teens (1953) I was getting into more trouble than I could handle. Car thefts, drunk driving, vandalizing property, and finally I ended up getting arrested and spent a few days in jail. When my dad arrived at the court house and we went before the judge for the release hearing, he wouldn’t let my father drive me home because my Dad had shown up drunk. I was embarrassed, humiliated, and angry and it was a long, silent walk to the street car.

The judge had given me the option of going to a California youth authority (CYA) juvenile prison or join the military. In those days, many troubled young men had the option of jail, or military service and I wisely decided to join the US Navy. Thank God for the Navy. I learned discipline, team work, and personal responsibilities. I thought I was finally on the road to personal recovery.

After my discharge from the Navy, I was lucky enough to be hired by a major consumer product company as a sales representative and spent the next 20 years raising a family and living a fairly typical, semi successful life. The trouble was, all during this time, I had self esteem issues and acted out with bizarre behavior to get the attention I so desired. If it weren’t for certain people within the company that liked and understood me, I surely would have been fired.

As the years went by and my behavior moderated to a more mature “good guy Charlie” reputation, I acknowledged and explained away my “tap dancing” behavior because I was convinced it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t recognize I was seeking attention to boost my nonexistent self esteem. I blamed everything wrong with me and my over-zealous personality on my parents drinking and didn’t recognize or accept any of the responsibilities.

When I was in my late 30’s I heard about an organization called “Adult children of alcoholic parents” and learned the organizational meetings were attended by people who had the same or similar behavior problems as mine. I attended a few meetings and found that the other ACOA member’s personalities almost exactly paralleled my life. All of them desired attention, and each one had an overwhelming need to please. I was sure my alcoholic parents were to blame. Life went on but I was exhausted! I needed to change. I started to after the death of my folks.

My parents died while I was still in my late 30’s. My sister asked me to pick out and have inscribed the grave marker that would be placed at the head of their Santa Barbara grave site. After a considerable amount of thought and soul searching I had the grave marker inscribed: “They did their very best”. I finally forgave them and came to the belief that most parents do indeed try their best when raising their children, but many times it doesn’t measure up to what is required to raise a confident, capable, well rounded human being.

The grave marker is in place today and is a constant reminder to me that we all must be responsible for our own behavior because no matter how many demons we may have faced, it is after all, our responsibility to remove the face mask of those demon’s and get on with our life.

© By Dennis Milroy (








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