By Jon Berry, Insight Trails
THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO HAS contacted me about Insight Trails’ interview with Dads and Daughters (DADs) president and co-founder Joe Kelly, published on Sept. 10 (for more, see "Insight Trails Q&A: Joe Kelly"). It's great to get your feedback! The Q&A prompted a number of questions from readers, so I scheduled a follow-up interview with Joe. Here are the results.
Reader Question 1: “Would Joe be willing to talk more about the effect of his alcoholism on his work? [Joe has been in recovery for 27 years.] How did he get from there to the point where he was able to move forward with his life?”
Joe Kelly: When I was still drinking, my work life was sporadic. It was rare for me to keep a job for more than six months. I dropped out or flunked out of college five times. The notion that work would be a source of ongoing fulfillment and challenge was really not on my radar screen. I didn’t care about anything as much as I cared about drinking.
I always worked. I worked my way through high school. After
I left college, I worked a number of jobs. I worked in a clothing factory. I
drove a meat delivery truck. I worked in a juvenile home. I worked in traveling
repertory theater in
"There was a lot of laughter at [AA] meetings. It mystified me – what was up with these people? – and kept me coming back."
I eventually got a job as a staff person in a battered women’s
When I was told I had a drinking problem, I panicked. I was
24½ years old. Nancy and I had just gotten married. We were pregnant. I was
terrified. I was also miserable. My tolerance had evaporated. Drinking was
making me anxious instead of giving me relief. What I was doing wasn’t working.
I went to see the priest who’d married us, and I just spewed. “Oh, my God, I’m an alcoholic!” He listened patiently, and at the end, he looked at me calmly and said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Is there anyone you can talk to?” The next day, I talked with my supervisor. She took me to my first AA meeting. The meeting became my home group.
It was quickly apparent the people in AA knew what I was going through. Plus they were having a really good time. There was a lot of laughter at meetings. It mystified me – what was up with these people? – and kept me coming back. I started doing what they told me to do, and it worked. It wasn’t easy. But my life started becoming more manageable. Life started making a lot more sense.
"Being an alcoholic or addict, you lose contact with who you are. Sobriety doesn’t bring it back with a snap of the finger. It takes time."
Being an alcoholic or addict, you lose contact with who you
are. Sobriety doesn’t bring it back with a snap of the finger. It takes time. After
I’d been sober for four years or so, I started thinking about what I really
wanted to do. What kinds of things did I like? I remembered that when I was
growing up in New Jersey, I loved listening to
WOR radio from
I wanted to go right away but couldn’t. My lack of patience was emblematic of my continuing immaturity. We had to rejigger our schedules, and I had to get financial aid lined up. It took about four months, but I finally got in. I found that journalism really suited my personality. Interestingly, several years ago, going through my mother’s things, I found a project I’d done from first grade. I’d glued the mastheads of The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, The Star Ledger, The Journal American – the newspapers I grew up with – on construction paper. Inside I’d written, “What I want to be when I grow up: I want to be a reporter.” I have no memory of having created it. I didn’t go into journalism until I was 30.
Reader question 2: "I'm interested in learning more about how Joe and his wife juggle the demands of family and creative life."
Joe Kelly: Ours was an unusual family. When the kids were 11, and we started New Moon, we included them in it. Because the girls were unschooling, they were fully involved. They were part of the creative process. As a result, we were able to live our lives together as a unit and share things in a lot of ways.
There were issues of balancing work and family, but, because New Moon was headquartered in our house, they weren't the same as some other families. There were some evenings, for instance, when the kids would be standing at the foot of the stairs shouting up to us in the attic, where Nancy and I would be finishing up something on the magazine, "Come down here and eat dinner!"
"Saying 'It's your turn,' has been less about keeping score and more about encouraging the person to take risks, and expressing support for that risk-taking. It's saying, 'You do have the freedom to try this, and I'm willing to sacrifice for this cause.'"
Nancy and I have seldom kept score over whose turn it was to earn money. For nearly all our time together, we've both been working and earning money.
When it comes to the big things, we've said "it's your turn" to one another: me going to radio school after we'd moved to Minnesota for Nancy to start the gallery; Nancy starting New Moon after we'd moved the family twice for my radio jobs; me helping start DADs after she'd started New Moon.
I think, though, that saying "It's your turn," has been less about keeping score and more about encouraging the person to take risks, and expressing support for that risk-taking. It's saying, "You do have the freedom to try this, and I'm willing to sacrifice for this cause."