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Dealing with a father's gambling addiction

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Social causes

Sabrina was forced to take care of her family's bills after learning about her father's gambling habits.

When Sabrina's (not her real name) father admitted that he had used up all his savings and could no longer pay for her university fees, she knew that his gambling addiction had gotten out of hand.

"For about two years, my elder sister and I had to work multiple jobs while in school, just to support ourselves and our dad. He was betting online, and sometimes went to casinos."

Currently, Sabrina's family earns enough to get by every month. However, the 22-year-old has been struggling to come into terms since she found out about their father's gambling addiction three years ago.

"The gambling only started after my mother passed away in 2012. My father began to distance himself from us and didn't interact much. Gambling became an outlet for him," shared the undergraduate.

Sabrina, who lives with her sister and father in a four-room HDB flat in Kallang, explained: "He used to ask me for money when I was in secondary school. I would always give him some of my birthday money that I had collected over the years. It was about $10 each time.

"Back then, I didn't think he was gambling as I thought that he wanted to have cash on hand when he was at work."

However, Sabrina started to sense that things were amiss when her father stopped giving her older sister and her pocket money when she was in polytechnic.

"It was a little fishy because he had been giving us pocket money daily since I was in primary school.

"I remember my older sister questioning him about it and he confessed that he was gambling. We were quite upset, but he apologised and promised to take care of us and continue giving us pocket money the following week," said Sabrina, who is pursuing a degree in business management.

However, her father's promises fell short. When their home WiFi got cut off a few weeks later, the sisters' anxiety started to grow.

Sabrina and her sister approached their father again, and they were shocked to hear his response.

"It was really difficult to hear my father saying that he had spent thousands on gambling. I felt so helpless."

coins-on-table
Sabrina once worked as a barista and a retail staff to make ends meet.
PHOTO CREDIT: JOSH APPEL VIA UNSPLASH

Soon after, Sabrina and her sister took up part-time jobs to help pay for bills and support themselves. Currently, Sabrina tutors primary school children on a part-time basis. Prior to this, she was working multiple jobs, which included being a waitress and a ticketer at a cinema.

Sabrina shared: "It was a really difficult time. I was constantly stressed out just thinking about my father. I was angry but I was also worried."

Despite her frustration towards her father, Sabrina also empathised with his plight.

"My father didn't have the easiest time growing up, and he was always with the wrong crowd. He had gotten into fights and was in trouble with the law when he was a young adult.

"It was only after he met my mother that he slowly began to change his ways. When my parents got married, he became this amazing family man. My grandmother would say he was 'a new person'."

Sabrina turned emotional as she reminisced on her childhood: "I have such fond memories with my father growing up. I was a daddy's girl and he was my best friend."

Unfortunately, after Sabrina's mother lost her battle to cancer, her father picked up the habit.

blinds-in-a-room
When Sabrina's mother passed away, their father spent most of his time alone in his room.
PHOTO CREDIT: LEEROY AGENCY VIA PIXABAY

The youth, who will be graduating in a year, shared: "I know he wants to get his mind off things, but it is just depressing to think that it's happening at the expense of our well-being.

"Last year, he told me that he had no more money left to pay for my school fees. That's when I had enough."

In an attempt to help their father, Sabrina and her sister reached out to their relatives, who were just as distressed by the news.

"For my sister and I, reaching out to our relatives was our last hope. Initially, we did not want to air our dirty laundry, but it came to a point where things were just getting from bad to worse. We didn't know what else to do," shared Sabrina, adding that it has been a year since her extended family stepped in.

Fortunately, her aunt and uncles were extremely helpful. They helped to pay off overdue bills and ensured that the sisters had sufficient food to eat.

Their aunt also intervened by speaking to their father and sending him to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Her father is currently seeking treatment for his addiction while working part time as a cook at their relative's hawker store.

Sabrina said: "He only noticed the severity of his addiction when my uncles and aunt intervened. I'm glad he did because it was only then that he actually tried to improve. Before that, he was quite ignorant to things."

While Sabrina and her sister are relieved that their father is on the road to recovery, they are still traumatised by the entire incident.

"It was a total role reversal. I had to take care of my dad and worry if bills were being paid. I became his parent and it forced me to grow up almost immediately."

In spite of the hardship they encountered, Sabrina still hopes to rebuild her relationship with her father.

"I understand why this happened. Grief is difficult. I try to do things for him daily, like buy him a meal or remind him that I still love him.

"It's been really tough but he's trying to be a better person and I forgive him for what's happened."

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: CARL RAW VIA UNSPLASH

If you need someone to talk to regarding gambling problems, do visit the National Council on Problem Gambling's Helpline (1800-6-668-668) and Webchat, available daily from 8am - 11pm.