My parents heard this song on the radio when I was in college. We all memorized five of the verses. I love the lilting tune and it is a joyful song about childhood and mysterious adults...

.... until a friend says, "I don't like that song. It's about alcoholism."

Oh. Bummer. Well, yes, it does give a picture of addiction. And don't you like the irony that my family instantly adopted the song, since we were an alcohol family? Another song to raise girls...

I went to his room in the middle of the night
I opened the door and I turned on the light
But to my surprise he was no where in sight
And I'm sure Uncle Walter goes waltzing at night

I have always thought it is a child that is singing. Or a teen. And the adult is gone. No explanation.

He goes wa-wa waltzing with bears
raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears too
And there's nothing on earth that he'd rather do
He loves to go waltzing
Go wa-wa-wa waltzing
He loves to go waltzing, go waltzing with bears

That is what Uncle Walter likes best. Something incomprehensible.

I bought Uncle Walter a new coat to wear
But when he comes home it is covered with hair
And lately I've noticed several new tears
And I'm sure Uncle Walter is waltzing with bears.

The child or teen is buying the coat for Uncle Walter. Children do take on adult roles in addiction households. They try to help. And they are frightened and trying to make the world normal and the adult responsible.

When the addiction is winning, the addict lies. To their family, to themselves, to their doctor, the police, the employer. To everyone. And the family sees signs of the addiction and hope it is not true. Even when they know it is....

We begged and we pleaded with Uncle Walter to stay
We managed to keep him inside for a day
But the bears all barged in and they took him away
Now he's dancing with pandas, I can't understand it
and the bears all demand at least one waltz a day

Uh, treatment and relapse, right? At least now it is "we" so the child is not entirely alone....

I told Uncle Walter that he should be good
And do all the things that he knows that he should
But lately he'd rather be off in the wood
And I fear, oh I fear that I'll lose him for good.

It is a real fear for families of addicts, drugs or alcohol, that they will lose the person for good. And some do.

Last night in the dark we crept down the stairs
We went over there where the bears have their lairs
We danced all night long with nary a care
There is no denying, it feels just like flying
And now my pajamas are covered with hair.

And now the young narrator is inducted into the addiction. I have had young adult patients, still living at home, trying to quit heroin. But the whole family uses. Guess the success rate for them.