I will always be your dad…

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I have watched over you since before you were born, reading to you over the phone when you were still in your mother’s belly, watching you with your mother in the hospital and for every year afterwards.  I volunteered to take over raising you not because I wanted to take something from your mother, but because I honestly thought I could help provide a safe and stable environment for you, and because I wanted the chance to be a dad.

You were unexpected.  You were unplanned.  But you were not and have never been, unloved.

And while I cannot rescue you from the choices you have made to this point, I still love you.  And I am still your dad.  That’s why this hurts so very much.  I know we have not always had the easiest of times communicating with each other.  I don’t like expressing or talking about the feelings I struggle with, your step-mother and both my ex-wives can attest to that.  It was even harder to share with you, watching you struggle without knowing for sure what all was going on.  I still remember the first time I really really knew how bad things were for you when I got a call from the counselor at school.  She told me to ask you about something you had written in her office that day.

So when you came home, I asked, and you showed me a piece of paper that said “Sometimes I wish I was dead.”  You were 10.

And in that instant my heart broke… and has remained that way for years.

I am not your friend.  I am not a “yes” man.  I am not going to give you everything you want and let you do everything you think you want to do.  I am your dad.  That means that it is my job to teach you, to care for you and to raise you to the best of my ability.  I made mistakes, like all parents.  I was not perfect, but I did and have and will always love you.

I wrestled with you to help let the emotions out when they were just too much.  I dried your tears in so many of my shirts, I don’t think I have a one left that hasn’t had tears or snot on it.  We read together, listened to old radio shows together…  I thought I was doing okay.  And maybe I did…

But somewhere along the way things went sideways.

Whatever the cause, illegal drugs replaced the ones the doctor proscribed to help your mood.  Lying became the norm and you stole.  Not just from me, but from family, friends and stores.  Nothing like being surrounded by store staff demanding you to empty your pockets.  We yelled, we cried.  We fought, but I tried to never let go.  Even in the end when I sent you out of the house to your mother’s, I never let you go completely.  But to keep the rest of us, including your baby sister safe, I had to make the hard choice.  That has bothered me every day these last couple years, especially as I am still seeing patterns of behavior that concern me.

It is like nothing we did, or fought for, or spent time trying to talk about or fix matters.  And I cannot tell you how much that hurts.  If you would believe them you can ask my friends how many hours, days, weeks, I spent agonizing over the questions of if I was doing right as a parent, how to help show you how much I loved you, how to raise you right.  I cried more nights than I can remember, worried about the future.  Seeing it happen now is like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.  Not because it’s inescapable.  You can still pull out of it.  You can still fly.

But I can’t fix it anymore.  It’s up to you.  And for any parent, that’s a terrifying thing to face.

I love you D.

I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, especially right now, with everything that has happened lately.  But I do.  Sometimes love means protecting people from themselves.  And it’s not fun…for anybody. I still hope you can pull yourself up out of the hole you are in.  But I won’t help you dig further down.  I am your dad…and that’s why this hurts so much.

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A letter to my son’s friends…

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is not just the hard choices you have to make when dealing with your children, but the consequences of those choices on the people in your child’s life.

As I have stated before, my oldest child D, got into some trouble last year and in a bid to seek an alternative to either seeing D on the street or in prison, we sent D to live with his bio-mother and stepdad out of state.  It was understood before D went that he was going to be facing boot-camp-esque discipline as stepdad was former Army.  This would be tougher and stricter than anything I had been able to accomplish on my own or was even honestly really comfortable with.  But the choices D had made did not leave us with a lot of other places to turn.

This week D put out a request on social media to talk to some friends, no family.  That typically means that whatever the issue is, it’s being viewed as being “caused by” family.  After D’s call went out, I received several private contacts from his friends sharing with me what was apparently going on in D’s life.  D also shared with his grandfather, who has often been a good point of contact for D to hear from.  According to what D was stating, the punishments for doing “stupid stuff or making [him – i.e. stepdad] repeat himself” were more physical than D was used to.  And he didn’t like it and was thinking of running away.

Now…  was there a part of me that wanted to fly down to his mother’s place, bundle up my child and rescue him back to our place?  Absolutely.

Are we doing that?  Absolutely not….and here’s why.

While I understand the frustrations and concerns of D’s friends, there are several fundamental problems with the situation.

1.)  D lies…and exaggerates, a LOT.  He also knows, having grown up around kids in the system via my work in social services, what the hot-button key words and situations are that will get him attention.

2.) D does not like to not have control.  He is very willing to manipulate to get the outcome he wants which usually includes getting someone to get him a “get out of jail free” card.  He does not have control at the moment and does not want to toe the line to get it back.

3.) D admitted that the reason for the punishments is because he does “stupid stuff.”  Without trying minimize what may be happening, the easy answer is – don’t do stupid stuff.

4.)  If we did go down and rescue him, what would that teach him?  That he can always count on getting pulled out of any difficult spots he finds himself in?  I would rather he learn how to deal with it here than on the street.  Getting punched in the arm for mouthing off may not be fun, but it beats getting shot.

5.)  Why would I bring D back here just to have to put him out on the streets again?  He won’t participate in transitional living programs and because of his past thefts and drug use is not allowed to stay with us or the rest of the family for now.  As bad as things may be, he has a roof over his head and he’s getting three square meals a day.

I don’t like it.  The idea of anyone other than myself laying hands on my child for whatever reason is abhorrent.  And I absolutely do not believe that you can beat a child into obedience.  But at 17 and a half, D has got to learn that being rude, disrespectful and not following the rules have serious consequences.  Much more serious ones than just being grounded or having your i-phone taken away.  Life can be harsh and while I hope for and am working towards a better way, we also have to be realistic about the world we currently find ourselves in.  I don’t want to see D behind bars… or dead on the streets, although both may happen.  But if that’s the case they will be HIS choices.  Not mine… and not anybody else’s.

But as his friends, I know the guilt and the anger that they have in their hearts towards my decision.  What they see is a peer being hurt.  Someone they care about and want to “fix.”  And that breaks my heart for them.  The knowledge that they cannot “fix” this, that this is something D has to work out.  Not having the power to do anything to make it right and frustration at those they see as having power but not using it.  Spider-man’s maxim: “With great power comes great responsibility” is as true for parenting as it is for crime-fighting.  That doesn’t make it any easier to follow… especially when it means you have to let those you love sink or swim to avoid dragging you all down.  And to allow them the room to live and grow.

So, while I know several of you are mad at me, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for being D’s friend.  Thank you for caring.  I know you are doing the best you know how and doing what you think is right.  I still love you.  This is D’s life.  We cannot control him or fix him.  We can only love him.  And you are doing that right.

Love,

D’s dad

A letter to my son

Hey D –

It’s your dad.  I know I know, it’s a lame opening but this isn’t exactly easy so a little humor can sometimes go a long way.  Even in the worst of our fights we could usually find our way to laugh about something and sometimes it’s easier to get this stuff down here than it is face-to-face or over the phone.

It’s been awhile since we talked, since we really talked.  Before you left it seemed like all we did was either just talk superficially about stuff, ignore each other or get mad.  I just wanted to tell you something so I could make sure you know it.  We didn’t exactly part in the best of circumstances and it’s not like either of us are all that good at expressing our feelings to each other so…

I still love you.  And I always will.

Yeah, I’m still mad at you.  Doing the drugs, stealing not only from me and your mom but others, the hurt and fear and pain your actions caused…yeah, these feelings still haven’t gone away entirely.  Trust building is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, particularly when it’s been as badly abused as mine was by you.  And I know the question you want to ask and we both know what the answer is.  Maybe in the future, after you have demonstrated that things have changed, finally and truly.  Until then, I will be happy to meet you anywhere else you would like to meet.  Because I still hope for good things for you.  I pray each day that you will have the strength and wisdom to make good choices and find the path in life that you were meant to walk.  A path that offers you joy, hope, faith, peace and fulfillment.

Our life was not easy.  If you think about it now, your mother was 4 months pregnant with you when she was the age you are now.  I was only a couple of years older.  Can you imagine being parents right now?  It was scary and overwhelming.  But we wanted you.  We wanted to do the best we knew how for you.  Did we make mistakes?  Absolutely.  There are so many times that I wish I could take back things I said or did.  All I can do though is move forward and hope that in time you can and will forgive me and take the good from the bad that life handed us.

D1

I see flashes of the man I hoped you will become in some of the posts and pictures on FB.  It’s buried under a bit of teenager but then I suppose my dad felt pretty much the same about me.  Nobody I know enjoyed their teenage years, we just survived them.

D2

Please remember, even when we disagree or get mad, I will love you and you will always be my son

Love,

Dad

Why do I stand by?

So I called my ex yesterday, my son’s biological mother.  First time I’d spoken to her since he went into the mental hospital.  I’d missed and/or avoided calling her back right away after he got out…for a number of reasons.  One of which is I have now had two therapist/counselors tell me that my son continuing to see him mother in the current circumstances are detrimental to his emotional and psychological health.  So how do you discuss this?  I have been asked if I have ever considered legal measures to change visitations and offer more protections to my son, so that he doesn’t quite come back the wreck he does….  but so far I haven’t, although I’ve talked to a lawyer several times before.

So why do I stand by and just let this happen, every time he goes to see her?  I’ve asked myself that many a time, particularly when I’m in the middle of one of my rants about the condition he comes back in or when something injurious happens to him.  Part of it has been financial.  Rarely in my adult life have I been fiscally solvent.  It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I have been in a place where I could start saving money and paying my bills more or less on time.  Lawyers and courts cost and I have not wanted to go farther into debt or start something that I was not sure I could afford to finish.

Part of it has been a fear of what would happen with my relationship with my son.  We are still very gingerly working our way to a better future together…and what a wrecking ball would I throw through that if I started this process?  I have also had a neutral relationship with my ex.  While we don’t always get along we have not had really any serious disagreements over anything to do with my son and it’s hard to rock the boat unless there is a clear and present danger…but that’s what makes this so hard, because the danger here is slow growing and often can be hidden.  But I know this, so why else?

I also, after speaking with his psychiatrist the other day realized that part of my reluctance stems from a sense of what I can only describe of the “pot calling the kettle black” syndrome.  As much as I have railed against the drama, stress and chaos of what happens at his mothers, it’s not like it’s exactly stress or drama or chaos free here.  Both of my son’s parents, her and I have struggled with healthy and positive relationships, we’ve both had money troubles…. I look and I find it hard to say that yes, he has been better off here with me than with her.  I believe that, looking at her other two children.  I believe that because of the support system and help I have in place for he and I.  But that small voice in the back of my head just won’t shut up.  And my conscience just won’t let me forget it.  After all, I can’t guarantee that my son didn’t experience emotional harm in my home.  I am not sure what all my partners over the years said or did, particularly while I was working nights for three years.  I can’t say I’ve been perfect with my temper or always pursued the healthiest option for him.  I know I’ve been aggressive verbally at times with him when I shouldn’t have.  I’m always trying to get better, but it’s a process.  I just… I don’t know…  it is hard to look at the other person who helped you bring such a wonderful child into this world and say “You are not healthy for him to be around right now.”  No matter my own personal feelings on it, it’s hard.  And I don’t know that my mental, emotional or psychological hurts are healed enough to begin that journey just yet.

But I’m not sure how much longer my son can wait…

Easter evening

The day after.

The obligatory egg hunt.  Ham, turkey, lamb, whatever foods grace the table.  Mandatory church attendance.  Pastels…

What does it all mean?  Spring, new life, the turning of the seasons.  I have made it through Lent, repented when I fell short of my vow before God, celebrated the resurrection of my Messiah.  Tomorrow morning, on my drive into work, what will have changed?  I didn’t have a moment on my own personal road to Damascus.  There weren’t earthquakes or heavenly hosts shouting or miraculous healings.  But today was an amazing day.  And today helped change my life… BECAUSE of the road here.  I made the effort to come to Easter with intentionality, to prepare myself to be open to the still small voice in my heart and soul.  It was not that God could not touch my life or move me or change me without what I did.  But what I did was offer myself to God, to be a willing participant in the journey He has called me on, rather than driftwood.

My son had a good Easter as well.  He may not have gotten as much candy as he’d like to, but he listened, and heard the Word in a way that  I’m not sure he ever really has before.  This was the first Sunday since he’s come back from camp and I was curious how it would be.  He’s been different this week.  He listens, follows directions better, is more attentive, more respectful, more affectionate than he’s been in a long long time.  I know only what he tells me of his experience there, but I can see the difference in him.  And I can feel the difference in me.  Our understandings of our situation have changed.  We have changed.  We have been changed.  And made new…

I praise God, and thank God.  That even in the depths of my human frailties… my fear, my frustration – God did not give up on me, or my son… and we did not entirely give up on Him.  This journey will still have struggles.  There will still be missteps and mis-communication.  But I know that all things work toward good for them that love God.  We may be lonely but we are not alone.

He will always be with us, even when we least expect it…discover new life!

Good with words…

Until they matter that is.  How many times do words, phrases, thoughts pass our lips before we’ve had time to truly envision the consequences, good or bad, that could come about because of what we say?  How do we take back hurtful words or share ungaingly parts of ourselves?  Do we know what it means to listen, to share, to think and reflect?  How often do we have “good” conversations anymore as a culture?  I feel fortunate in that I have good relationships with a number of people who enjoy conversing.  Now if only I could have that with my son too.  Part of it I’m sure is perfectly normal – after all, we are getting ready to start the teenage years and how many of us, honestly, really looked forward to talking to our parents when we were that age?

Part of the rest of it however is the awareness of something my son and I both have in common.  An uncomfortableness with really opening up.  I know I know, I blog on here all the time about things that if we were in person I would have a great deal of difficulty sharing…but at least I’m writing down these thoughts, and I know who all reads what on this thing, so the annonymity is preserved, at least superficially.  I swear, talking to my son though…some days it feels like the blind leading the blind.  But at least he sort of talks to me, although I am under no illusion I have anywhere near the full picture of what’s going on in his life.  I suppose part of my question though, is should I?  I need to know he’s safe (enough at least, I remember my own time as a teen) and not doing anything illegal, but where do you draw the line between those things that need to happen to define the limits of self and are necessary to grow up, and those things that cross the line into unacceptable behaviors et al?  That’s the challenge I guess….

Wish I was better with the words.

Struggling with Single…part II

So I’m throwing this together against the backdrop of hurriedly getting ready for work after waiting outside in the cold for a bus that was almost 20 minutes late, again.  I have had a great time since MY new year began last Friday.  I’ve gone to see Where the Wild Things Are, which I totally recommend for anyone who loved that book as a child, went roller skating again for the first time in FOREVER, been hanging out with people I love and care about and have been staying up waaaaaaay to late talking to my friends…which leads me back to the title of the thing.

I have set for myself a time line of a year and a day from the day the divorce became official before I start dating again.  January 8th, 2011 to be exact…it’s a Saturday, go figure.  And yes, I had already looked it up…  I don’t mean this time line to be an artificial construct, but whether I want it or not (NOT!) my son and I need some more time together and apart before I start looking for someone to share our lives with.  To share my life with.  I’m not ready for another relationship, I just got out of one and shortly before that, ended the unofficial one that had diverted my attention from this journey for the last six months (not maliciously I might add, we still care for each other, but we are just heading in very different ways with our lives).  So, where does that leave me?

I LOVE to flirt.

I enjoy talking to attractive young women who for reasons I’m still a little fuzzy on, find me interesting and even funny.  But where do I draw the line?  I’ve asked my friends to be blunt with me and help keep me single for this year, for although I’m bound and determined to do it myself, I also know my weaknesses.  I struggle with being single.  I am not a huge fan of being alone, I like surrounding myself with friends, family and loved ones, a real pack animal.  But this journey requires sacrifice from me, at least for a while, and I can’t say I really want to, but that would not be true.

I WANT something more.

I WANT something better.

I want to BE a better person…and this journey is a part of that process.  I know if and when I meet the right person, if they are there, they will understand this journey and support me on it…but I don’t know if that’s better or worse.  Like the old prayer says, God grant me patience but grant it to me quickly…

I can’t rush this…

It HAS to move forward at its own pace.  I need to allow my son time to come to terms with the fact that he IS loved and trusted and allow him time to build that trust with people again, before asking him to start building it with someone in particular.  It still breaks my heart that he felt he had to ask me to find someone who “actually likes ME” next time I start seriously looking for a partner.  He’s not ready.  I’m not ready, I just want to be.

I need to be friends first.

I need to have time first.

I need to have space first.

And my son needs those things just as much as I.  He and I are both on this journey, albeit, I was the one who started it all.  I know in my head I can forgive myself…I still don’t feel it in my heart.  I love my son, and don’t want any more heartache to fill his life.  He’s had enough.  Me?  I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I’m tired of my punishment hurting the people I care most for around me.  Maybe this time I’ll learn…

But I still struggle with being single…