I debated over whether or not to write this post, but I figured it’s better to risk a part of myself if I stand a chance of helping even one kid (or adult) who is undergoing a traumatic experience in his/her life. It’s one of the longest I’ve ever composed, and I made myself cry at least three times while writing it. Hope it helps.
My childhood up to the fifth or sixth grade was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that my parents divorced when I was a toddler, and my mom remarried a few years later. I played soccer, had a few close buddies, and sometimes laughed until milk came out of my nose.
When I was about 11 years old, my relationship with my stepfather changed, for a couple of reasons. Namely, I was pretty emotionally needy, which meant that my mom had to spend more time with me, especially getting me to sleep each night. I was filled with various anxieties, so she had to stay in my room until I was asleep, which often took way longer than she would have cared to spend, I’m sure. As a result (and I understand this now, as a father of four), this cut into any “alone time” that they would have had at night. I also wet the bed until I was 12 or 13, which kind of made sleepovers less likely to happen.
My stepfather was a prime example of something which is known as the “Peter Pan” syndrome, meaning that he didn’t really ever grow up, and he had his own baggage from his childhood. As a result, he treated me more like a little brother than his son, even though he legally became my father when I was five and he adopted me.
Here are some of the things that we endured:
- I will never forget the time that he told me (when I was 11 or 12 and changing clothes to go out somewhere), “You take off your pants like a faggot.” I could think of a lot of comebacks to that statement now, but his remarkably hurtful comment stuck with me ever since.
- After my mom and he divorced a couple of years later, I remember that almost every door frame in the house was cracked from repeated slamming. Their bedroom door also had a hole in it from me punching it in anger.
- Once, after he said something to jar me, I threw a dictionary at his head, which made his glasses cut into his face and he bled quite a bit. He held me down and screamed in my face and scared the crap out of me.
- On another occasion, he chased me into my room and grabbed me, and I smashed a jambox over his back.
- He would rarely put on clothes when my friends came over, preferring to wear his underwear, or perhaps just a towel draped over himself while he was on the couch watching TV. Yeah – pretty gross, huh? Pretty embarrassing, too.
- He didn’t seem to have any issue exposing me to inappropriate movies, such as the time when I was barely nine and he took me to see “Guns, Sin and Bathtub Gin”, which had garnered a solid R rating.
- The cussing that I learned and heard for the time I lived under the same roof with him has yet to be exceeded in my adult life. He was an especially creative curser, it seemed.
- I once saw him get arrested (and so did all of our neighbors) for running a stop sign and trying to “outrun” the police and get home. He spent a night in jail for that one. Idiot.
Around the same time that this stuff was happening at home, I changed schools, graduating from elementary school. Since I was private school-educated, my friends from grade school ended up in a bunch of different places, so I didn’t really know anyone when I started at the new place. As a new student in a new environment, I was pretty bookish and sensitive, neither of which are considered high on the list of qualities that the average 12 and 13-year-old wants in a friend. So, I was harassed at school by the “popular” kids – nothing overly abusive, although I had one memorable and brief fist fight with my locker partner. Namecalling, general harassment, not as much physical bullying, since I was tall, thankfully. I remember feeling physically ill at the thought of school many days. Mainly, I felt excluded, possibly because I was more introspective than outgoing and assertive. Making straight A’s is not a quick way to popularity, as it turns out. The teachers loved me, but the kids – not so much.
As you may have already pieced together, things had become bad for me at school AND at home at the same time. I was angry at the kids at school and angry at my stepdad, although I didn’t have much chance to express this outwardly. As a result, I became depressed instead. This wasn’t just a passing thing for me. It led to several years of therapy and anti-depressants.
One night in March 1985, when I was 14 years old, I stayed up much of the night and told my mom that I didn’t want to live anymore (and meant it). She did the only thing left to do, by hospitalizing me at Baylor Psychiatric in Dallas. As it turned out, this was one of the best things to have ever happened to me, because I learned how to talk about my feelings, and to recognize and express my anger and sadness, rather than stuffing it deeper and deeper inside. I was there for three full months, and I witnessed some rather serious mental illness, restraints on several patients, electro-convulsive therapy, and one lady who used to urinate on most of the chairs. In a nutshell, it was unlike anything I had experienced, but I wouldn’t trade it now.
If I could talk now to the 14-year old Jason, I would tell him (me) that things will get better. I would tell him that his life at age 40 is just about as close to perfect as it gets. I would share photos of his wife and children, and tell him of his career. Most of all, I would tell him not to give up, because the jerks you encounter and the everyday problems aren’t worth giving up your life.
Here’s some other stuff I would tell him about why his future life is worth living:
- You haven’t had sex yet. It’s worth sticking around for this, I promise.
- Your beautiful wife is also cool, smart and a great mom.
- Your kids will make you laugh out loud almost daily.
- It would kill your mom and grandparents if they had to identify or find your body.
- You are deeply loved, more than you could possibly know, by your family and by God Himself.
- You’re a good dad.
- Your marriage will last.
- You like what you do for a living, even when times are harder.
- Many of your friends consider you to be their best friend.
- You will save the lives of at least two friends (subject of another post).
At any rate, you get the picture. I’m happy to have endured that time in my life. I don’t use it as a crutch now, and I rarely even talk about it, but it helped form the person I am today.
I’ve been married for almost 18 years now, and my wife and I have four awesome children (11, 9, 4, and 18 months). I’ve talked to my older kids about my past at some length, because I want them to understand that if things get bad for them, I am always available to talk, and that I will love them unconditionally. Yes, I mean it. My son has tried to test me on this a few times, “What if I ______? Will you still love me then?” The answer, then and now, is yes. I’m happy that they won’t have to work uphill against a father whose love can never be earned.
If you happen to stumble across this post, and you’re enduring something that seems so traumatic or earth shattering that you want to die, please keep in mind that things will get better over time. I remember when I was in the hospital at age 14, they told me that nothing truly traumatic ever lasts more than about 6 weeks. I recommend that you find someone to talk to that you trust.
If you want, you can email or call me. Yes, I really mean it. This goes for adults and teens, too. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell phone number is 512-796-7653. I’ve been at some very dark spots in my past, and I’ve come through on the other side. Looking back over the past 25+ years, it’s hard to imagine how hard it seemed back then, and it’s hard to think that I didn’t even want to keep going. I’m glad I did.