I watched the red tail lights zoom away from our house and fade into the evening darkness. I looked back at my mother who was holding herself up as if she was holding down the dining room table and I could see she was doing her best to steady the tears from falling.
“Mom, just tell him to leave and never come back.”
“Oh honey, I wish it was that simple.”
“We’re better off without him.”
Or at least that’s how I think the conversation went.
Years later, I overheard a teacher say to Mr. Gove, our middle school Dean, “Well, he probably looks and acts like that because there is no father at home.”
And as a 13 year old budding punk rock kid, what I wanted to say – no, what I wanted to YELL was, “THIS is what happens when you watch drug deals from the back seat of a car. THIS is what happens when someone you trust abuses you. THIS is what happens when you are forced to watch addiction ruin a family.” I wanted to walk up to that teacher, that educator of young minds, and say, “If you think this is bad, imagine what I would be like if he was around long enough to do some serious damage.” But I didn’t because I was too young and I didn’t have enough practice at making my thoughts into effective phrases.
But now I’m a grown man, and after years of practice, this grown ass man would love the opportunity to sit that teacher down and say, “What you didn’t seem to understand is that what you didn’t find appropriate behavior for a young boy wasn’t a result of a lack of parenting – it was a result of bad parenting. Not because it came from a man or a woman, but because of ineffective mentoring skills or a lack thereof.”
What I would love to tell her is that some kids turn out BETTER without the influence of an abusive, alcoholic, unaffectionate dead beat. Some kids turn out more compassionate and caring and empathetic and loving because of the LACK of a BAD influence.
Two parents isn’t always the solution. A “man’s” or “woman’s” touch isn’t always needed. What IS needed is effective parenting and caring mentors. People who take the time to explain to you the why’s and how’s of the world – and if that’s from one mom or two grandparents or two dads, who gives a shit. As long as that kid is given the building blocks to help make the world a slightly better place, well then that is all that matters.
That night, as I watched my father steal my moms car once again, I looked at my mother and didn’t see pain, but strength. Strength to do the right thing for her child despite the lack of support from relatives and in spite of the asshole who continued to wreck the life and family she so desperately tried to build.
And sure, I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to understand the scars on my heart, who put them there and why, but the difference is – I’m trying. And I know that every time I write a book or speak to a crowd of people about my insecurities – that’s my mom. That is my mom’s influence. One that told me through tear-soaked eyes – do your best to make this world a little better.
And I’m trying. I’m still trying.
In spite of him… but because of her.