I dreamed about my dad last night. Unlike many, thoughts of my dad are not filled with fear. Consequently, the dream last night was not a nightmare. The dream was wrapped in a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for all that I was provided and took for granted. As a kid, I didn’t realize how fortunate we were.
Actually, I’m not sure that until recently, I’ve come to realize how fortunate my brothers and I were. After forty-five years in child welfare related services, you’d think it would have occurred to me earlier, but it didn’t. In the past couple of weeks, a couple of men I’ve known for years shared personal information about their childhoods that surprised me. Each of the men has a high profile responsible position at their places of employment. In addition, they appear secure in their attachments to family and are responsible and credible individuals. The common denominator shared by the two men related to the level of fear they experienced as children in negotiating issues regarding their father.
Both report that simply seeing his car in the driveway as they came in the door following football or basketball practice after school was an automatic fear or flight response situation for them. Both men were terrified of their fathers. Could they get into the house and sequestered in their room without having to face the verbal or physical assault that was almost an everyday occurrence in their family? I can’t imagine living with that sense of terror.
I’m not talking about individuals who grew up in the child welfare system. These are men whose families were intact and for all sense of reason and purposes were the pillars in their community. Many were leaders in their church, but tyrants to live with in their homes.
Perhaps some of you reading this account will have pause to reflect back on your experiences and sadly be compelled to identify with an environment of fear. If so, that saddens me. At the core of my being, I believe it shouldn’t hurt to be a child.
My dad was a stranger to the concept of shades of gray. He lived in a world of black and white when he articulated what he wanted. Generally speaking, for the most part it was non-negotiable, but he wasn’t abusive. He was one of how many serviceman who came home from WWII, married and started their personal boot camp? However, he didn’t have the demeanor of a drill sergeant.
One of the speakers at our conference yesterday talked about finding home. He focused on the security and support he and his older brother received from the boys ranch program in which they grew up. They felt grateful for the security and support. It was an environment in which they thrived. Forty years later, the conference speaker is still thriving. He has a very responsible high profile position. I guess you could say, “He’s made good.” He’d be the first to admit he didn’t make it on his own. He had the privilege of finding home.
It is interesting how simply an expression of kindness; sometimes by strangers can be a turning point or memorable support system for children. The speaker referenced another alumni of the foster care system. He, too, is successful and at the top of his game. In addition, he is an awarding winning author. He credits his love for books back to his childhood.
He recounts sitting on the steps outside the foster home where he lived reading a book. A lady walking down the street spoke to him and asked what he was reading. He provided the name of the book and indicated it interested him. The following day the same scenario occurred. The lady asked once again what he was reading and he responded to her question. The third day brought the same response, only this time the lady asked why he was still reading the same book. He replied, “This is the only book I’ve got.”
It was the kindness of a stranger that turned that around for him. The next day, the lady brought him a box of books. The author shared the horrors of his story in his book: “A Chance In The World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found A Place Called Home”.
The author doesn’t sugar coat his childhood. He and four of his five siblings were separated from their alcoholic mother and placed in separate foster homes. “He was age 3 at the time and remembers nothing of her, only the day he was taken to another home, where he was left out in the cold. He was moved to a second foster home, and it’s there that he was beaten, burned and forced to scrounge through garbage for food”. He lived in those conditions until he was in high school and found the courage to talk with a school counselor. He feared for his safety if the talked”.
The focus of his award winning book isn’t exclusively the horrific abuse he encountered. The focus of the book is his triumph over adversity. He was determined that tomorrow would not look like yesterday. He made good on that promise to himself.
The bottom line is that you can’t tell by looking. There are highly successful competent people who come from environments you’d never suspect. Not everyone has always had an easy time of it. Some folks you’d never suspect come from hard places.
It may simply be the kindness of a stranger sharing a box of books that proves to be a turning point in providing a kid hope. With the encouragement and support of others, it is possible to find a way to break away from the limits or circumstances one find debilitating and abusive.
All My Best!