Over the course of the past 24 plus years I have learned thru experience that parenting is a daily struggle. It’s a welcome struggle, not a burden. Because we all chose to bring our children into this world, we can’t say they are a burden. Well, most of us can’t.
We all have our own stories, as both parents and children. I’m positive there are no perfect parents and I’m also sure no one has ever had the perfect childhood. Physical abuse, mental abuse, divorce, abandonment, deadbeat parents, and endless other situations can both define our roles as children and parents.
As a child I know I definitely didn’t have the best of times. My childhood was defined by one sound I will never forget—one big crash. The sound of a plaster-casted cookie jar hitting the wall at a very high rate of speed is one I will never forget. I can even remember what it looked like. It was a woven basket, the lid had two acorns on top for a handle. It didn’t fare too well against the wall, nor did the rest of my childhood.
My parent’s divorced in the 80’s before divorce became “fashionable.” Divorce was the exception, not the norm. I was only 7-years-old, my sister 10. My 7-year-old mind never quite understood why my parents split. As a child, it was way above my head.
As an adult, I have had many conversations with my mother. Looking back over the years I spent with my father, I’ve realized the rhymes and reasons for the dissolution of my “happy” family. Yes, I said, “years I spent with my father.” Back then (and now) it was unusual for fathers to gain custody of their kids. With that said, my mother was the best mother I could have ever asked for. She was loving, caring, tender and attentive—everything a good mother is supposed to be.
My father, however, was so much more than I ever thought he was, and not in a good way. When I was a young boy he was my world. He would do all the right things a good father should do. I know he loved my sister and me, but because he used us as pawns in a divorce, he was a horrible father. He took advantage of two very naïve and scared little kids. He used a pack of lies and half-truths to fight and take us away from our mother.
He emptied the bank accounts and left my mother with nothing. Without money she couldn’t fight him. We knew only what our father told us.
He scared the devil out of us when the judge took my sister and I into his chambers. We both told the judge we wanted to live with our father. It is a choice no child should ever have to make—ever. I have regretted this for many years.
After our father was awarded custody of us, we packed up and moved to Carmi, Illinois. We left our school, our home and most of all, our mother. I adapted rather quickly to the routine of my new life, but never really settled in. My sister, however, did not. By the time she was 12 or 13 she had moved back to be our mother. I honestly believe my father thought that if he took us away from our mother she would see things his way and come back. Of course she didn’t. And I am so glad.
My father is selfish and self-centered—a classic narcissist. It took me longer than I wish it had to figure out my father never did anything that didn’t benefit him in some way. My father used my sister and I as bait. When the bait didn’t produce any bites for him, he had no use for me. It’s too obvious to me now, and the pain still surfaces quite often.
The pain shows in the way our relationship has gone over the last 30+ years—the relationship he doesn’t have with me, my children, or even my grand children. It is astounding how unconnected he can be. We sometimes go months without communicating and when we do it is short and impersonal. It’s like I’m just another generic member of a group text.
The upside is that my mother and I are closer than we have ever been. She is my rock and my world, and her husband, my stepfather, has been more of a father than my biological one ever though of being.
I wish I could turn back time and tell the judge I wanted to live with my mother. But, I can’t. The one lesson I did learn from my father was how not to be a bad father. He showed me exactly what I didn’t want to be. Through my own divorce, my kids were the top priority. I have readily sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice to give them every ounce of happiness I can give them. I don’t know if I succeeded. And I’m sure they both have good and bad stories of their childhood. But, I know I can lay down ever night in my bed and be confident that I always put their needs first.
My kids were conceived when I was very young. I have tried from day one to give them my best because they deserve nothing less. They have never been a burden. Sure they have tested my patience to almost the breaking point and pushed every one of my buttons and they’ve taken advantage of me, but that’s OK. They have given me years and years of happiness. They have hugged me. They have spent time with me when they would have rather been with their friends. They call me—a lot. They trust me. They have put their own children’s lives in my hands without hesitation. Most of all, they have loved me unconditionally, and me them.
My children, a burden? No way.
-Michael Collard is one of my life-long friends. We cruised many back roads in his vintage ‘70 Mustang “back in the day.” Professionally, he has driven a truck over-the-road for as long as I can remember. Too many long roads have given him time to overthink everything and hone his outspoken, independent, hell-bent attitude. With a little coaxing I convinced him to share some of his writing with me to publish here. When not on the road he spends a lot of weekends spoiling his six grandkids and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the seventh.