Jesse came to therapy with an important project in mind. Mine was not the first office he’d been to. He’d already been in a rehab program where he kicked a 10-year drug habit that had ruined his health, his marriage and his relationship with his parents.
He was now back to community college where he was using his brain for scoring As instead of a drug buy. He had stuck with a 12-step program that worked for him. And he had already done several rounds of intensive therapy. He had definitely turned his life around in a big way. So why was he coming back for more treatment?
“I need to connect with my kids,” he said. “I don’t want to blow it.” His story is sad and not uncommon. At only 19, he married his pregnant girlfriend. They fought a lot. Money was tight. He fell into drugs. She got pregnant again. They fought some more. She was lucky enough to have parents to go home to and she did. They divorced. He bailed.
Jesse worked for a time as a bouncer, a landscaper, and a maintenance man. Nothing lasted as his drug habit became an addiction. He ended up homeless for a time and on the streets. At some point, he realized that everyone he was hanging with was, in his words, “a loser” and that he wasn’t any better. By now his kids were 10 and 9 years old and he hadn’t seen them since they were babies. He decided he wanted to see them.
He contacted his ex-wife and she told him in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want him to have anything to do with the kids unless he cleaned up his act. To his credit, that started him on the road to recovery. After three years of hard work, he wants to try again. His boys are now 13 and 11. He’s aware that with the passing years, the distance has grown into a gulf. Is there any way he can make amends? Will his kids let him? What does he have to do to get his ex-wife to even let him make the attempt?
Good questions. It’s a sign of his readiness to reconnect that he is even asking them. He’s not blaming his ex-wife. He’s not expecting the kids to be happy to see him. He doesn’t have unrealistic expectations. Having grown up and cleaned up, he does want to know his children and to be part of their lives if he can be. Now only 32 years old, he has a long life ahead. If he does this right, he could be a real dad as his boys traverse the teen years and become adults. He’s willing to do the planning and to take the time to do it right.
Abandoned kids are hurt kids. Even if their mother is okay with a meeting, chances are the kids will be mixed in their reactions to the news that he wants to see them. They are likely to be curious. They are equally likely to be angry and wary. So Jesse and I talked. He had homework to do before he could make contact.
Jesse didn’t have any idea of what to expect from a pair of boys who were moving into their teens. His first assignment was to find out what is usual for boys that age. Memory of his own boyhood was a fog of early experimentation with alcohol and marijuana. Hopefully, his kids hadn’t fallen in with the same kind of crowd. He needed to know what boys usually do in sixth and eighth grade and what might interest them.
He also needed to know more about his particular kids. He arranged to have a talk with their mother. She was understandably angry. She’d been raising these kids alone, without financial or emotional support from him for well over a decade. How could she trust him now?