is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Visit Our Online Store
Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Not My Father's Son

When I was a little kid, my father had affairs with multiple women and would disappear for long periods of time. When he was gone, it was just my mother, older brother, and me. My brother enjoyed spending time with me, but as we got older, he drifted away. He was in a gang and did not want me to get involved.

I felt truly alone when my brother moved out. I was grateful to have my mom, but it was not the same. I needed a male’s perspective on certain situations, like how to handle a bully or what to do when you like a girl.

I observed teachers and family members to see how they handled conflict and then imitated them. If I thought I might fight with someone I would ask the person, “Is there something I said that made you angry?” I had heard teachers say that, and so I tried it for myself. Most of the time it worked.

As I was figuring things out, my father came crawling back after a long time away. I do not know why my mother always took him back, but she did. Then, when I was 10, he left again, this time for a woman who lived right across the street. My mom would put me in front of the television, then go into her room and lock the door to cry.

This time, he did not come back. He would call my mother and ask to speak to me, and most of the time I refused. My mother would try to convince me to talk to him, but I kept saying no.

After he had been gone for almost a year, my father was accused of sexually touching the young daughter of the woman across the street. He pleaded guilty and went to prison for three years.

When my dad went to prison, my mom was pregnant with my little brother. (My parents must have gotten together while my father was with the woman across the street.) While he was in jail, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the central nervous system. She also had post-partum depression and went to a therapist.

I noticed both physical and mental changes in her. The MS made her hands shake. In addition, sometimes she would get so angry when my little brother would not stop crying that she would push the carriage into my room and say, “You get him to sleep.” I was worried about her and sometimes did not go out with my friends because I was scared to leave her alone.

When my father was released from prison, I was 13. He wanted my mom to take him back again, but he wasn’t officially allowed in our home because of the child abuse conviction. At first, my mom would not let him come over. But after a while, she needed more help because of her MS and he would watch my little brother every few weeks.

My mom told her therapist that she was afraid she might harm my little brother, and the therapist told Child Protective Services (CPS). My little brother and I were placed in foster care. I was 13 and he was 2. This experience was a terrible mental battle. I felt I had to be strong for him.

My father and I had regular, supervised visits. He seemed annoyed by them until he heard that I received an allowance as a foster kid. Then his whole mood changed. I asked him to help me go clothes shopping. At a clothing store, my father complained that he needed a shirt for a job interview. I bought it for him. That was not the last time I used my foster care allowance to buy him things.

I saw my mother during scheduled visits at the agency once or twice a week. She was using a walker and eventually she couldn’t leave her house. Around my 15th birthday, she went into the hospital very sick.

image by YC-Art Dept

I was scared, just starting to realize I might lose the only parent who had my best interests at heart. My father did not comfort me at all about my mother’s illness. He even said, “This is her fault. I told her to take care of herself.” When I was upset, he told me to stop being weak.

The last time my father and I spoke was four years ago, when I called to tell him that my mother had died. Since then, I have not heard from him. I wonder sometimes: Should I look for him? Is he looking for me? Why hasn’t he tried to get in contact with me?

Child abuse aside, what my father did to my mother—lying to her, running off with other women and leaving us alone, not fighting for my little brother and me when we needed him to—was bad enough. He showed me what not to be as an adult. I never want to be a manipulator, cheater, or a liar.

I do not feel the urge to manipulate, cheat, or lie, and yet having him for a father makes me worry that I could be like him. So far, I have not been able to keep a steady relationship with a girl: I think part of me is afraid of making the same mistakes as my father. I worry about cheating on someone I go out with; what if I lose interest quickly? It seemed to happen to my father all the time, and my mother got sick before I could really talk to her about relationships.

I ended up breaking up with the girl I dated for the longest because I thought she deserved someone less confused than me. Dating does make me think about my father—both how awful he was to my mother and the insults he threw at me. I do not want to be like him, but it is hard to know how to be a good man.

Fortunately, I am blessed to have teachers and other adults to help me through the tragedy at home. The first person who helped me was a substitute teacher, Mr. Green. I met him in the 5th grade. He helped me with my homework and let me talk to him when nobody else would take the time to listen.

My mother knew him, and I went to his house when I needed advice. While I was in his house, I would observe how he was with his son, who was a few years younger than me. He made sure he ate and had clean clothing. It made me feel sad and a little jealous when I heard him say to his son, “I will always be here when you need me.”

When my mother passed away, I would cry uncontrollably. Therapy has helped a lot; my therapists have helped me develop strategies for when I feel sad. They had me think of joyful moments with my mother or encouraged me to play a sport to take my mind off negative thoughts.

I’ve also gone to three different support groups with other young people. There, I made strong connections with others who have been through similar situations. I talked openly about my feelings in group. At the end of every session, I did not feel as sad as when I first walked in.

I was also lucky enough to have a good friend by my side to help during that rough time. When I went back to school after my mother’s death, Josh noticed something was off about me. He asked me what happened, and I told him.

He was silent for a moment, with his eyes open wide. Then he took a deep breath and said, “I’m so sorry about your mom.” He kept asking how I was feeling after that. It could get annoying at times, but I liked that someone cared enough to ask.

My dad does not really show his feelings until he gets mad and explodes. He told me to “man up” when I was sad about my mom dying of a terrible disease. He was certainly not paying attention to the feelings of the girl he molested. And he never respected my mom’s feelings. He always insisted things be his way, no matter what she wanted. Fortunately, my mother reminded me to treat others well and be a good person.

When you are depressed, feelings can seem like the enemy. However, I persisted in staying open to emotions and struggling to understand them rather than denying them. My dad tried to make me feel weak if I showed vulnerability, but I know he is wrong. I used to not show my feelings at all, but I have learned how to express them with the people most important to me: my cousin, a teacher of mine who also grew up in foster care, my little brother, my friend Josh, and Mr. Green. When my little brother says things like, “Thank you for being there for me,” I cry a little bit. And that’s OK.

horizontal rule