When Daddy goes to prison, everything changes
And nothing will ever be the same again. This is especially true for children who lived with their father before prison. Suddenly, every encounter they have with Daddy (prison visits, phone calls, or letters) includes an emotional goodbye.
Goodbyes are hard. They remind us we are parting, each going a different way. Every parting cuts the wound a little deeper, keeping us focused on the fact that we are apart more than we are together, that we cannot be together like other families. Visiting Ron in prison was always bittersweet. We had the amazing experience of being together, clouded by the knowing that the time would come to an end and we would again walk away without him with us.
The greetings were the best part of the visits! As Ron would walk into the visiting room, my heart would do a little flip flop. I never had to tell the boys that Daddy had arrived. They would sit with their eyes glued to the metal door where Ron would enter. My sons watched that door with great anticipation and a little fear. They never got over the fear that one day we would be sitting in the visiting room waiting. But Daddy would not show up because he had been hurt by a bad person in prison.
As soon as Ron walked through the gray doorway, I would see relief wash over the boys’ faces before being replaced by absolute joy.
The joy radiated from their eyes – such bright, beaming smiles! I can still picture that look on their faces as they announced, “Daddy made it!” The boys would wait impatiently for Ron to take his pass to the guard and get permission to come sit with us. As soon as Ron had permission, he would turn to make his way to our table. He never made it to the table without the boys running to greet him!
They would leap into his arms and throw their small arms around him as they excitedly stated the obvious, “Daddy, we came to see you!!” Ron’s face broke into a smile as he caught them in his arms. He would squeeze them tightly, kiss the top of their foreheads, and give them each a series of high fives (up high, down low, too slow!) before greeting me. The brief hug was far less intimate than his long, searching, intense gaze into my eyes. We exchanged so much with those looks, “I miss you. This is really hard, but I am so happy to see you. Are you OK? Really OK? We are in this together, and I won’t give up. Don’t give up; we are going to make it.” All of this and more was communicated without a single word passing our lips.
It took us about an hour to get beyond our surroundings
We blocked everything else out, and connected as a family. All too soon, it was the 5-minute warning. Our precious time together was coming to an end. Only five more short minutes before we had to say painful goodbyes and part ways. Every time we said “goodbye”, our sons would go nuts. They would cry and hang on their Dad, begging him to come home with them, or at least let them stay with him if he couldn’t leave. Every time, Ron would peel their arms from around his neck, leg, or forearm and gently, but firmly, point them back to me. I was left to either carry them or pull them with me out of the prison and back to the car (read my “Traveling with kids” story). Their distraught tears finally ended when they fell asleep.
Strength and power
I had to develop so much strength and will power to go to every visit, knowing I would be a witness to my sons’ heartbreak at the “goodbye.” After about 18 months of this gut-wrenching experience at every visit, we had a breakthrough. When Blake said, “I don’t want to leave, Daddy. I don’t want to say ‘goodbye’ anymore,” Ron got an awesome, life changing idea. He informed us that we would not have to say “goodbye” anymore. We were a family and nothing could change that. The distance between us was only in space, not in our hearts. “From now on, no more ‘goodbyes.’ We will be together again soon, so we will say, ‘See you next time!’ when it is time to leave the visit.” This totally changed our experience! By focusing on the long-term commitment of our family to stay together, instead of the temporary situation of being separated by prison, the end of the visit was a promise to see each other again soon, not a reinforcement of the pain of not being together.
“See you next time” became our family’s way of parting after each visit and phone call.
It lessened the pain and increased the boys’ sense of stability and security within our family. If you are struggling with “goodbyes,” find a way to change the parting to focus on the future. When you focus on the future, you not only provide coping skills, but also move them toward hope and anticipation of something positive in the future.
Enjoy the moments you have together, see the beauty in the pain of the growth you are experiencing, and embrace the journey toward a better future by making every moment count.
We are rooting for you!
See you next time,
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