It’s hard to imagine what my life could’ve been like if my dad was physically there while growing up, rather than being in prison.
Would I have been better at sports if he was there to show me how to play instead of my mom? Would I have a deeper relationship based on more shared experiences? Thinking about the “what if’s” of my dad not being in prison is the quickest way for me to get irritated and feel cheated.
Growing up with my dad in prison was so incredibly difficult. The stigmas attached to me made the prison experience that much harder. I absolutely hated telling people where my dad was. It made me think that once I told someone where my dad was I became the problem by default. Like somehow I was going to “ruin” their kids or the world.
Despite having these barriers, my dad and I were determined to maintain a relationship and push through.
We talked on the phone every night – even when I didn’t want to. We wrote letters to each other – Although at times he was the only one writing. And we made the most of our visits.
My mom did such an amazing job raising me – HUGE SHOUT OUT! But the absence of my dad was felt every single moment. When I would see other kids playing catch with their dad, going on family vacations, celebrating their birthdays, or even just having dinner in their own home, made me feel less than.
My mom was so quick to know something was wrong and ask me:
“Brandon, what’s wrong? Are you ok?” and naturally my response was “I’m fine.” even though inside I was broken. Longing to have my dad home. Wanting to have family time without a room full of strangers. Longing for the “normal” family experience. But I was the king of wearing a mask and pretending that I was fine.
As the years went by the easier it was to accept that my dad was in prison and we were just going to have to be a family in that circumstance. I built walls around my heart, which helped with the pain, and stopped letting people in. My relationship with both my parents became extremely shallow and we only talked about current events. Things like school, sports, and music. Whenever they would ask a question about how I was really doing I would deflect or give a generic answer. I was tired of talking about my feelings because the feeling of pain was all I felt.
My parents never gave up! They didn’t allow me to run from the pain. They helped me face it head-on and heal. My parents helped me switch my negative “What ifs” into positive ones. “What if I create new experiences? If I allow myself to heal? If I let my parents know how I’m really feeling?” It wasn’t till I started asking myself those questions that I truly began to heal.
If you have a child that is hurting, broken, and thinking that life will never get better, here are three things you can do today to help.
- Ask how they are feeling:
- Don’t take it personally if you are part of the pain in their life. We all have blind spots and need someone else to help us grow and become better. Give them the freedom to answer your question, “how are you?” true and complete honesty.
- Don’t stop asking questions:
- One of the hardest things to do is keep asking questions when you get two-word answers – “I’m FINE”. It’s your job to self-regulate and not quit. Eventually, your child will open up. Either when they can’t take it anymore and their emotions explode or when they know you aren’t going to judge them for their feelings.
- Share your feelings:
- It’s ok to let your child know you are hurting, too. You don’t always have to wear a mask that says, “I’m ok and nothing can phase me.” By opening up about your feelings and being raw and honest, will let your child know they are not the only ones experiencing pain.