Growing up in a home with a father that struggled with his emotions and a mother that would now be diagnosed mentally retarded would not necessarily be thought of as an unsafe environment. However, when this is paired with emotional abuse of being cursed at and degraded by words that are unimaginable, the picture starts to become clearer.
The memories I have of my childhood are not full of warm beds, hugs and kisses from mom and dad, food on the table and clean clothes. My hardships started with my brother and I being molested by who was a so-called family friend. I was 4 or 5 and my brother was 7 or 8. These actions continued for almost 3 years when everything came to a head when my brother told an uncle what was happening. As young kids we thought this was normal interaction between adults and young children. Later investigations happened and the man was imprisoned for 15 years. I could look at this as one success, but my story continues with even more hardship.
My parents went into debt and I started living in poverty. My parents made $12,000.00 a year to support a family of 6. My dad started to lose control and started throwing hot cups of coffee and anything else he could grab at my siblings and me. This behavior escalated and soon my brothers and I were being disciplined with twigs off of trees, belts and at one point 2x4 boards. My mother did not know how to control her emotions due to the emotional and physical actions from my father so she started yelling and cursing at him. With all the chaos around us (my siblings and me) we started to fight with each other. My parents’ home, which was a trailer, became riddled with holes and broken windows. My brothers and I would throw each other into walls, through windows and even over the banister onto concrete. Our lives were out of control and we eventually found peace, by starting to do drugs.
I was now in the 5th grade and remember going to school after smoking marijuana for several hours in a car. The peace I thought would take me away from the chaos of my parents, from not having food and living in a home full of holes and now cockroaches was short lived once I came down from “paradise” and had to face the real world alone. My troubles escalated and became worse. I stopped going to school and started seeking out sex, drugs, alcohol and food. I would find myself going into stores and stealing food and clothing to satisfy my hunger and to replace the rags I was wearing. I remember my issues getting so bad, I missed 97 days of school, worked under the table making money building pools, could drink almost a case of beer a night, would smoke cigarettes and marijuana, stole almost everything I had, and starting giving myself tattoos all before I was 12 years old.
It was at this time that the child welfare system stepped in asked for a court hearing and filed a petition for me to enter foster care. My perception was “this is the beginning to the end of my life.” Later looking back I realize this was the starting of the new life I longed for. I started living with a family who was willing for me to make mistakes in order for them to show me how to cope with the outcome. This family showed me what it meant to have unconditional love. They never scolded me or threw things at me when they were frustrated. They talked through situations and achieved an outcome in a positive manner. My resilience to my old way of life helped me to embrace the positive changes that were being shown to me. I entered the foster care system at 12 years old and aged out when I was 21 years old. Through the 9 years in foster care I learned how to make a complete change in my way of life. There were struggles along the way and tears of frustration and joy, but I learned what it meant to have a family that loved a person for who they were.
I was asked when I was 16 if I would like to be adopted and I said no. My father had signed off his parental rights and now custodianship was held by the state. My foster family vowed to keep me in their home and provide for me as long as I wanted to be part of their family. The laws at that time did not allow adoptive parents to have assistance or any benefits after they adopted. Due to this, my foster parents would be required to pay for everything for me including my dream to attend college and this was one of the reasons I was reluctant to be adopted by them. I did go to college, and realized that everything I learned within the foster care system prepared me for college and to now work in the child welfare system.
What I lack not being adopted is the permanent connection and the feeling that I belong to a family. This lack of connection does get overwhelming and sometimes make me angry or well up with tears. However, it does not damper the success that I have made in my life and has only increased the fire that I have to work with children in foster care and help them become adopted. The joy and passion I have with working in my job helps me to have a sense of completeness when a child is adopted. I live by a motto that I have passed on to several children I work with, and the motto is this “Dreams become goals and goals become a reality.” All my success and the dreams I succeeded in are credited to a family that saw beyond the eyes of a child and a system that had a plan and knew what can come from such a determined young man.