Sometimes the coincidences of life are ironic and sad. Today is my 43rd birthday, and it happens to be the first day one of us could visit Mike, who has been sitting in our county law enforcement center since Wednesday of this week. When I talked to Mike on Wednesday he implored me to rescue him. If only we could (a) bail him out, (b) let him come home or (c) tell the court that he was coming home and then let him live with a friend ... he would be able to prove to the judge that he could make something of himself and avoid prolonged jail time.
I told Mike that in the course of his nine years as our son (he arrived when he was nearly nine years old) we have constantly, over and over, found ways to "rescue" him, even though they have not been what Mike has wanted. Mike has never wanted, of course, to live in a residential treatment center, nor has he wantedto be anywhere he is at the moment, including home for the better part of those years. We have done everything we could do to help him make decisions in his own best interest, but we have never been able to do so successfully. Nor, it appears, has he.
So, at 7:00 PM tonight I left our home, where we had been celebrating my birthday with two sets of family friends, to await my 7:30 visit with our son. I have been in the jail twice before ... once with Mike several months after one of his juvenile run-in's with the law so that he could photographed and fingerprinted for FBI purposes, and a second time when I attempted to lead a very unwilling group of inmates in worship. So, the territory was not exactly new to me, but the role was. I was not transporting an errant teenager to be fingerprinted and photographed, I was not a pastoral professional leading worship; I was a parent visiting an adult child in trouble with the law, a parent who is unwilling to bail him out or let him live in our home.
It was a rather pathetic environment, actually. A total of nine of us clustered around four monitors to speak with our "straight inmates" (those who are serving "straight" time are not in, for example, a "work release" program or other variation). To my extreme left was a young father of three little girls, all under six; he was in his late twenties. To my immediate left were an older couple, senior citizens by my estimation, and to my right a boisterious pair of sisters visiting a third sister.
I could see Mike before I sat down at the monitor to pick up the phone. He was nervously awaiting our conversation, as evidenced in his pacing and lip-biting. We sat down to talk. His two blackened eyes from a physical interaction about a week previous are healing but still discolored. His flame orange hair is disheveled and uncombed, a glaring contrast to the bright orange of his prison issue clothing. We pick up the receivers, and I hear, "So, what's new?" "Not too much," I reply, "we're just celebrating my birthday at home tonight." "Oh, it's your birthday?" "Yes, Mike, it's my birthday." Awkward silence.
"So how are you?" I grimace inwardly as I ask the colloquial question of the hour. "Not so good" is his response. "Yeah, I can see that," I offer.
And then, for the remaining time of our allotted thirty minutes per week, I hear a barrage of verbiage I have heard again and again over the years. "So how come you and mom won't accept any collect phone calls from me?" ["We've told you, Mike, we've spent all the money we intend to spend on you, and your calls are verbally abusive"]. "How come you aren't man enough to make up your mind instead of listening to Mom? You know she's the one who is telling you to do this." "How come you won't just pay the $250 so that I can get out of here and prove to everyone that I can do better than this?" "Why did you even bother to adopt kids anyway, if this is the way you are going to treat them?" "Why don't you start practicing that shit that preach all the time ... about that guy who left home and took all his father's stuff and then came back and was accepted all over again?" "I must not matter at all to you now that I'm eighteen." "Should I just start calling you 'Bart' now since you're not going to be a parent and help me?" "You know the charge against me means that I will be spending five years and ninety days in jail, and you could hep me, but you aren't willing. Thanks a lot."
And so, I listen, I respond factually ("Mike, we have let you come back time and time again, but you are not able or willing to follow our rules." "Mike, it's not all about you. We have other family members who are negatively effected when you are in our house"). And I hear again, and again, just how bad we have been as parents, how people like us should never have adopted children, and how everyone is out to get him. He has done nothing to deserve his current location in jail, and everyone lies about him to get him in trouble. It is our fault that we has been arrested for "receiving stolen property" because if we had just let him live at home he wouldn't have had to do that.
But I sit there. I listen. I ask God for strength. And then I hear the warning buzzer telling us that we need to wrap up our conversations. These are the parting words I get to hear:
"So, you're not going to do anything to help me, are you? I guess then I'll just see you in five years and ninety days." As the receiver on his end slams into its holder I see the angry tears falling down his cheeks as he wipes his eyes and steels himself for the days ahead. In a place he does not want to be. With people he does not know. With no sense of responsibility for what he has done.
I have sat there not because I need to see Mike. I took my verbal beating not because I deserve it nor because I am masochistic enough to desire it. I am there not for myself. I am there for Mike, because he needs someone to remind him of who he is. My son. Errant, noncompliant, angry, embittered, organically challenged and emotionally troubled beyond explanation.
But my son nonetheless. As he will be next week at the same time and place. As he will be in a year from now. As he will be five years and ninety days from now. As he will be until the day I die. Whether he understands it or not, I will continue to remind him of who he is, because I'm not sure he remembers anymore. But I know who he is, and I will not let him forget.