Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unsurprised Ambivalence

Many of you, I know, are readers of my wife's blog, so you already know what I am about to reflect upon. This morning our eighteen-year-old son awakened in a jail cell in our county's law enforcement center. Not that many yeas ago as a parent I would have been disillusioned, frantic and desparately self-questioning regarding his current geographical location. But the past five years have readied me for this day.

Since the time he was about thirteen this son of ours has been consistently running -- from our home, from foster care placements, from residential treatment settings, from emergency shelter homes, from half-way houses -- and no one has been able to stop him. We have tried for years. Early on we tried the "love and logic" approach that works with adolescents whose brains are well-functioning. It didn't work. We tried "tough love" as he became involved with the child protection arm of county social services. It was unsuccessful. We agreed with the social services workers that he needed to be in residential treatment. His stays there only reinforced his feelings that we never loved him in the first place. We have visited with him, telephoned him, written letters to him, brought him home time and time again to "try one more time." We have appeared in court to "admit" that we had a child in need of services of protection. We have prayed for him, we have pleaded with him, we have "rewarded" him. None of it has worked.

So today I am emotionally in a plae of unsurprised ambivalence. I no longer feel shock when I receive news about Mike's most recent mishaps. I'm not sure if there is anything anymore about him that would surprise me too much. Except that he might express love for or attachment to us when he's not in some kind of troubling situation, but then that would cynical, wouldn't it?

One emotion I do feel rather strongly, however, is anger. I am angry, but not really with Mike. I am angry that his birthmother chose to drink and use chemicals while he was growing in her womb. I am angry that a young man with such creative ability and such intelligence will be forever hampered by choices he did not make. I am angry that Mike is unable to see what is in his own best interest or to recognize those who are his best chance for success. I am angry that we live in an alcohol- and chemical-soaked culture that glorifies the consumption of products which alter, maim and kill thousands of people every year. I am angry that as a society we have not found better ways to assist those with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and that the only tenable option we really have is prison time. I'm angry that those who cause irreparable damage through consuming poisonous chemical while carrying a child continue to have children with the same defects.

So maybe my stance is not quite unsurprised ambivalence with regard to the bigger issue. But as I think of our son, it is. I have cared too much for too long with too few results to feel anything more or less.

And, in case you wonder, the answer is "yes." Yes, we will continue to be Mike's parents. Yes, we will continue to love him and to be as present for him as we can be. Yes, we will always believe that he has potential as a child of God to make something of his life. We will not let go of him, although our hands these days are more inclined to be folded in prayer than in enfolding his.

I am unsurprised. I am ambivalent. I am the parent of an adult child with FASD.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Very well said, Bart. I'm sure that Claudia told you that I am coming to do interviews on FASD in July. (I tried to CC you on the original email but the one listed on your blog didn't work) Look forward to meeting you two!

Mike B