Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Postcard

Our nineteen-year-old son is in big trouble. He has been for some time, but I'm not sure he has always realized it. He has been in big trouble from the time he started running away from home six or more years ago. We talked with him. We begged him. We pleaded with him. We offered him options and solutions and opportunities. But he couldn't stay home. As recently as this past November we once again brought him back into our home, hoping that we might be able to work with him to re-form his life. The allure of the other side was simply too great for him, and within a short period of time he was back to familiar ways. Absenting himself for days at a time. Using chemicals of various types. Cavorting with questionable people. Stealing our possessions from our home. Terrorizing (though not intentionally on his part) our other children. The last I saw of Mike was in December when we asked him to leave our home, and he refused, resulting in a call to law enforcement who (unknown to us) had a warrant for his arrest.

His last words before leaving in handcuffs on that late Saturday night in December were, "You'll be sorry you did this." We knew we had to limit our contact with him, if for no better reason (and this one was certainly the most convincing of several) than that his siblings suffered in many ways when he was near. When the obscene and threatening calls began, we knew we had to do something that would be more legally constraining, so we requested (and were granted after a $300 filing fee) a harassment order. We specified that Mike could contact us via U.S. mail, but by no other means.

It has been all quiet on the Mike front for the past three months. Regularly we checked our county's online jail custody site to see where Mike might be. If we found his picture online we at least knew he had a place to sleep and meals to eat. If we saw that he was not listed we worried. For him. And for us.

Then there was the break-in at our church, which has resulted in four felony counts against him. My initial consternation and anger quickly faded into a deeps sense of grief and loss. Our church has been wonderfully supportive to us during this process, but it has been another in a long stream of emotional nightmares for us. Every day, on numerous occasions I have thought about our son. Nearly every night on my way home from the church office I have taken a route that goes directly by the county law enforcement center where Mike has been jailed. And every time I look at the second floor's frosted glass windows and say, sometimes aloud, "How are you, Mike" or "I love you, Mike."

And as I have prayed every day on numerous occasions for my delinquent son, my anger has been quelled, slipping into a sense of grief and, dare I say it, compassion for Mike. I don't know how I can be a follower of Jesus and not feel some compassion for a nineteen-year-old so desperately confused and organically brain-damaged. My compassion does not condone his actions, nor do I think he should be spared from the consequences of his behavior.

Finally, three weeks ago, I listened the voice within me and did what I needed to do. I used the only vehicle of communication remaining (due to the harassment order), and I wrote Mike a letter, a few days before his birthday.

Dear Mike,

Writing this letter feels a little awkward because it has been so long since we talked, and so much has happened since you were forced to leave our home in December. When mom and I chose to obtain the harassment order against you, we purposely left open contact by US Mail, because we do not want to sever our relationship with you. We feel that we have to protect our home, our property and your siblings, though, from your physical presence or telephone contact due to the choices you have been making in your life. I just want to make clear that in writing this letter I am not breaking the harassment order, nor would you if you choose to contact us in writing. We have never wanted to push you away from us, although we are at a place where we feel it is important for there to be some distance. This may not make much sense to you, or it may. Either way, we feel it is something we have to do for the present time.

I understand that you may not wish to write to us (or may be prevented from doing so for any number of reasons), but I will seek to keep connection with you by writing. We love you, Mike, and we always will. To love someone doesn’t always mean they can be as involved in your life as you would hope. We find ourselves in such a situation with you right now.

I could go on and on in this letter about the specific ways your choices have pushed us to obtain a harassment order and all the rest, but I’m not going to do subject you to all that. I believe you are an intelligent person and know very well what I’m talking about.

We forgive you, Mike, for the difficult situations you have created for us. You may not even be asking for forgiveness, but you need to know that in our hearts we have forgiven you. We recognize that the laws of the state of Minnesota will exact considerable consequence to you for your actions. And that is as it should be. We really, really hope that you will figure out a way to get a grip on your life and begin moving in a better direction.

You are too smart, too talented, and too loved for us to want anything different for you. You have managed to get yourself into some very deep waters right now. My heart aches for you. I think of you many times every day. I pray for you all the time. And I feel helpless to be able to do much for you. I have not been a perfect parent, and over the years I have tried my very best to get you the resources you have needed. It seems like most of those efforts haven’t gotten you very far, and I am sorry about that. As I look back I do not know what I could have done differently, and while it’s too late now to do anything about that, it still makes me sad.

I have loved you from the day I met you at Laurel’s house, sitting at the table with the other kids, as you ate blueberry pancakes. It may sound cheap and without merit for me to continue saying that, and I hope someday you may understand what I mean.

I suspect you are not happy to find yourself in the situation you do, and you need to know that it makes me unhappy, too. Of course, I have the freedom to do what I want to to do, come and go as I please, make the decisions I need to make. And you don’t. There are reasons for that of course, but it still makes me sad to know how difficult things are for you right now.

In two days you will be nineteen years old. In the eyes of the law you have been an adult for a year now. But you will always be my son. I miss you, Mike. I pray that God will help, and I pray that you will find answers for a better way of life. We pray for you as a family every night as we prepare to eat dinner together. You will never be forgotten, and we hope one days things will have changed enough that you can be more closely connected to us once again.


And I have waited. I thought of sending him a self-addressed stamp envelope for a reply, but I didn't know if it was permitted, and I wanted any response on his part to require something of him. I have waited before writing again. Just to see.

Today I received his response on a postcard:

Hey, sorry it took so long for me to write back, but I had to wait to get this postcard because I don't have any envelopes. Anyways, thanks for the letter.
I've messed up a lot. I guess being in jail has helped now to clear my mind. It's been so clouded with so much crap.
I've done so many things that I have completely screwed up my thought process. I feel slower and it really agitates me. I messed up and I'm really sorry for all the trouble I've caused to you and the family.
I deserve what is happening to me. I just don't feel right mentally anymore. It hurts. I'll be going to trial on the 15th for the car thing. But I have 4 more felonies I'm facing in N-- County.
I got like 15 years I'm facing. So I'm just gonna get comfortable with this lifestyle.
I love you all though and really do think about it every day. Love, Mike.

In the ancient words of Christian tradition: Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

This nineteen-year-old is my son, not of my loins, but of my heart. I can't describe how it tears at my heart to hear someone so young, so confused and so troubled resign himself to a future (perhaps years) of incarceration. I am an emotional kayaker, bobbing to and fro in the multiple white caps of anxiety, fear, disappointment and dread. I think it is possible that my feelings about Mike's situation are more intense and concerned than are his own.

And I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not. But I simply cannot walk away and give up. I can never be "done" with Mike, even though the situation tears me apart and so deeply grieves me. Although this is not what I "signed up for" ten years ago when I agreed to be his father, I did choose to be his parent forever. Right now that's the only thing I can offer, and one of the few things he can know for certain.


debbie said...

bart, i just have so much respect for your parenting and your commitment to your children. i am also very much aware i could easily be in your shoes down the road. how do we get these kids into mental health facilities instead of jail? that is where they need to be. between your's and cindy's blog this has been a difficult time and i just keep soaking it all in and storing it away in my head. i love the letter idea that you did. i think that no matter what he has done, that little boy inside needs to know his parents will still be there. my heart goes out to you and claudia.

Cindy said...

Bart, You are an absolutely amazing father to your children, such a wonderful example to the rest of us. (Claudia is awesome too, but this is your blog.)

Chris P said...

Love you Bart!