Sunday, October 19, 2008

For Better, for Worse

It is 6:30 on a Sunday night and Dominyk (our twelve-year-old son) and GIzmo (my faithful walking companion canine) and I are enjoying the beauty of an October evening. The sun is setting, a rose-colored spectrum of warm colors. "Dominyk," I say pointing to the skyline, "Isn't it beautiful?" "Yep, but it doesn't really match the colors of the leaves." Dominyk is an interesting child, always has been. His unique challenges create a very talkative, attention-challenged child whose ways sometimes resemble a borderline autistic.

A few days ago while he and I were traveling somewhere he announced to me, "Dad, I don't think I'm ever going to leave home. I'm just going to stay with you and mom and take care of you when you're older." "That's thoughtful, Dom, but I'll bet the day will come when you are ready to be on your own." He is not convinced, so I add, "But it's not a decision we have to make right now. You have plenty of time to think about that."

He and I are walking together when my cell phone rings. The called ID reads the telltale, "Blocked Call," which as I explained in earlier blog, means I am about to answer a call from our local law enforcement center, where our son Mike has been "executing his time" for several months. I answer the call.

"Um, hi, dad."

"Hi, Mike."

"Um, do you think you can pick me up tomorrow? I'm getting out."

We had talked about this on Wednesday night, so I am not surprised. I have purchased him some clothing items that I have not yet had a chance to get to him, because I know when he is released he will have only the clothes he is wearing and nothing more. We have recently purchased him some work clothes, and now he will have some underwear and socks to add to his very meager possessions.

"What's your plan? You can't come to our house, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I just want you to talk with me about what my options are so I can make some decisions."

"What time?" I ask. I already have a rather busy morning, and Claudia will be leaving mid-morning by shuttle for the airport on a four-day business trip out of state.

"How about 6:15? They let me out at 6:00."

I pause. I consider telling Mike I have a full morning. I would like him to know that his release will be an inconvenience to me. I wish he were able to have other plans or alternatives so I could, in good conscience, agree to meet him at another time. But I know he does not. And I figure it is a positive sign if he wants me to help him make some choices. Mike's IQ is high, but his organically damaged brain has so little executive functioning that he needs all the guidance he can receive. His typical pattern upon departing jail is to meet up with some of his crime-ridden friends. I have yet to determine whether that is because he is drawn to the lifestyle or because he has no other options. I have always hoped and wanted to believe it's because he hasn't had other options.

These are the thoughts that race through my mind before I speak. But I already know the answer. Tomorrow I am the "other option" that Mike needs. My conversation with him may not get him past evening before he is in legal trouble again, but I believe I have a moral responsibility to aid someone who specifically asks for my help, especially when it is my son.

It's too bad that parents don't take some kind of vows when they give birth or adopt a child. In many ways parenting is at least as big a challenge as is marriage, which provides a number of vows between two parties. I'm not exactly sure what parenting "vows" should sound like, but at the very least they would include the words, "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer."

Tomorrow will be one of those days for Mike. He leaves jail not richer, but poorer, in so many ways. He has nowhere to go, no one other than parents as a healthy resource, too many concerns for someone who is nineteen. Ten years ago I made an unspoken vow to "love and to cherish" him and his birth brother, and I will continue to be true to my vow. And so tomorrow at 6:15 AM I will welcome into my personal world (but not our family world for numerous reasons) our errant son. Maybe, my heart portends, this will be the time when enough comes together for Mike that he can begin a new chapter in his life; while my head tells me it is unlikely.

Tomorrow morning it will be his father who loves him showing up before the sun rises to help him brainstorm options for "better," and once again I will be prepared for the "worst."

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