Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Drawing A Line

Last week I received a telephone call from our son Mike, who has served two of his three months in one of our state prisons. He is anxious "to parole" (as he says it), but will not be released until he has a physical address. He understands that he cannot live in our home, but he asked if we would consider paying for a month's stay in a hotel.

I have to admit my conversation with him was rather perfunctory and direct.

"And what, Mike, are you going to do once you are out?" It was an honest, factual question, based upon my personal feeling that his current location is not a bad place for someone to live in the midst of a harsh Minnesota winter. Three meals a day, a warm place to sleep, constant direction and supervision, with little chance of re-offending while behind bars.

He was incensed. "What do you mean what am I going to do?! I need to get out of this place."

I was not very sympathetic with his plight. He asked if there was anything I could do to be of help to him ... a place to live, or some friends we could ask or ... something?

I used my best "I'm sorry, but no" voice. Our conversation quickly eroded to silence, I begged off and reminded him that I loved him. "Yeah, love you, too, dad."

Today I received a letter from Mike. I glanced at the tell-tale envelope. The upper-left hand corner of the envelope says in stark green bold face print: "NOTICE: Mailed from a MN Correctional Facility," with Mike's handwritten address, offender identification number, and prison location.

Tearing open the envelope I unfold the trifold page and see at the top of the page in large letters this salutation: "BART ... "

In case you're wondering, children (even adult children) referring to me by my first name never goes very well. I was immediately irritated by what I interpreted to be the tone of his missive, although I'm sure in his scattered mind he wasn't implying any particular disrespect. The rest of his letter betrays no sense of rudeness, so I'm sure I am simply overreacting.

His letter is basically a written plea echoing his recent verbal requests. He mentions that he needs a place to land when he's done with his prison sentence (and he can get out earlier than he anticipated if he has such a location), he would like us to pay for a hotel stay (he estimates a month would be $300, which reminds me that he really doesn't understand the cost of living), and wonders if we might set up a dental appointment for him.

I'll admit it. I am tired of all that has transpired in the past twelve years. For more than a decade now we have done all we could do for him. He has bounced from treatment center to treatment center, juvenile delinquency center to center, county jail cells in at least three counties, and now a state prison cell. Over and over again we have attempted to intervene in ways that would offer him a chance to prove his consistent thesis that he is "ready to change this time."

And so I write him a letter. It starts out by reminding him of our continuing love for him, and then, before I can stop my fingers I am writing: "I need to say some things to you that are hard for me to say and, I am sure, hard for you to read." I spend the next three pages recounting the numerous times since the time he was thirteen that Claudia and I have stuck with him, advocated for him, and offered him opportunities to change.

I have decided it is time to draw a line. In as factual of a way as possible I must remind him that his illegal behavior has cost us thousands of dollars, countless hours spent in court rooms and, most painful of all, the sense of safety and security for our other children that Claudia and I have worked so hard over the years to create and maintain.

We have always loved you, Mike. This letter is not about whether we love you or not. If you cannot believe that after all of this, then I doubt we will ever convince you. But love does not mean perpetually repeating the same things over and expecting a different outcome. You have been intelligent enough to figure out ways to break the law and to get into numerous illegal situations. You are intelligent enough, then, to figure out a better way for your life.

In my final paragraph I am clear that we want to hear from him, we want to know how he is doing, but we are unable to do more than that. This is difficult. Maintaing clear boundaries without emotionally cutting off the other person is always a challenge, but I must be fair to my law-abiding, still-at-home children. Those who are willing cooperative (most of the time, anyway) and able to benefit from our family must take the priority.


Hannah_Rae said...

Wow, Bart. Tough love is...TOUGH! Lord, help this family walk in your steps and continue to love the way you would have them love.

Paula said...

Gosh I hate that you had to write this letter to Mike. I know how much you love him and how you have gone the extra mile for him time and time again. You and Claudia are great parents. I pray that in time Mike will turn his life around. God bless you for being there for him for all these years.

And, thanks for being there for me last week at the meeting. Your input and calm presence was greatly appreciated.

Hopewell said...

Love/Logic--keep at it, Dad.

Don said...

One of the things toughest things I've had to do is let my child fail, or at least stumble, and learn to recover from that on his own.

You have to stand back from the situation he's created for himself and let him figure it out. He'll not grow at all if you intervene.

You're saying and doing all the right things here, in my opinion, and I'm awed by your strength.