Our dad was like a soccer goalie blocking progress; every time I picked a profession he argued that it wouldn't work. He didn't save for college and he dismissed the military as a huge welfare organization for losers. Maybe he was afraid that I would grow up and leave him alone, as he had inadvertently married a deeply depressed, extremely temperamental alcoholic, or maybe it was because he instinctively knew that he was dying and he would need me to take care of him and raise their three kids.
Everyday when I came home from school I found the kids hungry and lonely, and Chris always had a dirty diaper. Their mom was in her bedroom riding her stationary bike or watching TV, and she never came out. I found cases of wine coolers in her closet and I told him but he blew it off. When I was seventeen he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and after his surgery his body shut down and the hospital staff revived him and kept him on a ventilator for a long time. Everyday I held his hand until the nurse kicked me out. Eventually they removed the ventilator and at some point he started talking to me about the kids. Mainly he needed me to keep them active and on track, and to prevent them from getting into trouble.
He was so sick that he silently fell into the shadows and I raised the kids on a part time basis until his death in 1996, and then my older siblings began to step in. It didn't work, as Sandy and Suzy were already married with kids of their own, and Mike was a jet-setting cocaine addict and he had the attention span of a fruit fly. The children's mom was enveloped in her alcoholism and they found her naked and passed out on the floor in the hallway.
I stretched myself as far as I could. In 2000 I had a full time accounting job in San Francisco and during the weekends I had a second job in Orinda where I did a 12 hour shift on Saturdays and Sundays. I paid for the kids' major purchases but they lived with the others. The oldest lived with Suzy, the middle one lived with Sandy and the youngest stayed with his mom. They became teenagers and raising them became harder and more expensive. Suzy and Sandy sent them back to their mom and then they needed me almost on a daily basis.
The two older boys were rebellious teenagers. The oldest had been permanently expelled from junior high, and when he was fifteen he flunked nearly every class and his classmates bullied him everyday. My sisters and I blamed his mom but we were forced to leave him with her. We agreed that high school wasn't working for him but that he's very intelligent and so we should try something else. I asked him if he wanted to skip high school and go straight to community college and he was so excited about it that it was all he talked about. Luckily he was a huge giant kid and he looked like he was eighteen. He started in summer school and I signed him up for Speech 101 and Modern Psychology, which I knew he would excel in, and he did. He got an "A" in both classes.
Community college worked for him and so I put him on auto-pilot, which I later discovered was a terrible mistake. I was in my twenties and I didn't know how to raise a teenager. I thought that if he was getting good grades in school then he was fine, but it turned out that he was having unprotected sex in public swimming pools, he stole pot plants from a hidden farm, he got fired from two or three jobs for making careless mistakes, and he got caught stealing computers from the high school's computer lab.
And then college stopped working. I was in Oregon working on a project when Sandy called and said that his mom made him get a full time job at Safeway and then he stopped doing his homework and he needed to withdraw from his classes. And then he got fired from his job. To compound the situation, the pot farm owner kept vandalizing his car and so he needed to move.
I found a drafting job two hours away in Rocklin, near Sandy's house. It paid $42,000 and I leased the cheapest two bedroom apartment that I could find which cost $900 a month. His mom refused to contribute any money to pay for his expenses. She wouldn't even pay his rent. The Social Security Administration had been sending her child support ($2,700 a month) since our dad died (seven years), and Sean was still a minor and so she still received the full amount for all three boys. I told Sean that he had to get a job, which he did, but when he received his first paycheck he instantly spent it on two leather jackets and a bike that he didn't need. I called his mom and told her to rent a room for him near the local community college.
She begged me to reconsider and I said no and then she rented a two bedroom apartment for him and sent his fifteen year old brother to live there. Both boys stopped talking to me completely. He went to community college on his own and he graduated, and he never said a word to me the entire time.
Six years later, in 2010, I lived in San Francisco and Sandy called to ask if her family could come over. I made two huge pots of spaghetti for them. Sean came with them but he refused to talk to me. He was extremely rude, and it turned into hostility when I tried to say hello.
I nudged him a bit and he screamed at me that it was my fault that he didn't graduate from high school because I took him out. I was stunned. I reminded him that the reason why I took him out was because he had flunked nearly all of his classes for a very long time and that he wasn't going to graduate, and that I put him in community college and it worked because he was happy to be there. He didn't hear a word I said; he just kept screaming at me.
Hopefully someday he'll get it: He had a giant Big Sister. I'm twelve years older than he is, and so when he was four and he peed the bed sometimes I was the one who changed his pajamas and his bedding. Once he stole our apple pie and ate it on the floor under the kitchen table in the middle of the night. I heard it and I thought there was a raccoon in the kitchen. When I found him I knew that his alcoholic mother was going to raise hell about the pie and so I told her that a raccoon did it. That's a big sister at work, and that's what he ended up with. And so when he flunked out of school at age fifteen I covered for him again by saying that he was eighteen and enrolling him in community college.
I would never let him down for even a second and he knew it. The real reason why he ended our relationship was because I quit playing that role after he squandered his entire paycheck and he dumped all of his living expenses on me.
He graduated from San Francisco State University and now he's in graduate school getting a master's degree. I'm relieved that he'll get good jobs and buy a home and have a decent life. I still care, but with that said, he chewed me up and spit me out. Sometimes I feel like raising him was a huge waste of time.