Being a parent is tiring sometimes

Last week Thursday my son called me at work to tell me about a grade 7 school project he has, for EMS (which Google informs me stands for Economic and Management Sciences). He had to prepare a survey, and speech, like a sales pitch, for a product or service, and include a poster with fake ads, comparison to a competing product/service, show his costs, and so on. He had no idea what to do but since we have no printer at home it would require me to download some pictures and info on his pretend product, at work…

So “we” decided on the phone that he would be selling a radio controlled toy car, with USB charger for greater convenience. And sure enough, such products actually exist. It’s amusing in a way… it’s only two or three years since he grew out of such toys, and USB charging cars were never a thing a few years ago. So toy technology has already moved on since he played with toys, and will likely do so again by the time he’s a parent.

I gave him what he’d need and assumed he’d get on with it, until yesterday when he told me he’d lied to the teacher, telling her his project was done but forgotten at home. Eventually he did it last night, but I had to spoon-feed him just about everything… the title being something like “Josh’s omnidirectional, all terrain, USM chargeable vehicle”, the selling points being something like…

  • Do your kid’s toy cars get stuck on the grass or carpets?
  • Do they need to be manually retrieved from under sofas and other obstacles because of the poor controls?
  • Did you get home only to find “batteries not included”?
  • Is it a major inconvenience to replace spent batteries?
  • Can they be damaged by water?

Well, fear no more because Josh’s omnidirectional yada yada yada can travel on all surfaces, the replaceable battery pack is USB chargeable, and the powerful motor allows control forward, backward, left, right, and can turn clockwise or anticlockwise… and so on. (Not exactly what he did – this is just more or less what I gave him off the top of my head.)

Kiddo eventually finished it in the dark (because we have rolling blackouts euphemised as “load shedding” here in South Africa) after midnight. His poster looks pretty cool actually. Good job, Josh. Eventually.

But here’s the weird thing… The little bugger is almost a clone of me, his problems getting started are so similar to my own that he is virtually identical to a younger me. His inability to take his friend’s example questions (her service was a bakery) and apply them to his product, his procrastination, his endless farting around doing everything except his project, his lack of ideas, even given he had such toys and knew exactly what could be improved compared to his own ones… It was like watching a little me with all the same problems I used to have.

The only difference is, I have had years of experience to get past those starting issues, years to learn these skills, which I call bullshitting skills but whatever… It’s fucking exhausting though. I’ve taken decades to overcome my limitations, taken so long to learn these skills, and for what? I can’t just pass them on to him. He has to go through the same trials and tribulations to learn the same lessons, and then we die. It would be so much better if we could somehow inherit these things, but no – we all spend years learning the same shit as our parents, repeating the same mistakes and struggling the same struggles. All for nothing. I wish I could make it easier for him, but there’s only so much I can do.

You are not a failure.

Sadly I had to have this conversation with my son tonight. Maybe my words helped him. I hope they did. Maybe my words can help you too.

Josh starts his first day of school tomorrow. Grade 5. Again. It was a tough year. His mother and sister stayed here for seven months, and his mother is not entirely stable. I tried to help her and be there for his little sister, whom I love very much, but it wasn’t meant to be, and they left. I can’t have Megan here again. Of course it affected him, as did my poor job of disciplining him last year. I gave him too much leeway to play on the Xbox, and he failed the grade.

So tonight he said to me, “I’m a failure.” No, you’re not. Failing doesn’t make you a failure. It gives you a second chance, a chance to try again, to do better. He countered that I never failed anything and that he has wasted whole year. But that’s not true. Sure, I never failed in school and always excelled both there and in my studies after, but I failed later. I was a meth addict for eight years. For those years, I stopped and watched the world passing me by. I stopped growing, grew distant from everybody, performed poorly at work, lost friends, the trust and respect of my family and my peers, and I even lost my son for a few years.

But failing didn’t define me. Failing gave me a second chance, to try again, to try harder, and do better. I’m clean over six years now; in two years I’ll have been clean for as long as I used, and I’m not stopping there. Losing everything gave me a chance to see the world through different eyes. I saw through the eyes of a homeless man, a man with nothing. Stripped bare of my privilege for a time, I learned to appreciate what I’d had and what many others never even had to begin with. I learned empathy for my fellow humans, learned to be a better man, someone who respects everyone in their station in life, but mostly I have had the most amazing opportunity to come back from the brink, but come back not as the spoiled brat I was before, but a better man, a man who got everything back, including my son Josh, whom I’ve been parenting on my own again since 2015, but also I’ve come back with empathy, understanding, and love for my fellow humans, especially those who didn’t start out with what I did. In short, my failure didn’t just push me to succeed after picking myself up, but to come back as a better person than I could ever be had I not failed in the first place.

Sometimes the best thing that can ever happen to you is failure. I hope that my son can grow to understand this, and that his small failure now can prepare him for the rest of his life, such that he never needs to fail more seriously as I did.

You are my sunshine (Part 2)

Part 1 is here but other than the subject, there isn’t really much of a thread connecting these two posts.

It’s weird how different life is to my expectations of what it would be. Some of my earliest memories, of times that made me who I am as a person, are memories of my father. I remember when I was a baby, he would sing to me, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…” I didn’t know where the song came from or anything about it other than my father sang it to me. It made me happy and helped me to fall asleep, even though it is a weird sad song, if you actually think about it. (Please don’t take my sunshine away?) But my father’s voice soothed me.

My father would tuck me in every night… walking around the bed, he’d tuck the blankets in, then kiss me goodnight, and for some reason I do not understand, Jerome the toddler assumed that he, the Daddy, the protector, would be the last to go to sleep, so whenever he said goodnight, I’d respond with, “Say goodnight when Mommy’s sleeping”, meaning that he should come back and say goodnight again once my mother had fallen asleep. Both my parents found this response endearing and amusing. They even tried explaining to me that he was the first to fall asleep but I wouldn’t have it. And in winter, as he tucked me in he’d always say, “Warm as toast”. Somehow his words warmed me. Even if I was cold, his words were enough for me to feel comfortable, warm and safe.

When I grew up, all I wanted was to have a son and emulate my father. I recalled my own special memories of my Dad and somehow, in naivete, thought that I would sing “You are my sunshine” to my baby son just as he did and tuck him in just the same, and that my son would feel just what I felt. But it doesn’t work like that.

I tried to sing to him when he was a baby, but it didn’t feel right. And when I tuck him in, I can’t use my father’s words because they are his words, not mine, and it would be alien for me to say “warm as toast”.

It took me a long time to figure out, but my special memories of my Dad are my memories, my experiences, and Josh will have his own memories, his own experiences that have meaning to him, and I can not force anything. I cannot impose such things on him. All I can do is love him and cherish him, and be there for him as my Dad was for me. I wasn’t always the best father, but I think I’ve gotten a lot better over the years and I hope that Josh will remember me as fondly as I remember my Dad.

My son was a meth baby and it’s all my fault

I was reminded of this the other day, ironically during a conversation with a counsellor who was trying to tell me I need to leave the past behind and stop being driven by guilt.

But how? It is my fault. Yes, I got him back after losing him as a baby, and I’ve put my addiction years behind me. But still. I can’t shake this incredible sense of guilt. He struggles at school, and that is directly my fault. Me and his mother… but since she isn’t around to help, this is my responsibility alone.

It isn’t always easy, and I hope this year is better than last, but seeing him struggle and knowing it’s almost certainly because I and his mother were junkies before and during her pregnancy with him.. that gets to me. I’m sorry, Josh. I’m trying to make things right as best I can.

I’m not perfect… I’ve become too much his “friend” and not enough of his parent, and now I must slowly try to change that. Also my approach of telling him everything in the hope that it should deter him from ever using drugs (as I wrote about recently) could backfire according to that same counsellor… because by telling him too much I might normalize drugs instead of deterring him from them. So I’m trying to get some help and advice to see what I can do to be a better parent.

And now, as I wrote this, she called me, demanding that I send her my old phone and money, and calling me “the biggest poes” (South African slang for the biggest cunt, only less polite) because I refuse. Heck, I bought her a phone when she stayed here and she stole more than I ever paid for that old phone anyway. Also she blames me for Josh hating her. Meanwhile in reality I have defended her for years, and won’t even tell him I’m writing this. I hope he finds it one day after I’m long dead and that it reinforces what he already knows: that I am well aware of my mistakes and am doing my best to make up for them, if I possibly can. I love you, Josh.

Edit: I’m sorry if this comes across too negative… life is a struggle for me at the moment. It feels like even though it’s a year on, I haven’t come to terms with my mother’s death; my ex and Josh’s baby sister being here for several months really took a toll because I love the little girl but I can’t have my ex here; Josh’s struggles – for which I feel guilty; and work has been tough.

You are my sunshine (Part 1)

I’m having another horrible day in a horrible year, but maybe I can share something positive for a change. On December 15th, it was four years since my son Josh was returned fulltime to my care. Single parenting isn’t always easy, but I’m doing my best, and this kid of mine is the reason I’m still alive and kicking.

I don’t think I shared this before – actually I can’t remember, but I only received it when the social worker followed up months after foster care ended. Anyway, here is the document I received from my court date on December 15th 2015, when my son was returned to me.


A difficult question from my son: He asked, if he were to die, would I use meth again

It’s been a weird year. My depression, now being treated, is still there, lurking in the shadows. Nearly a month after starting to take an anti-depressant every morning, and I hardly feel it. At least, I don’t feel overwhelmed any more. But it’s there, the sadness, the wish that things had worked out differently, the wondering thoughts about the last few months, trying to play it back and pointlessly figure out a way for it to have worked out differently, they never end.

And it could have worked out differently. His sister was happy here, going to school here every day and looking forward to going to the same school as Josh next year. We were all let down by his mother. She really spoiled everything.

I try to be as open with my son as I can. He’s only eleven, but I talk to him about everything. Even drugs. I’ve tried to make him understand just how bad my addiction was, and just how serious the consequences of drug abuse can be. But, I don’t think it was real for him until that day in September.

That day, when he was home with a cold, and his mother and sister were both here too. That was the day I came home from work and she accused me of something awful, something that a family member of hers asked me not to write about again. So I won’t, except to say it is both awful and untrue.

But the point is, she was high. I could see it the minute I walked in the door. Josh sat on the couch, with Aishah huddled next to him, both of them afraid. Megan was ranting, anxious, and twitching. Touching her face as she mumbled and then shouted on and on, then shook her head from side to side, and fiddled again with her face, her arms, her legs, twitched some more, and then ranted and raved like only someone tweaking on meth can.

This was exactly what I never wanted him to see. This… the face of someone crazed by meth, it brought the reality of addiction home and shoved it in his face. It made this home unsafe, and I knew that moment that she had to go. I should have kicked her out on the spot, but could not for fear of what would happen to Aishah. I didn’t know she would rob me and steal my car a month later. Maybe I should have.

But after she was gone, Josh spoke to me about drugs again. Having seen the reality of it, he asked me if I would ever use again. I told him I would not, but then he asked, if he were to die, would I use then. The answer is still “No”. I am glad that he worries about me, glad in a way, but also sad that it had to come to this.

I’m also not sure if something needs to be done about his morbid fascination with death. Right now, my own depression is difficult enough. I have to sort out my own feelings before I can be better equipped to deal with his. I’m doing my best though.

I read a Facebook status, written by a friend whose 18 year old son died and it reminded me of this conversation last week. I haven’t been able to respond to that friend – I don’t know what to say. All I can do is imagine my own reaction if Josh were to die. I don’t know how I would cope, or even if I would. I know I wouldn’t use meth, but beyond that, I honestly can’t imagine how I would have any will to live. He’s all I have now. I miss his sister so much though.

Sometimes we need perspective

Lately I’ve been angry. Every day it’s been this way. Things just haven’t been going my way. But earlier this evening I went to an NA meeting for the first time since 2014. I went there to share that I’m six years clean, but also to share my feelings and frustration with others who might understand. And by pure chance, the topic of the meeting was perspective.

Sometimes life is shit. It has been for me, what with the death of my mother, the only person who stood by me in my years of struggling with addiction, and it’s been difficult to cope with my financial issues. Plus there’s that feeling that she who shall not be named has left me in the lurch once too often, such that I am often caring for two children on my own while having to endure the most pressure I’ve ever faced at work.

Add to that… today at around lunch time, someone I know showed up at my work claiming to have received a call from Child Welfare, after an email to Child Welfare sent from my son’s school alleged that I am back on drugs again. (There is no conceivable reason anyone at my son’s school would claim that I am back on drugs. I drop him off there in the morning and collect him in the afternoon. No one there has any context to make such a bizarre claim, so this implies that somebody who has an issue with me “pulled some strings” at the school to make such an email happen. Or the whole thing is a fabrication.) In shock, I took the allegations at face value, and complied with his absurd request for a drug test. So I went to the toilet with him, and pissed in a cup, taking extra care to shake off hard enough afterwards to get some piss on him. (Oops!) Test me all you want… I’m clean so it doesn’t matter… It only occurred to me much later that, if I am accused of using drugs, why didn’t anyone call me and request a formal meeting, or do an official test? Anyway, this is all very strange and pointless because I have been clean since September 2013 and will remain so for the rest of my life. Still, it made a shitty year even shittier.

By the way, this isn’t the first time such a false accusation has been made. Someone made such an accusation when I was two years clean as well. I suffer from rosacea, a chronic skin condition that causes inflammation on my face, including redness, sometimes pustules, and a burning sensation. At face value (pardon the stupid pun) it vaguely resembles the type of marks one can get from “picking” on meth, but only vaguely. The pustules in particular are small, yellow, and hard, unlike pimples. This is not a characteristic of meth sores, which are a result of picking at dry, itchy skin and typically include obvious scars, open wounds, and infections. So someone made such an allegation back then for this reason, and I have a recent flare-up of this skin condition again, so this is a possible reason for the accusation. Yet I’ve had the condition since my twenties, ten years before my meth addiction, and I’ll be 48 next month. (The condition was only correctly diagnosed around two years ago. Before that, doctors prescribed various cortisone concoctions that only gave temporary relief.) Unfortunately the medication I have for rosacea is 300mg of tetracycline every day, on a six month repeat prescription. It’s expensive and I have skipped it for a couple of months because my finances are tight. My point is, I am not convinced that anyone believes I’m using… more like they’re making deliberate false accusations for other malicious reasons.

But you know what? I have what is important to me. We all die. It’s inevitable. But we are not gone. We may live on in the memories of those whom we loved. I have Josh and Aishah, and at the end of the day, nothing else matters. I’m not going to let anger get the better of me any more. This family member, among other things, said that I think emotionally, like a child, not an adult… Yes, I do think emotionally. And I am proud to do so. It is why I am clean and alive today. I chose to stop using meth even though I didn’t really want to for me, for something greater than myself, for Josh and Aishah, for those whom I love. And then only after I had already stopped, being clean and sober became something I enjoy, but as a side-effect, a pleasant surprise.

We can be like some people and choose to value money over everything else. But the money you accumulate means nothing in the end if you are not loved, and do not love. I don’t give a fuck about money really, although it would be nice not being so broke all the time. I’d prefer to be more financially secure, but at the end, that’s not my priority. My priority is to be the best father to one child and father figure to the other, to love them and help them and build memories with them. Fuck everyone else and fuck anyone who makes ridiculous false accusations against me. (No really… I will comply with a request for a drug test any time, because I don’t use drugs.) I care about what is important, and that is… love. If that makes me childish, then so be it. Judge me if you want. I don’t give a fuck.

“I think they’re having a brother’s day at my school”, she said.

As I drove Aishah to school this morning, just after dropping Josh off, she remarked, “I think they’re having a brother’s day at my school.” I had to explain to her that brother’s day is not a thing.

Kids say the darndest things? It’s become something of a cliché, but they really do…

What happened was, her creche celebrated both mother’s and father’s day on the preceding Friday, with some activities to involve the parent. She insisted that I attend the father’s day celebration even though I am not her biological father, and it was good.

So… since she loves her brother, she assumed brother’s day is a thing too. This makes me happy. Megan and Aishah have been staying with us for about five months now… and it’s been up and down. Josh still doesn’t love his mother. But maybe he likes her a little, although he won’t admit it. But brother and sister, Josh and Aishah, are getting along well. They have grown into a normal sibling relationship and that is all I could have hoped for.

On the indoctrination or deconversion of children

Lately Aishah, who is six years old, has developed an amusing new habit. Whenever Megan, her (religious) mother, mentions Jesus or God, Aishah shouts out excitedly, “Jesus isn’t real!” It really pisses her mother off. She thinks it was me, that I told her to say it. I didn’t.

It isn’t my job as a parent to teach my children what to think. I strive to help them learn how to think. So I would never say “God isn’t real” or “Jesus isn’t real”. Josh might though… He’s eleven now and I don’t know what he says when I’m not there.

I have discussed some things with his sister. She loved my mother too, and was devastated when my mom died last December. So when she talked about her on the drive to school, and said, “I wish granny was still alive”, I talked openly about my feelings. I told her that I miss her too, and also explained that I don’t believe in god; I don’t believe in heaven or hell or any kind of afterlife; I don’t believe she’s watching over us; I believe she’s gone, and you don’t get to see her again. I explained that some people believe in god (and all those other things), and some people don’t. And that’s OK. That’s the big deal for me… letting her know it’s acceptable to disbelieve. I never knew – when I grew up I didn’t know disbelief was an option. As far as I knew everybody was Christian.

So when this little girl started saying, “I don’t think god is real” to me all on her own, I was pleasantly surprised. After all, “I doubt it” is the very foundation of critical thinking. (And to be honest, her shouting “Jesus isn’t real!” is an example of her teasing her mother. She’s a clever girl.)

Of course, religious people do not have the same standards… It used to infuriate me when I didn’t have custody of Josh, visiting him in a house where the children watched Christian DVD’s. Religious people do not teach their children that disbelief is an option. They have no problem with forcing the belief on their children, but they accuse us of doing the same thing. (Tu quoque much?) I hope that I’ve made the right decision in my choice not to impose my view on them, but I think they have. When they grow up, hopefully they will see the double-standard for what it is, and understand that religious indoctrination is nothing more than brainwashing.