I’ve Screwed Up, But I’m Trying The Best I Can

I was about five when my parents divorced. After that, I really didn’t see my dad a whole lot for a few years–until around the time that my dad found out he had cancer.  I was about eight when he started stopping by our house a lot, and we did a lot of stuff together: camping, fishing, going out to eat.

During that time, he taught me things through our experiences together. One time I was helping him pump gas at the gas station. We heard another guy screaming at his girlfriend, and from the bed of the pickup truck, I watched as my dad walked up to him and said, “You need to stop!” The guy was like, “Who the hell are you?” My dad said something about whipping his ass if he didn’t stop, and I think the guy got the picture (my dad was a big man). When my dad walked back to the truck, he said to me, “If I ever, ever hear of you yelling at a female like that, that’ll be you sometime.” My dad was very, very respectful to women, and he taught me the same thing.

James and his dad
James, his dad, and his brother

But then he had a brain tumor, and he wasn’t able to get out of the house much. Not long after that, the doctors told him that the cancer had spread, and there was nothing they could do, except to make him comfortable. My mom and I moved to his house to take care of him.

I was kind of numb to the situation. I didn’t really fully understand what was happening, and as a kid, I was holding out hope that he would make it. But then, one day when my mom and I were out running errands, my grandma called. She said that we should get back as quickly as possible, that he was going to die soon. Before we even got back, he had died. I couldn’t even go in the room when we got there. I tried, but when I saw him lying in bed, I just kind of froze and walked right back out. That was the first time I had seen a relative pass away. And from there, I pretty much broke down; it hit home that he was gone.

After my dad’s passing, I froze and put it in the back of my mind. Life as a kid and as a teenager was pretty normal. But looking back, I can see how I really didn’t let myself move on from his death. Like I said, I froze. And then, when I was about 18, I started to get really depressed. But instead of dealing with the source of my depression, I began self-medicating by using hard drugs. I was trying to numb the pain of everything. People would tell me, “You have to deal with your issues.” But I ignored them; I told them that I was using drugs just for the fun of it. But it wasn’t true, and in the back of my mind, I knew that.

I’ve learned that when people use drugs, there are usually underlying issues. That’s what it goes back to: there is an underlying issue when they were younger that was a big event and they’re using drugs to mask it. I’m sure there are some people that are doing drugs just to do drugs, but most of the time it’s done to mask what’s going on in your life–the pain, or whatever happened. For me, it was the death of my father.

But it was a stupid decision to use drugs. Because once I did get the courage to visit a counselor, it helped a lot: I got stuff off my chest. And as I talked with the counselor about my depression, it went back to my dad every single time. Through that process of talking with the counselor, I was finally allowing myself to move on. In other words, there was a better way to deal with the pain than using drugs.

In the meantime, though, I had developed a drug dependency–and it began affecting my new family. When my kids came–I have three–I was really happy and excited, but things started spiraling out of control really quickly. It got pretty crazy there for a few years.

It would be easy to give up, but I just can’t do that. Once, when I visited my dad’s gravesite with my oldest son (he was 19 months at the time), I made a promise to my dad. As my son and I knelt by his graveside, I said,

Dad, I promise I will do everything humanly possible to be the best father/person/husband I can to my children and family. No one can compare to how much of an amazing father and person you were while you were here, but I’ll try my damndest to try and be exactly like you. We kids may not have gotten to see you everyday but when you weren’t busting your ass working 15 and 20 hour days to make sure we had a roof over our head, food and drink in our belly, and all the toys and clothes we could handle, I cherished every damn minute of what time I got with you. I may not have been the best father/person I could have been over these last few years and I’ve screwed up a lot and I know of all people you will forgive me, but god damnit I’m doing my best to be the best I can.

And that’s where I am today: a little battered and bruised, but doing my best to be the best I can. Right now, I’m trying to get custody of my kids, and during a recent meeting, my lawyer flat-out asked me, “Are you going to be one of those deadbeat dads who doesn’t show up for the court date?”

I looked at him and I told him, “No, I’ll be here. I want to get my kids back.” As my dad used to say, “Family is everything.” Friends come and go, but family is pretty much forever–no matter what happens. Yes, I may not have been the best father and person I could have been over the past few years. Yes, I have screwed up. But I’m going to try my damndest to be there for my family, no matter what happens.

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