When it comes to fatherhood, I know I’d be way down the list if selections were made for “Father of the Year.” Looking back, it seems I did everything wrong.
It’s a startling realization, I now know, that as a young man if had written up my resume on my qualifications for getting married and becoming a dad, I would have failed miserably. After the job interview, I’d have been told, “Ha, ha, ha. Now get out and don’t bother coming back. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Mercifully, I wasn’t interviewed and, with the cockiness of a young kid who was apparently already smarter than most adults and already knew everything worth knowing, I proceeded to get married, jumping into fatherhood with both feet. I’d been a kid for 20 years. What other qualifications would I need?
I was raised in a poor family in a small town in southeastern New Mexico, across the tracks in a poor neighborhood. My father barely made enough to put food on the table and very little was left for any extras. My siblings and I learned early how to do without. Our parents were raised in the post war, post-depression years, and knew how to scrimp. Neither one had graduated from high school. Their labor and meek wages were more important to their parents than an education.
By the time we kids came along, my mom, heaven help us, had decided all seven of us needed an education. She was crazy like that. My efforts to convince her I’d be more help to her at home than in a stuffy old school room were met with a pretty good argument: “Shut up, get your lazy butt outta bed, and get ready for school, or I’ll give you something to whine about.”
In defense of our parents, they were raised the old way: “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” and “children should be seen and not heard.” Those principles were deeply imbedded in them by their parents. In today’s world, the words “I love you” are used many times daily in raising children. In contrast, my parents never used those words. We knew we were loved and didn’t have to be told.
I mention my mom more than my dad because she was the driving force, the power to be reckoned within our family. Although she didn’t have much to give in the way of material things, she made damn sure we knew what honesty, ethics, morals, and respect were. She was quick to resort to punishment when necessary. Dad, on the other hand, was busy trying to make ends meet and putting food on the table.
But, I digress.
Jumping Into Parenthood
Truthfully, my wife, Vicki, was far more qualified to be a parent than me. She had been raised an only child – never had to fight over that last pork chop. She was patient, even-tempered, (pampered, I’d tell her), and openly caring. I was, in contrast, impatient and quick tempered. But like I told her, “My grandfather was a bootlegger out of Arkansas. The outlaw genes are in me, can’t do anything about it. If I lose my temper or cuss every now and then, it’s not my fault, it’s genetics.” “Hmmmpf,” she said.
My wife and I were blessed with five children – two boys and three girls. At eight months old, our first daughter, Jill, began having seizures and was diagnosed with a brain injury to the left side of her brain. It was present at birth, affecting her speech, causing autism, and handicapping her severely.
Nothing, no experience in my life, had prepared us for this. An eight-month old child having seizures was a frightening thing for two young parents to watch. It was difficult knowing there’s nothing you can do but watch while your baby has convulsions and make sure they don’t hurt themselves by moving uncontrollably during convulsions, grand mal and petit mal seizures. During the first years, she’d sometimes have two or three seizures a day, as often as three times a week. She’s now grown into an adult, living with her mom and me, loved and cared for by her entire family. I’m proud to say we’ve had plenty of help tending Jill from all our children. If nothing else, she’s taught me patience.
Besides being our first daughter, Jill is our middle child. She has two brothers, John and Joel, and two sisters, Jana and Juli. John is a supervisor at Navajo in Artesia, Joel works at Farmers Market in Roswell, Jana is a CNA for Encompass in Carlsbad, and Juli, our youngest, is a school teacher at Zia. It’s a large family by some people’s standards, but, of course, we’re happy. Vic and I are in our seventies now and we know Jill will most likely outlive us. It’s comforting knowing that the other four children will help with Jill after we’re gone.
Our other four children have always been helpful with Jill, providing overnight care for her when Vic and I are out of town, on vacation, or just to give us a short break. The last two years we’ve taken Jill with us on our vacations because she loves to travel. The kids take Jill shopping, bowling, and on trips to the park with their children. We have nine grandchildren and three great- grandchildren. Jill never complains when we leave her with her brothers or sisters, but she is happy when we return and she gets to go back home to her comfort zone.
It’s a shocking awakening to discover you’re not in control. In life, things happen that are out of our control, but we must all play the cards we are dealt. Happily, there’s a silver lining in every cloud; the start of a new way of life, a new journey, a different perspective, a chance to learn; a time to “cowboy up.” Why were we chosen? Who knows, but when confronted with hardship, we can either run or accept our path. Surprisingly, some do run. I’ve seen it. I know there are great homes for the mentally handicapped, and many great qualified people to tend them. But I could never make that choice, entrusting my daughter to any home other than her family who loves her. My heart wouldn’t let me do that, and I know she wouldn’t understand if that’s that choice I made.
Jill is a pretty young lady. I have a hard time calling her a “young lady” because she’s still a little girl to me who needs constant supervision. She’s now 41 years old with the mind of a young child in many ways. I’m thrilled to say she has been seizure free for four years now thanks in large part to her medicine, Tegretol. She loves to go to the lodge with her mom and me for tacos and music. We’ve also taken her to the casino because she loves the bells, whistles, and neon lights.
Jill loves to wear jewelry, perfume, pretty clothes, and loves to have her nails painted. She and her mom get their nails done professionally about once a month, and Jill has even taken the initiative a time or two to paint her own nails. She usually stops painting somewhere around the first knuckle. She enjoys going for walks and has assumed the job of picking up the trash on the blocks near our home; a job she takes very seriously. The daily walking – morning and evening – is my job. We grab a trash sack and our hats and head outside twice a day. An attempt on my part to skip the walk will only come after the fight even when we are experiencing rain, sleet, snow, or dust. If you drive down Hermosa Street, you’ve probably seen Jill and me many times. Warning, if there’s a party going on in one of the yards down the street, she’s not shy about crashing the party, moving thru the crowd and picking up trash. People look at me funny, but…
Jill attends “dayhab” at Aspire Developmental Services, which is a great program with amazing staff here in Artesia for individuals with special needs. Each morning, Jill showers and dresses with help from her mother. I dry and comb her hair and Jill assists us in preparing her lunch. After Jill learned what money was for, I’d give her a dollar each morning for the coke machine at dayhab. At times, she’d take the liberty of taking money out of my wallet for cokes. One morning she was caught putting a hundred dollar bill in the machine. Luckily, we were notified. I guess I was out of one dollar bills that day.
Jill loves to shop, especially at Walmart. She has been known to load toys into the shopping cart, oblivious to price or quantity. A little careful give and take on her part and mine usually solves the problem. Not one to give in easily though, sometimes I have to take one for the team and get out the checkbook. The dayhab staff often takes the clients to Walmart and Jill knows she can’t buy on those trips. If you shop there you’ve likely seen the individuals. They love to be noticed, so a friendly hello means a lot to them.
If you were expecting a quick “how to” on parenting, I’m sorry to say I don’t have what you’re looking for. All kids are different. I guess we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve raised five great kids and we are proud of all of them. Sure, there are many things I’d change if I could go back, but, hey, sadly, we only get one shot at “parenthood.”