Guilt, Shame: Parents

If I had to pick the event that set my life into motion, I’d go with the divorce of my parents. It happened when I was close the the age of 5 or 6, and I don’t recall the specifics of it. The parts I remember about life at the time overall are fleeting. I remember Voltron and Gumby on an old school cube shaped CRT TV. I remember the mumps, chicken pox and stepping on a sticky glue mouse trap. I remember crying the first time I saw Michael Jackson transform into a Werecreature in Thriller and I remember my intrigue when a video tape dub of a movie turned out to be a porno. My mother was young, my father was old. I remember an uncle and remember living in one of the outer boroughs of New York City. 

One day everything changed though I’m confident it took much longer than that. Where once I had two parents, suddenly I only had my mother. Where we once lived in a stable home, I now moved from place to place with her, apartment to apartment, and for a long time, couch to couch. I remember a boyfriend in the Bronx and being awake for hours watching Sunday TV as my mom and her boyfriend slept the night off. I remember being in a dump in Brooklyn living with god knows how many people. I recall us living with cousins in there apartment for a few years and then moving downstairs to live with my grandmother for several more before we finally got our own place in the projects. 

The Bronx boyfriend was not very fond of me. Another boyfriend was in jail for most of my childhood. My brother’s father was an abusive alcoholic who abused my mother before my eyes, holding her at gun point in front of me when she decided to leave him. My youngest brother’s father was married with children when he got my mother pregnant. My own father settled in Manhattan and provided anything I asked him for until material things no longer fit the bill. He made lots of promises he never ended up keeping and I saw him once a week until we left New York. 

My mother was no angel. She was admittedly way too young to have me, yet she did anyway just shy of 18 years old. As a person who at the end of her life had gotten her GED, her sobriety coin, lost a mother and a son, had no real father, suffered through undiagnosed depression, disability and alcoholism, she did the best she could with the cards we were dealt. When I was 18, I left her and my brothers behind to serve in the Army. She died several weeks before the start of the new millennium. My father died in 2010. 

So, where is the shame in all this? Where does my guilt lie? 

  • I could not keep my parents together. 
  • I did not have the strength to protect my mother from abuse. 
  • I left my mother behind to start my own life. 
  • I severed contact with my father after my mother’s death, never speaking to him again. 

Pondering on the first bullet is pretty straightforward when I read the words: just how does a 5 year old child keep his or her parents from divorcing? Does a kid have that power? I know I didn’t, just as my own children did not have the ability to keep their mother and I together. 

The second point is harder to address. Saying I didn’t have the strength is accurate. I was 10, short and scrawny. He was in his mid to late 30’s, an army veteran and endowed with drunktard strength. I didn’t have a chance if it ever came down to physicalities. He could have easily snuffed me out. These first two points truly come down to things outside of my control. Perhaps it makes them easily to address and overcome. 

The last two points are not so easily dismissed in neither my heart nor mind. Leaving home was a personal decision. So was cutting my father out of my life. Still in hindsight, there are differences between the two decisions. 

Leaving to the military was a strategic decision. There was no college scholarship or inheritance coming to me. There was family business to take me under it’s wing. I would have graduated, went out into the world to try and make a name for myself like everyone else while trying to help my mother raise my brothers. Yet as I theorize on what I would have done and how things may have been, the flip side of that coin is that if I’d stayed, it is very possible that my mother would not have returned to New York, where my brother would later die the same year, and her the year after. It can be said that her choice to move back was hers and hers alone. It can also be said that she may not have left if I had stayed with her. These are what if’s, woulda-coulda’s that were still out of my control to a point. 

Locking my father out of my life however, was all me and that’s hard to swallow because there was no good reason to do so. He did nothing wrong. I simply threw a temper tantrum. In the wake of losing my mother, I lashed out at my father and exiled myself until his death. The last words I ever said to him were out of anger and we never spoke again. There’s no one or nothing to blame my actions on. I had ten years to come around and reach out to him and I never did. I let him die thinking his only son didn’t love him. 

My behavior towards my father was inexcusable and something I have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s a despicable act I’m not proud of doing that I have to come to terms with. Some might say my reaction to losing my mother was natural. The ten years as an absent son was anything but. In this, there is real, true shame that I cannot explain away. 


Guilt, Shame: Parents