Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day at Prison Camp: Missing My Family

As I walked yesterday morning across the camp toward the library, I looked through the trees toward the visiting center and the long line of visitors waiting at the front door. Mothers, fathers, kids, wives: everyone was visiting for father's day. On the other side, behind a fence, stood the inmates in their green dress uniforms waiting to be called.

I was happy for all the men who had visitors but, just like sometime's it's hard to talk with someone who only has a month or two left on his sentence, so too it is hard to see so many visitors when you don't have any. Ok, I was jealous. And homesick. Most days it's more or less ok but seeing that long line made me feel lonely and cut off. I dreamed of looking through those trees and seeing my son and daughter waiting to see me.

The hardest part for me is that I haven't spoken to my kids since I checked into prison camp. It's not becaue I don't want to. The truth is, I miss them terribly, never more so than on this day.  But they're still in Russia and I can't call internationally from here. So it's been a long time since I've even heard their voices. I worry that, to them, it's as if I dropped off the face of the earth.

On Friday afternoon, before all this happened, I was listening to a piece on Science Friday on NPR entitled "Are Dads Necessary?"  No surprise here, but all the many experts they gathered concluded that they are. Without active fathers involved in their lives - fathers who are there to play with them, listen to them, help them with their homework - children grow up to be less happy, less successful adults. An interesting quote from one of the experts on the program was that "there's no such thing as quality time, just time." Another recent new piece highlighted the crisis of incarceration, in particular the effect that imprisonment has on the children of felons. It's a rarely studied issue but experts conclude that the effects are great.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment but these "truths" were hard for me to hear. My big regret, the elephant in the room, the source of endless guilt, is not what happened to me but what I did to my children, my family. The more I listened, the more upset I became: it's hard to hear about the importance of active dads when you've totally and completely abdicated your role. My ex-wife recently wrote to me that my son craves attention from adult men. It's not hard to figure out why: I just wish that attention could be from me. 

The thing is, before all my self-inflicted problems arose, I prided myself on being the perfect dad. I loved to spend time with my children and was always there for them. I helped them with their homework, coached their sports teams, played with them on weekends, taught them to swim, spent hours on the playground. I was one of those annoying, overly-involved modern fathers making up in one fell swoop for all the uninvolved fathers and father's fathers who came before. But the thing is? I loved it. Almost every minute. I'm nurturing by nature and found an outlet for my love. And then my world, and the world of my family, came crashing down. All because of me and what I did.

So, as Freud might say, there's a bit of supressed guilt pent up within....

But all is not lost. My aunt and cousin had planned to visit but were prevented by bureaucratic delays in getting their names on a list. I'm sure they'll come soon. And, joy of joys, my kids are about to move to Los Angeles so - I hope, hope, hope - frequent visits await.

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