Growing up as a kid, I never really had a functional family. I knew my parents fought a lot, but I never thought anything of it. There were days where it would get really bad, and I had to take my younger siblings into the basement. I figured my parents’ fighting was normal, but there was nothing normal about my family.
At the age of nine, I discovered from my mom that my dad was a recovering drug addict. I didn’t know how to handle the news at first. She pulled me over into the living room once I got home from school and told me that my dad wouldn’t be home for a little while. When I asked why, she said it was because he was away at jail. The words poured out of her mouth so easily—“Your dad is a drug addict” —and so did my tears. I had encountered the countless lessons on how drugs are bad, and that people who do them are bad people. But I never saw my dad as a bad person: he was my dad. Things between my dad and me got awkward when he came home. We used to be really close; I was my father’s daughter. We used to stay up late watching TV and talking. Now it was weird to even be around him. I never knew what to say to him, and I most certainly didn’t want to bring up what my mom told me. All I could do was cry. By the time I was eleven, the addiction overcame him, and we had to sell our house. I was forced to leave everything I ever knew behind. I had to say goodbye to all my friends and start over completely new. Throughout the rest of my elementary school and middle school career, I was constantly moving. I hated that I couldn’t stay in one place for more than a year. Whenever it seemed as though I had a solid set of friends, we were moving again. I became very shy and kept to myself because I didn’t see the point. I was beyond angry with my parents, especially my dad. The older I got the more I started to notice his bad habit. We use to live in a small townhouse in a neighborhood called Morgandale—that’s when I first notice my dad go through withdrawal. It was scary: he was trembling and looked very sick. Even at that point, I still couldn’t grasp that this was reality. I was hurt and furious at the fact that my mom did nothing about it, and I just didn’t understand. My dad became a disappearing figure, coming and going as he pleased. Every girl needs her father, but mine was never there when I needed him growing up.
His addiction didn't only affect me; it affected my mom too. She became someone I wasn't used to seeing. She used to be so strong and so happy, but now she was constantly depressed and worried. I didn't see that glow on her face anymore, and a lot of her burdens got transferred onto me. It was as though I had stepped in as a temporary mom. When my brother and sister had questions about our dad, I had to intervene because my mom was too depressed to handle it. Day by day I had to constantly lie to them, making up excuses for my dad’s disappearances. On top of dealing with my siblings, I had to be her shoulder to cry on because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to. She told me things about my dad that I didn’t want to know. I will never forget the day she told me that he was cheating on her, and as if that news wasn’t enough, it was with my best friend’s mom who lived across the street from us. I was never able to go over to my friend’s house after that, and nothing was the same. Shortly after they moved. My brother and sister were not allowed to know what was going on because my mom thought it would crush them. But what about me? Why didn’t she worry about how the news would affect me?
My mom never divorced him. I’m not sure why, and I always told myself it was because she needed him—something I can’t understand even to this day. I felt for my mom, but in a way I resented her as well. It’s not easy learning that your father is no superhero when you’re nine—especially not when he’s a non-recovering drug addict at that. I withheld my mom’s troubles, every secret she has ever told me. I felt as though it was my responsibility to keep her happy. The worst part of the whole situation was when the news got leaked out to not only my entire family, but also my friends and teachers. This especially made going to school more difficult for me. I had been going to a catholic school since pre-school; now I was embarrassed to even show my face there. I was so afraid of what people would think of me – the girl with a drug addict father. And I was right to be afraid because when people found out about my dad, I wasn’t treated the same anymore. My best friends at the time weren’t even allowed to hang out with me because their parents didn’t think it would be a good environment for their children to be in. This hurt more than anything—the fact that I was losing my friends over something my dad did. I had nobody to hang out with now. My teachers even started giving me special attention as though I wasn’t just like every other kid in their class, and I hated it. I didn’t want to stand out—all I wanted to do was fit in. I wanted my life back.
I think it finally hit my mom when we lost our house for the second time. It was a nice rancher in a neighborhood a little less sheltered than what I was used to. My favorite part of the house was that there was an in-ground pool in the backyard. My siblings and I spent a majority of our summer in that pool. This time, my dad got in trouble for counterfeiting. Back then, I was only twelve years old, and I didn’t know how serious it was. Many times I’d watch him play on the computer with paint and other types of software that were unfamiliar to me. He spent a lot of time each day on the computer, and whenever my siblings or I asked what he was doing, he would just smile and call it an experiment. Sometimes he would talk to me about his “experiment,” about things that interested him like what type of paper they use for money and the feel of it. He would get so excited when he felt as though he replicated the money closely enough. The bank ended up foreclosing on our home, and we were moving yet again—this time without my dad. He got caught when he tried to use the fake money at a local gas station. I remember watching a strange jet-black car appear in our driveway and an unfamiliar man coming out to ask for my dad. That was the last I saw of him for a while; he was sent back to jail. We ended up moving in with my aunt, which was really weird at first. Not only was I living in a house that wasn’t mine–my dad wasn’t there either. It was hard not having him around especially when he was the one I could talk to about anything. The news about my dad was all over the local newspapers, which humiliated me: not only did my friends’ parents know, but also my teachers at my new school did as well. It was like déjà vu, I started getting “special treatment” again, and I didn't like it. I hated that it seemed as though whenever I got a bad grade on a test, my teacher would pull me over to the side to check to see if I was ok, as though my dad affected my grade. My mom started to become even more stressed out with the struggles of a single parent, and I tried to help out as best as I could, whether it was helping my brother and sister with their homework or cooking dinner for the night. My mom never went to college so when she had to get a job, it wasn’t easy. She took whatever job she could get whether it was being a lunch lady or a deli worker at a grocery store. Either way, the fact that it was the only income made it hard to take care of three kids. Because my mom was always so busy, I had to learn to do many things on my own: filling out important paperwork regarding school or sports, earning and budgeting my money. I couldn't depend on my parents to be there for me because too much was going on.
Throughout middle school, it was as if I was playing catch up with the other teenagers. I couldn't have the nice things they had nor was I able to do the amount of things my fellow classmates could like going shopping every weekend or getting a car by the age of 16. It was hard to deal with at first, but each year it became something I was used to. There are a lot of things I learned with the absence of a father, and one of them was independence. By the age of sixteen, I worked for my money and learned how to drive on my own. I had determination. Because of my parents’ mistakes, it created a passion in me—a passion to do things differently.
Now that I’m 18, I can say I am definitely a stronger person. I took the right turn towards my future. I reached my goal of being the first in my family to go to college. I’m currently a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania, five hours away from my home. I’m a contributing writer for my school newspaper, an active member of the society of professional journalism chapter, a senator for student government, and a member of the women’s rugby team. I still maintain good grades, and I juggle a part-time job at Ruby Tuesdays. My dreams are just growing and growing. And one day, I will conquer more, possibly even New York City.
In a way, I thank my father for doing what he did because it taught me how to be a strong, independent young woman. My father reappeared in my life during my senior year of high school. He said he is trying to change, but I am still wary of it. But because of my past, I know how to handle tough situations. Because of my parents and what I've been through, I will never give up. I learned that everything happens for a reason. So I take every situation as a lesson learned. Without my lesson, I wouldn't be the person I am today. My brother and sister still don’t know the full story. But honestly, I think it’s better that way. My relationships with my parents aren’t perfect; my mom and I don’t always get along, and I haven’t completely forgiven her for telling me about my dad at such a young age. I am also afraid my relationship with my dad will never be fully repaired, but I understand that people make mistakes. This is the family God gave me, and I love them, no matter what.