“I don’t believe in predicting, especially about the future.” Casey Stengel
Trying to tie all of the thoughts and ideas swirling about in my head in regards to this blog piece has me in a whirl…and yet, inside of me, I know why. So in a somewhat confused state of mind I will try to piece all of this together and share why it is so hard for me to write about Father’s Day. I know I must in order to heal the wounds inside of me that have festered for too many years – the trauma of losing my children. I know I need to start speaking, writing and sharing more about this, at the very least for myself. I need to expunge the toxins that reside in me because of these wounds and hurts. I have shared throughout the years the need for all of us to speak our truth, share our stories and narrative about the trauma, the pain, the suffering and the losses in our lives for us to heal because we deserve it. In my heart, I know this will help me to heal these long neglected wounds. I also am quite mindful that my words, my story will also resonate with so many others …so my sharing is also another form of advocacy to hang my hat onto. And I am quite aware that some will not want me to write of these things…so be it.
Father’s Day has long been a poignant time for me…as a young boy it was a time of great confusion. One was constantly bombarded with all of the Hallmark Card ads and mindset distilled throughout society that Father’s Day was a day to honor one’s dad. Wow! How does one honor a dad you lived in fear of?
The lessons I learned from my father in addition to fear, was to not trust anyone and that life was hard and brutal under his roof. My ‘mother’ was cut from the same cloth as my ‘father’…but her physical and emotional pains inflicted upon me as a child were a bit more bearable than that of my father’s assaults – he was stronger and knew how to hurt.
I learned from my father that bullies were the biggest cowards in life – but it was a very painful lesson to learn. I was a constant target of bullies at school and at the bus stop. One fateful day, three of the bullies in my life were having a great time beating and spitting upon me. I had just started third grade and this looked like it was going to be another long hard year at school. Aahhh…but life had another lesson for me to learn…a lesson to be learned from dear old dad. I walked home from the bus stop, tears streaming down my face, my clothes torn and so darn sad and confused as to why they wanted to hurt me as they did. For some reason, my father’s work truck was back in the driveway – long story short, he asked me what happened, I told him…and then he proceeded to beat the heck out of me and knocked me to the floor, kicking, cursing and calling me “a f***ing coward” because I didn’t fight back. He picked me up by my throat and gave me a simple choice, go back and face them or get more of the same from him. I told him once again that there are three of them, to which he screamed back – “you got a lunchbox, use it”. Back at the bus stop, I did use my lunch box…and I learned a valuable lesson, though a quite painful one. What I came to call, “The Lunchbox Theory” – bullies are the biggest cowards in life and if you stood up to them and fought back, they eventually left you alone, because they wanted an easy prey. No longer would I be an easy mark for them.
I learned from my father by observation, to work hard; despite his failings as a father and as a human being, he was a hard worker. He kept his tools clean and in pristine shape – I still own all of the tools I bought as a teenager…and they are still used to this day. My father was a good cook…though he would never teach me how to cook, I learned to cook from watching him. So in a round about way, my father taught me how to be strong and stand up for myself, work hard, be a good cook and take care of my possessions…he did not teach me about love…that I had to learn from my own children.
I was fortunate to have in my life some good role models of fathers – the dads of my childhood friends. Dads who taught their sons how to play baseball, throw a football, fix a flat tire, drive a car, take them fishing and boating, to the movies, or simply ask them “how was your day?” I was like a sponge in absorbing all that I could from these good men and my simple hopes and dreams were to someday be a loving and caring dad like these fathers were.
I felt truly blessed becoming a dad. The births of my five daughters were the greatest gifts bestowed upon me as a human being – I learned so much from my children. Once again I was the sponge watching and listening to all that they said – they were incredible and I was awe struck as to how kids can be, when in an environment of love and safety. For that is something my ex-wife and I tried so hard to do, to not have the type of environments that we grew up in. Despite our respective upbringings we did our level best to create a home of love and support for our children – we had our share of struggles and imperfections as a couple and as parents, but we did love and care for our children.
Why my ex-wife would turn upon me so when I became “mentally ill”, I doubt that I will ever really know. I’ve asked the question, Why?, so many times in regards to my parents brutality and sexual abuse and I still have no answer – yes, they grew up in brutally abusive homes, but so did I and I did not do that to my children. I’ve asked “why” in regards to my ex-wife as to why she came to hold me in such contempt for dealing with the trauma and abuse of my past – I did not ask for the post traumatic stress or the depression…and yet she came to treat me as if it was my fault, I was to blame for becoming weak. Soon the perceived weaknesses of mine, my failings as a human being, gave way to her new religious beliefs in which I was possessed by evil and she would have Satan driven from me by way of an exorcism performed by her pastor and several church elders. I was too weak from depression and the drug stupor I was in from being over-medicated on psychiatric drugs to mount a protest – so I lay in bed while the devil was driven from my soul. Wow! – what do you say in this day and age to such foolishness and ignorance? I thought that had gone the way of the Middle Ages – I know now that I am wrong and sadly that mindset is still practiced today all over the world by some upon those labeled “mentally ill.”
The divorce in of itself was painful, but to hear her and her attorney use the words “mentally ill” as the basis to keep me from seeing our children was so hard to hear and deal with. And the constant lies kept me numb struck – I was with our kids all of the time till she filed for divorce. I got it – she wanted out, that she was seeing someone else – but why did she have to destroy the loving relationship between a father and his children? A loving and caring mother would have done her level best to preserve that special bond. And why would she re-marry and put another man’s last name on our children – and still I was denied the opportunity to see my children?…though I was still required to pay child support upon all of them till their 18th birthday. I never had heard of the words “parental alienation” much less know what it meant – that would be another hard lesson to learn. I accumulated forty thousand dollars in legal bills in my efforts to stay connected with my children – I finally learned that my efforts were as futile as trying to hold back the sea with a teaspoon. The harsh reality of the pain and hurt associated with having the label of “mental illness” bestowed upon you came from one of my last court appearances. My attorney and I were in front of the judge and my lawyer told the judge how there has never been a history of violence or abuse directed at my ex-wife or our five children and it was time to have me back in their lives. The judge’s remarks said it all for me and I knew then I was in an uphill battle that I would never win – “I know Mr. Skinner isn’t violent, he’s mentally ill.”…it was time to walk away and move on with my life as best that I could.
Casey Stengel’s words ring true for me in so many ways….there was a time that I tried to predict or thought I knew my future, and yet, so many times I was brought back to reality when things changed…sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Being a father, a dad to my five daughters was something that would always be a part of my future, or so I thought…unfortunately, time would show me that I was painfully and horribly mistaken in those beliefs, hopes and dreams.
The judge’s words brought everything crashing into focus…though a quite painful one. If he believed my“mental illness” was enough to keep me from my children….what were the thoughts in my own kids minds of having to hear from their mother over and over again of what a bad man I am….that I am a weak man, and one who could not be trusted. Coupled with her own new-found religious fervor, which found its way into the hearts and minds of some of my adult children, I was in a no-win situation. To have an adult daughter give me a book to read that will “help us” to reconnect still haunts me – I desperately wanted to be back in her life…so I did start to read the book, but after several pages of reading how I needed to be purged of the devil from my soul, I knew this was going to go nowhere. Not being welcomed in another daughter’s home because my girlfriend and I are unmarried also causes my head to shake in disbelief – I’ve been judged by so many, starting with my parents, now my own children are judging me. I have not seen my two youngest since 1996 when they they were five and ten years old – they once thought the world of me, now I know they have no regard for me at all…and that does hurt. It hurts like hell…. In brief moments of seeing a few of my adult children, they would apologize to me and let me know they were forced to take sides – I never asked them to take sides…I just wanted to be in their lives again and to rebuild the love that was there and to start anew – just as child abuse leaves a wake of destruction and hurt, so does the child abuse of parental alienation…and we have a long way to go in recognizing that and finding the means and the ways of healing the harm that it causes.
I know I have made mistakes as a father, a husband and as a human being, but there was nothing that I did to warrant the extreme parental alienation that was perpetrated upon me by my ex-wife. I am a good man and will continue to grow and learn in becoming a better human being. My efforts to raise awareness on all of the forms of child abuse and the harm it causes to all of us will be something I will continue to work on till my dying days.
Recently a friend of mine shared some thoughts with me in regards to the loss of my children – she let me know that she sees me as a father trying to help all of the children in the world because of my advocacy on child abuse….so be it…but I will always miss and grieve my own children…but life moves on and so am I….
Take care, Mike
Related articles –
1] College Essay About a Hero – Alisa Skinner
2] Striking a Chord – Anchor Magazine