I’ve been a dad for almost nineteen years. Six of those years I spent homeless. Those years are the ones that hurt me the most right now. I think about them far too much. I think about how my daughter’s life might have turned out if I hadn’t lost my career and then my house. I think about how much happier she’d be. How much safer she would have been, away from her mother’s second (now second ex) husband. Happier to have grown up where she was born, and remained there, and gone to a regular high school and, had a dad with a respectable job who made a good living.
Instead she was trapped at her mom’s house while I lived in a Yukon and struggled to remain alive, and in her life.
I missed far too many moments. But I haven’t missed them entirely. I keep seeing them in my heart. They won’t go away. I can’t forgive myself for being homeless. I still see myself in that Yukon, sleeping on that foam roll. It still hurts.
It’s infusing itself into everything I do these days. Maybe writing a book about it wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I shouldn’t have dredged it up again. But I did.
Now I can’t escape it. I can’t stop wondering “what if?” I can’t stop thinking about how my bed used to feel, how my house smelled, how my coffee tasted when I drank it looking out the window at five acres of the Tennessee countryside.
I can’t stop thinking about my daughter when she was my little girl…not an almost-nineteen-year-old woman who needs me less and less and has dreams of her own that she is struggling to get off the ground.
I’ve never been a “Who am I?” type of guy. But now I am. I’m not confidant in my role in life. I wonder what it is I’m really here for. To be good at my job? I’ve always been good at whatever job I’ve held, dating back to cutting the neighbor’s grass for five bucks a week. Good at being a dad? I was great at that until she was ten and I became homeless. I was as good as I could be after that. By the time we got here to Lynchburg she was sixteen and I was dealing with an adult. I feel like I’ve failed her. I feel like I failed me.
For the first time in my life, I am truly afraid.
Even when I was homeless, somehow I had faith that it was going to work out eventually. I was frustrated, angry, sometimes bitter, weary, hopeless at times…but never afraid. Not for long anyway.
But I am now.
I’m afraid of ending up there again. I’m afraid of failing my daughter somehow. I’m afraid of growing old alone, and afraid of growing old with the wrong person and ending up divorced again. I’m afraid of failure. Petrified of failure.
I check my work emails at night, even though I know there won’t be anything there that I need to address before work the next day. I read emails I’ve sent; afraid I’ll catch a mistake. I look at my calendar afraid I’ll forget a meeting or that I forgot to set one. I re-think conversations and wish I had chosen different words. Every Thursday we’re tasked with emailing a few accomplishments for the week. On Wednesday night I worry myself sick wondering if anything I accomplished is actually an “accomplishment.” I have lately taken to analyzing myself into oblivion. Because I’m afraid.
I’m afraid that I’m old and I’m the only one who doesn’t realize it. I’m afraid I’ll become that old guy who doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand that he’s become old and all the younger people smile politely but snicker when he walks past, because he’s an entire generation remove from relevance.
I’m afraid that the tail end of my “best years” were spent homeless instead of being great at my job as I once was. I’m afraid my daughter is permanently scarred from all she’s lived through.
Rich Mullins wrote a song right before he died. It’s called “Hard to get.” There is a line within the song that goes like this:
“I’m reeling from these voices that keep ringing in my ears,
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret.”
I’m reeling. The voices won’t stop ringing in my ears. The voice of my daughter calling me “Daddy” (which she no longer calls me. Now it’s “Dad”) and asking me to push her on the swing just a few minutes more. Or her delight watching our litter of pups being born. I hear her voice on the phone on those horrible nights when she would call me and beg me to come rescue her from her mom’s house and I couldn’t do a darned thing, because I was homeless. How betrayed did that make her feel? When will I forgive myself for that?
It’s been three years since I was homeless but I’m still -in many ways- trapped in that Yukon. And I’m afraid that’s where I’ll remain. At least in my heart.
And I hate being afraid…