*I've never "dedicated" a blog article before. But I'm going to with this one. This article...and hopefully the awareness it stirs...is for those for whom this journey became too hard. The weight became too heavy, The night too dark...
...and the loneliness too lonely. You weren't alone after all...
My “Open Letter to Obama” has gotten some attention, that’s for certain. Attention from some in the media, thousands on Twitter and Facebook, and the blogosphere.
But one group of people has been paying attention to this letter, and subsequently to my plight, with particular interest. It’s the people who have been or currently are in, the same situation.
If you get a moment, go back to that article (An Open Letter To President Obama) Link is here: Open Letter and read the comments. These are real people. People who owned homes, and had dreams, and lived lives. They aren't lazy, or slackers, or stupid people. They weren't drug abusers or alcoholics. They probably weren't “In over their heads” financially. One man has an advanced degree. One lady faced severe physical health issues.
Last night, I got a message from a friend on Twitter. Her brother in law committed suicide two years ago because of a situation almost exactly like mine. She told me that she wished he could have read my article, because who knows but that it might have stopped that tragedy.
I have, in the past, been accused of being too honest in my writing. People wonder why I lay my soul out there for public scrutiny. It’s because of notes like that. It’s because countless times over the past 6 years I have been writing and blogging and telling my story –first of being a single dad and the man’s side of a painful divorce, then of homelessness- and I have heard from the broken. I have collected hundreds of emails, and comments from men who didn't want their divorce. Who loved their wife and adored their family and wanted only to be a good husband and father. The overwhelming majority of the time a man finds my divorced dad’s blog, he uses some variant of the search “Divorced dad...missing my kids.” Most of the time these searches come at very early hours...2 or 3 AM. I imagine it’s a sleepless daddy who is so broken and so consumed with longing for his children that he types those words in a search engine just hoping that whatever bounces back brings him comfort.
Hearing of this dad who could not face another day in a world that saw him as a failure broke my heart. It broke my heart because it reveals a lot about this nation and it’s moral compass.
We live in a country now, where being a man means having the world on your shoulders. And if you stumble and fall, you are a failure. Zig Ziglar often said “Failure is an event...not a person.” But sadly...old Zig doesn't speak for this America. He did, for a long time men like Zig expressed the heart of this country. But we've become a jagged, fractured, disconnected collection of individuals and personal goals. We don’t live in neighborhoods anymore. We live in clusters of houses. Bunkers. Beautiful, well decorated, immaculately landscaped prisons of individuality and isolation. Cookouts and block parties are a thing of the past. And with them...friendship. With them, a caring, concerned sense of community and belonging.
When you separate everyone into little fractured piles of individuality and selfishness, when you pit race against race, class against class, and heritage against heritage...you get isolated people. You kill community. You destroy neighborhoods. We have a President right now who relishes in this. A man who has made it an art form to divide us against each other. White against black. Black against white. Conservative black against liberal black, against Hispanic, against Catholic, against left-handed Americans of German ancestry, born on Tuesdays between 1953 and 2011. He has us in 350 million phone booths, broken apart from each other.
When that happens...when a nation united becomes a nation untied...a place where 350 million people just live side by side without ever becoming real honest friends...then broken hearted dads who face hard times find no hope, and they kill themselves.
Let me tell you a little of how hard this is.
One time, fairly early in this homeless walk of mine, I went to my daughter’s school to have lunch with her. She was in the sixth grade. We had a blast together at her lunch table, as we always did. I was always in the habit of having lunch with her at least once a week as it was. But after being homeless, I did it a little more frequently when I could, because it gave us more time together.
I left her school and got in my car and drove off. About a mile down the road, I had to pull over. A wave of grief came over me and I knew a meltdown was coming. I pulled into a parking lot and broke down into deep, body-wracking sobs. Why? Because walking out of her school that day, the thought came over me in a terrible, dreadful flood: “What if one of her friends finds out I’m homeless? What if they start teasing her because of it?” It was more than my daddy’s heart could bear. I wept loudly for probably 15 minutes.
In the first few days after losing my home, a friend let Morgan and I use a loft apartment over their barn to stay in. It had a bathroom and shower and a living room. We slept on air mattresses. She was barely 10 years old. It was sort of an adventure to her and I don’t know that she quite comprehended what it meant when I said we weren't living at our house anymore.
We had a beautiful cat named Giacomo. Jackie had to be boarded at this point. She missed her cat, but she figured this was all temporary (as I did too) and so she figured that in a short time we’d have Jackie back, and our two Springer Spaniels, and we’d be a happy family again. She spent the weekend at a friends house during this time we stayed in the loft. When I picked her up, she explained that her friend’s mom had a yard sale that weekend and she had purchased two framed pictures. They were hand-drawn sketches of a cat. A cat that looked a lot like Giacomo. We got back to the loft and she propped them up against the wall at the head of her air mattress. When I saw them the next morning, I had to go outside because it so broke my heart and I didn't want her to see me crying. When I close my eyes I still see those two pictures, places carefully at the end of her mattress. Little framed reminders of the cat she was missing. I might never be able to forgive myself for my daughter not having her pets anymore.
If you want to know how this stuff hits a man...there you have it.
I have fallen to sleep in tears, in the middle of the winter (the coldest temps I have ever slept in, in the car, was about 17 degrees) and woken up with ice on my face. Every single day that goes by without a home for my daughter to come to is something I can literally feel escaping my grasp. I watch her growing up from afar...without a room of her own in a her dad’s house. If you want to know what will make a man feel like an abysmal failure...that is it. I have cried more tears than I could ever count. I have stopped making promises to her, because time and again, things happen like being frozen out of a job because of hiring moratoriums.
I don’t smile much. I have become thin-skinned and angry a lot. I used to be the class-clown. Hearing about a man who broke down and couldn't take it anymore is no surprise. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never considered whether my daughter wouldn't be better off without her failed dad. That’s how it feels sometimes. I have received mostly wonderful, kind, encouraging comments. But I have also received comments from vicious, mean-spirited, unkind, unChristlike people who are convinced that somehow, someway this is all my fault, and all because I don’t want to work. I have worked since I took my first paper route at age 11. I have never been without a job. Never. Not. Ever. Until 2008.
Next week I turn 50. Maybe that’s got a lot to do with me not getting hired, I don’t know.
But this sure isn’t what I thought 50 would look like.
So if you read my blogs or hear me talking somewhere...don’t attack me for being blunt and honest. Re-read what I just wrote. Ask yourself if you knew how homelessness felt before reading it. Ask yourself if you found yourself in this situation, would it feel better knowing someone else was out there, walking this same path?
I write these things for you. So you know how this affects people in this situation. But I also write it for the others in this situation. Because maybe, had this story been out there two years ago, maybe my friend’s brother-in-law wouldn't have lost hope altogether. Maybe a family wouldn't be grieving still.
God bless us, every one.