My wife Carol and I got married in August of 1970. I was in the U. S. Navy and she worked for the Navy. In other words she made the money. Four years later I left the Navy and started working for a Fortune 50 company in Atlanta Georgia. My wife got a job with the First National Bank of Atlanta in their computer department. The company told her that if she was willing to work nights and weekends she could become the first Woman Vice President of IT.
In a very short time I realized that my job was boring. I also realized that Carol loved her job. As the next year passed by I started feeling that our lives were taking two different paths. I needed someone in my life that I could care for. Carol was working lots of late night hours and really seemed to enjoy spending time with her boss.
I took Carol out to a great restaurant. I tipped the piano player. There were linens on the table instead of plastic. There was candle light and a bottle of wine. I told her that I was worried about our relationship. I told her that we were heading in opposite directions. I then told her not to worry because I had the answer to our problem. “Honey, let’s have a child.” What happened next wasn’t very pretty. I discovered that having a child was the furthest thing from her mind. I was heartbroken.
When I recovered I decided to rent a child. They call it Big Brothers but to me it was like renting a child. The organization gave me a 12 year old boy who was shy and who hadn’t seen his dad in a long time and wasn’t getting along with his mom. For the next 12 months my bucket was full. Carol still loved her job so our marriage seemed back on track. Then one afternoon she came in to my office carrying a cake box from a local bakery. When I opened up the box the writing on the cake told me that she was going to have a baby. Wow.
Six months later our son Curt arrived. James Dobson would describe Curt as being compliant. We just called him Curt. The first word out of his mouth was “yes” and I swear that the next word was “sir.” I loved this child. I loved showing him off. I would let him play in the toy store at the mall. While other parents were yelling and screaming at their children I would yell into the store “Curt, it is time to go home.” He would come running out of the story saying “Ok Daddy.” Carol and I could not understand why so many people were reading parenting books. For us parenting was so easy.
Then we got cocky and had another child. James Dobson would have called our daughter “A Strong Willed Child.” The first word out of her mouth was “no” and the second word was “why.” Well, as king of the castle I didn’t appreciate these two words. I remember telling her that she will do what I want her do to when I want her to do or she will be a very unhappy child. On the contrary, she was a very happy child. I was the unhappy one.
Carol told me that I needed to quit reading novels and read books about children’s behavior. Back then there was a very popular book that all the moms were reading. After finishing the book I was ready to take on Beth. The book told me about a three step approach. This is how it went: “Bethy honey Daddy loves you.” “Daddy doesn’t want you to cross this limit.” “Bethy if you do cross this line, this limit I will be disappointed in you.” The author believed in using key words like disappointed to motivate children. Beth locked up her arms, crossed the line and then told me that sometimes she is disappointed in me.
I loved sports and so did Curt. Bethy didn’t really care too much for sports. She liked dancing. “How dare her!” In a very short period of time I made the biggest mistake in my life. I decided that since Curt filled by bucket and Beth emptied it I would spend most of my family time with Curt.
Curt rarely disappointed me. We made a bet when he was twelve that if he got a four year scholarship in tennis I would buy him a really nice car. That dream controlled us all. For Curt to get a scholarship he needed a high ranking. Therefore, the family spent many weekends going to tennis tournaments. I will never forget the day that he received an offer to play tennis at Birmingham-Southern College. Our local paper put the picture of the family watching Curt sign the scholarship.
Although Curt had problems making friends at new schools he fell in love with BSC the very first day. I remember him telling me that there weren’t any bullies at BSC. He said that is was okay to be smart. He also said that students came to watch him play. During his sophomore year he was named Captain. The coach invited us to the campus so that we would be there when the seniors told Curt about their choice. I remember being at a party with Curt that evening. I remember meeting several girls who liked him a lot. As we said good bye Sunday morning I knew that Curt had finally found a place where his number one need was being met. Curt felt loved and accepted by his peers.
The next weekend Curt was killed by a drunken driver. The man was 30 years old. He had been drinking at a bar all day. No one in the bar bothered to take away his keys and call a cab. After the accident the man was not hurt. Curt was bleeding badly and needed help. The man ran away.
Later, much later I found out that “BOB” didn’t have many of his needs being met. He would have been called a loser by his peers. At the funeral I forgave him. Many people didn’t understand that forgiving someone is really a selfish act.
I then realized that I was fortunate that I hadn’t lost Bethy that night. If she had been killed I would not have been able to go on living. I knew that I had to change as a father.
Subsequent articles will deal with two important issues. First, what were the things I had to learn in order to get my 16 year old daughter back in my life. Second, what are the things I do in schools to make sure that no child feels like a loser. I look forward to helping you become the best parent you can be as well as the best mentor you can be to other children in your life. I also look forward to meeting you through your letters to me.
Next month’s article will identify the primary needs that all children/teens need to be met.