A daughter’s perspective
My mom always mentions that she never meant for things to end up this way. She said that when she was young and pictured her future with her husband and kids, these were not the circumstances she had envisioned for herself. Yet here she is with one divorce, the second husband in jail and two kids to put through college. Her fairytale visions didn’t make it into her reality.
When we talk about borders we think about physical borders, gender borders, borders in education,and general oppression that so many people deal with in their daily lives. But often we forget about the borders within our own families, as well as in others.
Sure, divorce is sadly now a very common occurrence, with more than 50 percent of today’s marriages ending in separation, but my parents’ divorce is not something I am ashamed about. It is not something I avoid talking about or try to hide. It happened, and it happened when I was fairly young, giving my sister and I the time to accept and deal with our situation. We became accustomed to living away from our dad.
The separation of families and the break in the bond formed, however, is still very real. You become accustomed to a way of life, a routine. Going from seeing a parent every single day to once a week puts a strain on their role as a parent, and yours as a child. Feelings are not shared as often, events of the day not relayed over the dinner table and this separation only continues to expand as the time spent together lessens as the years go by.
My mom always felt guilty for raising us as a single mom, under a divorced home. Although, to me, it did not change much in terms of how we as a family communicated. I always thought that the divorce in a way helped my mom and dad find comfort in their own living situations and lessened tensions when they did not have to see each other every day. And for a few years, everything stayed as relatively normal as a divorced family could become.
My mom remarried after her divorce, and it was to a loving and caring man who watched over my sister and I like our own father would have. The bond that was created between our stepdad and us was just like any other healthy father-daughter relationship. The sense of security taken from us by the divorce was patched back together with this new addition to our family.
Unfortunately, that sense of security fell apart again when my stepdad was charged with a DUI. At first the punishment was minimal and manageable. With community service and the loss of a license, it was a hassle, but something we could all deal with and hopefully quickly put behind us. But a year later he was charged with a second DUI, which, followed by a spur of unfortunate events with the law, started the road to what would eventually lead him to over a year of time behind bars.
My stepdad is by no means a criminal. He is an extremely intelligent man who was president of the largest thermal engineering company in America, who was writing textbooks, sitting on boards of engineering prestige and constantly advancing the laws of engineering. This man had everything going for him, which means he had everything to lose.
And he did lose it all.
After attempting everything possible to get out of even having to go to jail, he was eventually sentenced to a month in rehab, followed by a year of hard jail time. This placed extreme pressure on my mom, and once again another father figure was taken away from my sister and I.
It is so hard to truly imagine what it is like to have a father in jail until you actually do. Sometimes I think about our situation, and I feel sadness for my stepdad, that he was unable to fix his addiction before it cost him. I feel guilt for my mom and my sister, who have to deal with the immediate repercussions of his actions while I am away at school.
I also feel upset at the fact that this situation has changed the ways I view this man. A father figure I had once admired and cared for so greatly now comes across as a weak man who could not escape his own vices.
This has changed everything for my family. When a family member goes to jail, not only does it immediately affect the person going to jail, but also every single person in the family.
My stepdad was the primary provider. He is now in jail for a year, meaning he has lost his job and once he gets out he will have to start at the very bottom of a new company and he will have to do so without any of the prestige or credentials he has worked so hard to establish.
Going to jail creates a wall within the person themself. I had watched my stepdad go in and out of jail for a few days before the final sentence was made, and I watched him become more weak, unable to understand what he had done wrong. It seemed silly that he did not comprehend why he was going to jail, but what he had was an addiction and that created all of his personal issues. It was hard to watch him struggle while I was home for winter break. It was even harder to leave to go back to school, leaving my family in shambles, unable to provide anything more than emotional support from five hours away. My mom has had to pick up a second night job just to pay the bills for the rehab facility my stepdad went to. Worst of all, she is back to being a single mother of two.
Our childhood home has to be sold. My sister has to reconsider which college she will attend in the fall; and these are just the monetary borders that came from this situation. The emotional ones have had an even harder hit on our family because of this. I have not seen my stepdad in half a year, and I have no idea how he is doing locked in one of the worst facilities in the nation. My mother has to consider the option of a second divorce. She has had to tell our family members of the situation; with shame dripping from every word of the sad explanation she gives.
There are so many stigmas and stereotypes that come along with the line, “My dad is in jail.” People reconsider their preconceived notion of my family life. Their idea of a happy, peppy, well-off family is now clouded with the image of a damaged home.
The restrictions and limits that have come from my stepdad going to jail have been numerous, and seemingly never-ending. It is true that just like a divorce or a death, the imprisonment of a family member creates just as many constraints and changes, if not more. It is so hard to not have a changed perception of a person you cared for so greatly, even though I know he is still truly a wonderful person.
What is most bothersome to me is the assumption by strangers that my stepdad is a criminal or a less than wonderful person. He isn’t. He is an amazing dad, husband and family man, who just happens to have a problem he could not overcome.
The idea of jail is scary and it has created so many issues for our family. Through all of the adversity and the changes that took place, the borders created, can overtime be broken down.
I am assuming that once my stepdad gets out of jail, we will have to start over. We will have to restart as a family, financially, emotionally and so on. The love and trust will have to be rebuilt, but eventually these borders created will vanish, as even the tallest and thickest walls eventually crumble.
Lindsey Witmer is a sophomore journalism major. Email her at lwitmer1[at]ithaca.edu.