“I see my own kids four days a month, and I have no idea who they are anymore.”

“I had kept up my end of the bargain; why was this happening?”
“I had kept up my end of the bargain; why was this happening?”
Image: Reuters/Pilar Olivares
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This entry is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Sam, 40s, Northeastern United States

When I think about my dad, I think about how different it was when I was growing up. Was providing for and raising a family simpler and easier back then, or was he just better at it than I am? I don’t know; maybe both.

When I walk into my school in the morning, the first thing that I notice is the smell of the freshly polished linoleum floors. For me, there’s a sense of power and pride that comes along with walking into an empty school in the early morning, before the kids crowd the halls. My tiny office is located in one of the back halls, next to a chemistry classroom. I’m pretty sure that it used to be a broom closet at one point, but I can’t complain. We’re perpetually underfunded and we teach a very tough student population.

I’ve seen a lot here. The most common narrative is babies having babies. When they come to my office with that deer in the headlights look of sheer immobilizing panic, I make sure to tell them that they have options. I help as much as I can—financially and otherwise—to get these kids on the right track. I come up with money that I don’t have, knowing that I will never be repaid. I spend time with them that I should be spending with my own family, and I want to tell them that having kids can be a blessing, but how can I?

My wife’s first pregnancy was extremely difficult, so much so that we considered having an abortion when we found out we were pregnant for a second time. I was working late every night to make ends meet and I wasn’t around very much. I got home one night and she accused me of cheating on her. We had crushing debt and a second baby on the way, and all I could muster in form of explanation was “I don’t have time to cheat!” I was too exhausted to fight back and eventually she kicked me out of the house.

I always figured we’d work things out. My parents fought like cats and dogs and hated each other half the time, but boy did they work together when it mattered. They raised us kids with an unshakeable belief in the strength of our family unit—nobody was going anywhere. So it came as a total shock when I was served with divorce papers after our separation.

I kept thinking that she didn’t mean it and that she just wanted to scare me into being around more. I couldn’t read the situation at all; I felt so totally out of touch with her emotional side and what she needed from me. All I kept thinking was that I’d lived up to my expectations to provide financially for my family and to be an honest and good man. I had kept up my end of the bargain; why was this happening?

I don’t know how I messed things up this badly. I really don’t know how I got here at all. I know that one day, things were fine. The next day, I was renting an apartment the size of my office, wondering where I’d gone wrong. I come into this school every morning, and I’m expected to be an example to kids who look up to me, and I’m a complete mess myself. I’m middle aged, my wife left me, I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, and most nights, I eat Eggos for dinner.

The only gratification I get is when I see my former students. They tell me about their lives and how far they’ve come. They thank me for helping them and being a father figure, and it brings tears to my eyes. I see my own kids four days a month, and I have no idea who they are anymore. I’m so afraid of losing them.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here.