Please note: This is just my personal experience. I’m not an expert in this subject, I’m just a writer who navigates feelings and trials through words. This article may not be relatable for every single person in this situation.
Two years ago, I wrote an open letter to anyone with a parent in jail. To this day, it’s one of my most-read posts and the most googled article I’ve written. The past few months, I’ve wanted to share a follow up. At the time the first post was written, my dad was in jail and awaiting trial. Now he’s serving 20 years in prison. I’ve felt so many emotions over the past several years, and I’ve never really gone into detail about what I feel and why I feel it. So here we are: 5 Truths About Having An Incarcerated Parent.
I have felt ashamed. I knew my dad’s crimes weren’t my fault or my responsibility, but I felt the weight of what he had done on my shoulders. For years, I couldn’t look certain people in the eye, because I knew what they thought of my father. I just didn’t know if they could separate their feelings for him from their feelings for me. I also knew people were talking. About him, about what happened, about me… but no one said anything TO me. That added to the shame I felt because it did make it feel like his crimes were my responsibility.
I have felt alone. Teachers, friends, family members, church members, even pastors suddenly disappeared and abandoned me. I knew my mentors, coaches, and teachers had all heard the news and knew what was going on, yet none of them reached out to see how I was doing. I had never felt more alone in my entire life. And to make matters worse, several people chose to judge my choice not to speak to my father or go to any of his hearings. I was accused of not being a good Christian or a good daughter.
I have felt (and still feel) sad during happy moments. Birthdays and holidays are bittersweet, because I miss my dad and I wish he was here with us. But I also want nothing to do with him and haven’t forgiven him. For the next 20 years, I will wish he was here… to know my children, to celebrate Christmas with us, to laugh and joke around like only he knew how… but for the next 20 years, I will understand why he’s not here, miss him, love him, and hate him all at the same time.
I wonder why this is my reality. Why, after 18 years of my life being normal and happy, did he have to destroy everything? Damage reputations beyond repair, hurt so many people, cause irreparable heartbreak. I watch as mothers my age have their father present at their children’s kindergarten graduations and soccer games and for special occasions, and I wish I could experience it, just once. But I never will.
I wish I was stronger. I wish I was strong enough to forgive him. And let me be clear, I’m not sitting around holding a grudge… I just don’t have the energy to go through the motions of forgiveness and confront all the hurt I feel. I’ve buried it. I wish I was strong enough to feel everything and deal with it. I wish I was strong enough to be able to have a conversation with him. I wish I was strong enough to think of my memories with him and not tear up. I wish I was strong enough to have a better answer for my kids when they ask me who my dad is or where he lives.
These are my truths. Luckily, this past year I have developed incredible friendships and relationships that have pulled me out of the depths of despair and filled an empty hole in my heart. If you’re currently going through this, please know that my heart is with you.
“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” -Robert H. Schuller