Oh, son

by Richard L. Provencher

Angels are all around us. And without these helping hands from God, life would be much more difficult.

It wasn’t so long ago, my wife and I hurried down long corridors of polished floors at London Psychiatric Hospital. It’s often referred to as LPH.

Our adopted son’s involvement in an incident caused a nurse to be badly injured. He’s charged as an accessory, earning him a place in the Simcoe Training School, 100 kilometers away. We’re here to collect his clothes and personal belongings before being taken to new quarters. We’re allowed a short visit today.

For five and a half years our family dealt with difficulties from our youngest of four children. Angels helped us in our caring. Four foster homes and four adoptive homes had been his route from ages two to nine. My wife and I believe in prayers. These are our only weapons in trying to raise a family properly.

Our son is a charming, manipulative person who could easily take you off guard. He and two others volunteered to clean up one evening at London Psychiatry Hospital. Another lad of 14 tackled the nurse holding the keys to his youth quarters. Things got out of hand and the key holder ended up badly beaten.

We thought over the incident, as we walked to the observation desk at T2 the adolescent ward at LPH. Angels kept our thoughts positive.

Very few words are spoken between my wife and I. We clasp hands tightly. “Hi there. We’re here to check out our son’s belongings.” We watch the staff person behind the counter carefully look us over.

“Oh yes, we were expecting you. Just a moment.” In a few minutes our son’s belongings along with some personal treasures are handed over.

Scout badges, shirt, dirty socks, T-shirts, Louis L’Amour pocket book, radio, clock and letters from Mom and Dad and friends, landed on the counter, along with a small balance from our son’s allowance.

Son, it was a big day when you joined our family. Your two older brothers and sister looked forward to you coming to live with us. They knew what was ahead of them helping you overcome your bad mouthing, bed-wetting, rashes and allergies. One by one your problems fell by the wayside. It was nothing short of miraculous. Yes indeed, God’s angels were nearby.

Then something happened. No one seems to be able to place his or her finger on it. You began to steal. When confronted, your lying was quite imaginative and convincing. How hard those days were for all of us. Things were out of control.

But we didn’t know how to stop it. You dipped into each sibling’s piggybank and my coin collection at will. First pennies, then dimes and dollars began to disappear. You didn’t seem to understand you were hurting your family so much.

“Why did you do it?” were frequent questions.

“Because I’m adopted, you don’t love me the same. You don’t say they stole. Only me. It’s not fair.” And on you would go. I hung tightly to those hovering angels.

The judge was alarmed at your third court appearance. You refused to listen to your parents, ignored school rules and didn’t complete community work orders. An assessment completed by the Family Court indicated you needed treatment and a decision was made to send you to LPH for group therapy sessions.

Visiting our son and working with CAS, took up my accumulated overtime and even used up a valuable week of holidays. It was precious time that had been reserved for a family break. Somehow we found our strength with the Lord’s help. How else could we have managed? Oh yes, with the help of His angels.

Our son’s escape attempt from LPH resulted in him spending last night in the controlled custody area of LPH. We were told you faced three alternatives, 2-6 weeks in detention or the specter of a long period at training school, at least until the age of 18. You also had the option of 4-8 weeks at Camp Dare, a special outdoor program to challenge troubled youth.

Son, your mother and I were dazed by the time we checked out your personal possessions from LPH and discussed your future with staff.

Now your mom and I headed to the visitor’s quarters, where a guard was to provide supervision. What a feeling in my chest. Our son is waiting there. Where is this heading? What kind of future is he going to have? Oh God, please help us.

Down another set of steps, turn left. There it is, a friendly looking waiting room. But all windows for restricted quarters are crisscrossed with steel. I keep thinking of the personalities and difficult backgrounds of each detainee. Can our boy cope? Were sufficient angels surrounding him in his time of need?

Careful now, be reasonable. Look at it from the other side. What is he going to teach them? Maybe they should be protected from our son. A press of the button and the door opens into a more commercial and de-personalized room.

A welcome smile, our son sees two middle-aged adults fearful of entering. Oh sadness. How can we assure him we love him? What should we say? We enter the prisoner room area. We note the cheerless, colorless décor. Sounds of activity hum from the opposite end of the building. Oh my God, give us courage. He sees us, bounds towards us, a smile on his face. He’s all lit up.

“Hi,” he says.
“Hi son.” A few tears in my eyes. My wife looks away. He sits beside us, waiting. Who’s to speak first? I grab his arm, his hand. I want to touch him, to tell him, “It’s OK son, we’re here.” I know for sure, angels are.

He looks happy. Mom and Dad are here. Don’t be taken in, the warning repeats itself in my brain. The bonding has not fully taken effect. You don’t mean anything to him. Those hurting words cross my mind. They were from an appraisal on several assessments completed by LPH.

I don’t care what they said. I don’t believe it. His shoulder is warm as he leans back in his chair. He tries to pretend it’s not deliberate as he moves his body closer to me. I watch his face. His eyes look carefully at me. Our faces are inches apart.

“Do you care about us son? Really care?
“What do you mean?”

My wife observes carefully. She knows I am deeply troubled by his previous aloofness. She is more objective about the train of events. I’m letting it get to me.

“Do you want to come home?”
“Because it’s better.”
“You can do things. Like going out when I want.with my friends.”
“What about us? Do you miss us?”

I’m afraid to ask why. He just might make up any kind of answer just to please me. He’s good at second-guessing. He’s very successful at playing this game and takes people and those assessing him off guard. That’s why his life is full of contradictory conclusions. But I know him. This is our son.

“No fooling now, do you really want to come home?”
“You know something terrible happened here. And you were a part of it.”
“I know. But I still want to come home and try again.”

It makes me feel good, even ten-feet tall. My wife smiles as tears appear on her cheeks. She loves me so much. She wants me to be happy. He is our youngest at 14 and a half and I love him very much. The three of us go over the events of the day and chat about various things. We know the future is rocky.

“Son, no matter what, I love you and so does mom. Never forget that.”
“I know.” Nearby, a whole company of angels is doing a happy dance.

I look at him carefully. Stare into his face, trying to see any amused, cynical or cocky expressions. There’s none. He looks back at me, eyes flickering to the left at Mom. He’s a bit uneasy, unable to figure us out. How come these people are still hanging in there? He sees his Mom and Dad. I know there’s hope. Oh God, please give us a miracle for our son. I know the road ahead is rough.

He stares at us a few minutes longer. “I know,” he repeats more to himself.

Suddenly our visitation period is over. I pump his hand. I want to hug him and hold him tight. Not here. Not now. Other children are in the room watching. Don’t embarrass him. He kisses his mom on the cheek and watches us head out the door.

I sing like an angel all the way home.


© Richard L. Provencher

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem