When my (then) husband and I decided to build a house four years ago, we picked a house plan that was two stories, four bedrooms — all upstairs. Now, at the time, we joked about how the kids would never be able to sneak out at night with all their bedrooms so high up. Of course, this wasn’t the only reason for picking this house plan — but it was a thought.
I am the youngest of four children. Our parents could boast that we never spent any time in a correctional facility, we never robbed anyone at gunpoint, we never ran away from home (I don’t think sneaking out the window and returning before sunrise counts), we all went to college. It wasn’t ideal I suppose — strictly because I’m not sure what ideal would look like. But, I’d say we had a pretty good growing up period (despite the fact that mom and dad were divorced for fifteen years, they re-married each other… but, that’s another story).
My father had a less than good growing up period. He was the oldest of six. His biological father was never around and his mother was unable to financially care for the kids. She placed them in a “children’s home” that was located near their town. My father very rarely spoke of his time there — as best I can recall, he went there when he was around nine. He did share fond memories of the other children he met there and of at least one woman who helped out on the farm where the boys from the “home” worked. He also had some profound nightmares that he never completely divulged to me.
There was a man though — who saw the potential in a scared little boy. A man who wanted to help my father escape from the nightmares of the “home”. His name was Fielding Chandler. He volunteered in the “children’s home” and was drawn to these siblings who had arrived there so young and so scared. Pop — as we called him — helped my dad achieve in academics (he went to college to become an engineer), athletics (he was a state track champ in high school), and mostly he showed him how to be a dad. He was our grandfather. That’s what we knew. I don’t think it ever really dawned on us that we weren’t really related — maybe later in life, as we were able to piece together my father’s childhood.
When my mother passed away a few months ago, I was going through some of her things and found some letters that were written to my grandfather from the headmaster of the “children’s home”. One letter was in regards to a request that Pop had made to spend Thanksgiving with my dad. The headmaster refused (although my grandmother had approved the request) siting that he believed Mr. Chandler would help my father more if he was an outsider. The rage that burned inside of me as I read this letter and subsequent letters from the headmaster was animal-like, raw, instinctual.
I wanted to immediately Google this man (yes, I live in an age where Google can answer all questions) — although I knew he had long since passed away. But, I had a need to tell his children and grandchildren what a complete ass he was. I wanted to defend this little boy who had no one. But, of course, I did not. My father didn’t need me to reach through time and save him from those horrible nightmares. Pop did that. This was my grandfather, no blood relation, no legal relation — yet this was my grandfather.
I think it would have been easy for my father’s life to turn out very different — he made choices. He didn’t always make the perfect choice, but he made the perfect amount of right choices. There must have been a weird cycle of dysfunction that was pretty mad at Mr. Chandler for not remaining an outsider.
So, the two-story house plan. Not necessarily chosen to completely keep my children at bay — but it will help. It’s so strange how life works isn’t it? Some people parent so much that their kids have no other choice but to rebel. And other people disregard their children and they turn out great. Free will — how completely strange it is.