I woke up this morning with a 26 year old son. I’m not sure how that happened but I’m certain having him at 15 had a lot to do with it.
Chris is truly the glue that has held me together. Since the moment I loaded him into the moving truck kicking and screaming so that we could settle in Raleigh, NC, our struggle was one that was not well spoken but was heavily lived.
Raising a son when I was still trying to grow up myself had to be the toughest thing anyone could do. Trying to find mentors for him was even harder. I once had a friend who agreed to help me coach Chris’ basketball team so he could mentor him. On the day of the first game, he didn’t show up. He never showed up again.
So I was his role model, his mentor, his mother and his teacher. It was up to me to do everything and be everything.
Everything is what I did….everything to make sure my son never knew how bad we had it and everything to make sure he had every opportunity that any of his peers had. Eventually he excelled in sports and music, playing the violin for over 10 years.
As an elite soccer, football and basketball player, as well as an elite hurdler, Chris found his way being heavily recruited in sports. His senior year was spent at a football powerhouse and since his school didn’t have a track team, he competed as an unattached runner at several college meets. As a high school senior, coached by me, Chris led the country in the 400 hurdles.
As a kid who was being recruited by some of the top schools, fans, friends and family were always around, cheering for him. Even his sperm donor became so present, you’d have thought he really cared. My days were spent answering questions about him and his plans. “What is Chris going to do?” “Where is he going?” “I can’t wait to see him play on Sundays”
He eventually had to decide which direction to go in.
After an initial commitment to Oregon State, he chose to play football for Division 1 Middle Tennessee State University.
When he arrived in Tennessee, I reached out to a friend who was another town away and asked him to help look after Chris, mentor him. I can still remember his words “Mannn, I’m too busy. Let that man grow up.” So again, Chris was without a mentor and I was so far away.
I thought I had prepared him for what was ahead but the reality was, Chris should have stayed home. He wasn’t ready for college or the atmosphere of the largest school in Tennessee. Turns out, he would have too much fun, not enough studying, and would eventually be told he could not return.
After landing at another college at the urging of one of his MTSU coaches, Chris found himself again in a place he didn’t belong. Playing football was no longer fun. Life was even worse.
By this time I had moved to Maryland and his options were dwindling. No child of mine was going into the military so we had to sit down and figure things out. Chris’ new days in Maryland consisted of random drug testing, working odd jobs and coming up with a plan for his future. He took time off from school. He sat in his room for hours. He eventually made friends and began to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do.
He was done with football. And that quickly, everyone who was once there to see him play and hope to see him play on Sundays, was also done with him.
We once had a shouting match where I let him fully expose himself with his feelings. He admitted to only pursuing football because that is where he got the most support. He was making others happy. His donor supported him and that was enough. Partly why he was doing some of the destruction to himself at MTSU was because he felt like it would bring him closer to his donor. Not realizing he was only damaging himself.
After taking time off, Chris was now enrolled at a Junior College and decided to return to what made HIM happy, playing soccer. As expected, he excelled after having so much time off.
So, today is Chris’ birthday. He made it another year. That, itself, is an accomplishment because not long ago, I was afraid he wouldn’t.
While no one really cares what he’s doing since he no longer plays football, let me catch you up. In the past few years, Chris has been dismissed from school, battled drug abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts, and as recently as last year, has been hospitalized to deal with depression. Depression because he had no clue how to cope with the direction his life had taken and because the “fans” had went away.
Now, routinely checking in with a therapist, my son celebrates another year of life.
So what is he up to? After a few opportunities to play professional soccer, medically, it was never meant to be. He has relocated to Charlotte, surrounded by positive high school brothers and has an amazing sales and marketing position at a major company. After establishing state residency, he has plans to complete his final requirements for an undergraduate degree. However, he is reminded that if it’s not for him, it should never be.
I don’t care if my son dropped out of school, never kicked or caught another ball, or if he became a bus station janitor. I have my son another year. And that’s all that matters.
Happy Birthday son. Mom will always love, support and cheer for you.
A reminder to you: Check on your loved ones who “seem” like they have it all together. Chances are, they’re holding it together for the outside world while struggling inside.
National Suicie Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)