There are older parents who bear a painful burden, but step up to stand in the light

There is another type of Older Dad, Younger Child in our midst: Fathers who are raising their children’s children. Many causes create the situation: imprisonment, inability to provide care, and in the saddest cases, due to the death of a child.
First, I have seen that losing a child is one of the most devastating experiences parents or a single parent faces. It’s not supposed to work this way. It’s not the natural order. But it happens. And because of the grimacing toll drugs take on our society, it happens too often.
I’ve known Rick (not his real name) since his daughter was just about my daughter’s age now. We talked, especially when we were riding together into the city, where we mentored middle school students. Rick was puzzled — not quite frustrated — by the behaviors his daughter exhibited in school. It was if she had no filters, the ties holding her to what was expected — even from teenagers — were frayed.
Rick had two older children, both boys. He was firm and understanding with them. But his daughter wandered off the path they took.
Her behavior perplexed educators, and Rick was called in to school — once, twice, again and again. Her world — what was wrong, what was right — didn’t align with the expectations for someone her age. She came from a good home. Her parents cared about her, but her father realized early on he’d be the one to step up and try to untangle his daughter’s decision-making process. There were therapists, counselors, professionals who could do nothing but shrug.
As she moved through her teens, she found comfort in drugs. It blocked feelings of alienation. It concealed pain. She felt it gave her the ability to control herself, or some things about herself.
The drugs grew deadlier. Her father supported her through several efforts at rehab. Success was brief.
I remember driving downtown to a notorious section of the city where people “scored,” to recover her car she’d abandoned there. When she disappeared from the house, he drove through that dangerous neighborhood at night, sometimes all night, looking for her.
She always managed to find her way home. Rick was stoic about it, but I can’t imagine what it was like for him those nights she was out, expecting the worst phone call a parent can get.
Rick went to his employer to get an advance to pay for his daughter to enroll in arguably one of the best rehab hospitals in the East. The result was always the same. She’d clean up, for a while. Then her friends — funny how they call them that — would drag her back out and slam the door on her sobriety.
Rick’s daughter had a boyfriend. She became pregnant. Maternal instincts stayed one step ahead of addiction, but the baby was born an addict. It’s hard to be a Mom when you’re a junkie, and unfortunately it’s even harder to make the better choices.
The clothes our daughter outgrew were in sync with the clothes that Rick’s granddaughter needed. He was always incredibly grateful.
Rick’s daughter was an attractive young woman. Addiction doesn’t care about that.
She lived with her father and tried to raise her child, in fits and starts. Her father shouldered the bulk of the load. His daughter would wander in and out between sanity and addiction.
I knew something early on about Rick’s daughter, and I’m sure he shared my grim thoughts. Stories like this are far more likely to end up in a bad place. Recovery is the aberration; death is the certainty.
The last report I had from Rick was that she was holding her own. She’d accumulated several months’ clean time, and was pushing herself to be a mother.
The email Rick sent me that day was brief. An old “friend” convinced his daughter to make a run to get some drugs. She said yes. She sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night. After two days of dread, Rick got that phone call, from police in another state. It reminded him of the time his daughter made a run all the way to Florida, he said when I talked to him, and he flew one of his sons down to pick her up. But now he had to handle bureaucracy, arrangements and his grief. His granddaughter was just old enough now to be aware she had a mother, and appreciate having that in her life. Rick was left to pick up the pieces.
A few months later, the “baby daddy” took his own life.
Rick — who is 2 or 3 years older than me — was raising his granddaughter, who is about 5 years younger than our daughter. I have another friend who is raising her daughter’s two boys. Their mother had been clean and went out on a Friday night with some old friends. Three days later, they pulled the plug on her.
Older dad, younger child.
I’m reminded there can be a darker side. There are certain parents who stand in a special light, even in the darkness.

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