Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Guest Post: When Fathers Do Not Step Up - And Children Take over Their Roles

Today's guest post is by Allison Foster.  She recounts her own story, which describes the experience of someone who becomes what family therapists call a parental child.

In today’s society we hear a lot about fathers abandoning their families and children going crazy. It seems that what gets reported on the news is that such children live without limits, unable to be tamed by their mothers or other family members. But sometimes the child takes another route. After all, not all children rebel. 

Some “good kids” exist in the world who actually care about their siblings, their families and themselves. What happens when the fathers of those children decide to abandon their responsibilities? Well, that is what happened in my life, so I thought I would share my story.

It all started when I was very young - at birth you might even say. My biological father decided he did not want a family for real, so when my mother got pregnant he ran off to make his fortune. Six years later my mother remarried and the man she married adopted me. I cannot say that my father did not treat me just as he would his biological child. My little brother was born a year after their marriage and he always treated us both the same. That is not to say, however, that he treated either one of us well.

You see, my new father quickly found out he was not prepared for family life. He had been on his own since he was a teen, and the years he spent wild and free had not prepared him for the responsibilities of having a wife and children. My brother was a very needy child with many issues and my mother worked full time. My grandmother took care of us when we were not in school, but she came with many issues of her own.

As my father grew more and more overwhelmed with his responsibilities, he began to withdraw from the family. When he got home from work he considered his day to be over. He spent the evenings in his room fixed in front of the television or a computer. An obsessive personality, he would often get fixated on something, and our home played host to a collection of parrots, frogs, various computers, and so on. Needless to say he did not contribute much to the home besides more and more junk as well as his monthly paycheck.

Since I was seven years older than my brother and a responsible child, I was often his caretaker in the evenings when Grandma went home. My mother tried her best to do everything but she was overwhelmed by keeping up with the house, making dinner, and taking care of her own concerns. She was a very poor disciplinarian and could not seem to keep my brother, who had ADD and other issues, under control, so it fell to me.

I took over the role of father to my brother, becoming both disciplinarian and playmate. As we were isolated from other children where we lived, it was mostly just the two of us by ourselves. We fell into a type of rhythm. When he obeyed me by doing his homework or chores I would reward him with a game of catch or by taking him down to the creek to catch tadpoles.

I also took over the role of husband, in certain ways, to my mother. She needed someone to help her around the house with chores and meals, and that job fell to me. I worked alongside her as much as I could when my brother was playing happily in his room. I helped her to sort through bills and determine what needed to be paid. I helped her to get the lunches ready for school and pick out clothing for the next day. I made sure that the animals were fed and the doors were locked at night. I even helped her do yard work and install appliances when they broke down.

Things continued pretty much status quo for a while. I entered high school and discovered that the rest of the kids did not have to hurry home to take care of their siblings and help get dinner on the table. I found out that most kids did not have the responsibilities I had, and I began to resent my lot in life. Why did I have to make up for the things my parents did not do? Why was it my responsibility? I attempted to break free, a little at a time, but I always went back because guilt and worry ate at me. It did not seem right to abandon them, when they needed me so much. I looked forward to going away to college, secure in the knowledge that my brother would be eleven by then and old enough to take care of himself – at least to some extent.

Then in my senior year of high school things got worse. The summer before my senior year my father decided he had too much on his plate and ran away from home, just as my biological father had. After, of course, he had emptied our bank account to get himself settled in his new life.

My mother was distraught and beside herself. Not at losing him per se, but at the way he just ran away. She could not keep it together and began missing work. Just a month later she was on her way home from work and got into a serious car accident. She was in the hospital for almost two months and could not walk for a year and a half.

Boom! I was in charge of everything - from making decisions on which hospital she would be taken to, to figuring out how to make the house payment, and to feeding and clothing my brother and myself. I managed to get a part time job as part of my class schedule and worked from after lunch until around five. My grandmother moved in to take care of my mother during the day, but by the time I got home she was done and retreated to her room. However, her living there also meant I was in charge of her bills, food, and so on as well.

I was the head of a household comprised of an elderly woman, a disabled woman, and a rambunctious pre-teen. Overwhelmed does not even cover it. I did the best I could, although I am sure lots of things fell through the cracks. At seventeen most of us are not prepared to be tossed into the deep end of life. However I was doing pretty well on the meager money and resources we had to work with - until things got even worse.

My father lost his job. There went the small sum of child support. However, that was not the only issue. He lost his job because he went back to drugs, his downfall as a young person. I am not talking popping pills or smoking pot. Crack. The drug most likely to make you broke and crazy. I can’t say my father was a stupid man. He knew enough about my mother to hide the drug use from her when he came crawling back, begging to come back and become ‘part of the family’ again. What he really wanted was a place to crash while he smoked.

He knew my mother well. As I said before, she was a poor disciplinarian and could not say no to anyone. She let him come back despite my loud and ongoing protests. After all, I had all the responsibility but none of the authority. Oh, joy.

He took over the living room and built makeshift doors to create his own living area. Smoke continually poured out from beneath the doors, and I forbid my brother from ever entering that room. He, of course, wanted to be with his father and it took quite a while for him to wake up and realize that the man behind those doors wasn’t really a father any more.

Much to my regret now, I decided upon graduation to go away to college. I wanted to escape it all. I thought that by getting away I would force my mother to face up to her responsibilities and that she would get the guts to throw him out and pick up the pieces of her life. I spent nine months away, only coming back to visit on alternating weekends. It did not work. Every time I returned my mother looked worse, and I got the sinking feeling that I was missing more than I could see.

That summer after my freshman year in college I returned home, never to return to that faraway school. The family situation had further deteriorated. My father had yet to retain a steady job and turned to pawing various items of value in our home. He brought my mother, who was barely able to walk and needed a cane at all times, with him to the bowels of the city to pick up his drugs. At times she feared that he would sell her for his crack as well. She stayed with him out of some misguided belief that she could keep him safe. I can’t say that she did not try her best with him.

My brother was shell shocked and refused to come out of his room most of the time. His grades were barely above passing and he had no friends. Our relationship grew even more confrontational as I tried to regain my authority and he rebelled. I didn’t blame him. I was a sibling, not a parent. But someone had to do something.

As the foreclosure papers rolled in and the utilities were cut off one by one, I knew it was up to me. The house was gone. I knew that. It was beyond saving and my mother would not allow me to call the police to get dad out anyway. I started to sleep in her room every night with her metal cane by my side. When he would come in looking for money or high as a kite and angry, I would stand in the doorway, the cane in my hand. I was the only one he respected or feared because, as I told him multiple times, I was not my mother and if he did not leave us alone I would call the police in a heartbeat.

I knew that I could keep him at bay only so long, so I took my mother, my brother and a tent and we began sleeping in camping parks and looking for a house. We found a home I could afford on my credit alone since I had no job at the time. With my mother’s disability, it was all we could do to pay the rent and the utilities. With the help of friends we packed up the house, leaving a great deal behind. Almost everything of value was already gone, pawned off, so there were really just a few things like books and dishes to be packed.

We left the house and moved miles away, not even giving a forwarding address beyond a post office box for fear my father would follow us. We found out that he had been arrested only two weeks after the move.

It has been many years since all this has happened, but it is still fresh in my mind. I am still functioning as the father and the husband in my household. I have made an effort to change my role but it is hard when so many are counting on you. Even in my extended family I am the only one responsible enough to hold down a job and raise a family.

As I have gotten older, I have been looking to create a family of my own where I can take on a more fitting role. However, that means that I have had to have many discussions with my mother, grandmother and brother about taking responsibility for their own lives. I do not want to abandon them like their other fathers and husbands, but I have to face the fact that if I ever want a family of my own I need to let them go.

I know my story is a long one and I tried not to go into too much detail. However, readers should understand that when fathers do not take on their responsibilities someone has to. It might be the mother, it might be the police, or it might be a child. That is why it is so important that fathers are aware of what they are getting into when they decide to start a family. It is not all fun and games and freedom. It is hard work, but it can also be very rewarding. Take it from me: a father, a husband, a daughter and a sister.

Author Byline:
Blogging for was a natural progression for Allison once she graduated from college, as it allowed her to combine her two passions: writing and children. She has enjoyed furthering her writing career with She can be in touch through e-mail at 

1 comment:

  1. It's important to learn to let go of the old stereotype: Mother, Father, Child = Happy family unit. It rarely happens for any of us. Assemble your own family ... do not worry about blood ties ... ever ... because if you do, be prepared to bleed.