One of the ways my dad sought peace from his stressful job fixing airplanes was fishing. When his father died, he was finally able to buy the boat he wanted - a "real" fishing boat. The fishing genes weren't passed down to me; my lifetime catches are several branches, a bunch of moss, and one unfortunate frog. However, I've finally learned something from my dad and his boat.
My family lived close to Tarrant County Junior College's Northwest campus in the suburbs of Fort Worth. Close to the school was a pond that had the required elements to keep my dad happy: ease of access, relative solitude, and quiet. You didn't hear Evinrude or Mercury engines on this water; it was a fisherman's paradise, even if you didn't catch fish.
Of course, no solitude lasts forever. In the late 80s/early 90s, cable sports programming hadn't yet hit its stride with such activities as watching people play poker or seeing reporters argue with each other about the relative merits of our modern glorified gladiators. No, back then, it was water skiing. I had yet to realize that competitive water skiing was becoming a big thing, but ESPN was ready to capitalize on the market. The pond soon had motorboats and skiers going across it all of the time, and there was even some sort of televised competition held at that pond, replete with slalom and ski jump events.
While all of it was neat, it destroyed the tranquility of the spot for my dad. Every boat that came by left a wake, and those wakes "disturbed the fish". He didn't fish there anymore, and much later sold his boat out of lack of use.
I keep thinking about my dad and being disturbed by wakes when I look at my current household situation. My wife and I have been married almost 20 years. We have two kids aged 9 and 7. Our family is normal, predictable, and stable. The boy plays Minecraft. The girl does gymnastics. We are a stereotypical nuclear family minus .3 kids.
We are people of faith, and this has led us some interesting places. We believe that helping people is more than just writing a check to some charity. In particular, we've been bleeding hearts for people who have needed a place to stay.
These are people from all walks of life. Some we've known--a boss that lost his right to stay in the country after losing his job under ugly circumstances, a friend that would go on to cause us to lose a court case for cosigning his loan. Others have been strangers. Some have ended well where people have found a sense of normality. Others haven't. Having my wife be accused of poisoning a houseguest's milk is the one instance that stands out for that side of the coin. Yes, we've been hurt, but no one ever said that helping people wouldn't come without cost.
Our most recent instance of helping someone was a friend. She was the person who took photographs of our kids for every month up until age 2, and then every year after that. She was a single mom raising two kids by two different, absent dads. She was only 17 when she had her first. Her second came when she was 24.
Due to legal issues, dependency issues, and mental health issues, she lost her house. She and the kids needed a place to stay. We said yes, not realizing that this woman would essentially leave a wake of drama behind her, disturbing whatever tranquility there might be as badly as the ski boats did to my dad's fishing.
We moved both our kids into one room and gave her the other. Her brother was in a homeless shelter, so he came and stayed with us. He even brought bedbugs with him.
Much angst and "this isn't working outs" later, she and her new boyfriend got a trailer. He got a job. Everything seemed to be working.
Then it wasn't. She found herself walking outside, barefoot, at 3 a.m. trying to text us where she was. She knew she needed help, so she asked us to take non-custodial authority over the kids. This would give us the right to sign medical forms, but it wouldn't make us their parents.
So we found ourselves with a 12 year old who harbors a ton of resentment at her mom, and a 6 year old who believes that she can get anything she wants by screaming long enough. The mom married her boyfriend before going into rehab so they could share a room. They both walked out less than a week later.
Meanwhile, we're trying to establish stability. The 12 year old desperately needs attention. The 6 year old needs structure. We work on it, day by day. Then mom comes to visit, and the wake of drama washes all over the kids; it's back to square one.
Right now, we have the kids until school is out (roughly one more week). We've already seen nasty custody issues between the father of the younger daughter and the mom (using us as an unintentional proxy). We've seen the resentment that the older daughter has when the mom doesn't pay her any attention and focuses solely on the younger child.
The mom and husband have jobs now and a garage apartment to boot. The mom wants to take the kids back over the summer. The selfish part of me is ready for that to happen; the sad part of me believes that there will only be gloom and doom, and the kids will come back to us at some point.
How can I protect those kids from the wake of their mom? I can't. I can only insulate myself and my family from it as best as I can.