“I have to talk to you about your dad.” My heart dropped when I heard those words. The way my mother spoke alerted me that something was terribly wrong. Panicked, I couldn’t imagine what she would say. An accident? Illness? But what she ultimately explained, that my father had been arrested, would forever change my life.
Heavy tears welled up in my eyes, questions rambled everywhere in my brain. I felt physically ill, my body aching because I didn’t know how much more pain I could handle. I saw my father’s face in the newspapers and online, a mugshot I would never recognize as the caring, supportive, and loving dad who raised me. Soon after being arrested and charged with burglary, he returned home to await his court date.
People in my neighborhood don’t commit burglaries. Often, my upscale community talked in quiet whispers about white-collar crimes, tax evasion, and DUIs. But news of my father’s arrest traveled fast, humiliating all of us, destroying his name and reputation. All I could think about was how my friends would react when I told them about my dad. I felt fearful of how their parents would handle the news and how the rumors and innuendo would hurt my mother and brothers. I even questioned the loyalty of people close to my family, wondering if my father’s mistake would cause them to judge me or my mother. When school restarted in August, I imagined my classmates and teachers only seeing me as the daughter of a criminal.
But these initial worries would eventually seem relatively trivial. In September, he was arrested again.
Seeing my father return home after posting bail for the second time hurt so much. He looked innocent to me, and I could not reconcile the face in the paper with the father I knew. I felt guilty worrying about what people thought of me while my father fought to stay out of prison. And, for the first time, I imagined how broken he felt and the pain he suffered. His humiliation seemed unsurmountable. I watched him maintain his otherwise lovable personality, covering the devastation of what really happened. I never wanted to see my father hurt.
The weeks that followed seemed better. But then, a third arrest. My mother and aunt sat me down one day after school. I knew immediately. My father would not be coming back home.
The emotional turmoil at home weighed so heavily. I felt so vulnerable and scared for my mother. I worried about my brothers. In school, I couldn’t focus; I felt depressed and asked for extensions. I put my work aside, feeling the loneliness of missing my father while I watched my mother hold us together. I knew she worried about our pain, our finances, and our emotional health.
Handling the burden of my life resulted in lost opportunity. Finally, after several months, my mom told me to pick myself up and get my act together. I took the time I needed to hurt, but I also tried to come to terms with my father’s ongoing absence. My mom’s attitude and perspective inspired me to accept our new “normal.” I caught up on my work and began to take school seriously again.
I did not see my father for a very long time. I tried not to let his mistakes define me. My father never meant to hurt my family; he acted irrationally in order to support us, never imagining the consequences of his actions. I realized a mistake does not define a person, but the way we handle our mistakes always will.
The writer , who chose to not share any details of her identity, wrote this reflection while in high school.