I want you to know something before we get into things.
I am a father of two bright, fun-loving boys. One is wildly creative, passionate, energetic, and loves painting, reading, and all things artsy. The other is just… well, wild. We call him “Muscles,” “Baby Bear,” or “Tank.” He literally smashes his head against things for fun (pray for us). While they are both still very young, their personalities are stark in contrast. Despite their differences, I can still love them both equally. The joy and fun we have together as a family are incredible. Water fights in our yard with a hose and a bucket, ice cream dates, playing hide-and-seek in the house, it’s all a redemption of the relationship I had with my adoptive family, especially my father.
When I was younger, I was filled with teen angst. All of us at some point were though, right? I had a journal filled with horrible handwriting, personal thoughts, and terrible doodles. This journal also had a list within it. It was a list of how many names, insults, slanders, and euphemisms I was called by my adoptive father. I kept track of it for around a year. There were 357 different words used. I thought to myself, “Wow if it was 365 words, it’d be a name for every day I saw him.” But then it dawned on me. My adoptive parents always took a weekend in March away, and I went to a camp in the summer for 6 days a week as well. With that realization set in, this was a moment where I decided to be different from my adoptive father. I took this journal, and showed it to my brother. “Yeah, what else is new?” was his 13-year-old response. This was the moment where I won’t just be different, but that I won’t be like him, ever.
Years of abuse, neglect, and manipulation filled my childhood. As a child, a regular day would be not seeing him, except only in the evenings for dinner, followed by him yelling at us to be quiet as he sat on the couch to watch the local news, followed by C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigation, (or C.S.I Miami, C.S.I. NY, N.C.I.S., or Jag, depending on the evening). As a teen, the days got much, much worse.
In my early teen years, I was talking with a friend. We shared about how he and his dad got along, and how my dad and I got along.
“Every now and then, he leaves the house to smoke, sometimes drink with his employees.” My friend said.
“Every now and then,” I responded, “mine drags me through the house to kick me on the floor.”
My friend didn’t respond. My friend actually stopped being my friend at that point. We didn’t talk much after that day. Unfortunately, I was the ripe old age of 13 where I realized that my childhood was not normal.
If I followed those generational steps that were laid before me, I should be an abusive father. I should be having issues with my marriage. I should be blaming everyone else for my problems. I should be unloving, manipulating, hard-hearted, and the kind of Christian that makes other people afraid of Christianity. But at age 17, I chose otherwise.
It’s 11:30 PM on December 31st of 2011, and a huge fight has broken out in the family. There’s a -40 celsius (which is also a -40 Fahrenheit) blizzard, and I decided it’s time to run away. At 2 AM, I was packing my bags. At 3 AM, I jump out of my bedroom window into 3 feet of snow, and I start walking.
While on the seven mile walk to the closest town, I had a lot of time to pray and seek God. I had a moment of doubt if leaving was the right choice to make. I had all of those Bible verses he drilled into me coming back up, “honor your father, and you’ll live a long life,” “children, obey your parents,” and so on. In a moment of doubt, I turned around to start making my way back to that literal God-forsaken house, when I felt so strongly God speak to me “Don’t turn around. You’re never going back there.” I was filled with a breath of fresh air and kept walking towards town.
There were a lot of internal promises I made in that house, during my walk I pondered them. I promised myself that I would change my name from what my adoptive parents gave me. I promised myself that I would love my kids more than I was ever loved. I promised myself that I would not get a tattoo of an eagle unless I ran away. Upon reaching the town, I went to the lady who worked at the only gas station in our town. The first thing I said was “Hi, I know it’s 5:30 in the morning, but at 3 I decided to run away from home because my parents are abusive, and it’s not safe for me to stay there.”
One of the things she responded to me was “I wouldn’t trust your father farther than I could throw him. Not even your brothers, and not your mom. But when you came into the gas station, I knew you were different from them.”
The lady, her husband, and their dog let me stay with them for 3 weeks. Then I moved into a bigger town around an hour away. It was my first taste of freedom, ever. I worked at a restaurant only two blocks away from my apartment, I lived right down the road from a movie theatre, I lived across the hall from a tattoo parlor (sick vibes), and I began to create a life for myself.
While things were becoming great, they were still too comfortable. In February of 2012, I had a dream of moving to the West Coast. Later on that month, I was listening to an online sermon and the speaker said “If you feel like God is calling you to move across the country out of faith, then do it!” It was convicting, and I did. When March 31st rolled around, I hopped on a Greyhound bus with 3 other runaways (no joke, we all were running away to BC), and made a new life on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Almost 10 years later in BC, through many uncomfortable family conflicts, through loads of counseling, intentionally being vulnerable, and making myself believe that I am worthy of more than my adoptive father could ever say, I now carry the name my bio parents gave me before my adoption. I’m even in contact with my bio-mom and stepdad!
I also love my kids fiercely, even if they have come out of bed 3 times when I’m writing this (#dadlife). And, I am the proud owner of an eagle feather tattoo, along with a few other tattoos. That choice to leave the house and family therein set me on a much greater path. Things haven’t been easy, but they have been great. There is literally not one single day in my life that goes by without something triggering me from my past. And with that, there’s not a day where I choose to give up. With counseling, prayer, and a lot of determination, I’ve been able to make a list of how to work through the trauma.
Forgiveness is a part of my daily life. Whether it’s the random guy who cuts me off in traffic, someone mistreating me, or even myself, forgiveness happens daily. It cleans the slate for me.
We all have done this. It could be with our boss, our in-laws, a dreaded phone call, an ex in our lives, anything. It can weigh us down heavily, and keeps us in that mental loop of feeling “stuck.”
All kids act up, and mine are definitely not perfect. In the times where I can feel the anger rise up in me, I go out of my way to take a break and figure out how to make my oldest throwing cars against the wall in a peaceful, fun game for all. Doing this makes you “unlearn, all that you have learned.” – Yoda
This one is hard, but when you grow up in a terrible home, it’s necessary. Getting help doesn’t mean you have to go to a therapist (but if you’re having a hard time, there’s nooo shame). It could mean talking with a friend, your family, looking up online accounts with parenting tips and tagging your spouse.
If you’re needing to take a step in the right direction and away from a life of trauma, abuse, or anything of that nature, I implore you: DO IT. And don’t give up. There’s a new community, a new redemption, a new love for life waiting for you on the other side.
Merlin King is a husband, father, mentor, writer and painter on Vancouver Island, Canada.