Breaking the chain of poor choices
Kathryn’s life story took and hour to tell and 45 years to live.
She is a near middle-aged waitress and newly divorced mother of two.
She was born and raised in a large Boston Catholic family. Her father was a cop, her mother a cop’s wife. Being the only girl with six brothers, Kathryn was both exalted and protected by the men in her family.
When she got pregnant at the age of 17, the only question was whether her brother Tony would beat up her boyfriend before or after the wedding.
The father of Kathryn’s child, Paul, was a neighborhood kid with more looks than brains. His parents gave him the same choices that Kathryn’s gave her. In that day, there were few options for young, pregnant, Catholic girls.
Kathryn finished high school at home while her belly grew and her new husband drove a bus. The baby was born with cerebral palsy. A second child, in perfect health, followed. Not long after that Paul was fired from his bus driving job for too many accidents and fender benders. All assumed that Paul was a bad driver; no one guessed he was a junkie.
Telling her story 27 years later, Kathryn is convinced she knows exactly when her husband’s addiction began. After their first child was born with a birth defect, he became moody and unreliable. After he lost his bus driving job, many other abbreviated careers followed. It wasn’t until Paul was arrested the day before their 10th wedding anniversary that Kathryn would admit to herself and Paul to her, that he was an addict.
What followed was 15 years of lies, failed detox programs, and abuse of wife and kids. If Paul hadn’t been so terrified of Kathryn’s father and brothers, the abuse might have gotten worse.
Paul was what might be described as a functioning addict. He would hold down a job for a while before he’d get fired or simply stop showing up. If you were particularly gullible, he could convince you his problems stemmed not from addiction but from bad luck and a world that was out to get him. Kathryn was particularly gullible.
When he began to stay away from home for days at a time and nod-off while driving his daughter to her soccer games, Kathryn began looking for a way out.
Like many wives stuck in a bad marriage, she stayed with him because she felt her daughters needed a father. She held out hope that someday he could quit. She thought a bad home was better then a broken home. “That was a mistake.” she said.
After 25 years of an unhappy marriage, Kathryn left her husband. She had huge credit card bill, two daughters, one in a wheelchair and the other terminally insecure.
“I blame myself as much as Paul,” she said, “Paul was addicted. I was weak. Our kids paid the price.”
Both Kathryn’s kids still live at home. The oldest, Mary, is 26 and due to her CP is confined to a wheelchair. The youngest, Margaret, was a good student in high school until she followed in her mother’s footsteps and got pregnant in her teens.
No one knows the hardship of an unwanted pregnancy better then Kathryn. Had she the discipline to abstain, or a working knowledge of birth control, her life would have been different. She saw her daughter’s condition as history repeating itself and yet another failure of her as a parent. She blamed herself. She reasoned if she had been a better mother she could have provided her daughter with the ability to make better choices.
Though Kathryn’s daughter had more choices than her mother did two decades before, her situation was remarkably similar. Her boyfriend was a good-looking, irresponsible, small-time thug. He never offered to marry the mother or care for the child.
Margaret weighed her options and made her decision. Rather than terminate the pregnancy, give her child up for adoption, or try to get the father to honor his obligations, Margaret gave birth and went on welfare.
When compared to pain and suffering seen in some other broken homes and ravaged lives, the plight of Kathryn and her family is not particularly tragic or profound. But they are all too typical and unnecessary.
The story is also one of squandered opportunities and wasted potential. Not just potential for success and stability, but more importantly, wasted potential for joy.
Of all the tragic characters the only one who truly a victim is Mary, the girl born with cerebral palsy.
Some might argue that Kathryn’s story is an example of weak will and the lack of personal responsibility. Some might say that Kathryn, her ex-husband, and her single-mother daughter, due to irresponsible behavior, are a drain on society.
Another way of looking at it would be to say that with our government’s insistence on engaging in an expensive and unwinnable war on drugs leaves little money for treatment programs in which users can kick the habit. Some would contend that our nation’s hypocritical sexual sensibilities have robbed our teens of the sex education and birth control availability that might prevent teen births.
I couldn’t argue with any of those assessments, but I would also say that family history has a scary way of repeating itself. Unless a family or society or creed can break the chain of poor choices, society is burdened and human potential is left unrealized.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge.