Tuesday, 17 July 2012

When we hurt our kids in order to protect them

About a year ago we hired a friend of Mo's to paint the house. This guy, Fadil, brought along his assistant, John, who would eventually take over the whole job, as Fadil had had other commitments.

A few days into the project John stayed away for a few days. Mo called his friend to find out what was happening. It turned out that John had broken up with his girlfriend, with whom he co-owned a house, and was thus sleeping on the streets.

As I'd expected, Mo offered John a place to stay. In exchange John did odd jobs around the house. Very often there was nothing for him to do and the poor guy, in his attempt to earn his keep, would become creative in my little garden. The problem was that, although we were providing him with a place to stay (including meals), we didn't always have the money to pay him for the odd jobs he was doing (and obviously he needed money for cigarettes etc), since the services of a full-time handy-man had never really been part of our budget.

So, as a favour to him, Mo decided to get him painting or handy-man jobs at the homes of friends/family, since John truly is skilled and creative in that regard. Mo also offered to teach him to panel-beat (Mo's panel-beats and spraypaints motorcycles and vespas as a second/evening job in our backyard). In this way John could earn money from outside jobs or, if there were none available, he could assist Mo (and he would then be paid once Mo was paid by the client).

The problem was that John was reluctant to work away from our home. We'd arrange jobs for him but after a day, we'd find him sanding bike parts when he was supposed to be working elsewhere. This became stressful for Mo, as it entailed him having to take on jobs he had no time to do after work, which left him exhausted (and cash-strapped, since materials [such as sandpaper and paint] had to be paid for upfront).

But he didn't mind. John was wonderful to have around. He and Mo were fast becoming friends, the kids loved him, I felt safe having him around when Mo was at work and even our grumpy pet quaker parrot called out his name happily when he walked past.

He had had an exciting life before meeting us. We often benefitted from his past experiences - he had been a really good sportsman in his day, so when Tharaa participated in the inter-school athletics, he was the one who coached her. He promised to take Shakeel to the nets to practice cricket as soon as the weather improved. He had so many ideas for landscaping my little garden, which he was also looking forward to doing once summer arrived.

Everything was going well. Although we often had people working for Mo (panel-beating or doing the mechanical repairs on the vespas), we had never had anyone this loyal. We trusted him implicitly. Mo would send him to the ATM to draw money from Mo's account and, at one point, he had the key to the spare room, which leads into our house from outside.

He had become part of the family. For Father's Day, the kids bought him an electric razor.

A few months ago things started to change. Mo noticed that he was not doing the work that he'd promised to do. Or he'd do it so poorly that Mo had had to re-do it after coming from work. I noticed that he was sleeping for the better part of the day. He was hardly spending any time on Mo's work.

But we said nothing. Perhaps it was a phase.

Then a few weeks ago we went a way for the weekend. He offered to stay at our home (and not go to Mitchells Plain as he usually did on weekends), despite the fact that we said it was not necessary. But he insisted and we were grateful. He asked if his girlfriend (whom he'd been dating for about 3 months) could stay over at our place  for the weekend as well and we agreed.

On the day we were about to return from the holiday (Sunday), Mo charged his phone, which had been off for most of the Saturday. To his surprise, John had been leaving messages all of Saturday night. They stated that he needed money, despite the fact that Mo had left him money before we left (They often arranged for him to receive money ahead of time - we knew that we could trust him to complete the work). The messages were being sent every 5 minutes. Some of them stated that his girlfriend desperately needed money.

On Sunday, when Mo tried to call him, he didn't answer. Instead he sent Mo a very hostile angry message. This was both surprising, hurtful and completely out of character for him.

For the next few days he and Mo avoided each other. He continued to live by us, but Mo was no longer asking him to work.

Slowly over the next few days the reason for his erratic behaviour was revealed. Mo often hired people to assist with the work - sometimes because of the workload, but (more recently) also because John was not delivering as promised. One by one, these guys approached Mo and delivered the awful explanation.

John had become addicted to tik (Methamphetamine). He was smoking it in his room at the back and in the bathroom they shared. He kept the pipe (which I later learned, is known as a tik lolly) tucked under the outside electricity box. Right where my kids often play.

This explained so much. Why he slept so much and was unable to work. His erratic and out-of-character behaviour the weekend of our trip. And his desperation for money that weekend.

We were shocked. And hurt.

A few days later he and Mo decided to have a discussion. He thought it was about their disagreement, so he started off with an apology. But Mo informed him that the problem was so much bigger. We knew about his tik addiction.

At first he'd denied it feebly, but then, he'd just sat there as Mo had presented all the evidence. Then he'd apologised. Mo had told him that we needed a few minutes to think about what to do next.

Initially, immediately upon finding out, we had not thought about sending him away. We had immediately started trying to figure out how to cope with his addiction. But, as the days passed, (and upon speaking to more clear-headed people who had no emotional involvement with him) it had dawned upon us that, sadly, he might have to move.

Still, when Mo walked into the house after speaking to him, I was not comfortable with the idea of simply putting him out. It was a stormy freezing morning. The thought of him wandering the streets in that weather was too much to bear.

So we decided to call some community leaders for an opinion. It was agreed. He had to go. We had to think of our kids' safety. According to them, tik  affects one mentally. It made people aggressive. The person we knew was about to change due to his addiction. He could no longer be trusted.

In addition, he had disrespected us. He had taken drugs on our premises, near our kids. He had kept the pipe within easy reach of the kids. He had kept drugs on our premises, which placed us in danger - what if the police had gotten wind of it? Apparently he had also brought a friend over to smoke with him, which means that he had had no regard for our safety.

We were also told to think of the message we were sending our kids by letting him stay. The older kids knew he was using tik. Did we want to send the message that drug use carried no serious consequences? The kids needed to see that we would in no way tolerate or support this. That drug use could result in one losing everything - a message they would not get if we continued to give him a place to stay.

So, heartbroken, Mo informed him of our decision. He promised John that he need never go hungry - we would be willing to feed him should he ever approach us, but he could no longer live here.

His reaction was indicative of his true nature. He said  that he understood. As each of us hugged and said our teary goodbyes, he comforted us! I started to doubt whether we'd made the right decision - he was such a good person. But Mo reminded me that our family was no longer safe with him living here and that we had to put our family first.

Shakeel (13) was inconsolable and angry with us. He lay under the covers crying. John had to come inside to comfort him and say goodbye.

Mo got John to contact his (John's) son. They were to meet 2 days later, when John would inform him that he was, once again, homeless. In the meantime Mo asked if he could drop John off at a shelter. Or with family (We recently met his 4 grown kids, one of whom had worked with us at a financial services company a few years ago and another was a sports administrator). He refused the offer, saying that he'd be okay.

When Mo dropped him off at the station, John apologised. He said that he felt worse about hurting us than he would have if we'd been his actual family; that we had been strangers who had opened our home to him and he'd abused that. But Mo said that he did not want an apology. All we wanted was for him to get help for his addiction before it was too late. He promised to do so.

We want him to heal. He still has so much to offer. He is an amazing, kind and talented person. If he loses himself to this addiction, it will really be a tragedy.

I think of him guiltily while lying under my warm covers during these freezing winter nights. I wonder where he is spending the night; if he's warm and dry. I feel guilty at mealtimes. I wish I knew if he has enough to eat.

Never again will I sit in condescending judgment of parents who are finding it difficult to send away their drug-addicted kids. If we're feeling this bad for a man whom we just met a year ago, how must they feel? BUT I realise that it must be done; that enabling is destructive to the addict and his/her family. I just have so much more sympathy and compassion for parents in this position than I'd had before.

The kids have been coming to terms with our decision. But, like us, they worry about him on cold nights. They have witnessed first-hand, the pain resulting from drug addiction, But sadly, this lesson came at the expense of someone about whom they care dearly.

I hope and pray that the Almighty keeps him safe. That he overcomes his addiction so that his life and health can be restored.  And that our kids have learned from his grave mistake.

Did we make a mistake in the way we dealt with this situation? Did we perhaps overreact?


Thecolouredfulwife said...

no way you overreacted. I would have done the same thing. And you consulted a lot of people as well and they all confirmed your choice. You did well and I too hope that John is able to fight his addiction as he really sounds like an awesome man.


Savouring mommy moments said...

TCW- thank you sooo much. I am so glad you said that. I doubt our decision at least 10 times a day.

Samway said...

love reading your heartfelt blogs! you are such an extra-ordinary family. and stop doubting yourself...you did the right thing and it's called tough-love.

Savouring mommy moments said...

Thank you so much Samway for the reassurance. It's just so hard to hurt someone we care about, but you are absolutely right about it being tough-love.