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Kids Hear But They Do Not Listen

The comedian Jeff Allen shared a theory on Tiktok recently.  He said “I believe teenagers are God’s revenge on mankind.  I really do.  I think one day the good Lord was looking down over his creation, and said ‘Let’s see how they like it to create someone of their own image who denies their existence’”.

I had a good laugh at that video, and even though it didn’t directly relate to my personal situation at hand, it give pause to think about kids and their learning process.

I Didn’t Listen – (Estimated Reading time 30 minutes)

Being an old fart has given me the opportunity to learn things.  Put differently, it has given me the opportunity to suffer through mistakes that would have been completely avoidable if I had only listened:  Listened to my parents while they tried to prevent me from steering directly into the oncoming headlights.

“Honey, don’t touch this big white think here in the kitchen because it will burn you.  Mommy cooks food on it and it gets really hot.”  Yes, I was that kid.  “Really Mommy?”   Touch. Burn.  Cry. 

What is parent supposed to think at that exact moment?  “I told you, you little shit head”, comes to mind, but that is not what parents are supposed to say.  Maybe she should have. 

I really don’t understand why I didn’t listen to the advice of elders trying to help me have a better life.  Maybe I didn’t want to believe them, maybe I thought they were too old to be right, or maybe I thought I “knew better” in this situation because “it was different”. 

I HEARD but I didn’t listen

“But I listened to you Mommy!”  “NO.  You “heard” me, but you didn’t listen.  And you won’t understand that difference for many years – but it is going to bring you substantial pain and misery until you learn it.”

A few years passed, and I made more mistakes.  Around the age of 15 I announced to my parents and relatives that I never wanted to have kids.  Everyone gave me “uh-huh” and “ok” and “we will see when you are older”.

40 Years Later – Still No Kids

Well … I am older.  I am an old boomer in fact.  I’m a boomer and an old fart, depending on who you ask.  I wear Dad jeans.  Many decades (!) have passed since my childless proclamation and it is still true.  I never fathered any children.

Let me say it again:  I still don’t have any children

For the first 25 years after making the statement, I had no children by choice and wrapped protection.  For the next 10 years, I had no children by Karma, as I chose to try and have children for my wife.  Even with all the technological advancements in making the sperm and egg play nice outside the womb, pregnancy was never in the cards.  Karma.  Just like I said.

I wasn’t hurt by the inability to give my wife a child.  So I’m now an old fart and an asshole.  But sometimes it just goes to show you that once you have made a decision, some power is encouraging you to not change that decision.

Not everyone should have kids

To put it another way, I always said that just because you CAN breed, doesn’t mean you SHOULD breed.  I used that argument as it referred only to me – as I felt from the age of 15 that I could not be a good parent. 

How a 15-year old boy can fathom whether or not he would be a good parent, is beyond my understanding.  But I knew it.  I knew it wasn’t for me.

Fast forward a few years.  This is where my life got confusing.  Very confusing. 

Only Bible quote … I promise

I travel around the world and spend time in multiple foreign countries alone.  Much of that time was spent in one foreign country in particular.  I’m trying to keep this story a little unspecific as, contrary to what Jesus said in John 8:32, the truth will NOT set me free.  That will be my only bible reference.  I promise.

During my time in that foreign country I met a family, comprised of a drug-addict mother, unknown MIA fathers, and 4 amazing kids.  We met in a chance meeting in a shopping mall.  I was shopping with a guy friend who knew the Mom.  When they saw each other, they stopped to talk and naturally I stopped and waited for my friend.

Happy Kids with a shitty situation

Only two of the four kids were with the mom that day.  They began to talk to me and ask questions and keep me engaged.  It was strange, but very pleasant as they were friendly, happy, smiling kids who acted as if they had no worries in the world. 

When my friend and the mother finished their chat, they said goodbye and I said to all that I had enjoyed meeting them, in a typical friendly manner.  Both of the kids smiled, and then immediately and without warning, wrapped their arms and bodies around me and hugged me tight.

I was in shock.  There was nothing wrong with what they did, but I didn’t know them or their Mom, and I was caught off guard by the immediate affection.  I looked over to the Mom and my friend, who laughed, and said “they like you” and “kids can tell who the good people are”. 

The good people?? I went home and looked in the mirror

“The good people”?  Did you miss the part of the story when I said I never wanted kids?  Granted I only said that I knew I would be a terrible parent; but the truth was, I don’t like kids.  I don’t like the whining, the lack of inside and outside voices, the know-it-all nature of little Googlers, the thousand other daily problems, or any of the aggravation that “good parents” tell you is the wonder of raising children. 

Time to Summarize before I bore you

I have set the foundation for this story, so now I will summarize before some of you reading this find yourself nodding off.

The kids convinced the mother to get my contact information from my guy friend, and then called me, asking to meet them in the mall again and have Mcdonald’s or some fast food.    It was a weird request, but I was intrigued that they wanted to be around me enough to go to this effort.  Yes, I knew that I would be paying, but the effort they put in got my attention.

Just for those of you who really are keeping up – the real father is not in the picture; and hasn’t been in the picture.  I am not sure he did anything more than visit the mother every few years to make another baby.

I met the kids again. I don’t know why

I met them a few days later and fell head over heels in love with these kids.  In full disclosure, my feelings might have been assisted by the fact that they were NOT my kids, and I was NOT responsible for raising them.  I was just there to take them to do fun things and spend time laughing.

These kids could make a widow laugh at the funeral of her dearly departed.  Don’t know what it was, but they could have you in tears begging them to stop because your cheeks hurt. 

Best laid plans

Did you catch the sentence that I was not responsible for raising them?  Best laid plans of mice and men, remember?  I may not have been raising them, but it became my responsibility to teach them right from wrong and teach them about having a better life for them without falling into the traps, mistakes and problems that I faced (and caused!) as a kid. 

I sound like my parents. What a terrible realization

Yeah, I know.  Who do I sound like?  My parents.  They were trying to save me from making mistakes that might have devastating effects on my life.  Even if it wasn’t devastating, they were trying to keep me from making stupid mistakes that might make my life more difficult.  They were telling me volumes of information to help me. Kids hear but they don’t listen. I wasn’t listening.

Fast Forward 9 Years

Over the past 9 years, that is what I have done.  Although I speak to at least one of the four kids daily, I only spend time with them 4 or 5 times per year.  Each time, the feeling they have and I have is no different than if I had seen them the day before.

The mother … oh, the mother.

The mother was only around a few years out of the 9.  She used to pull the kids out of school and move to a different city (likely near her suppliers), and not register the kids in the new location.  She did this multiple times before I was involved, causing the two oldest kids to be 3-4 years behind the kids of their age in school.  The two oldest are both freshmen in High School at the ages of 17 and 19.

She stopped doing that when I became involved in the kid’s lives; and she spent many years away in different intervals.  The kids were shuffled around to the grandparent’s house, and to various aunt’s houses.   Sad to say, but the kids were happiest when the mom was away.  Don’t ever think that kids don’t suffer from a parent using drugs.

Nine years later – here we go

I am finished with my background story.  I told you it was long, but I wanted to present the story accurately, in an effort to help you feel what I felt.

The country that these kids live in has a culture in which having babies is revered.  The population explosion is out of control, and there are more babies being made than resources to handle them.  In addition, young boys attempt to get as many girls pregnant as a badge of “manhood” – the number of children they have fathered in their neighborhood or village became an indication of manliness – in other words, bragging rights.

And to those of you about to interrupt my story and ask about child support and the father helping out, and all that … save it.  There is no child support.  The father likely does not work.  The father likely isn’t in the picture after the pregnancy.  And no, there is no government support.  There is no such thing as WIC, or food stamps, or any government program at all.

A bunch of fertile Myrtles … and Marks.

In fact, the father might not have been in the picture before the pregnancy.  I can’t find the stats, but from experience, a SUBSTANTIAL percentage of girls get pregnant the first time they have sex, with a boy who, most likely, isn’t a bonafide “boyfriend” or person with whom they are courting.  This is a fertile culture; there are studies about it on the internet which discuss the amazing fertility of the residents of this country.

In this family, there are three girls and a boy.  Great-grandmother was pregnant by age 15.  Grandmother was pregnant by age 15.  Mother was pregnant by age 16.  Do you see a trend?

When menstruation came for the two oldest, I began a campaign to interrupt the early pregnancy and keep them in school.

They already knew through local culture about sex and babies.  I didn’t have to deal with that.  But they didn’t know about condoms or birth control.

NO CONDOM, NO SEX

For the next 7 years, I harped on the need – no, the REQUIREMENT to use a condom; as well as how to make a boy use a condom.  I never said I was an angel – I explained that they had the ability to control any boy that liked them, and regardless of what they were told, if they told a boy “NO CONDOM, NO SEX”, the boy would find a 7-11 really quick.

“NO CONDOM, NO SEX” became the mantra, and it was said and discussed almost every visit I was with them.  Early pregnancy is the number one cause for student dropouts.  I knew that being 3-4 years behind was going to be tough, but if I could keep pregnancy off the table, I might be able to keep them in school.

Kids hear but they don’t listen. They promised they were “listening”

They promised me they were listening and they would have no sex without condoms when it was time, because they wanted to stay in school.

They said they were LISTENING.  Were they really listening, or was I just being HEARD?

This is a banana … this is a condom package

I became a condom cheerleader.  In their middle teens, we sat at my dining table with two bananas and multiple condoms.  Contrary to what some people might think, if you don’t know what a condom is and how it works FIRST HAND, how will you know that the boy is really using it correctly?

They learned to open the package and roll the condom down the banana.  I went further, and explained that when the boy was going to insert his penis into their vagina, they must reach down and feel the base of his penis:  if there was no raised “ring” (the retaining ring of the condom), then the boy had slipped it off to fool them.

Pulling out doesn’t work for young boys

They told me about other girls who had talked about their boyfriends “pulling out”.  I explained that young boys do not understand their penises yet, and are not capable of knowing WHEN to pull out.  According to all the discussions I had read, young boys were not familiar enough with their orgasm and ejaculation to know when they were supposed to pull out.

Pulling out is a reliable method, as long as the male knows his body.  What happens though, is that most men can’t pull out at the right time.

I followed that up with a story they already knew – boys lied in order to get a girl pregnant because of the culture.  You will see him ejaculate on your stomach, but what you don’t know is that the first squirt happened while he was still inside of you.  As soon as he can talk, he will be sure to tell you — “see, I didn’t cum inside you”, when in fact, he did.  And if you get pregnant, he will tell you he pulled out (because you saw him cum on your stomach), and some other boy knocked you up – it couldn’t have been him. 

I explained that the first squirt was the strongest and went the furthest.  The first squirt was more than enough to get them pregnant.

The girls always told me they were LISTENING to me and that I didn’t need to worry.  They understood “NO CONDOM, NO SEX”. 

Partial success: they didn’t get pregnant like mom and grandmom

The oldest one reached 18 without a pregnancy, and I took my first deep breath. 

The younger of the two girls will reach 18 in a few months, and I am actually surprised she didn’t get pregnant, as she ended up in a failed, but long-term relationship, involving regular sex.

Don’t ask me if I “allowed a long-term relationship at 15”.  I am not her parent, and my veto rights are limited.  She and I actually had a lot of problems because of this relationship, and sadly went almost a year without seeing or speaking to each other by her choice.  Her mother was back from one of her drug binges during this time and accepted the relationship.

Later, she told me about the sex she was having.  She skipped over the part where she had unprotected sex a few times, but 9 months after the relationship ended, she wasn’t pregnant.  We started speaking again about the time she and the boy broke up.  The mother took off again shortly after that.

Second oldest admits to not using a condom

They had vaginal intercourse four times without a condom.  Yet she promises she was LISTENING to me.  Only luck has kept her from being pregnant. 

My credibility was shot.

But my credibility was shot.  I had been making the blanket statement that “if you have sex without a condom, you will get pregnant” because of all these fertile Marks.  I did want to scare them, but my statement was honestly based in fact about the local culture. But the older sister knew the younger sister had sex without a condom and didn’t get pregnant. Daddy doesn’t know what he is talking about.

The oldest is now 19.  She has always been blessed or cursed with large breasts, depending on your point of view.  That has always garnered her an uncomfortable amount of attention. Over the past two years, she has also been gaining weight, making her chubby, but didn’t look unusual or “out of place”.

Honey, you look pregnant

However, this last visit a month back, I told her she looked pregnant.  She laughed and assured me that she wasn’t pregnant because it wasn’t possible for her to be pregnant.  I accepted that at face value because she always denied having sex, even though she told me she wanted to and was looking forward to the day with someone she loved.

Another weird thing I noticed was she was eating EVERYTHING in my house.  These kids love to snack, and my house is like an unlimited access 7-11.  But she was putting away food like no one had been feeding her in a long time. 

I let it go.  I believed she had not had sex yet, because there would be no reason NOT to tell me, as we had discussed everything else that happened in her lifetime.  As to the food – I wasn’t going to stop her from eating.  I thought that maybe she was just making up for lost time of not being in my well-stocked pantry.

What an eye opening this is. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing I don’t know about the oldest and her life, including dozens of things I wish I didn’t know. But even with all that, I didn’t know she was having sex.

And then the text message …

About 12 days later, I was traveling in another country, and my morning FB message started off a little different than most.

Daddy, I want to tell you something but I’m fearful

You know I tell you all my problems and I don’t lie to you”.   Just by making that statement, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

“When you jokingly asked if I was pregnant, I said no because I really didn’t know because I did not know what being pregnant felt like”.  “I only found out I was pregnant because grandmother took me to the doctor.”  “Yes, I told you that [boyfriend] and me did not have sex, but we did.”  “I lied because I knew you would be mad at me because I didn’t use a condom”.  “I didn’t think this would happen because [boyfriend] said he pulled out.”  “If I had only listened to you this would not have happened.”

I was stunned.  I couldn’t move.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and all the air knocked out of me.  I didn’t know what was worse – the fact that I couldn’t breathe, or the fact that I couldn’t see straight at that moment.

I don’t know the exact order that the feelings and emotions hit.  This could have been an “Inside Out” movie moment, except there were no happy thoughts (“Joy” was no where to be seen).  I definitely had blue for sadness; definitely red for anger; and maybe a little green for disgust.  I knew how Riley felt.  [Small “Inside Out” movie reference thrown in for fun – you should see it if you haven’t].

Inside Out Movie: “Anger”

ANGER was first.  I was so “out-of-sorts” that I didn’t know WHICH thing I should be angry at first.  I was angry that we supposedly had this no-holes-barred relationship where she could tell me anything.  I was also so angry that she had sex without a condom.

I had no feelings about the fact she had sex.  She is an adult. 

Then DISAPPOINTMENT hit.  I sunk into a depression about how disappointed I was in her.  For 7 years I preached about condoms and girls getting pregnant during first time intercourse.  She and her sister assured me they were LISTENING. 

The disappointment also hit me that “kids hear but they don’t listen”

When it came out that the younger sister had also had sex without condoms, the disappointment dove to a new low.

How could this happen?

“I didn’t think this would happen” she said.  I asked her how she could say that to me.  I angrily fired off that I had been telling her about this for the past 7 years.  Then as I imagined earlier, my CREDIBILITY was fried, as she told me that her younger sister had sex a few times without condoms and didn’t get pregnant, because the boy pulled out.  Therefore, using that as her reasoning, she would not get pregnant if her boyfriend pulled out

No, you didn’t listen

I reminded her again for the thousandth time that young boys can’t control their orgasm/ejaculation, and even if they can, they lie – they want babies, because they don’t have to pay for them.  I asked her angrily, “Did you listen to me when I told you “boys lie” a thousand times?”  “Yes, I listened” she said.  “No”, I corrected her, “you HEARD me, you didn’t listen.”

My sleeping took a nosedive.  I would wake up after being asleep for a few hours, and the entire situation was already in my head – as if I was already thinking it while sleeping, and my brain woke me for more processing power.

It is the teacher’s fault

The next emotion was a realization that I had FAILED.  I had tried to teach them things, and I failed to get them to understand and accept it.  I was the one doing the teaching, and if they didn’t get it, that must be on me.  The same concept as if you have a terrible math teacher who can’t explain real world problems well, and you fail them on the test each week.

All the not-so-nice comments I had made in my lifetime about parents and their failures with kids hit me in the face like a brick. I felt so small at that moment.

That is when the anger returned.  I was so angry that she had not listened.  And then my brain found more anger – I was angry that she couldn’t tell me what she had done.  The anger is the worst part, as it makes you stupid.

“So this is what my parents felt like when I didn’t listen”, I realized.  Now I know why they had bouts of anger, frustration, disappointment … rinse and repeat.

Upset? Take a trip in the car alone

The weekend after I learned the news, I was scheduled to go out of town by car.  The long drive was good for me and allowed me to think about the situation and whether or not I was being reasonable in my feelings.  It also gave me a chance to think about whether *I* as the old-adult, was not being there to support the adult-child.

After checking into the hotel, I went directly to this computer and starting beating on the keys

DAD-DEE

I have been called “Daddy” for so many years that I let it confuse me.  I am NOT their daddyI am not a parent.

I’m their friend.  I can help to guide them and teach them, but I am only a friend.

I do not have any right to be angry at what they do in their lives.  I can be disappointed to see what choices they have made, as a friend would, but I have no right to be angry.

My head was spinnin.  I thought about the younger brother and how I have openly let him know how much more handsome he would be if he kept his hair as it is in [picture A] versus how bad it looks in [picture B].  I have no right.

I was supposed to listen

I am supposed to be here as a friend; a person who listens to their problems in a way that a parent can’t, and helps advise or suggest ways of handling the issues they bring to my attention.

I never did fatherly stuff

A father? NO.  I have never been a father.  I didn’t punish them for not completing their school work, or for sibling fights.  I didn’t take a phone away for punishment because they did not go to bed on time and were cranky in the morning.  I didn’t go to the school to talk to the teachers.  I was never in a position to help them with their homework, or make sure it was completed each day.  I never took them to dance practice, or even saw one of their shows – as I couldn’t be in town during that time.

I was the one who took them swimming, or ice skating, or to amusement parks, or museums, or a hundred other things.  I was the one who replaced broken phones. 

When they were bad with me – and they were at times – I was able to make the necessary correction with a sideways turned head and a look of fire in my eyes.  If that didn’t work, they were “fussed at”, and told that if they didn’t want to follow the rules of my house, they could go back to theirs the next day.  The problems always cleared up immediately.

I was like “Divorced Ken”

In a matter of speaking, I held the position of divorced-father who only sees the kids every other month for a short time.  Divorced-dad doesn’t need to discipline on the short term and everything is a treat at Dad’s house. 

But even that analogy fails, because I was NEVER their dad; there is no common blood; and I never dated the mother

I forgot who I was

“I have been called “Daddy” for so many years that I let it confuse me.  I am NOT their daddy.  I am not a parent.”  I lost track of who I am and what my responsibilities were.

THE CONCLUSION OF THIS LONG STORY

The oldest is 5 months pregnant.  She and her younger sister are living with an Aunt, while the younger two are living with the grandparents.  Mother is still gone of course.

I lost track of reality. 

They made a promise to not get pregnant before 18.  The oldest kept her promise and is 19.  That is something I should have considered.  The younger sister – well, all I can do is hope.  She has 4 or 5 months to go before that magic age of 18 is reached.

Chatting is accomplished through Facebook.  Each of the kids has a FB account, and we have a group chat (all four kids only) for times when I want to send the same information to all of them at once.

I decided to post an apology in our “family” group chat. 

Summarizing, I told them that I forgot who I was, and I was not their father.  I was not their family. 

I am a friend.  That is it.  A good friend perhaps, but a friend nonetheless. 

I apologized to the oldest, now referred to as the “pregnant one”, telling her that I had no right to be angry, or “not nice” to her.  I told her that instead of being there as a friend, my feelings and emotions took over and all I could think about was ME, and what I was going through. 

Angry for days

It was days before I calmed down enough to realize that SHE was suffering through 7 kinds of hell with the rest of her family over the pregnancy (mom is gone, of course), and I deserted U.  That isn’t what a friend does.  But a friend needs to realize they are a friend to be able to be there for someone.

I also apologized to the brother, and told him I had no right to talk to him about the way he cut his hair or the clothes he wore.  My parents did that to me – and they WERE my parents. 

In the end, a few tears lost as I realized that this old-fart wasn’t as smart – or as nice – as he thought he was.  Their response from all four kids is what I expected, as they told me that I am their dad, and have been their dad since they were very little kids. The youngest two were four and six years old when I entered their lives.

But I am not their dad.  I hope to remember that as I help them navigate the snake pit of life.

And I hope they will listen.  But we have already seen where that got us.

Kids hear but they don’t listen. I didn’t.




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