This man was my saving grace in childhood
We all have mentors in our life. Men and women who go the extra step to help mold us into better people. Mentors are especially needed for kids in troubled homes. I happened to be one of those kinds of kids.
Being the oldest child to a single-mother, I wasn’t raised in a loving, caring household. Mostly, I was neglected and required to be ‘the adult.’ I was the caretaker in my small, chaotic family.
However, there was one man in my young life who gave me guidance and hope. He showed me that I was worth his time.
He helped me by nurturing me and paving a path for me with the adult guidance I needed. Without him, I’m not sure how I’d feel about men since most all of the other men were either neglectful or abusive. Because of him I grew up believing that there were good men in this world. He’s the reason I have a healthy relationship with a life partner whom I love and loves me back, and a handful of male friends who mean the world to me.
Most of all, I have a healthy mind, gratitude, peace, and happiness. It may have taken many decades after my childhood to get to this sweet spot in my life, but I always think back to my childhood and am grateful he took the time to nurture a sad and confused little girl who didn’t have much to look forward to in life.
Ed: My surrogate father
I grew up in a part of the city where low-level blue-collar workers made their homes. I didn’t know my neighbors well; my brother and I were ostracized as the “dirty kids” in the neighborhood. We weren’t filthy, just undesirable because of the chaos that came from my small home.
I can’t recall the reasons why our neighbors didn’t like us, but there are snippets of memories of an older male neighbor across the street who would come bang on our door for various missteps on our part; our pets were bothering him or “those kids” were unsupervised too often. All this did was make life more difficult for my brother and me, since we were supposed to supervise ourselves and take care of our pets.
A family lived around the corner from us, a father and mother who had two children about our ages; Cindy and Craig were their names. Cindy was one year younger than me, and Craig was a year or two younger than my brother.
The parents were Ed and Addie. They cared for their children and were always welcoming for us to come into their home. My brother and I were usually by ourselves after school and on the weekends. They let us come over and play with Cindy and Craig.
Ed was a car mechanic. He had a shop in the neighborhood and specifically fixed Toyotas. When he was home, he was usually in his garage, with a lit cigarette between his lips and at his shop bench tinkering with I-don’t-know-what. His love was an old Chevy pickup. It was cherry red and sat in his driveway. He drove it back and forth to work and kept it in pristine condition.
When I was growing up, Ed was my pseudo-father. It’s funny because I didn’t see Addie that way as a mother figure. Ed — he was always kind to me.
When I was much younger, Cindy and I would hunt for rocks and moss and twigs. We’d make these elaborate shadow boxes of miniature towns. Ed would come to stand over us and peer at what we were doing, curious about what his daughter and friend were making. He’d then praise us on how creative we were as we overexplained how the twigs were log houses and cars, the moss was grass, and flat rocks were the roads.
There was a point when I was struggling with math at school. Ed liked math and told me to come over in the evenings, and he would help me. He sat with me and explained mathematical concepts that were too much for my literary mind to understand; I would cry and throw a temper tantrum, wanting to give up. Ed patiently sat there until I got over my outburst, then talked to me calmly about how I was a smart kid and that I could do the math. He emphasized that he’d spend as much time as I needed to understand the concepts. He was the only reason why I passed my math classes.
When I turned 19, I bought a red ’71 Toyota Celica for $400.00. I asked Ed if he would come with me to look at the car. It needed some serious help. Ed told me to go ahead and buy the car and he’d fix it up for me.
He took my car for an entire day. He fixed the windows (they had manual handles to roll the windows up and down), tuned the engine, replaced the timing belt, and a ton of other little things that I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know that much about cars. He charged me $50.00 for all of his work. Honestly, the work he did on it probably cost as much or more than what I paid for the car itself.
Ed was there for me. I’m sure he knew a lot more about my home life than I realized. I don’t know if Ed thought of me as a daughter or felt sorry for me. Either way, he was the only stable man I had in my childhood growing up.
Ed died when he was 50 years old of lung cancer. His chain-smoking caught up with him. I was in my early twenties when he died. I wished I’d had him as a real father and that he could have been there for longer than my childhood. But when he was in my life, he was always a steady, kind father figure. He never got angry with me, he was never inappropriate with me (which is more than I can say about most all the adult men I was exposed to as a child), and he was always there in the background for me when I needed him.
When I think of him now, tears come to my eyes because I never appreciated him as much as I should have at that time in my life. I didn’t know any better. I wish I could express to him how much he means to me and how he instilled the belief that not all men were predators and abusers. He showed me there were men out there who were good and cared about others, and took care of the people he loved as a real man should.