Pulling into the parking lot at Joyful Connections, I remember the last time we were here.
It was about a year ago, just before my fifteenth birthday. I had been sitting on a couch in a space meant to look like a living room, waiting for dad to arrive. He showed up twenty minutes late. My visitation supervisor took one look at his dilated eyes, turned to the monitor, shook her head, and quickly ushered me out of the room. It was obvious he was still using.
That was the end of our visits—until today.
Today, mom turns off the engine and turns to look at me. Putting one hand on my shoulder she hesitantly asks, “Are you ready for this?”
I shake my head “yes”, and slowly step out of the car to head into Joyful Connections.
I like Joyful Connections. The people there are nice and the space feels warm and welcoming—like a friend’s home. In the visitation rooms, there are comfortable chairs and couches, board games and books. My mom told me it’s supposed to make things like supervised visits and exchanges feel more comfortable and safe, especially for parents whose interactions in public can sometime be less than civil.
There are certain details I recall about my dad from when I was younger. Memories that feel like flashes of random scenes from a movie… fishing on Lake Erie, visits to Cedar Point and Kalahari, playing frisbee in the backyard. Small visions of memories from a time before.
But, my most vivid memory of my dad isn’t even a true image. It’s more of a recurring dream I’ve had for the last ten years—of me, standing alone on a dock in Port Clinton, staring out at the rough waters on a stormy day, waiting for him to show up to take me out on the lake again.
My parents divorced when I was going into first grade. My dad had worked construction and while on the job suffered a back injury. He got hooked on prescribed OxyContin and things seemed to just go downhill from there.
“The fishing trips ended. There weren’t any more visits to any amusement parks. No more throwing the frisbee in the backyard.”
My mom and I moved out of our house into a small apartment and dad didn’t come with us.
About a year after the divorce, my dad got sober. He’d checked himself into rehab, went through the program, and proved he could stick with it. My mom agreed to let me stay with him every other weekend, and eventually I was allowed to stay for a full week every month. My vision of waiting for my dad at the dock stopped—at least for a time.
One morning in sixth grade, I woke to find him passed out on the couch. I shook him awake. He looked at me with the most vacant expression and then quickly drifted back into unconsciousness. On the coffee table was a lighter and a sheet of tin foil with something black baked into it. I called my mom to tell her I needed a ride to school.
“Shortly after that day, my mom filed for sole custody and I didn’t see my dad again for three years.”
Mom wanted me to have a relationship with him, but she couldn’t allow me to be alone with him. Eventually he went through the rehab program again, and that’s when we started meeting at Joyful Connections.
The first time I visited him here, the woman supervising the visit told me about the visitation levels—Level One means a monitor is in the room at all times; Level Two is when the monitor checks in every ten minutes; Level Three, the monitor checks in every thirty minutes; and Level Four is when the visitation takes place without a monitor in the room.
Today is a Level One visit. Today, I hoped my visit with dad would be different than the last. It just had to be.
“I’ll be right down the street if you need me,” my mom said, as she gently placed her hand on my cheek.
I was half expecting her to immediately take me home and not even bother trying anymore. Yet, I’m hopeful. Because last night, I had a new version of my recurring dream.
Once again, I was standing on the dock, looking out at the water. Only this time, the sky was clear and the water calm. It was the present day and beside me stood my dad—looking ready to navigate through life again.
Without speaking a single word, I open the door to the visitation room and patiently wait to see my dad again.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Joyful Connections. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the program’s support capabilities.