We are sharing with you a letter from the son of one of our recent graduates, Johnny Allen (see previous post). It is lengthy, but such a tribute to what God can do in a person's life to bring positive change, healing and hope, not only to the individual, but also to their family. We are grateful to John Allen Jr and his dad for letting us share this letter with you.
I have sat down to write this several times now. Each time I do, I have hit the same blocks causing me to hit delete, and start again. The funny thing is that each time I hit that button, and the new page appears, nothing that was previously there can be seen anymore. Growing up the son of an addict/felon isn’t like that. So many times I wish I could just hit delete, go to a blank page, and rewrite things the way that I wanted to, As many times as I wished that could occur, there I was, the story written, unable to be changed.
My name is John Allen Jr. You see, for so many years now, the Jr. was the most important part of my name. Anytime someone would ask, I made sure they understood that Jr. was at the end of it. I didn’t want to be confused with my dad, he wasn’t a good man. He wasn’t someone I wanted to be, he was someone I was ashamed of, and someone, who at times, I wished hadn’t any longer existed. You see, growing up the son of an addict/felon sucked.
As I struggle to write this, I look for where to even begin my story. There were so many stages, so many key points that it is difficult to sit back and try and take it all in, from all levels. In order to show the “Big Picture” it only makes sense to start from the beginning.
Rewind to the days of growing up, being a young kid, with nothing to do but sports, and developing a relationship with my father that has guided me along some of my own paths through life. My dad coached every team that I played for, every sport. He didn’t miss a shot that I took. He never missed a rebound that I grabbed, or a ball that I hit. My dad was the best coach I knew, one of the best coaches the town of Sedalia had a chance to have. Even though he may not have been a genius when it came to X’s and O’s, he got the best out of every kid that we had, and there wasn’t a kid that wouldn’t run through a wall for him because he cared. He cared about all of us. He didn’t just care about the good players; he cared about every single kid the same. When I was young, that’s who he was, that’s the man I remember when I tell all my stories to my kids. The dad every kid wanted to have, I had him. Even though I didn’t always understand or agree with the things that he told me, I mean which kid does? I remember being out on the sidewalk, every night, me and him, as I pitched to him. One night, after many times of being told he would never show me how to throw a curve, I had finally learned on my own. As we went out to play, about 10 pitches in, I broke off a nasty 12 to 6’er that I had learned that day. He calmly put his glove down, and walked inside. Not a word was said, he just stood up, and left. After about 10 minutes I went aside, wondering where he had gone. He was sitting on the couch, reading the paper. I asked him if he had forgotten what we were doing, he looked up, and told me, “throw it again, and I’ll never play catch with you again”. I never really understood it then, but I do now. He was so set in his ways, so stubborn, all traits that would harm us later on. There were many stories like this, many details that defined who we were. Gold medals at Show Me State Games, playing goalie in Kemper Arena against the Comets, All-Star game walk-offs, my first home run, my first no-hitter, my first touchdown, he was there, he was there for it all. This is what all young boys wanted; this is what a father/son relationship was all about.
As I look back during this time, before things changed, I think back of all the things that I had taken for granted, all the things that I wish I would have told him, maybe it could have helped, maybe it might have helped re-write the future.
Dad, I never told you how much I loved you the way I could have. I never told you that even though I wasn’t perfect, even though I didn’t always listen or agree with what you told me, you were my best friend. I wish I would have told you that, I wish you knew.
On to the next stage, the stage when I began to realize that the man I thought I knew wasn’t him at all. Coming home from school one day I arrived home and my grandmother was sitting in the street, car running, waiting. I walked up to the car, I could see she was upset, but she wouldn’t tell me why. I went inside to change, and as I did, I could see my dad walking by the window, suitcase in hand, as he hopped into the car with her. I ran out the door to catch them, yelled out, but she didn’t stop, they just drove away. I figured she just didn’t hear me, I figured maybe dad was going on a business trip, all seemed normal I guess. A few days later I finally heard from him, he had checked into rehab. None of it made sense to me, my dad wasn’t an addict, or at least that’s what I thought. Back then I didn’t understand it, but it was only the beginning.
Throughout the next several years, things really began to fall apart for my dad. Without going into too much detail, in and out of jail, in and out of prison, lies, stealing, you name it, we were living it. You want to know what it’s like being the son of an addict/felon? It sucks. It sucks to write letters to a man behind bars that everyone can read and see your thoughts. It sucks to take the woman you love to meet him, for the first time, as he wears grey prison pants and white T. It sucks to hear “Will you accept a collect call from….”. It sucks to lie to everyone about where their grandpa is. It sucks to hear what people say as you walk by them in public. It sucks to be asked your name, and then to have to clarify because they think you are him. It sucks to see your grandma cry, because her son is gone. Being the son of an addict/felon sucks.
Each time my dad got out, each time we were “re-unified” as a family, the hope was that we would never be left to go through the same thing again. Each time though, it happened. For various reasons, no matter what, it was inevitable to occur again. I remember asking myself one time, “Why am I not enough?” That may seem selfish, but the same question could be asked with another name inserted in the place of the word I. Why wasn’t Kristin enough? Why wasn’t Kimberly enough? Why wasn’t Bud, or Katherine, or Misty, or Tyler, or Devin, or Kailei? Why weren’t we enough to make him change his ways.
The last time we went through this was the last for me, with fair warning. My dad knew that if he ever screwed up again, no matter the cause, we were done. And then it happened, back he went. I really thought that it finally sank in. His grandkids worshipped him; I don’t know how much he realized just how much they truly worshipped him. Finally, he was involved again, and they got to see that, and they loved it. He was a part of my life again, but then it was gone. When he went back in this last time I had finally done what I wanted to do all this time and didn’t have the courage to do, I shut him out. No calls, no responses, nothing. I finally told the kids the truth, where he had been, what he had done, there was no more hiding. I didn’t need a father anymore, what I needed was my best friend to come back and he failed me again. I don’t know to this day if he knew how many times I cried myself to sleep, how many times I cried to my wife wanting to know why I wasn’t enough, even then. I put on a face of anger, one that I pretended to be ok but I missed my dad so much, I missed my friend. I wanted to hit that delete button like I had so many times before, but didn’t. Everything was there, in full view, I could see the whole story.
As it got closer to time for dad to get out, still without ever communicating with him for several years, I was content in the fact that I never wanted anything to do with him and we would no longer be a part of each other’s life. My wife and I was firm on this stance, and in no place to waiver. Something happened though, and to this day I still don’t know what it was, but Misty had asked that we go see him when he got out. No! I said, and that was it! There was no pressure from her and she said it was my choice, but why the change of heart? I still don’t know why I agreed to do it, even now. We went to see him at his new home, and as scared as I know it was for my little girl, who hadn’t seen her grandpa in years, I was terrified. To be honest, I wanted to hate him. I wanted to fight him. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to cry to him. I wanted to ask why. I wanted to hurt him. There were so many things going through me that I couldn’t explain. The rest of that visit is private, and the talks we had will stay between us, but on that day, that day for the first time since I was playing catch in the front yard, I felt that I had my friend back. Something seemed different than before, can’t explain it, but it did.
Since that day we have had lots of time together. He has been around for holidays, he has seen his grandson hit his first ever home run, he has seen his granddaughter score her first basket, and he has seen his family grow, now with him a part of it. I still get scared; I still worry about “what if”. All I can hope is that he continues to do the things that he is supposed to do and make the best of the opportunity that he has. There is a lot that has to be rebuilt, a lot that still has to be fixed, but he seems to be working towards those in a much better way than before. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know what life will bring next with its challenges, with its issues, or with its pitfalls, and none of us do. This place (City Union Mission) has been good for my dad and I am proud of what he has accomplished here.
I don’t emphasize the Jr. in my name as much now as I once did. Even though the past is there and I can’t hit delete, the man that sits here tonight isn’t the same man that I was once ashamed to be the namesake of. I’m happy to say that I’m proud of Johnny Allen, I’m proud of my dad, and I’m proud of my friend. Being the son of an addict/felon sucks, it really does, but being your son is something that I would never, ever change.
Congrats, and I love you. We all do.
John Allen Jr.
John Allen Jr.