--General Douglas MacArthur
Today, the daddy is smiling. Why? Well, he has done a lot of counseling (youth, drug, family violence) and quite a bit of consulting. Along the way, he has had to deal with a lot of violence, sadness and pain: the pain of a mother upon hearing that her son was killed, usually by gangbangers; the sadness of a young girl sexually assaulted by a young man who she thought "really liked me" (the extensiveness of date rape has yet to be fully told or understood); the anger and depression of black men after losing their jobs, wondering if they will have to sell drugs to pay the rent.
But the daddy has gotten a lot of love as well: male teenagers (some gangbangers) lingering around his SUV at the end of each counseling session as a way of saying goodbye; Straight-up, hardcore gangbangers advising him NOT to go into certain neighborhoods or "hot spots" at night unless he's "packing," their way of showing they cared; or women bringing him chitlin to the hospital when he was ill.
And the daddy has learned some important lessons too, none more important than a lesson he learned while working with Tina (her real name), a pregnant teenager. She taught the daddy more than he taught her. Check this.
The daddy used to work at a well-known run-away shelter for youth in Minneapolis. That's where he encountered Tina, a tall, slender, light-skinned 16 year old, bi-racial girl with a short afro. She ran away from her home in Minnetonka, a well-to-do Minnesota suburb. She hooked up with a petty drug dealer and pimp and became pregnant.
When Tina talked about leaving him and going back home, he began to beat her. This was not surprising. We counselors knew that this was the most dangerous times for women, young or old, in violent relationships: when they're pregnant and/or when they have left the relationship or trying to do so.
But when the daddy asked Tina, "Why would such a beautiful young 16 year old girl who gets A's at school and who has two parents at home who love her very much end up dating a drug dealer named 'Fly," she told him that her parents didn't act like they loved her anymore, that they were always either too busy working or too tired to do anything with her.
She said her father especially acted like he didn't love her anymore, because he stopped taking her and her mom places and stopped coming into her room to kiss her good night. "After I became 13, he said I was a young woman and he wouldn't be coming into my bedroom anymore."
Without saying so, she suggested that when she became a "young woman" was precisely the time she needed him to feel secure and protected the most.
She said, "When Fly touched me, I pretended he loved me and was keeping me safe like my dad." Perhaps sensing that I was being judgmental or seeing it written on my face (kids are smarter than we think), she said the words the daddy never forgot and now believes no parent in his or her right mind should forget either:
"Everybody wants to be touched...even animals at the zoo want to be touched."
Yes, today, this daddy is smiling because he still remembers a great lesson: everyone wants to be touched. Thank you, Tina.
Notes from National Runaway Switchboard:
* Youth aged 12-17 are at higher risk for homelessness than adults.
* 47% of runaway / homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem.
* Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care.
*80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having ever been sexually or physically abused. 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home and forty-three percent of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before leaving home.
* Childhood abuse increases youths' risk for later victimization on the street. Physical abuse is associated with elevated risk of assaults for runaway and homeless youth, while sexual abuse is associated with higher risk of rape for runaway and homeless youth.
* 12% of runaway and homeless youth spent at least one night outside, in a park, on the street, under a bridge or overhang, or on a rooftop. 5 *
* 7% of youth in runaway and homeless youth shelters and 14% of youth on the street had traded sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs in the last twelve months when surveyed in 1995.
* 32% of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
* Approximately 48.2% of youth living on the street and 33.2% of youth living in a shelter reported having ever been pregnant.
* 50% of homeless youth age 16 or older reported having dropped out of school, having been expelled, or having been suspended.
* Runaway youth are 50% male and 50% female, although females are more likely to seek help through shelters and hotlines.
* 40% of youth in shelters and on the street have come from families that received public assistance or lived in publicly assisted housing.
Missing Children/Runaway Youth: a few basic resources.
2. The National Crisis hotline.