Originally published on Foster Focus Magazine By Charles Prinzen
This is a story about ME. There are segments of this story that you will agree with and others you will not. None the less it is my story from my heart and soul. This is a story about keeping a promise that I made at the age of three. My first interlude into the foster care system. As you may very well know being taken away from your home at the age of three is traumatic. Feelings of loss, despair, abandonment, guilt, etc. make a lasting memory upon you especially when you are beginning the process of figuring out who you are and the foundation of your life.
When we are in our mothers’ womb, we know one thing, comfort. We do not have access to a check-list where we can ask for happiness, love, family and perhaps the tooth fairy. Eventually we are born and draw our first breath. Some of this path has already been paved but there is much more to who we are.
December 10, 1955 was when I drew my first breath. Little did I know that my path was going to be of a survivor. My parents were not together the day I entered this world, my father was in and out of prison. My mothers’ nickname was “Bunny” and my father was wise to her ways. I was not claimed by my father which made ME a “bastard child” as known in those days. Eventually my mother divorced and married my step father, Cal. Cal was a hard worker and provided us with a home and nourishment, not much else. In the most basic terms this was a home and a family, however it was fractured, Cal was an alcoholic and an abuser.
On the changing table at age three, Cal asked ME if I had to use the bathroom, I said no. I accidently peed on him. This was a trigger for Cal and he beat ME, the screaming and the yelling was so evident that the neighbors contacted the police. I was taken away and Cal was incarcerated, I was placed in the foster care system. I was not allowed to be placed back with my mother, they determined that she was not fit for parenting. While in foster care I had the opportunity to experience a normal home, it felt good, even though I still missed my home. I did normal things, played, made friends, went to Sunday school, it was pretty cool. I spent a majority of my time in a open back yard where I played freely, thinking and pondering what might be next. One day, while on the swingset, I prayed. I said, “I know you are up there because they told ME so in Sunday school, Jesus loves me. Please let ME grow old and I promise I will make it right.”
After six months I was given back to my parents and that fractured home. Cal and my mother were deemed fit by the state to be parents again, my hope was that we could be a family. A real family without the fear of abuse. I was completely wrong, this new beginning did not last long and the beatings started again, both my mother and ME were now the targets. My mothers’ life would be too short, she passed away at the age of forty-four from alcoholism and abuse on Mothers’ Day 1979. Survival was not easy. By the time I reached the age of sixteen and a sophomore in high school, I had attended eighteen elementary, nine junior highs, and one high school.
One day I was playing in my front yard with a good friend of mine. My parents returned from a two-day drinking binge. I was called into the house followed by my stepfather. Somehow I could anticipate what was going to happen, another beating. There was a difference this time, I was sixteen, playing sports, physically fit and I was ready to defend myself. My stepfathers’ fists instantaneously advanced onto ME, luckily I was able to block a majority of these punches. This was the last time my stepfather ever had the opportunity to abuse ME.
I ran out the front door with nothing but the clothes on my back never to look back, this was it, I had made a clean separation from that life. Not knowing what to do or even really what to feel, I went to the comfort of my mentor. My mentor was the person I had learned how to talk too, a shoulder to cry on until I had to go back home. In the long term this person became my foster sister and thanks to her for sharing my stories with her mother, I was adopted.
My Foster Mom, Shirley (Akiyama) Monahan, was a windowed mother of two daughters. I consider my time with her a new beginning. The transition from a course rock to a finite diamond. The mental cave where I had lived was a deep and dark place, cold, isolated, no hope. No light was ever invited in to shine on ME, I Iiked it and felt safe in the dark. In my new home I had a room to myself, a dresser full of new clothes, closet, and bed. There was a sliding door to the backyard. This felt like heaven even though I did not know how long it was going to last. I was sure enjoying this feeling even though it would be brief (as it had it before at three years old) and was still very defensive and unable to open up.
The love I was shown by my foster family was real and warm. The dividens of this love started to show too, my grades accelerated to a 2.5 GPA, I lettered in five sports and played in the school marching band. The hard outer shell of my shield began to fracture, light was penetrating. The diamond inside this rock was forming because of one of the greatest tools that humans posses is love. Every happy experience now was secured into my memory. Happy memories are sometimes the only thing that keeps fractured children going. My time with my foster mom and sisters will always be one of my favorite periods in my life, I thank her in heaven everyday for what she gave and taught to me. I became humble and respectful.
Are you ready for another highlight? I graduated high school! I will readily admit that I had lot of help from my school counselors and my foster family as well as coaches. This support network was truly special. I would not be writing this if I had not had the opportunity to move on to the next level of adulthood. June 14, 1974 in the Long Beach Arena I proudly walked across the stage. There were 800 in my graduating class and at least 3,000 guest in the stands. We marched in to the arena to the music of our jazz band. Anticipation was high and so was I. I was somewhat intoxicated from a bottle of whisky that Cal gave ME earlier. It was a little overwhelming for ME, It felt like it was going to be too much to handle. Was this really happening to ME? We took our seats and the long progression of names began to be called. The first to be called were the graduates who had been awarded sport and academic scholarships. I knew it would be a while for ME, until the elbow of my marching partner hit ME and said, “Dude, the principal just called your name”. I thought there is no way, it must be somebody else, not this “ghetto child”.
Just then, from the audience I could hear my stepfather Cal yell, “that’s my god damn son”. Now I knew it was not a mistake. How could I be pulled up with other graduates who had better GPA’s than ME? They were college bound and had a future in front of them. I peered up at my foster family in the stands and I saw them smiling as to say it is ok, you’ve made it especially from my foster mom. I knew it was me! I will not go through every intimate detail of this story, there is a lot to it. Just a gentle reminder that any diamond in the rough can be polished when there is love that surrounds it.
I stood up from my seat, gained my bearings, and walked up on stage toward our principal. As the principal narrated that I was a five sport athlete with varsity letters for each sport and volunteered three periods a day at a local elementary school. My scholarship came from the Los Angeles Times newspaper to further my postsecondary education, “Wow”! The principle knew of my personal background and that I was a foster child. In his eyes I could see that he was proud of ME too. I will never forget that night!
I will not pretend that my life in my foster home was perfect, I was not, I had issues. I was a father at the age of seventeen. After a brief stint at a community college studying early childhood education the need to provide for myself was greater than school. In this area the best jobs were found at the Long Beach docks, I found employment and eventually became a truck driver in the teamsters union. Since then I have retired with a full pension after twenty-nine years of employment. I am currently divorced after two marriages with three children. I did not stay with or marry the mother of my first child but fate brought us back together. I am proud to say that I am blessed to have three grown daughters and sixteen grandchildren counting Kathys’.
As I have matured through the years I realize that no matter your background we never really know where the future will take us. If you would have told ME that after thirty-three years of living this life with its’ up’s and downs that I would be reunited with my first love, I would say your “nuts”. Well, you are not “nuts” because it is true, I am back with my first love, Kathy.
Kathy was at one time in my heart every day, she was my only thought. She was the very first love of mine and I hers. We created a beautiful child together. She had unconditional love for ME but I was not able to return it in the same manner. Even though my life with my foster family was great I would find myself suffering the deep scars of abuse and abandonment. Not being able to return the love that was shown to ME by Kathy was a direct result of my past. You could say that it took ME thirty-years to figure out how to do this. I tell Kathy everyday that I love her unconditionally, I have changed.
Retirement was not for ME as I have taken on another job working as a supervisor on a high school campus. I work everyday with students as a mentor and athletic coach. Telling true stories of my life to those students who are on the edge and are looking for help. This is how I chose to repay the educational system that helped ME through a rough time. It was not until I was in this position that I realized, that just maybe, I have polished myself into a diamond. Everyday I try to polish another surface of this diamond and become even more valuable than the day before.
I am the founder of Me.Inc.Now (me expressing I need change now) and I work to change kids lives on a daily basis. In this case one student at a time. As you have read I have been through many changes in my life. The present is a true blessing to ME and those around ME.
A family that has issues will fail in the end unless they are willing to do something about it, that is to work things out with love and conversation. To those who struggle through tough times I hope that this story will provide a little bit of hope. You can achieve a good future if you really want to grow and spread your wings. “Remember”, in all our paths in life there are bumps. The foundation of who you are will help you overcome these things. I would not change a single segment of my life for it has led ME to be who I am today. Soon I will retire from my second career and start a true retirement. My message will be the same until my last breath. I want to continue to inspire others who are in need of help. My journey in itself is a miracle, not bad for a battered child that has gone from rock to a diamond. Me.Inc.Now is my path that has been heeled and connected with being that survivor. I am making it right, I am keeping my promise to God, he is still guiding ME, Amen.
The mission of Me.Inc.Now is to instill self-worth, self-esteem, and self-respect in todays’ youth. A brighter future can be achieved by incorporating cultural change in our youth of today. Understanding lessons of the past to bridge the ever expanding generation gap. Change is built upon a foundation of communication, listening, and love. Me.Inc.Now is committed to inspiring positive thoughts and breaking cycles of anger and resentment that prevent young individuals from being the best version of themselves.
Me.Inc.Now is still in its infancy as I continuously work to make my visions of this program a reality. In the short term I want to establish Me.Inc.Now as a non-profit by securing my 501c license from the state of California. Long term goal is the establishment of a physical space where students can feel safe and be listened too without judgement. A facility where I can invite potential mentors to work individually with students to develop a better future in their life. Most importantly, a safe place where I can share my life experiences with those who need help. Giving them hope that the future can be bright, as bright as a diamond.
This program is just not about helping our youth. As I have learned and demonstrated changes can be made at any age. Sometimes our parents need to step back and reflect upon their childhood. They need to ask themselves one question? “Are there cycles from my past that I need to let go of so that I can be the best parent a child can ask for?” To provide my children with the leadership they need from the most important place, our home.
In ending I need to acknowledge three beautiful women in my life, my grandmothers Leona, Nellie, and Mimi. A special mahalo to Nathaniel Collins for endless hours helping to write this article.