Jennifer Danny | The Badge of Childhood Hardships

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
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Last year I wrote an article called: “A Simple Man’s Path of Addiction.” 

Essentially it was about my younger brother and his struggle with drug addiction. In it I mentioned that he had a daughter, and I always had hoped she could rise above, dare I say it, “The Sins Of The Father”? She was given a task by default to be a daughter to a man who couldn’t manage his life due to his addiction; yet, she never wavered in her desire to become the person she wanted to become.  

I find it interesting about the parallels of your childhood and your adult life.  Speaking from experience, I’ll be truthful. I believe in many ways I was forced to grow up at the age of 11, for that is how old I was when my parents divorced. I’ve written about this previously and in my eyes I had to become the “mini-mother” due to my mom’s inability to cope with the divorce. I don’t blame her; she did the best she could, given the tools she had to work with. 

Divorce is never easy. For one, the child or children experience a loss like no other, one parent leaving the nest to sojourn off to another life with another person to build the “new dream” of holy matrimony. Often there are others involved, and the children whose voices are gently silenced with the ad nauseam cliché of a rhetorical speech: This is for the best. We don’t get along. We don’t want you all to suffer due to the conflicts we have with each other, rinse and repeat. OK, so perhaps I’m bitter about the “D” word, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share my point of view because at the end I will do my best to tie it in, in a positive way. 

Last week my dad called me and he said, “Jen, you know who really turned out to be an incredible young lady?” And immediately I said my niece’s name (his granddaughter, my brother’s daughter) and he said, “Yes.” And then he continued to praise her, not only for her character and her ability to have completed nursing school, but also the fact that she was on her way with her career as a health care worker. His voice cracked a little, as if a slight feeling of being perplexed had suddenly presented itself. A moment of silence, as he thought about his son, and the choices he had made with his life, or the “what could have been.” 

I knew where this conversation was going, and I said, “Isn’t is incredible that even though she had the father she did, and a mother who had to rise above the hardship of a marriage that was infected with her husband’s addiction, that the positive outcome of their daughter was something to admire.” He agreed, and I continued about not only how amazing that was, but I told him it also speaks volumes that there is no one way that is certain for success, a good childhood doesn’t guarantee success. The desire to succeed is internal, it is the “light within,” it is what drives that person to continue to rise above and to strive for more. There is something so very special about that and it’s important to share with those who feel limited because of the kind of childhood they had.  

About six months ago, my niece was on her first day of training at UCLA Medical Hospital, a part of her preparation for her upcoming graduation, when suddenly she heard on the loudspeaker: “Code gray, fifth floor.” And then they said the name over the loudspeaker: First initial, Last name. Can you even guess who it was? 

And if you guessed “her father,” “my brother,” then you are correct. How in the world was he there the day she was there?  My niece texted me about this, and I responded, “Do what you feel is best. If you are comfortable to see him, then go for it.”  

A day later, she texted me that she didn’t go see him and I respected that; after all, we need to do what we inherently know is the best decision for us. 

In my mind I wondered, “What were the chances?” And so I’ll share it with all of you: A younger brother who graduated from UCLA back in the late ’80s, a vision of being an educator and to teach, which he did for awhile, and I abruptly stopped in my wonder… My question to him many years ago came up, “What will you be teaching?” Because if you knew in your heart how much your oldest sister had believed in you, then maybe a different path would have been taken? I can’t help but think perhaps you did play a role in teaching your daughter to want to be a nurse. Maybe she saw your struggles and saw her future as a person who can help others? 

But I say to you brother, as I’ve said to your daughter: Ah life’s ironies… one young lady planning her future as a nurse, a caretaker, a healer, in training at the hospital that bears the same name of the college you graduated from, yet both paths so very different for each of you.  

I try not to judge, lest ye be judged. But I cannot help but think what might have been. And I will always continue to root for the underdog, especially those who had their childhoods interrupted by their parents’ choices and behaviors, because the child didn’t choose that. It is important to note, as I’ve written before the so-called badge of one’s childhood need not be what defines you.  

And the beauty of that is that the “hardship” of how things occurred in a person’s younger life allows them to say, “No that’s not how I want to be.” Thus, allowing the “contrast” to determine the outcome. Contrast is good, because it gives the person a chance to choose a path that is better for them, therefore allowing their dream to become a reality. 

And earlier I said I would hope to tie this all in. Well, here I go: I wouldn’t be the person I’ve become had I not been forced to grow up at age 11. Something I didn’t realize at the time actually was the grace and catalyst for teaching me how to be the “best mother” I could ever hope to be, to allow the hardship to be something meaningful. If you take out the first word “hard” it leaves you with “ship,” and we all know ships are able to navigate through any kind of storm as they seek out the more calm and peaceful waters. 

Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.

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