My daughter saved my life or offered me a new one. It can be hard to tell the difference.
Let me explain. Today, my life is centered around my beautiful 5-year-old Hailey. But it wasn’t always that way. I grew up in a home where my grandfather beat me and my neighbor sexually abused me. I was not safe and I did not have a father-figure to look out for me. I didn’t talk. I didn’t smile. But Hailey – she’s daddy’s little girl. She’s always happy and smiling. I have made it my life’s mission to keep it that way.
Hailey arrived at 8:43pm April 3, 2014. At that moment, I knew I never wanted to be without her. I wanted things to be different for her than they were for me growing up. I wanted to keep her safe.
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My birth father left when I was three. After that, my grandparents moved in with my mother, sister, and me. I didn’t feel safe in that house because I wasn’t. When my mother wasn’t home, my grandfather would come after my sister and me. My grandmother would intervene and take the beating for us when she could. Unsurprisingly, those experiences left a mark. I’ve struggled with mental health.
It surely doesn’t help that when I was roughly six-years-old, I was sexually abused by a neighbor across the street. He used to play with the neighborhood kids and unfortunately, I was not alone. That’s hard to read, but harder to live through. Also, hard to face. I suppressed the memory for years and became a quiet kid. When puberty hit, my behavior changed for the worse as memories returned with a vengeance. I became very angry and started acting out and breaking things.
After one incident in school, my anger overtook me, and I lost control. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with major depression. Even then, I didn’t open up about what happened to me because I was too ashamed.
Through most of my twenties and thirties, I struggled with depression, anxiety, rage, and suicidal thoughts. I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, major depression, and PTSD. Still, I wouldn’t get the help I needed. I just wanted the pain and my life to end.
That changed when I learned I was going to be a father. It’s not that I was able to fully let the past go, but I was forced to focus on the present and ensuring that my child would have a better outcome. I knew I couldn’t do that without help so I began taking my mental health seriously. I knew I had to for my daughter.
Not long after Hailey was born, her mother left, leaving me a single dad in a new town. I went to the local library looking for activities I could do with Hailey and learned about the family center, a program of the Children’s Trust.
I started attending family center playgroups with Hailey and learned of the free parent education programs that they offered. I took the Nurturing Father’s program, a 16-week parenting education series to learn new and effective parenting techniques. I found it so helpful that I took every other program available.
Through these programs, I have learned invaluable parenting skills I take enormous pride in. I’m now confident handling adverse situations. I feel certain that I can keep Hailey safe. That confidence is bolstered by the fact that we have found the family I didn’t have growing up in playgroups and in support groups. I can’t express the importance of community support in our lives. I’m proud to say that the family center has helped me to become a great father.
Things will be different for Hailey. I will always be by her side to keep her safe and to keep her smiling. I’m determined to give Hailey a better life. I will and, in doing so, I suspect I’ll give myself one as well.
Mike Valliere lives in Orange, Massachusetts where he is training to become a Community Health Worker. He is a community partner with the North Quabbin Community Coalition and the Recover Project, and is a fulltime dad who loves spending time with his daughter doing anything that makes her smile.