Ten years ago this month I made the decision to return to school … in fact return to work, to life, real life or some semblance thereof. I had joked for some time with regard to my life with AIDS… “looks like I’m gonna live, I'd better get a job”. Although it was a running joke in my life it was also fast becoming a reality.
I retired from normal life, if you will, in January 1991 immediately after the diagnosis of me and my family. The doctors pretty much told me to. “You need to take care of your health, your life, and the lives of your family”. In truth he added, “You won’t have time to work”.
Our work became our health, our lives and the many, many doctor and other health related appointments we all of a sudden had staring us in the face. With four people diagnosed with HIV in 1991, two of them children under the age of three it was a medical scramble just to stay on top of things; add to that the reality that there was only one treatment at this time in the early 90s, a treatment that was at its best harsh and greatly debilitating to so many.
AZT bought people living with HIV/AIDS a little time … just a little.
By the end of the 90s there were two of us still standing, and sadly two gone and one about to launch herself into adulthood graduating from grade 12. We were an odd threesome battle-scarred with hopes for our futures, our lives. My hopes were their futures, and their futures were unfolding in front of them … I was so proud.
When my youngest finished his grade eleven year dismally my pride and my hopes for his future were somewhat dimmed by the reality that he was about to finish school with hopes of … what … to become just like Dad; watching Oprah on a government disability pension.
"That entire school year for me was in part finding out if I could even do the nine-to-five Monday to Friday. I found out that not only could I do it but in many ways I was still the class clown I had been in high school some 30 years before …"
Don’t get me wrong … that pension allowed me to be a stay at home Dad and keep an eye on everything, our health, our wellbeing and not miss a single grade school or high school presentation of pretty much anything and everything. I am grateful to have been able to do that but once my youngest finished school … what did he think the future held for him. Barely 17, he was already a long term survivor, a lifetime survivor.
I was unsure at the time if my return to school, to life, was an example I could set for him and I’ve learned in life and over time to trust and go with the “unsures” you are handed.
When my son entered his grade 12 year with a 51% average, I entered college. If all went as planned we would spend the next year with our faces buried in books and graduate at the same time. That didn’t quite happen as planned; I graduated and he had another semester to go because he was 18 and thought he knew everything.
I have to say that over the course of the last 25+ years the one thing I enjoyed most was my kids being or seeming to be unaffected by the drama that had in so many ways become a part of our lives. He was a know-it-all teenager and I couldn’t be happier for the very normality of it all.
That entire school year for me was in part finding out if I could even do the nine-to-five Monday to Friday. I found out that not only could I do it but in many ways I was still the class clown I had been in high school some 30 years before … sitting at the back of the classroom with a partner in crime … studying and smoking pot in the parking lot before an exam. Some things never change. What did change was those two class clowns went on to be the first to gain and maintain employment following graduation, still to this day.
My children had always and will always be the most important thing in my life and I felt so very strongly that my youngest know that he was very able and capable of doing whatever he wished to do and hoped that I could in some way help him realize this.
I learned more about myself during this time and my son thought I was pretty cool. Mission accomplished. Turned out the mission was mine all along, yet I thought I was doing it for him.
I learned that I was very able which when you think of it could have backfired terribly had I not been able, but it didn’t, it worked.
We became big boys together, him at 18 and me at 45. My son went on to spend some time in Johannesburg, South Africa working at an orphanage for children living with HIV before settling into being him, being Tom. Both of my children have this amazing work ethic that I both marvel at and also wonder where it came from.
And me… well I’m here, not quite the paralegal I had planned to become but I ended up with my dream job all the same. I may have spent my entire college time learning about the law but in the end I learned about me and my abilities, our abilities, and they are endless.
This article by Robert Newman previously appeared at POZtalk, here.