A visit to the family lost-and-found

Jan. 26, 2006, midnight | By Jason Meer | 15 years, 1 month ago

Abandoned Blazers reflect on reuniting with parents and rebuilding broken relationships

His parents met doing drugs. They separated for the same reason.

When he was six years old, senior Rafael Puesan was not surprised to watch his mother go to jail on drug charges. Feeling abandoned, his father fought to instill feelings of hatred towards Puesan's mother in Puesan and his two brothers, he says, but amidst the mixed emotions of loathing and longing, Puesan could not help but anticipate his mother's release.

Two years after her discharge, eight years after he last saw her face, Puesan moved back in with his mother, an event that reminded him of being without her during his early childhood years.

Puesan belongs to the 35 percent of children who live with one parent and whose biological parents never married, according to the U.S. Census Bureau of Household and Family Statistics. Many families like Puesan's fracture because the parents fail to get along. Even if his mother had not been sent to jail, Puesan believes that the relationship between his parents would have ended because his father had developed an interest in another woman with whom he now has three children.

Now, Puesan faces the difficult task of rebuilding his relationship with his mother. Like many other Blazers abandoned by a parent, Puesan holds mixed feelings about reuniting; he, however, remains thankful that both of his parents are back in his life.

Beyond the call of duty

As a three-year-old, there was no way junior Paul Peckham could have grasped the concept of custody. What he did know, however, was that his father had left the family, seemingly renouncing all paternal responsibility for him. His mother soon married another man, leaving him to wonder which father he could look to for support.

Since Peckham's biological father had no contact with him until he was 13 years old, he looked to his stepfather for guidance during his pre-adolescent years. Though his stepfather adopted him after marrying his mother, he feels their connection has never been as close as that of a father and son. Still, he appreciates his stepfather's effort to establish any type of bond. "That's really big of him to do that for someone that's not his [biological] kid. You would wish your own dad could do the same," he says.

MCPS psychologist Erica Edelman encourages teens to find alternative role models in the absence of a biological parent. "A single-parent family does not afford a child the full complement of attention of a dual-parent family," she says. Edelman believes that any type of mentor can substitute for the emotional stability a second parent provides.

In senior Joel Popkin's case, the lack of an adult male presence in his life had led him to develop stronger ties with his grandparents. But when his grandfather died in April, followed by his mother in May, Popkin found himself in need of a father figure more than ever.

Popkin's father, who lives in the rural province of Chalatenango, El Salvador, had agreed to meet his son in San Salvador, El Salvador's capital, last July. He never showed up, blaming his absence on lack of transportation. However, when some family friends offered Popkin's father a ride in their pickup truck, he still declined. Since the disappointment of his father's broken promise, Popkin has developed a strong rapport with his grandmother - the only remaining relative who can support him - because of their shared experience of losing loved ones, he says.

No ordinary family reunion

Popkin was first separated from his father at age five, when he came to the United States with his mother. Popkin's parents had never married, and his mother had asked his father to stay out of Popkin's life because he had failed to support Popkin financially and emotionally, Popkin says. After his mother's death, Popkin spoke to his father for the first time in nearly 12 years. However, he feels that the correspondence did little to provide him with emotional support after losing two close family members.

Edelman says that a reunion between parent and child during the teenage years can be delicate and complicated. "It's hard for someone to come into the life of a teenager when that child has grown into a mature human being," she says. Establishing a familial link requires both parties to reconcile and often to accept outside assistance from a psychological counselor, Edelman says.

Peckham's father made the first attempt at getting back into Peckham's life 10 years after leaving him as a toddler. The two now meet once a year over winter break, mostly so Peckham can see his brother, who lives with his father. Peckham recognizes his father as a family member, but they interact more like distant relatives. "He acts more like a cousin or an uncle because you can have that relationship of advice with them without seeing them regularly," says Peckham.

The lines are down

But for Popkin and his father, the lack of contact between them has made building a relationship impossible. When Popkin's father left messages on his son's phone over winter break, it was only the second time he had attempted to contact Popkin in a decade. Popkin felt no inclination to call back. "I don't feel the need. There's just been too much disappointment," he says.

Popkin is still unsure that he will reach out to his father because the stream of broken promises has been discouraging. "He would be a waste of my time," he says.

Blair parent Scott Horne hopes that all abandoned children make the effort to reunite with their parents because, he says, reuniting with his father was one of the best decisions he ever made. Horne, whose parents divorced when he was two years old, lost the right to see his father at age 12, when his mother retained sole custody. Horne's stepfather moved the family to Florida from New York and changed the family name to prevent Horne's father from contacting them.

However, once Horne moved into his college dorm, his father tracked him down. The two quickly picked up where they had left off six years before. Horne was grateful to find not only a father but also a companion. "It was a father-son relationship, but more of a friendly relationship. We even double-dated when I was in college," he says.

Horne's newfound relationship with his father was all the more remarkable because like Peckham, Horne had been adopted by his stepfather and treated as an equal son. Horne felt that the opportunity to rediscover his origins through a relationship with his father was impossible to ignore.

When Puesan reunited with his mother, the initial interactions were awkward, he remembers. Still hurt by his mother's abandonment of the family, Puesan has slowly recovered old affections by helping his mother return to her old routine. "I don't forgive her, but now we're building a relationship that had been missing," he says.

The tension Puesan's stepmother created in the family when she forced his father to choose her over Puesan's mother keeps Puesan from seeking advice from anyone but his mother. By repeatedly refusing to form a relationship with his stepmother and moving back in with his mother, Puesan has strained his relationship with his father, he says. But he has no regrets: He thinks that his mother, despite her past mistakes, is more than capable of providing him with the guidance he needs.

In fact, Puesan has faith in his mother's ability to make decisions because she experienced the severe consequences of breaking the law. He realizes that learning from his mother's past has alleviated the awkwardness of reuniting because their intimate discussions have helped forge new bonds. "Time can heal anything, especially when you're young like me," he says.

Jason Meer. Jason Meer is a RISING SENIOR who needs to get more sleep. When awake, he finds time to facebook, watch SportsCenter and World Poker Tour, and listen to varied musicians from Chamillionaire to Sigur Ros to Kelly Clarkson. If you see a red-haired guy walking … More »

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