“All I want is someone who will stay, no matter how hard it is to be with me.”
Today’s story is from Julie Dinkens.
At 16, I boarded a bus. A dirty knapsack, a wad of ones. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. I couldn’t wait to get the heck out of that stiflingly small California town … and my home.
Days later, in Tennessee — I’d arrived at my “new home.” The plan? To become famous (but what did I know). In my teenage brain, it was a plan, perfectly laid, perfectly played.
Until… I got caught. The Tennessee fuzz picked me up. Drug me downtown. Threw me in juvenile hall. They knew. And I finally confessed. A runaway from way out West.
Yes, my cross-country jaunt was a first. But it was hardly the first time I’d run away. From the age of 12 my vanishing act was so fine-tuned it would give Houdini ideas on how to disappear. For weeks at a time, I’d surf between couches of friends and strangers. I was rebellious. I ran wild. I sometimes staggered over state lines.
My absences haunted my parents, but then what could they do? This was before the time of cell phones and emails. I was untraceable. I was a ghost.
I often felt a deep sense of guilt when I thought of my mom. Sleepless nights. Worry. Did I have money for food? A bed for the night? Perhaps worse in her mind … whose bed for the night? But my stepdad? Who cares, I thought. He was my stepdad, after all. He wasn’t a real part of our family.
My name is Julie Dinkens. My mom was Willene. My step-dad, Dick Boswell. My “real” dad bugged out when I was just two. Forget him, certainly no father to me.
When Mom and Dick met, it was on a double-blind date. As family legend would have it — the moment he saw her in that small, smoky bar, he knew. He said to his buddy, as he eyed mom’s gorgeous eyes, beautiful shape, “I’m gonna marry that girl.”
And he did. The question? Did Dick know he was marrying us too? Mom came with considerable baggage — four kids. Me, the youngest, plus Mike, Carl and Angie.
The dating was OK by us, at first. Then they married. Dick moved in. That was hard to accept, hard to take. The ultimate insult? I was seven years old and had been spoiled by sleeping in Mom’s bed. When Dick came into our home, I was no longer welcome.
I hated him. Viciously. And I darn well made sure he knew. Anything Dick said, I rolled my eyes. Constant back-talk. The cold shoulder.
But that wasn’t enough to satisfy me. So, as a teen, I started running away. The ultimate way to hurt Mom. And Dick? When she hurt, he hurt too.
I feel bad about it now, but back then I took pleasure in their pain. Who was this man, commandeering my mom’s time, taking her away? If he insisted on butting in, he’d have to pay.
Now, back to my Tennessee escape … over 30 years ago. What happened next was the turning point in my life. Dick, the man I despised, the stepdad who took Mom from me (so I believed)… He paid for my bus ticket home.
And when I arrived, dirty, sweaty, dehydrated… At the bus stop, Dick waited. But Dick wasn’t alone. A parole officer waited too. I was on what you might call “juvenile parole.” I had done bad often before.
This official man was there and prepared to take me away. I didn’t know. I schlepped off the bus. The officer approached. “Not so fast,” Dick sternly said as he rushed up from behind. A discussion ensued.
The few words that I heard, “She’s come a long way, I’m her Dad and she’s coming home, where she belongs.”
That day, those words from Dick forever changed my life. I ended my career as a vagabond, a young criminal, with worse certain to come. At that moment I realized, this Dick guy — he’s serious. He cares, not just about Mom, but about me — us — the family.
We went home. Life restarted. “Dick” became “Dad.” That’s what I call him today. Our relationship? I love him more than I can say. His marrying Mom was the best thing that ever happened to her — and yes, to me, too.
What did I learn from Dick, my remarkable dad? Two things:
First, love can be tough. You’ve got to stay with it. Don’t quit. I’d be a mess today if Dick had given up on me.
Second, self-worth. I lacked it growing up. But Dick’s commitment and unwavering love showed me I was “worth it.” When I finally allowed Dick to love me, I became able to love (and respect) myself.
Dick, you saved my life. Thank you Dad.