I Helped Someone In Need & It Hurt My Family
How do we teach our kids that the good guy doesn’t always win?
There’s an old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It’s a particularly cynical thing, but also sometimes true.
As a parent, I want my kids to grow up to be happy and successful, but I also want them to be moral. I want them to understand that it’s important to help the needy and stand up for the downtrodden. And the only way to teach that kind of thing is through example.
Unfortunately, sometimes life doesn’t go the way you want your examples to.
We live in a small place?—?an island in the Pacific Northwest, with less than 8,000 permanent residents. It’s a very tight-knit community, and you have to want to live here. The only way on or off is by ferry or small plane. And word travels fast.
So when a single father?—?we’ll call him G?—?moved here at the beginning of last summer with his son, it wasn’t long before my wife heard his whole story. They had driven here from Salt Lake City with the promise of a job and a place to live, only to have neither come through. They were living in their van as they tried to get back on their feet.
The son?—?we’ll call him J?—?was in my son’s grade. My wife met them on one of the last days of school and immediately swung into action. We had an RV on our property that they could sleep in. We knew a bunch of people in construction who could find G contract labor. Things would work out.
They moved into the RV. I work from home, so J played with our kids during the day while G did painting for some island businesses. It was a little stressful feeding two extra mouths, but nothing we couldn’t handle. J was a little rowdy, as you’d expect a kid who’d been living in a van for a while to be, but we maintained our usual strict but fair discipline and he started to settle down.
A couple we knew had a guest house opening up. The rent was reasonable, and it was on good property for a kid, with deep woods to play in. We vouched for them, and they got the place.
G didn’t have enough money to pay the deposit, so we loaned him $450 with the promise that he’d pay us back when he was working steadily. A local nonprofit that helps working families paid the rest, and they got help from other families who donated clothes and furniture.
Our job was done.
But it wasn’t, really. J still didn’t have any place to go before day camp started, so we still took him while G worked.
G needed me to cash his paychecks, because he couldn’t open a bank account due to some legal shenanigans with his ex. He dropped J off in the morning at our house without feeding him breakfast, just expecting us to feed him. Then we had to pick J up from camp because he was breaking rules, or fighting with kids, and G wasn’t answering his phone.
It was easy to get frustrated. But we’re blessed to have what we have, and it’s important to share those blessings.
The school year started, and now J was out of our house and things could settle back to normal a bit. And they did, for a bit.
Then my kids came home from school and my daughter told me that J had punched my son in the face. He tried to claim that it was “a fight,” but after talking to his friends we discovered that J had walked up to him while he was reading and blasted him one. My son, to his credit, didn’t retaliate. We sent a stern email to the school and made a note to talk to G before J’s behavior got worse.
The next day, it got worse.
At lunch, J walked up to my daughter and a table full of her friends, a wide grin on his face. He cleared his throat and announced:
“I know who her crush is. She wrote it in her diary. Her crush is (name redacted) and she wants to suck his dick.”
My daughter’s nine. She didn’t even know that people did that, and we sure weren’t ready for her to learn. We knew she had a crush on that boy without reading her diary, because that’s the job of a parent to know. But to have to explain fellatio to a pre-teen (which my wife took the bullet for. She responded, simply, “Gross!”) is unconscionable.
This was it for me. I called G, left an angry voicemail. Don’t speak to me or my family ever again. Keep your son away from my children. I’m done. It’s over.
It wasn’t over.
The next day, G stormed into the elementary school, screaming at multiple teachers about how they were framing his kid, until the police had to be called. The entire building was terrified. Things like this don’t happen here.
The sheriff parked a deputy in front of the school for the next week.
Over the next break, our small town elementary school fortified their front door area for increased security, requiring parents to pass through a vestibule before entering. They didn’t say why this sudden construction project was necessary, but everybody knew.
G didn’t pay the rent on the house we hooked him up with. The landlords sent us a justifiably angry Facebook message chewing us out for saddling them with a nightmare tenant. We apologized profusely, offered to clean the place up after they evicted him. We’re never getting our $450 back, obviously.
G and J still live on the island, somewhere. It’s not a big place, so we see them around. I try to be civil, even as resentment simmers inside me.
Because we put ourselves out there for G, everything he does on this island is now tied back to us. We risked our reputations for a stranger because it was the right thing to do, and it’s going to bite us in the ass for the foreseeable future. Every time I hear about J bullying someone else’s kid, or G drunkenly hitting on someone else’s wife, I cringe inside, knowing that in some way I made it possible.
The worst thing about this situation is my fear that it’s going to harden us. I want my house to be a place where people who need help get help, no matter their circumstances.
But that means accepting a certain level of discomfort. It means teaching my kids the hard lesson that sometimes you can do the right thing and get punished for it. But you need to keep doing the right things anyway, because not everybody will, and somebody has to.