Good things happen to good people

Good things happen to good people Via, The Burning Platform

This is going to be an uncharacteristic departure for me.  This story is deeply personal, for our family, and for our oldest son in particular.  But it is a story he’s letting me tell, because it is a story he wants people to hear.

My son Max was born in Detroit in 1997, he spent the next summer in Hong Kong when I was interning at Fidelity Investments, and moved to London before he was two when I accepted an offer to work for Fido there full-time.

He was an amazing child, and became an amazing young man.  But he had his demons.  And just before he turned 16 years old, those demons arrived with a vengeance.   I will spare you the details, but for the next three years, he went through a personal hell.  Imagine all the things you don’t want to have happen to your teenager.  They happened to him.  For three years my wife and I would wait on our front stoop until 5:00 am, in the shadow of the Albert Bridge, hoping that he would come home. On those nights that he didn’t, we would call the hospitals, and call the police. And sometimes the police would call us.

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We tried everything that parents try, and we were very lucky that we could afford to try just about everything.  And we did.  But none of it helped.  The change in schools didn’t help. The psychologists didn’t help.  The wilderness therapy didn’t help.  Our closest friends and extended family all waded in too, but nothing helped.

Max didn’t want to be here.  He didn’t feel a sense of belonging anywhere.  His self-esteem was non-existent.  The anxiety was paralyzing.  He often contemplated ending it all, and only the thoughts of the impact on his three younger siblings prevented him from doing so.

It was a living hell for Max.  And honestly it was a living hell for us too.  There was nothing we could do about it.  The most difficult thing for my wife and I to accept was that only Max could make the choices.  It wasn’t up to us.  We couldn’t save him.  It was up to him if he was going to live, or going to die.  As one of my best friends told me at the time, only Max could choose to live.

Just over two years ago, he realized that the scene in London was poisonous for him, and he asked if he could head out.  He’d asked before, and we’d let him go to far-flung destinations, but the grass wasn’t greener in any of them.  And we didn’t honestly expect anything to come of it this time, but told him that we’d pay for the flight, because he really did need to get out of London, and there was almost no way things could get worse.

He chose a destination a lot of rudderless kids like to visit.  It might as well have been Goa, Tulum, Koh Tao or Maui, but he chose Costa Rica.  A friend of his, a good guy, was backpacking there, and invited him to come to the hostel.  I told Max we would pay for the flight, and the first week, but if he wanted to stay longer, he had to get a job and support himself.  We honestly didn’t know what to expect, but it felt like a last shot for him.

He loved the first week there, and indeed got a job working at one of the hostels (in exchange for room and board).  But after the honeymoon was over (and eventually, the honeymoon is always over), reality set in.  His anxiety set in, and his depression set in.  At the darkest point, he almost called it.  And there was nothing we could do about it.  Even if we weren’t 5,000 miles away there was nothing we could do about it.

But, for some reason, he decided not to.  Max decided to stay in the game.

We later learned the reason.  He’d found an eight-week old puppy roaming the streets of Santa Teresa.  The dog had been abused, was eating scraps from trash heaps, and was terrified of people.  But Max and the dog, which he named “Chica”, connected with each other.  Max and Chica became inseparable.

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