Typically, when we share the stories of Buckner, we tell stories of success: People who, through their own initiative, the help of Buckner staff and supporters and, in no small part, God’s grace, have been able to overcome circumstances meant to hold them back from winning in life.
But occasionally, we also have the opportunity to share stories that happen in the hard times and in real time. The times where the word “obstacle” is used in present tense and those we seek to help are in the middle of a struggle to succeed.
It was in this real time of life where I found Luis Rodriguez. I had asked my Buckner teammates to point me to an example of a fatherhood success story, and all fingers pointed to him.
At first, he seemed like an unlikely success story. Still reeling from the impact of his wife leaving their marriage and the loss of his job during the pandemic, Luis lapsed into a deep depression.
“Everything just broke. Everything went down the drain,” he said. “At the beginning, she took the kids. And it was three to four months of drinking, staying in a room, just getting up to get another beer. And when I didn’t have any more beer, I started to sell plasma. I sold my car stereos. I sold one of the cars. It was just bad.”
But his situation began to change when his children moved back home, and he met Buckner Family and Youth Services (FAYS) case manager Yvette Ramirez, who was invited by the local school system to intervene. With her help, he made the decision to pour his energy into fathering his four children, ages 13-15, including 14-year-old twins. Single fathering soon presented its own challenges, including rebellion and lack of communication that spilled over into the children’s
“When Ms. Ramirez started calling my son, I asked her if I could get help as well because [my wife] left and it was just this big depression,” Rodriguez shared. “It was a little bit scary for me to ask for help. But eventually I did, and I started take classes. Buckner had a program called 24/7 Parenting, so I started there.
“At that time, it was just anger, depression,” he recalled, showing obvious emotion. “And just then, this pandemic started, so it left us at very wrong times. It’s been tough.”
We momentarily stopped the interview. When you’re dealing with wrong times in real time, a little bit of time can help you regroup.
Ramirez continued the conversation: “My part was working with his son (also named Luis) because he was rebellious. We were working on communication and his behavior. So, both the family and him have come a long way with the goals that we worked on, both with him and his son.”
When she first encountered Rodriguez, she said, “He was angry. He’s very straightforward. He told me he was angry at everything that was happening. So my role as a case manager was to try to help him overcome that and try to help him find additional help. And he has come a long way.”
“They’ve been helping,” Rodriguez said, “with counseling, how to work with my kids, how to be a better parent, how to overcome the situation and get out of this depression I’m still going through, and get back on my feet.”
That help included connecting Luis and his children with resources such as counseling and medical clinics and, because he lost his job during the pandemic, Buckner also has helped him with bills.
But most important, he said, is “the friendship and being there when you need to talk to someone.”
While Rodriguez is still suffering from the lack of employment and ongoing challenges of single parenting, Ramirez said he and his family have made big strides.
“He’s changed his parenting skills. His boy came a long way,” she said. “He was rebellious at the beginning, but he wanted to come back with dad. We continued working with communication, self-esteem, getting along with his siblings, listening to dad. So, those are the successes that the family has.”
“He’s a success in the making,” Ramirez acknowledged. “We’re still working on stuff, but I do see a lot of improvement in his family and in his parenting.”
And, even though he sees himself still experiencing struggles, he also sees hope in his future.
“I see myself doing much, much better. It’s time for me to move on and do what I do best, be a dad and get myself a steady job,” Rodriguez said. “I see myself in a year as a truck driver. That’s what I want to do, truck driver. I told my kids when I get my CDL (license), let’s go visit the states, let’s go. That’s what I want to do.”