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Fathering from within Fences

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Written by: Billy Sellars


My children have fond memories from before my incarceration. Although, I may have been actively addicted, I managed to spend time with them after work and on the weekends. They were young when I left; my oldest was seven, and the youngest hadn’t quite turned one when I was convicted. Their mother had taken responsibility of school while I was out; I was the provider for our family. I always believed that education was an important aspect of life. I disliked being in school but, I knew the value of having a High School Diploma or GED. When my four children and I spend time together on the phone, one of our favorite things to talk about is their current classes and subjects.

Being incarcerated while homeschooling your children can be challenging and fulfilling at the same time. I have taken an active role in their learning, and heard their vocabularies expand. The topics we are learning about resurface in conversations with their mother or other siblings. It is truly a wonderful feeling knowing that I have been an active participant in their learning. It has given me a sense of pride and humility. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a co-parent from behind these walls, and an educator of our next generation.

We all remember how much trouble we gave our parents when it came to getting up to go to school or complete our homework. The same can be said as a homeschooling parent. Obviously, I can’t be there to help get them ready for school. I call my oldest at 8 AM, during the week, to wake him up while his mother has the day’s schoolwork schedule prepared for him. Later that afternoon or evening, I call again and we discuss the answers to his assignments. This can be difficult at times. We are always having an issue with the wall phones and our tablets are constantly going down. I cannot see what my children are trying to explain to me or ask a question about a assignment so checking schoolwork falls on their mother, who can be there and give them directions for each assignment. We coordinate which things I can help them with, while only having the ability to hear what they are working on. It is frustrating at times to be as limited as I am by my current situation.

I have heard men in the same situation, who have children of their own, say things like, “There’s nothing I can do for them from back here.” Of course, it may seem that way. I have asked myself if I am helping or hurting my own children’s learning process by not being able to actually show them what I am trying to teach them. How do you “show” a child where the state of Montana is when you can’t visibly show them on a map? I have realized that even though it might be difficult at times to fully explain an assignment, the time we are spending on the phone together – not just as teacher to student but also as father to son/daughter – is building and strengthening a bond that was almost severed by the distance and time that lies between us. An important bond is being made between the children we have left behind because of our poor choices, we are showing them that their education and the love we have for them means something to US. We want it to also mean something to them, no matter the amount of time we may have to spend separated.

It has been almost five years since I left them. It took a few years for me to acclimate myself to my situation before focusing on the importance of a relationship with my children. It’s my duty as their father to be the best version of myself, to do everything I can to show them that they are still the most important part of my life. There are days when I call them just to talk; not every call needs to be educational. I have to be their father as well as their educator. They still need “Daddy.” It melts my heart to hear them tell me how much they miss me and want me home with them. It gives me pride that they can count to 100 or multiply 7x8 and give me the correct answer, because I helped them learn these skills. Their desire to have me home isn’t solely because of what I have taught them. I have continued to invest in them, even from behind three fences and a stone wall. They see it and that is what they will remember as they grow older. They will realize that their father loved them enough, even from a distance and through years of time, to build a solid and healthy relationship with them, regardless of what he might have been going through. It’s up to us to be fathers and mothers to our children, regardless of our circumstances. They saw everything we did out there. They continue to see everything we do, even from back here.

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