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  • I used to work at a homeless shelter for women and children. It was the most difficult job I have ever loved - every day I was reminded how lucky I was to have parents who loved me and could take care of me. But the hardest part was loving the kids.

    I can remember the names of almost every single child who came through our doors the entire year and a half that I worked there. I had a few favorites, to be sure, but every child there was so desperate for an adult to love them, and particularly any kind of father figure they could find. I do not mean in any way to belittle their mothers - I would have to say that the vast majority of the mothers who came to our shelter cared more about their children than they did about their own lives. Every effort they made to try and improve their situation was for the benefit of their children, and they reminded themselves, and each other, of that fact at every opportunity. I have an enormous amount of respect for all of them. I am convinced that poverty is the absolute toughest challenge that anyone can face - it's a muddy goo that sucks people in and won't let go no matter how hard you struggle, and it is a miracle that anyone is able to escape that cycle at all.

    The truth remains though, that a lot of the kids were in need of a dad. I remember all the little things I learned from my dad, about how to be a good person, what it means to be not just a man, but a good man too. It broke my heart to have to hold some of the kids at arm's length, both for my sake and theirs. I could not replace their fathers, no matter how much I might want to. I could have very easily worn my heart to death trying to take in and care for all of these children - they had a need bigger than one person like me could fill. I tried to do the best I could for the short time I was in their lives and hoped they would not miss me too badly when they left.

    There was one boy in particular that I bonded with though. Like any 5-year old boy, he loved superheroes, particularly Iron Man and Transformers. I, being a giant nerd and a dork, also love Iron Man and Transformers. He would bring me his transforming Bumblebee car whenever it needed to go from car to robot or back again. I would pick him up with one hand and fly him around on one arm so he could be Iron Man, or he would take my hands and hold himself up like when Iron Man is coming in to land - I had to make the whoosh sounds to add authenticity to the experience. He also loved playing Angry Birds on my phone even though it took him a while to get the hang of the slingshot - birds tended to go backwards more often than forwards.

    He and his mother stayed at the shelter longer than most - almost 6 months I think. I learned her story and she told me honestly all the wrong choices she had made to get to that point. She told me her plans and hopes for the future, and about her son's father. She hoped that when he got out of jail he would try to be a good dad, and I hoped for her son's sake he would be too.

    She left the shelter eventually, but I gave her my phone number (even though we weren't supposed to give our numbers to clients) and told her to call in case she needed anything. We've stayed in touch, off and on. I got her son an Iron Man mask for this past Christmas and gave her a gift card to Wal-Mart hoping she would use it to get herself something. She bought her son a Christmas present instead.
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