Jesus Benavidez doesn’t want his sons to make the same mistakes he’s made, at least, not his biggest mistake, which occurred when he assaulted two police officers.
The assault was the end result of a combination of two factors. Benavidez had just discovered his wife was having an affair, and he says the drug he was taking for depression and anxiety made him “mean.”
The incident occurred on August 24, 2006 when Toledo Police responded to a call about a suicidal man threatening to kill another man.
“I wasn’t depressed. I was angry. I was on medication and it turned on me. It made me mean. I’m not a mean person. I’ve never been a mean person and three weeks after this medication I’m clawing at the wood,” he said.
That one mistake had a profound effect on the life of this East Toledoan and his family. Benavidez served seven months in prison for attempted felonious assault and lost his job as a long-distance truck driver. Meanwhile, his children grew angry, confused and anxious. Their plight was further complicated as their mother, Lara Rink, was incarcerated for outstanding warrants and using a false name.
The crisis led to divorce. Today, Benavidez is the custodial parent. He and the children, ages 13, 10 and 8, live with his sister.
Neither parent could keep their adult lives from falling apart. He was angry for her infidelity; she was angry and lonely because he was on the road all the time. But, when school officials contacted them about declining grades and behavioral problems, they came together to take a chance on a program called Home Based Family Therapy.
The program is administered by Unison Behavioral Health Group in conjunction with Eagle Academy, a charter school located at the old St. Stephen’s School in the Birmingham neighborhood.
The program provides intensive individual and family counseling to families of emotionally-disabled youth in danger of removal from the home or school by Lucas County Children Services. The goal is to stabilize the family and minimize life’s crises by teaching communication and coping skills, says Mary Heath, program manager.
Unison serves 154 children and has on-site counselors at three charter schools. Mitchell Bean, school leader at Eagle, estimates 70 percent of the school’s 170 students come from single-parent homes or are being raised by an extended family member. Many have emotional or behavioral disorders. Therapists counsel kids at school and in-home meetings with parents and extended family members are required.
As you can imagine, these sessions can be difficult. But, Benavidez says his family is now on the same page. When tempers fly, one member reminds another about a coping skill which defuses the situation. For Benavidez the most useful skill was one unfamiliar to most men—talk. “I used to be real quiet. I was the kind of guy who held everything inside until it was too late. And, then, things got broke. Once you unleash it, you can’t take it back. I learned the hard way I guess. It’s better to get it out and talk about it than keep it bottled up and fester over it because everybody pays the wrong way…One mistake can hurt you for the rest of your life.”
While talking has helped the males, the couple’s daughter, Anna, a third grader, communicates emotionally through letter writing and art. Both parents have learned to read Anna’s mood depending on the colors she chooses for a project or the content of her drawings.
Both have noticed a significant difference in their children’s behavior. They are happier, less aggressive, and grades have improved for all three.
While it has been difficult to set aside their personal animosity, Jesus Benavidez and Lara Rink have learned to put their children first. Rink says, “We as parents set the scene for the next act. It was rough. It was rocky. But, we communicate better now. If it wasn’t for Unison, we’d be at each other’s throats.
We have healthier, happier kids and I have a better relationship with their father. It’s not about us as adults any more. It’s about us as parents.”
As the custodial parent, Benavidez now stays closer to home. He works maintenance for a local firm, coaches basketball at Eagle Academy along with his ex-wife, and has developed into a more active father.
Jesus Benavidez and Lara Rink have taken a risk telling you their story. They’ve revealed their personal failures and misfortunes to let you know you too can help your children acquire the coping skills to see them through life’s traumatic events. They’ve learned to act less like bitter enemies and more like cooperating parents.