By Anthony J. Kiekow | St. Louis American | Word In Black

This post was originally published on St. Louis American

Photograph courtesy of Anthony J. Kiekow/Twitter.

(WIB) – Sharing stories about my personal experiences is nothing new for me, but the following story is the most personal and painful one I’ve ever shared. 

The CDC estimates that about one out of every six adults will experience a significant mental health issue in their lifetime. My experience came in 2015. At the time, I was a successful news reporter, living in a great city and married to a wonderful woman. I can trace my troubles back to something that started as a beautiful experience. 

From the moment I learned I was going to be a father, I envisioned having a boy. On March 3, 1999, Little Ant was born. His arrival motivated me to pursue my dream. I had always wanted to be a news reporter, but insecurities stemming from childhood trauma had derailed my progress. When Little Ant was born, I wanted to set a good example, so I started to turn my life around. By 2009, I had earned a degree in journalism. I also had become something I never had – an active, present father.

I was only 17 when Little Ant was born, so in many ways, we grew up together. While I took my role as a father seriously, I also considered him to be my best friend. We had a secret handshake, shared inside jokes, and talked about our dreams. When he reached school age, we spent many nights doing our homework together. While I studied journalism, he practiced addition and subtraction. After I graduated from college, I began to believe that my dream was all part of God’s plan for me and that I had an obligation to pursue it with all my heart.

In early 2010, I was offered a reporting job for an NBC television station. Unfortunately, it meant I had to move to Dayton. I planned to visit Little Ant as often as possible, and he was supposed to spend the summers with me in Dayton. Unfortunately, my low salary and demanding schedule made it difficult to visit Minneapolis with any regularity. Parenting is a tough job but parenting over the phone is next to impossible. While, I thrived in front of the camera, behind the scenes my relationship with Little Ant was deteriorating.

When my first summer in Dayton arrived, Little Ant refused to spend it with me. In response, I began to push for him to live with me permanently, but the more I pushed, the more damage I seemed to do to our relationship. By 2014, our interaction had been reduced to an occasional phone call. To him, I was just a vaguely familiar voice that grew more distant each day. During an argument in the spring of 2015, he said that I chose my career over him, so I wasn’t his dad anymore. I could hear the hurt in his voice. Our relationship had reached its lowest point to date. I was devastated. 

In the summer of 2015, I was offered a reporting job in Dallas. The role would put me in position to become a network reporter, according to my agent. It seemed to be another sign that I was following God’s plan. However, my experience in Dallas was a nightmare. The verbally abusive managers, shockingly low salary, dangerous working conditions, and never-ending work schedule left me feeling anxious and defeated at the start and end of each day. Eventually, my faith and self-esteem began to crumble. My childhood insecurities returned. I had worked so hard for so long and sacrificed so much only to feel miserable. I felt like I traded my relationship with my son for nothing. Those feelings pulled me into a deep state of sadness. I left television news in 2016, but I didn’t have the tools to express my feelings or properly heal. 

On the surface, I seemed fine to most of my family and friends, but inside I was filled with guilt and regret. Later, I learned that childhood trauma trained me to hide my pain. By 2020, I began to recognize the cost of my inability to open up, so I decided to seek professional help. Unpacking my pain and becoming more open was a slow process.

The breakthrough came when I shared the darkest details of my past with my wife 

The breakthrough came when I shared the darkest details of my past with my wife. Before I could complete a single sentence, the pain began to pour out of my eyes. With tears streaming down my face, I showed every scar the world left on my heart. Honestly, before that night, I didn’t even think I was still capable of crying.

My newfound willingness to be vulnerable didn’t erase the past, but it did help me see the kind of man I want to be in the future. It also helped me see the true purpose of the plan God designed for me. It was never about being a reporter. The purpose was always about preparing me to help other people by sharing stories about my personal experiences. Some stories will be about pain, others will be about joy. To fulfill my purpose, I’ll need to experience both. I hope sharing this story helps someone else who is dealing with mental health issue or trying to repair a relationship.

I know I still have some difficult times ahead, but thanks to therapy, I understand that continuing to open up about the pain I experience is the only path forward.

I wish I could say that Little Ant and I have repaired our relationship and are best friends, again. I can’t, but I have been able to let go of the guilt and regret I carried for so long. Much of our story is yet to be written. I still hope it has a happy ending.

Anthony J. Kiekow is a former FOX2 news reporter and Associated Press award winner.