| This is the 520th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born a few weeks before Christmas of 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona, to a 16-year-old mom. She named me Bradley Currie Jenkins, giving me her last name because her boyfriend, my dad, wasn’t interested with me. Still, I was wanted and loved, cuddled and kissed, by my mom. I remember I had a blue and white teddy bear that I slept with every night.
When I was 14 months old, I went on my first airplane ride with my maternal grandmother. My mom packed my bags, sobbing the entire time, and hugged me goodbye. Somehow, I wasn’t allowed to take my teddy bear. We flew to Texas, and met up with my grandmother’s best friend, Mel, and her husband, Tom. I walked right into Tom’s arms and snuggled up to him. In my young life, I’d never had a man open his arms and hug me so tight. Maybe, on some level, I knew what was taking place.
Shortly after we arrived, my grandmother left me in Texas, and I was adopted by Mel and Tom, who renamed me Thomas Nathan Troy Kreitlow. Everyone called me Nathan. For as long as I can remember, I have known that I was adopted. My adoptive parents and brothers never hid it from me or treated me any different. Luckily, to me, they were just my family.
When I was eight years old, my dad took a job in Tucson, Arizona. I wasn’t excited about the move. I loved Texas and my life so far, but my parents tried to convince me it would be a good change, hoping that having me back in the state where I was born would spark memories of my life before they adopted me.
I was always a bright student and in advanced classes in Texas, but the curriculum in my new school was about two years behind and no advanced classes were offered. So naturally, I got bored and began acting out. The only class I excelled in was art, where I drew over-the-top gruesome characters.
My mom thought switching me to a magnet school focused on art would be the solution to my behavioral problems, but it only made things worse. I was bullied for being the lanky white-skinned fourth grader which made me a mix of angry and depressed. This school was in a rough part of town, had regular lockdowns, and taught me quite a different way of life. I had never gotten into serious trouble before, but all the stress from the bullying was pushing me to the edge.
After several months of name calling, being tripped, slammed into lockers and having my backpack thrown off the bus, I finally retaliated. In anger and frustration, I put one of my bullies in a chokehold until he almost passed out. I’d never fought anyone before that day. I mean, I’d fought with my older brothers but never anything serious. However, after that day I fought anyone who bothered me or other small kids. I found myself in the principal’s office regularly, and it didn’t take long for my mom to pull me from that school and enroll me in yet another school.
I’d love to say this turned me around, but I’d already learned that I had a way of standing up for myself and I wouldn’t be pushed around no matter what school I was in. I also began selling candy to make extra cash every day. I started hanging out with kids several years older than me and soon realized candy sales weren’t going to cut it.
I became a little rebel. The day before my 13th birthday, I was arrested for trespassing and criminal damage. After that, I snuck out regularly and got myself into all kinds of trouble. I was arrested for fighting, underage consumption, and drug possession. I had moved up from candy dealing to marijuana and soon to harder drugs like acid and cocaine.
After I realized my natural born gift for selling and bartering, I couldn’t be stopped. I loved making money and I loved getting girls from it. High school was a plethora of different people selling and buying all kinds of things. Every night was a new adventure. Some, I would sling drugs, others, I was trading knives and guns. I’d show up to parties where everyone knew I was “The Guy” who could get whatever you needed for the right price. I climbed out windows when the cops raided the parties and hid in neighbor’s shrubs. Oh, and did I mention all the girls?
Becoming a dealer left little time for school, so I chose a GED over sticking it out until graduation and left at 17. This left me more time for all the things that I considered to be more important. One time, a guy “clucked” me (traded for coke) a huge tile saw for about $80 worth of product. I turned around and sold it to a contractor for $1,000. Business was good.
On top of selling products, I also happened to play one of those match games that many big retailers were doing in the early 90s. This one was footed by Pepsi and I managed to match up tiles that spelled out one of the winning phrases and won a custom-made Jeep! It took about six months to arrive, but by then, I had already bought myself a car. I sold the Jeep back to the dealership and used the money to pay my mom back for all the legal expenses she had covered for me over the years and used the rest of the money to invest in my “business.”
Being away from school didn’t change me for the better. I was no closer to turning my life around. I liked my new life. I was a smooth talker and popular with all kinds of people with all kinds of needs, as well as so many women I lost count. I figured I’d rest when I was dead, and death didn’t scare me. I lived for the thrill of the sale and the money in my hand. Seeing guys doing the same thing as I did go to prison or get stabbed in front of me didn’t faze me. I felt like when my time came, I’d die with a smile on my face, drugs coursing through my veins and a wad of cash in my pocket. I had no intentions of slowing or settling down.
Then, at a party that I attended with two other girls on my arms, I met Lindsay. She was a friend of one of my regular clients and was aggressively persistent in pursuing me. I liked the attention and we eventually began dating exclusively. Our relationship was passionate and dysfunctional at best, but I loved that girl. She was the only one who could keep up with me or put up with me, depending on how you look at it.
After five years of on and off dating, Lindsay became pregnant after miscarrying a few months prior. It felt surreal, like my life was falling apart. I wasn’t sure how to be a dad, and I sure as hell wasn’t ready to settle down or change my life for anyone.
But then, the day came when I saw my child on the ultrasound for the first time. I spotted something before anyone else and began screaming that it was a boy. I was ecstatic. I was going to have a son! After that, I did the manly and proper thing and married Lindsay right before our son was born. I told myself I’d still keep the same dangerous life I led, that I’d still be me, but I felt like something had shifted in me the day I saw my boy on the ultrasound.
In 2008, my son Cylis was born, agitated and fussy, but beautiful. As the nurses moved him to a tiny plastic bed, still fussing, I peered down at him and said, “Hello, Cylis, I’m your daddy and I’ve been dreaming about meeting you for months.” He looked me right in the eyes and instantly settled down. That moment flipped a parental instinct in me I didn’t know I had, and in that moment, all I wanted was to protect him. I knew in that moment that I couldn’t keep my old life. If I wanted a good life for my boy, I was going to have to settle down.
I went home that day and sold my “business.” I got rid of everything. I found a job at Citibank and worked my way into management, faster than I expected but I wasn’t complaining. The instantaneous change was difficult to get used to at first. I struggled with the monotony of day-to-day living. I was used to sleeping in, partying all night, and coming and going as I pleased. I wasn’t prepared for structure. But any time I had a bad day, I remembered my son’s face—his smile and big blue eyes. That little boy needed me to succeed, and I refused to fail him.
What showed me again and again that I’d made the right choice was all my son’s firsts. I was amazed at all the things he learned to do right in front of my eyes. I remember giving Cylis that first bath and gagging at the umbilical cord that clung to his tiny belly. His body was so fragile in my hands as I gently scooped water over him. I watched him roll over and crawl for the first time.
Unfortunately, my marriage to Lindsay only lasted a little over a year. Cylis did not grow up with married parents, but he did get to see two people who put their differences aside to raise their son with love and friendship. I talk to my ex-wife regularly and we laugh and share our triumphs and our tragedies. We may not have been able to salvage a romantic relationship, but this woman is part of my son and I will always love her for helping me bring him into this world and changing my life for the better.
As my son is getting closer to his teenage years, I still look back at all the times, unbeknownst to him, that he saved me. His first word was “Dad” and even all these years later, hearing him call for me incites a feeling of certainty in my heart. I can distinctly remember when Cylis began teething and how he cried all night. Nothing soothed him and it tore me to pieces. Even as he grows older, I would never let anyone hurt him if I can stop it; especially me. I have never doubted my choice to turn my life around when I became a father, and I’m reminded every day how rewarding of a choice it has become.
It’s amazing that I can look back to my life 10 years ago, and I feel like the man I was then and the man I am now are two completely different people. I never would have guessed I would be a devoted father running a legitimate business while working a 9-to-5. I also would have never guessed how unbelievably content I am. It goes to show you that change is possible for anyone, if they’re willing to let it in.
This is the story of Nathan Kreitlow
Nathan currently lives in Tucson, Arizona with his son Cylis and their dog Ahsoka. At a young age, Nathan was put up for adoption and found a loving family, but difficulties at school and the uncertainty of his background led to years of drug use and illegal sales. However, after his son was born, Nathan decided to completely turn his life around to be a good role model for his son. Nathan is a huge Star Wars fan who, while continuing to work as a manager for Citibank, opened his own business called Funko Jones selling Funko Pops. Nathan has remained close with his mom, Mel, and he and Cylis go to her house for weekly spaghetti night dinners. His father sadly passed away in 2017. Recently, Nathan has also gotten into contact with members of his birth family and is getting to know them. He has come a long way in the last 10 years.
This story first touched our hearts on April 9, 2020.
| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editor: Kristen Petronio |