Life consisted of a rigid daily routine, continuous chores, McDonald’s and TV dinners for Ron Koziol and his three children in 2003.
Just two years before, Koziol’s wife left, leaving him to care for and raise three small children alone.
Koziol, 56, a self-employed painter, now raises three teenagers: Anthony, 18, Austin, 16, and Morgan, 15.
This fall, Austin will be a junior and Morgan a sophomore at Robert E. Lee High School. Anthony will attend Tyler Junior College as a freshman.
All three teens are heavily involved in volunteer work. For four years, they’ve volunteered at Green Acers Baptist Church for summer camps, receiving at least 100 hours of volunteer work.
“If they’re needed, they jump up and start raising their hands saying we’re here to help,” said Koziol, who lives in Tyler.
He said he has little influence on his children’s decision to volunteer.
“I point them, and they kind of make the decision on what they want to do with it,” Koziol said. “I just wanted to keep them in good environments.”
So far, Koziol said his children have made him extremely proud by making good decisions.
“They could go out back and smoke cigarettes or they can stay inside and read scripture,” he said. “It’s a constant presence, sex and drugs, and everything that goes wrong out there.”
Koziol said his family has been fortunate because his children could have battled issues with pregnancy, drugs, running away and getting arrested like others who come from broken and healthy homes.
“They’ve really made all the right decisions so far. I really think they’re going to stay that way,” he said.
Although his children are more independent, helping out with the bulk of chores, there’s still not much free time for Koziol.
“You trade it for taxiing them around,” he said. “So instead of mopping floors, I’m running them somewhere or picking somebody up. They’re pretty social.”
A social life demands money, and with three teenagers, Koziol said things can get expensive.
“Of course, everyone finds out the older they get, the more expensive they are,” he said. “We got to get Anthony a car; Austin needs to take driver’s ed. You got to pay for movie tickets, dinner tickets; we travel when we can.”
Anthony added that prom and dance tickets and outfits, plus school club fees and dues also must be budgeted.
A MOTHER’S TOUCH
Although Koziol gave up trying to search for a mother, his children grew up around female family members and friends who easily replaced a mother figure.
“There’s definitely a lot of love surrounding us all the time, constantly, and we know there’s a lot of support,” Morgan said.
Koziol said he thinks Morgan misses out on not having a mother more than his boys because of mother-daughter activities such as going to a beauty salon and shopping.
“My hair and my make-up don’t always look like the other girl’s do. But I still got love, so that’s OK,” Morgan said.
Growing up, Morgan attached herself to a nanny and her aunts, who would take her for sleepovers for weekends, get her nails done and shop for dresses.
She said even her brothers fill the mother role, going as far as helping her choose outfits.
“Anthony is really good at comforting, and Austin’s good at telling me to man up if I’m being childish,” Morgan said.
She returns the favor by helping the boys with girl advice.
Ultimately, Morgan doesn’t feel like she missed out or was at a disadvantage because her mother was absent.
“It just makes me a stronger person, independent and happy,” Morgan said.
When his wife left, Koziol said at first he did foolishly search for a mother to care for his children.
“That was a panic thing. I didn’t like the kids being without a mother, so I thought I’d just run out there and get them another,” he said. “That’s not how it works.”
Koziol said he wanted his children to have the comfort that only a mother could give.
“I did the best I could, but there’s some things only a mother can provide in those areas of comfort,” he said. “Fathers provide security. Mothers provide the comfort.”
Koziol solved the problem by calling a sister or girlfriend to act as a replacement, especially if his children were sick.
“It was a temporary problem,” he said. “We just worked it out by ourselves. The four of us just formed a little club, and we’ve just been happy with it that way.
Family is everything: That’s one of the most important lessons the Koziol children have learned from their father.
Austin said although he gets into a few arguments with his siblings, especially when his sister gets mood swings, they do not hold grudges against each other.
Morgan agreed, explaining that as they became older, it became easier to have conversations without yelling or becoming annoyed.
Koziol said he always emphasized to his children, “This is all we got, and this is all we’re going to have.”
“They need to help each other and be with each other the rest of their lives,” he said. “They have to find a way to make it work, and they do.”
Morgan said hearing her father talk about the importance of family meant a lot.
“We’re not taking each other for granted; we’re appreciating each other,” she said.
Austin added that his father also emphasizes the importance of a family dinner.
“We sit at the table, and I think that makes a huge difference in a family,” Koziol said. “It’s just the idea that everything is OK. We’re having dinner together. Things are fine.”
Although when they were younger, dinner consisted mostly of McDonald’s and TV dinners, all three children agree the meals have become better.
Koziol cooks home meals such as spaghetti, Swiss steak with noodles and Salisbury steak.
“I only cook like eight things, but I think I cook them really good,” Koziol said.
Koziol has encouraged his children to dream big and surround themselves with successful people to be successful.
All three children hope to have an impact in the career field they pursue.
Anthony aspires to become a nuclear pharmacist. Austin hopes to become a petroleum or mechanical engineer, and Morgan dreams of being the CEO of a business or work in a recovery center for teenage girls with eating disorders.
With those lives fast approaching, the biggest loss Koziol will suffer when his children are on their own is the trips they took every summer.
“I love traveling with these guys. When we get in the car and go, there’s just no better place to be,” he said. “They’re going to grow and get jobs and start their own directions. We just can’t jump in the car and say, ’Let’s take off for five days.’ Those days are coming to an end because they’re going to have their obligations and commitments.”
One of his favorite trips was in 2012 when his children were able to watch him play drums with a band at Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa in Hot Springs, Ark.
“That’s the first time they watched me play drums. It was a really special moment,” Koziol said. “Anthony gave me a thumbs-up. They’ve never seen me play in all these years.”
“He did good. It was exciting,” Morgan said.
Koziol’s been involved in music and fine arts since he was a child.
“My first set of drums were I turned a bunch of laundry baskets upside down and used a broken arrow for drumsticks, and I’ve been drawing boxes and squares (abstract art) since probably the second grade,” he said.
He put away the drum sticks and art supplies when he became solely responsible for raising his children.
“I’ve told them a hundred times, I’ll play drums again one day. I’ll get back to it. I don’t have any regrets at all,” he said. “I kid and tell them I see myself ending up in a smoke-filled jazz club in Manhattan, playing drums with a bunch of old guys.