“When I grow up, I want to cook for my family”
That’s my daughter Marilyn talking. She’s four (and a half. The half is very important). She hates practically every food except chocolate, and her mom (that would be me) cooks what my son lovingly calls ‘hospital eggs’ (because that’s how bland they are) and very little else. So her random proclamation caught my attention.
“And my kids, they will have both a mommy, and a daddy. Like Sam, and Judah and me.” she continued talking at me. “But not like you mommy. You have no daddy.”
There are moments in parenting when a sticky subject will pop up, you will not be prepared, and all the shower-talks you’ve had with yourself about how you will handle this water-shed moment will evaporate, you will be left with a sand paper tongue and no where to run. This was one of those moments.
I wanted to press that elusive ‘pause’ button. It’s the button I wish I had mid-temper-tantrum with my seven year old so I could gather my patience before I put him up for sale on craigslist, or when they are playing; the three of them, so sweetly with one another and I know if I move to grab my camera, the spell will be broken and someone will knock someone else’s block off. Someone should invent one of those pause buttons.
‘Of course I have a daddy.’ I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t want to confuse her, because for Marilyn, “Daddy” is a sacred word. Daddy is the person who will let her jump on the bed, who will make her a peanut butter and fluff sandwich, who tells her how proud he is of her when she does something important, and even when she does something not so important. He is the guy who drives her to school each day and picks her up each afternoon, the kisser of boo-boos, the person who gives nicknames and bear hugs. Daddy is the one who will continue to play ‘chase around the house’ long after Mommy has lost interest. She will tell you all these things, but she will leave something off the list, something that I, as a child, would have loved to take for granted; Daddy Lives here.
The idea of a daddy who simply is not present in his daughters life does not compute for Marilyn. She does not understand that while my father is not dead, he has ceased to be. I can see her wheels spinning when I tell her that my mommy and daddy could not live together, they fought a lot, and so they got divorced. She understands that. She knows kids who have parents who live in different homes. But the idea of a daddy who just doesn’t come around at all? That doesn’t make sense.
The reasons behind my parents divorce are private and unimportant to this story, but the bare details are that it happened when I was eight years old, and after that I was a very angry child for a long time. By the time I was 15 I no longer communicated with my father on any level. I could mudsling and accuse and explain and defend the reasons, but the truth is, it also doesn’t matter to this story.
After inquiring as to whether or not I had any photos of my father, Marilyn and I sat cross-legged in my bedroom and searched, but we couldn’t find any. As I put back piles of photos, Marilyn held one in her hands, studying it intently. When I asked her what photo she had she turned it around, it was a photo of little me, sitting in my old living room where I grew up.
“Is this where he left you?” Marilyn asked me very matter of fact.
I would have identified with that statement, as a kid, as a teenager. I did feel left. Abandoned. No one asks to be a child of divorced parents, and in 1992 I felt like the only kid in the whole world whose parents were humiliating her to death by daring to be unhappy, and doing something about it. I don’t feel that way anymore, every one deserves to have a chance at a happy life, because this is the only one we get. If being a family man wasn’t what my father wanted, well, he missed out on me, and I’m a pretty okay person. He missed out on my kids, and they are incredible people. That’s his loss, but only I get to choose how I let that affect the rest of my life.
I didn’t expect her to understand this though. I barely understood it until recently.
“That’s the house he used to live in. Yes.” I told her. And then I quickly pulled out another photo, a warm summer in North Carolina with her Daddy and I hugging in the shadows of a store front. “And this is where I found your Daddy.” And then a photo of my three children sitting on the couch “And this is where all my love is.”
Marilyn smiled. “I guess it’s okay then. Because sometimes things are sad. But most of the time, things are happy.” Expectations exceeded.
The moral of this story is that there is no moral. The conversation isn’t over, all the questions have not been answered. But for today, Daddy remains the hero in all the legends, the guy who makes the best pancakes, the strongest man in the world, the worst pony-tail-maker ever and the best person I could have picked to prove to me, our kids, and the world, that there is a difference between Fathers, and Daddies, and good men, never walk away.