It is not a black-and-white world. Sometimes I wish it were.
There are adults who grew up in broken homes and condemn my choices. The truth is they are choosing to paint my reality based on their experiences. I know because people are more than willing to send me an email or tweet and tell me so. They lack the ability – or willingness – to emotionally or spiritually walk in my shoes but, rather, demand I walk in their’s. Perhaps it is because if they open their heart for a moment they would have to take responsibility for their own anger and their own choices. As I’ve said before – it is easier to hate than love.
Others scoff and see my choices as cowardice and self-serving…but in those situations I remind myself how easy it is to sound wise when judging in hindsight. They add what they feel are constructive comments: “It’s your own fault for disobeying God’s will,” or “You pay the price for your sins”. Which is blatantly arrogant and self-righteous because our daughter was never a punishment – she is a gift. As has been every drop of pain I’ve ever experienced.
Still, others – the ones that matter – thank me. I’ve had fathers, daughters and mothers cry and give me a hug because they understand. They understand how much I love my daughter because I’m willing to sacrifice my “right” for what seems to be in Cassie’s “best” interests based on the circumstances of my relationship with her mother’s family.
As I said, I don’t know what is “right”. I did what seemed “best” in the moment.
By allowing her to be adopted I did the complete opposite of everything my brain was telling me to do. It was the opposite of selfishness and self-centerdeness. It was an attempt to be honest about the realities of our relationship and change the things I could. Adoption has been the least “easy” choice. By allowing her to be adopted I allowed her the freedom to choose when she is ready to see me. By letting her go I took the most loving action I could manage. It doesn’t seem enough, and it may not be, but at the moment it is all I can do. I’m attempting to act on a level different than the one that created the problem. After all my best thinking created my part of the complications.
Today, I see loving sometimes involves sacrificing what is “right” for me so others can have what is “best” for them. In the long-run it always turns out to be “best” for me too. I know Cassie’s mother, Betty, is capable of providing a stable, loving environment. She is capable as long as she doesn’t have to fear me intervening in her “right” because I’m pursuing mine. Nothing I do or say will change how Betty feels about me. Proper amends are not intended to change how people feel but rather are given as compensation for a wrong. For this reason, much – but not all – of the time I choose what is “best,” not “easiest” or “right”. In the case of my daughter, her mother, my parents, her parents and our friends, my amends are an attempt to sever the Gordian Knot binding all of us to a distant past.
Of course, as I said earlier, the amends are not about changing Cassie’s feelings but perhaps now she will have the freedom to choose. A choice she would have been denied if all I did was focus on my “rights”. What kind of relationship would it be if it is built on emotional blackmail? You don’t need to answer that, it was rhetorical.
Recently, I met the mother of one of my former student. In the course of the conversation I discovered she was great friends with my daughter’s mother, was one of my daughter’s cheerleader coaches for nearly a decade and that Cass grew up two or three doors down. My student’s mother had no idea Cassie was adopted. She had no idea Jim was not my daughter’s father. Which is fantastic for my daughter and heartbreaking for me.
Perhaps there is a chance my daughter will choose to know me for who I am someday and not be bound to incomplete retellings of outdated stories of who I was – if there were any stories. I may simply be the elephant in the living room no one discusses – I’m the shame and the secret. Fifty years ago they would have shipped my daughter’s mother off to visit friends for the summer while she was pregnant – all to avoid the shame on the family. In this case they shipped me off and kept me a secret out of their own shame.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel her in my heart. I yearn to help her with homework or go for a walk in the woods. I’ve missed all twelve of her first days of school. It wasn’t me that taught her to drive or helped her move into her college dorm. I missed the high school prom, cheer practices and all the anxious nights waiting for her to come home from a date. I’ll miss her college graduation, her wedding and the birth of my grandchildren. There is an endless list of missed opportunities.
However, this list is not what keeps me awake at night – that is not what breaks my heart. I know the list of things I have given up. What breaks my heart, causes sleepless nights and the tears is knowing I will never know what I lost. Knowing the bond can never be remade or recreated. The bond is gone and no amount of wishful thinking or prayer or birthday cards will repair that damage. She has a father and it is not me.
Perhaps she will remember our walks in the woods, The Lion King, the Indian story maze at Battelle Riverfront Park and the paddleboats. My hope is she will remember me and doubt enough of what she hears to discover the truth of who I am. But she may decide never to find out. That is a possible consequence of my choice and I knew it from the beginning. Regardless, I believe everything will work out for the “best”. I don’t have to like something to accept the truth.
Of course, the truth can be painful, which is why most people avoid it. And she may choose to always avoid it. I hope not. Most people don’t really want to know because what they don’t know cannot hurt them. It is always “easiest” to hate. It is always easiest to pretend I don’t exist. It is easiest to ignore me. It is always “easiest” to pretend I am not important and don’t matter. Right now Cassie is pissed – or I imagine she is. I imagine right now she thinks she hates me if she thinks of me at all. I am willing to carry that burden after all I chose it. Of course, she doesn’t really know me and carries only a faded memory someone else has painted over for her.
I heard an old man say, “The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” When I understood the truth of my character, I was angry and hated myself. That is what led me to the verge of suicide in a hotel room in Chicago. Then I learned I could change if I was willing to be honest and humble. I matured and realized that my past mistakes could be a strength if I wield it to help instead of hate. If I don’t dwell on it but rather embrace it I can use it to help other men who are struggling through the same barren desert of hopelessness, despair, and fear.
The truth set me free…and it hurt…but I wouldn’t want to live any other way.
My hope is someday the truth sets her free too – not to find me but to find herself.