Knowing all my lessons, my responsibilities and my obligations the lingering question becomes an issue of when to call. When do I reach out and let her know that not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Do I call at high school graduation, Christmas, birthdays, holidays, weekdays or Mondays?
There is no right answer. What do I say besides “hi”? Am I a “dad”, “the” dad or simply a sperm donor? Your personal experiences will determine your perspective. However, the cold hard truth is she has a father and it isn’t me. I’m not her father because instead of waging a war I lovingly surrendered my authority. Or maybe that makes ma a loving father. I don’t know the “right” answer.
You may not agree. Of course, you get the benefit of hindsight. You weren’t there. You didn’t have to make the choice. In reality, no one gets up in the morning and plans to screw their life up or the lives of the ones they love. We do what we know.
When Cassie was six months old, Cassie’s maternal grandmother confronted Betty and me. She gave Betty an ultimatum: choose. Essentially, Betty had to choose between a relationship with me or with them. Betty couldn’t have both. She made the reasonable, logical choice of a scared young mother. Of course, I made the choice easy.
I imagine that the lesson Betty passed onto Cassie was the same one she was taught: choose. We can only pass on to our children what we know. This is why loving parents encourage children to get an education, to travel and to take risks. Wise adults know we don’t have all the answers. We know we don’t know.
I called Cassie when she turned eighteen and half.
I chose this day because I didn’t want to create drama for her on a birthday or holiday or at graduation. I imagine socially active, teenage girls have enough drama on a daily basis without some estranged father adding to the chaos of already chaotic events.
It was an awkward, pause filled conversation – I think we were both waiting to see how far the other one would go. I was concerned about saying so much that I would overwhelm her with emotions. Any relationship that develops needs to be on her terms not mine.
We’ve talked twice on the phone in nearly three years. She told me calling her at home caused “problems”, so I didn’t. Mostly we communicated via text messages, email, and MySpace. It wasn’t going great but for nearly a year it was going – which was all I was hoping. I worked hard not to flood her with questions about her life or bury her in information about mine. I sent her the chit chat and general info you’d send to or ask of a new acquaintance. On long trips I’d sit in the hotel or the restaurant and we’d trade 20 or 30 text messages.
I loved every minute of it. Possibly because when you have been starved your whole life you are grateful for a few pieces of manna that fall from the sky. Possibly it was because a text message was more than I expected.
Then the wheels came off the wagon.
First, Cassie unfriended me on MySpace. Then Twitter. Her phone number was changed ending our texting. Then she stopped returning emails. I have my opinion about what happened but making accusations and assigning blame is an exercise in futility.
In truth, I could just as easily be wrong. Perhaps the sins of the Cassie’s parents are being passed onto our child. Perhaps I’m wrong and it was all me.
Tough to gauge what I did wrong when there is no communication. It is sort of like having a cell phone drop a call: was it a lost signal, dying battery or simply a fumbled phone. Regardless, the result is the same and the person is gone. In the end it doesn’t matter how it happened, I know it is cliché, but it is what it is.
A year after the wheels came off the wagon I still occasionally find myself staring at the ceiling and wondering. I still dream of her. I still find myself waking up at night, tears running down my cheeks. The loneliness and sense of loss never really go away. It is easy to cover it up during the day with distractions but at night, when it is quiet, when I am alone – I miss her.
But I don’t talk about it. The truth is I had a year to connect with her. I had time with Cassie from the age of one to six and then again between eighteen and twenty. The first time I lost that connection it was my choice. This time it is hers.
I’ve received a large number of comments and emails – most constructive and a few not. What has come to light is that I’m not alone. Being estranged from someone we love – or hate – is far more common then we like to admit. It isn’t an ideal situation but it is reality for many parents, children and siblings.
I shared this series with a friend before I posted any of it. She cried. She hated it. She hated it because the story “lacks closure”.
I agree. It is sad. And unfortunate. And tragic. And heart wrenching. It has all the elements of a Greek tragedy, full of hubris and twisted fates.
I wish I could write some beautiful ending that makes everyone feel good. I wish there was some way to give the closure my friends and family want for me, Betty deserves, and Cassie (I hope) will eventually seek. I wish there was closure simply so I could sleep at night without wondering about our fates.
In the meantime, I practice patient persistence. I don’t judge, I don’t panic, and I don’t fret away my life. My amends to Cassie is to be a better man then yesterday. Sometimes, I am. Sometimes, I’m not. I am more often then I use to be. If, and when, she knocks on my door, I’ll be ready. Should something happen and I’ve passed from the scene I hope my family and friends can tell her the truth without embellishment – “He was a fine man who loved you every day.”
That is the amends I live towards. It is the “best” I can offer today.