Does my daughter hate me?
I wrote this series six years ago as an outlet for the feelings of loss and pain I was feeling. Our daughter was 15 at the time. She is 21 now. I’ve learned there are a lot of emotions between love and hate – indifference amongst them. You cannot hate someone if you don’t think of them. A more accurate title for my essay is “My daughter is indifferent,” but that is not nearly an accurate reflection of how I felt when I wrote this essay.
I could never understand how she could forget our time together. I assumed Cass forgot easily. It never occurred to me it was what she was taught.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about this writing project and she pointed out the title of the essay focused on my daughter. After reading it through she suggested it is more about my relationship with her mother. And even then it is a one-sided focus.
A difficulty writers’ face is people read what is written – especially when they read revealing raw details – and assume they know the author. But they don’t. They know what the author tells them. And even then they only know based on their own prejudices and pains.
As such, I’ve had a few people read my essay, friend me through social media, only to discover I am opinionated and lack subtlety. I’m not a sensitive new age guy. I have little use for fundamentalists – religious, political or social. I’m not a bleeding heart liberal or a wrapped-in the flag patriot – two sides of the same dogmatic coin. I occasionally rant.
They discover I enjoy burlesque and corny jokes, blues music and Coney dogs, hiking and sunsets, dogs and women. They discover a real person and they get confused because they think they know me because I wrote something that is both true and false. It was true and it no longer is. When you write in pain, the pain appears larger life.
Which brings me here. Some of you might like to hear the rest of the story.
What I heard in practically every single conversation with my daughter’s mother was, “It’s a package deal.”
In other words?
The only way I was going to have a relationship with our daughter was if I committed to having a relationship with her mom. If I didn’t choose that path then she was going to do everything she could to drive a wedge between my daughter and me.
And to their disgrace, my daughter’s mother and family did.
Betty taught my daughter to call me “Sean” and call her step-father “Dad.” Her family consciously bad mouthed my family within earshot of my daughter. As a result, she learned expressions to repeat to me and my family at the age of four and five. Expressions such as, “You aren’t my real family”, “I don’t belong with you” and (my personal favorite), “You’re family has no traditions.”
At this point, let me get this out…
Hey Betty – just because a man fucks you and you have a child together doesn’t mean it is a package deal. I was more than capable of loving Cass without loving you. I proved it. Having a child is not a romance novel or a Hallmark special. It is life – hers, yours and mine. And as long as I’m not a sociopath or molester get out-of-the-way and support our child having a relationship with another man who loves her. By getting your hang-ups in the way you limited our daughter from learning to love and be loved. You taught her the spiritual act of loving has limits.
Now for full disclosure. I wanted my daughter to be adopted by a financially stable and more mature couple. But my daughter’s mother was adopted and that was horrifying to her. So she boxed me in. The conversation went like I’ve outlined it below.
A few things before you read it. Be sure to read in a progressively angrier tone with long awkward pauses. Be sure to end it with hysterics and much crying. And I’m pretty sure a slamming door and screeching tires…
Her: What do you want to do?
Me: It’s up to you I don’t want to force my opinion on you.
Her: Well what do you think?
Me: Marriage is not an option.
Her: Fine but it is a package deal. What do you want to do?
Me: We’re 19. No college education. No money. No jobs. Adoption.
Her: I’d never do adoption. I’m adopted and I’d never forgive myself.
(Sidebar: early example of Cass’s mom placing her wants above our daughters needs – I digress)
Me: Okay. Fine. What do you what to do?
Her: I don’t know. What do you think?
Me: I’m not going to marry you. I’ll fuck you but I don’t love you. I think adoption is best.
Her: I’d rather have an abortion then put her up for adoption.
Me: Fine. Have an abortion.
Her: You’re a horrible person and you’ll never see your daughter.
Ahh, how art imitates life…
Can you see how in this exchange to emotionally immature people might say things they didn’t mean? Can you see how a man might feel as if a woman is trying to verbally trap him? It is classic Salesmanship 101. Sell the package and then eliminate options till the one selling the idea corners the buyer into a decision they didn’t really want to make. It is why someone goes into a car dealership looking for a sporty red coupe and leaves with a minivan.
Recently, I spent time talking with my first wife, Rachel, who lived through all of this and she reminded me of a few things I had forgotten.
First of all, I was a good father. Actually, I was an excellent father.
I made sure that whenever Cass and I were together it was quality time. We didn’t have a lot of money but the times we spent I was always attentive to what my daughter needed. It was not about “entertainment” but about “engagement”. Rachel reminded me that regardless of how cruel my daughter acted or how my daughter’s mother tried to disrupt my time with Cass I never took it out on my daughter.
Rachel and I picked up my daughter Cass for a weekend. Cass cried for eight straight hours. I had forgotten the event till I was reminded. Not once did I raise my voice or yell or take it out on my daughter (or my supportive wife) but I patiently waited till she was finished. Then I gave her a hug and told her I loved her and I understood it was scary but that I was always going to do right by her.
We went to the Center of Science and Industry on a regular basis. I even got my car towed once because we spent so much time inside the museum I lost track of time. Every moment with her was special. Nothing went to waste. We went to parks and museums and played games. I bought an at home science lab and we played with corn starch and water, balloons and paper planes. We camped in a tent in the house on rainy days and had indoor picnics.
My first wife bought Cass this beautiful crayon and drawing set to take with us so Cass could express herself. I still have it in a box of toys that I have been unwilling to part with…15 years later. Sometimes I hang onto feelings, memories and hopes long after it is time to move on.
In this conversation with Rachel I realized a truth I had forgotten – Cass and I had an excellent relationship but all too often Cass was afraid to love me. When we took Cass home she turned to me and said not to tell her mom we had fun because her mom would, “get mad.”
Do I sound angry? Yes. Am I angry with Cass? No – she’s still a child (although she probably doesn’t think so but I’m 42 and as any 42 year old will tell you – 21 is still a child). I’m angry because there is nothing I can do to show her or tell her or remind her. When she was six the most loving thing I could do was let her go. It angers me that now that she is 21 the answer is still the same.
Recently, Cass and I reconnected through Facebook. I have no idea what happens, where it goes or what to say. She is long past the point where she needs me. I think she is just being kind.
Save the idealistic encouragement – it is the truth. I know it. She knows it.
What neither of us knows is what to do about it. What can we be now? What does that look like? Where does it go?
I have no idea but I’m not going anywhere and I’ve learned to practice persistent patience.
Although she will never call me, “dad” – I know that I am her father. More of a parent then she ever had because I was willing to love her unconditionally without her needs being subservient to my wants and my insecurities. I was willing to man-up, admit the truth and change the things I could so that she wasn’t punished for loving me. An adult has a choice but Cass never did – my daughter’s mom and her family made sure if it.