How I failed my daughter…because I chose him…

My oldest child is 18 years old. She will be 19 in a few months. She has a job and attends school, majoring in multimedia arts at a local community college. She wants to transfer to Cal Arts in San Francisco once she finishes there. In addition to her art she also writes. She is a very shy, thoughtful young lady still trying to cross the bridge between childhood and womanhood. Some days her footsteps on the path are sure and steady; some days not so much. Of course I worry about her, but even more importantly, I am tremendously proud of her. She is a beautiful girl with a gentle and beautiful spirit.

I raised my daughter alone, though I was not expecting to. Her dad was in her life very sporadically up until she was about 8 or 9, then he cut out completely, making “guest appearances” every few years or so. I never did anything to alienate him from her or to hinder any relationship he wanted to try to have with her. I didn’t drag him “downtown” at every turn, trying to take money from him I knew he didn’t have. I always told my daughter that he loved her, that he wanted to be with her and wanted to be her father, but he had demons on his back stemming from drug addiction. I never said anything bad about him to her. I encouraged her to pray for him, keep a little space open in her heart for him while keeping in mind the difficulties he was facing. I worked hard at swallowing my own rage, resentments and bitterness towards him day after day, year after year so that she could be free of my emotional baggage where he was concerned, so she could be open to loving him if the time ever came for it. I never wanted her to feel compelled to take up my cross where he was concerned, so I guarded my tongue faithfully, night and day. This was one of the few times in my life when my tendency to be sarcastic was totally under control. I could not risk one slip up, and never made one in this area. On the rare occasions when I spoke to him, I tried to impress upon him how much his presence was needed in her life – not his money, but his presence. I told him that I was doing all I could to keep some faith in him burning in her, but I didn’t know how long I could do that in good conscience. I am a realistic person at my core, and as time went by I didn’t like continuing the “keep hope alive” song and dance where he was concerned when, year after year, birthday after birthday, school play after awards assembly after graduation was passing by without him.  He always told me about how one day soon he would get a job and get himself together and he would come to see his daughter with a pocketful of money so he could “take her shopping and buy her anything she wants”. I always resented that taking her shopping was always the first thing he offered when he talked about what he was going to do for her. But at any rate, my pleas fell on deaf ears, and he never showed up for her.

I did everything I possibly could to navigate her through life successfully on my own. I guess “on my own” isn’t a totally fair statement, because I had a great deal of help from family, especially my mom. I did all I could to build her self-esteem and self confidence. I loved her, told her I loved her, that I was proud of her, that she was beautiful and glorious and could do anything she set her mind too. I praised her talents, and gave discipline and guidance as needed. I put “positive male role models” in her life, and allowed her to interact with them and learn from them. I kept the less-than-fatherly types of men that I dealt with on occasion far, far away from her. I watched carefully for signs that she might be seeking out “daddy figures” in random boys or men to her own detriment, and talked openly with her about her dad’s absence in her life, his time in and out of jail, etc. once she was old enough to understand. Her dad’s family, though they would occasionally contact her to make sure she was still alive, did little to reach out to her and bring her into their family. My daughter felt that she was the “black sheep” to them, that her dad’s side of the family ostracized her, though she has made efforts to reach out to them over the years. To this day she feels like she only has “half a family” because she knows little about her aunts, uncles, and cousins that she has that are her age on her dad’s side. “It’s like they all rejected me,” she says when I ask her about her thoughts on it.

When my daughter first turned 18 she got a letter from her dad. He was in jail of course. When I gave it to her she handed it back to me, saying “I don’t want it”. She hesitantly looked into my eyes for a sign that I didn’t agree with her, and saw none. I took the letter from her and said “okay.” “You’re not going to make me read it,” she asked. “You are an adult,” I responded. “I’ve always told you that you would have to decide how you felt about your dad and how you were going to deal with him when you became an adult. And you are. So if this is how you feel right now, I’m not going to tell you not to feel that way.”

Again I saw the uncertainty in her eyes, with the sadness that was always there when she spoke about him. She nodded and walked away.

And this is why I hate myself…and hate him.

How could I have chosen this poor excuse for a “man” to be her father? I wasn’t some young, inexperienced, lovesick girl when I met her dad. I was 25 years old, and I had Jasmine when I was almost 27. How could I have not seen that he wouldn’t be a good father to her, hell, no father at all to her? I see the fear in her eyes that his absence caused and I cry inside because my choice put that fear there. I see her lack of confidence, a certain general fear of men, a certain bit of self loathing and bitterness in her, and my heart wells up with tears. Because I picked him. It was crucial for me to have made a good choice at that time, but I did not. I failed her, my baby girl, because of this loser, and some foolish desire I had to be with him a lifetime ago.

It never occurred to me to consider what kind of dad he would be back then. I mean…that was so unfathomable to me. I didn’t know men could do that; could just go away and not be around for their kids in any capacity. I didn’t know such callousness existed. I didn’t know what it looked like. My dad was always there. The dads of everyone I knew were always there. I mean, seriously, how could any man just not take care of his child? Even if he wasn’t with the mother? The few people I knew who only lived with their moms still saw their dads often. I never looked for the signs that he wasn’t going to be much of a dad, though now in perfect hindsight now I see they were all there. Though I was always prepared to raise my daughter without his day-to-day input as a single mom, I never ever thought he would just abandon her like he has. And this is who I chose, and it hurts me to my soul. Because now, in spite of my best efforts, in spite of all off the wonderful and glorious qualities my daughter possesses, there is still that lack of a strong sense of self that I know marks the place where his fatherly love was supposed to be, and isn’t.

I hate him for it. And I hate myself even worse. I was always the smart one. The talented one. The one with so much promise and drive and ambition. How could I have picked this man to have a child with…a man who, to this day, still just doesn’t get that now my daughter hates him and resents him? I take small comfort that she has come to feel that way on her own, not because of any influencing on my part, though he would like to think she hates him because of me, which angers me to no end, as if she somehow didn’t notice that he’s seen her a handful of times since she was ten even though he resides in the same city as her. For the time being, my daughter has decided to hate him, and I am not inclined to try to encourage her not to. I think that she probably needs to hate him for the moment, for a little while at least, to validate her own feelings. She has a right for feel angry and hurt and deeply wounded, and she spent more than enough time swallowing that so he could be in her world. I think for now she needs to know she has a right to her anger, to express her anger, even to him if the time ever comes, and it is my hope that in allowing those emotions free range for a time, she will eventually find a place of acceptance of the circumstances. But for me, as her mother, all I feel in the pain and bitterness of my foolish decision to have a child with him. And the blaring rage at him, at how his…his….his…utter disrespect for everything that is a part of fatherhood kept him from her, from instilling something good in her, anything. All he has sown in her are seeds of doubt, of unworthiness, and now day by day I try to help her throw away the bitter fruits from the bad harvest that has come from those seeds. She wonders aloud “why would any man love me when my own daddy didn’t care?” And I cry inside, and rip my own heart into shreds at the magnitude of my failure. How could I have ruined this beautiful creature God saw fit to bless me with? What if everything I have done to save her from his massive gross failure as a dad does nothing, and she goes on in the world unsure and uncertain, unable to accomplish much because she is tangled up in her own confusion about herself? And how will I feel if some man comes along to take advantage of her emptiness in this place?

So I sit here now, older and wiser. I can hear my daughter walking through the hallway. She is the spitting image of me, eerily and uncannily resembling a younger me. Sometimes I look at photographs of her when she was younger and mistake them for pictures of me in my childhood. She’ll knock on my bedroom door soon to say good morning and to kiss me, like she does every morning. I’ll search her eyes to see how she feels, and hope that they are clear and shining and free from anything that will hinder her from the good life she deserves. We’ll talk for a bit and then she’ll go to the kitchen to make her breakfast. She will ask if she can get me anything, and I’ll say “no honey, I’m fine.”

And I will sit here at my desk, continuing to ask God to give me strength.