Go into anyone’s house and the one thing you will always find are pictures. Our homes are filled with photographs of family and friends – the people we love and want to remember. We look at a snapshot that has captured a single moment in time. Memories of that time flood our senses. How often do we display pictures of people we don’t like? Of a person whose very face is a reminder of bad times and hurt feelings? We don’t. Our walls and mantles, like our Facebook pages, are a chronicle of the happy times in our lives.
I’ve raised my daughter on my own since she was two months old and her father left us. For over ten years we have gotten along just fine. Then, out of the blue, she tells me she wants to contact her dad. He had never been in her life. No birthday or Christmas cards, no phone calls or emails. He was a name and a myth of a man who lived across the ocean. For some reason, at this time in her life, that wasn’t enough anymore. Contacting him wasn’t difficult. I still had his email address and people tended to keep those over the years. Still, I hesitated. It wasn’t easy to put aside the myriad of emotions that go with a broken relationship. In my mind, he didn’t deserve her. Other than her actual creation, he had contributed very little to her life; no child support and definitely no emotional support. So what rights did he have? None, legally, but this wasn’t about him or me. It was what she wanted. I was afraid he would hurt her or disappoint her, as he had me, so many times. Still, I tried to stay neutral. Over the previous decade he had slipped from my mind, any anger or bitterness had long since dissipated. My life was full. I had my daughter, a good job and, after a decade of being single, had met the man I was planning on spending the rest of my life with. There was no room for hostility – or so I thought. On behalf of my daughter I contacted her father. I kept it short.
“Your daughter would like to get to know you. Would it be alright if she emailed you?”
He responded within a day, “Yes, I’ve been waiting all my life for this.”
Long buried resentment rose up. If that was true why hadn’t he taken time out of his busy decade and sent her an email? I restrained myself from saying anything to that effect. Later that week I helped her compose her first letter to him. At the end she asked, “Is it okay if I write that I love him?” She was so full of love and affection for people. “Of course you can.” I told her. Although later I complained to my boyfriend.
“I raised her. I’ve been there for her every day. I gave up a career for her. I take her on vacations, arrange birthday parties, taught her to skate…and she loves me. He’s never lifted a finger or contributed to her life in any meaningful way…and she loves him. It’s not fair.” I knew I was over simplifying things, but it still galled me that his mere existence elicited her love and devotion.
Over the next few months they exchanged the occasional email. It seemed enough for her that they had connected, although she sometimes spoke of visiting him. Through their emails, which she shared with me, I learned he had lost his job, his apartment and had moved back home with his mother. Through my daughter he was aware of my career successes and my relationship status. They say success is the greatest revenge, and I admit I was reveling in it. When I mentioned, smugly, to my sister that I was going to post pictures of our latest vacation just to rub it in to him, she admonished me. “You have so much, all he has is her, at least give him that.” She had never been a fan of his but she was right, I was being petty.
My daughter asked if she could send him some pictures. She even picked out a frame. He sent her a thank you email and said he keeps the picture on his bedside table, so he could see her face before he went to bed and when he woke up each morning. I rolled my eyes at that comment.
Last week it was her birthday. No card or gift arrived from her father. It was my boyfriend and I who ferried a rambunctious group of eleven year olds around for the party. In one year my boyfriend had done more for her than her father ever had. Yet, when I went downstairs the next morning to clean up, I found a photograph in a frame. It was the one of her father she kept in a frame in her room. She must have brought it down to show all her friends that she did indeed have a dad, and that she knew him, talked to him and would some day visit him.
I realized then and there, that no matter what my own personal demons were, this was her father. To her that meant something. I couldn’t help thinking about this little girl with the picture she kept beside her bed and the grown man, an ocean away, with his own bedside photograph. It was their link. It had nothing to do with me. For him, I can only surmise, his photo was proof of something good in his life. For my daughter, it grounded her. She was no longer the only kid in the class who didn’t have some kind of dad. Hers’ just happened to live far away, but he loves her. She knows this, because he tells her so.
So there on the mantel, beside the school portraits and vacation pictures, is one photograph of a man, who is a stranger, from a far away place and who smiles with my daughter’s eyes.
Trina blogs at An Unscripted Life.