Saturday, December 26, 2015

Being There, for Daughters: A Meditation for Fathers

This is a post about LIfe, the Universe, and Everything, although not so much about 42. It's not really about books, although that's what got it started about a year ago.
Brad is just this guy, you know. He happens to be stuck in Yemen at the moment, because he's one of the many young men and women who signed up for the Reserves or National Guard, and then got mobilized. And, as is the case with lots and lots of the young men and women, when he shipped out, his wife and family were left behind to manage as best they could. I know of this experience, personally. I know of no way to measure the total amount of suffering in the universe, but if there is such a measure, it blips upward when units deploy, and wives and husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers are separated from each other, for periods approximating a year.
Modern communications being what they are, even though separated by thousands of miles and the constraints of OPSEC, Brad learned from his dear wife that his daughter had reached that developmental milestone that marks the transition between girlhood and womanhood. From being a bit of news, it became a symbol of all the things he was missing while on deployment, and he had to take time to grieve.
Naturally, when he shared his news with his online support community, we responded with words of support, shared experience, and insults and innuendos, because that's the way we roll. I sent one message of the sweet pain of raising daughters, and was preparing a second, when I had a moment of clarity.
See, my second message was going to be a witticism about the importance of the developmental milestones; I was going to make a crack somewhere in the vicinity of 'Well, after all, you were there for her conception, and that's the milestone that really counts.'
Ha, ha. Look, he hinted at nudge nudge wink wink.  Snicker snicker. Only, then it hit me like a punch in the chest:
No, you dope. The kind of people who believe that, are the OPPOSITE of a good father. The kind of people who believe that are the kind who are always trying to score, and brag about that, and they are contemptible human beings. That is not a fit for you, and it certainly isn't a fit for Brad, and so shut up and spend some time thinking about what being a father to a daughter means, and then write about it.
I actually do know how to be a father to a daughter. When I was 35, and had been sober for one year and five days, my daughter was born: at home, under the supervision of a midwife, who was paid by our church. I cut the cord, and when she had been cleaned off, I held her in my arms and rocked her and sang to her of my love. In a week and a half, she will turn 27, and I have been there for every single major milestone, except for the last two; and my absence from those last two is a function of my being there for her as a father. It was her choice that I not be there for the birth of her firstborn son, and for her wedding, and that's because she wanted her mother to be there. Frankly, I saw no problem with us both being there; when our marriage ended after 32 years in 2010, I had anticipated that we would still have a connection through our children, and that over the years, we would share graduations, weddings, births, and funerals. But, my daughter decided otherwise, and, since it was her life event, I stayed away.
Now, at the precise moment I was meditating on this, it was Christmas morning. I was driving home from a visit to the jail. The young man I was seeing is the husband of a young lady who is eight months pregnant. I was not there for her conception; for the doctor's prenatal visits; I was not there for her birth. Nor her first tooth, the nights walking the floor with her, the first day of kindergarten. I did not see her graduate from high school, nor did I see her off to college.
But it struck me, that at that moment in Marietta,  I was all the father she was likely to get.
Five years ago, I had one daughter. Now I have six; five of them are adults, the sixth is in the fourth grade. For every one of them, I am all the father they are likely to get, and it simply doesn't matter to them where the fathering comes from. It doesn't matter to the fourth grader that I am, technically, her step-grandfather. What matters to her is that today, I am the one who reads to her. I am the one who she asks to go to the Daddy - Daughter dance. I'm the one who shows up for the meetings with her teacher. The issue of who was there for her conception really isn't important for her.
Now, the single daughter I have who is closely biologically related to me (the others may be distantly; who knows in America, right?) is still in love with me. We correspond frequently; I thrill when I see pictures of my grandson, as he rides his first tricycle around the house, pushed by his daddy on Christmas morning. She's always going to be my Beautifuful (yes, I meant to spell it that way) Princess. When I used to put her to bed at night, our routine always ended with  (condensed version) "Why do I love you? Is it because you are smart? Or pretty? Is it because you are good in school, and do the right things? NO! I love you, because you are my daughter, and you will always be my daughter, so I will always love you. " When I think 'daughter,' she's the one who will always immediately come to mind. But the four other adult daughters, and the single little one, are my daughters by choice. I have chosen to stand in that role for them, as much as they will permit and is appropriate. (Your needs for a father change as you age, but I don't think that need ever goes away.)
I don't have a great and happy ending for this, because this is one of those times there aren't any easy answers that solves our existential angst. Sorry, we just have to walk in the light that is available. So, here's my conclusion to this meditation: for all of the fathers who can't be with their daughters in a geographic sense because of circumstances beyond their control, you have my support. And for all of the fathers who are standing in the gap, raising daughters not born to you, you have my sympathy and affection. Men, in whatever way is possible for you, be there for your daughters. Do the best you know how to do. Love the best you know how to love. And trust that love will cover all of your many failings.
I think that's the way it works.

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