Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Never Forget Your First

I never see my oldest.

I never speak with her and almost never communicate at all, except for occasional text messages and Facebook posts.

I remember February 26, 1991, as if it were yesterday. I remember the excitement and nervousness and hope and fear and worry and eagerness and amazement when she came out. I remember being surprised that it took two snips to cut the umbilical cord. I remember holding her for the first time, and driving so carefully on the way home from the hospital, and feeling so happy and afraid and different. Everything was different. I felt different and I was sure I looked different and what used to be important suddenly wasn’t anymore and I was a dad. A daddy. Of a baby!

I remember how she used to stand up in her crib in the morning, waiting to be picked up, and how happy and excited she would get when she spotted us. I remember her first birthday and Halloween and Christmas. Man, was she inundated with Christmas presents!

I remember the struggle to find good child care, and learning that the opinions of others, people with more experience and wisdom, didn’t matter when it came to good child care because, well, they were apparently willing to accept things that we just weren’t. This was Amelia.

I remember driving her to school and having her watch me through the window, tearfully, as I drove away. I remember trying to hide my tears.

I remember the first time I chaperoned a field trip, a milestone for every father.

I remember taking her to her first play date, with a little boy whose name I’ve forgotten, at a nice house out toward the Lansing Mall and insisting on exchanging medical insurance information with the boy’s mom, who looked at me as if I were a little crazy but I didn’t care because this was Amelia.

I remember how wonderful her mother proved to be, how loving and dedicated to our baby she was. I remember being surprised that she knew so much and could do so much and took such good care of Amelia, and how comforting it was to know that she had my back so I probably wouldn’t be able to screw up too much.

I remember dropping Amelia on the hardwood floor, right on her face, one terrible day and running next door to borrow the neighbor’s car because my wife had ours and I needed to get her to the hospital because she was screaming so loudly and I thought I broke her. I remember going crazy while they x-rayed her and wondering what I was going to tell her mother and feeling so relieved when the doctor explained that a baby’s face can actually absorb more shock than one would think and it’s a good thing that I hadn’t dropped her in such a way that she hit the back of her head because that would have been an entirely different matter and I was so sorry, so frikkin’ sorry that I wasn’t careful enough because this was my Amelia, goddamn it!

I remember trying to remain her Number One Guy even when her mom and I called it quits. I would be with her as much as I could and I tried to stay on good terms with my ex for her sake and I’d bring her to board meetings and I made her the center of my world – ask anyone who knew me then – and I cried at night in bed in my small apartment because I had ended up doing to my child what my father did to me – leave – and I swore I would never make the same mistake but I did.

For a while we stuck to the Wednesdays-and-every-other-weekend thing, but she clearly preferred being with her mom. One time I took her to Cedar Point Amusement Park and we were walking past the arcades and I asked her how she liked it so far. “I wish Mommy was here,” she responded. She started asking to be taken home early on Sunday nights, then she started asking if she could just stay with her mom. And for reasons that I can’t explain and can’t understand, we grew apart.

I made a huge mistake by deciding not to get a lawyer to help enforce my custody rights because I wanted Amelia to WANT to be with me, not be court-ordered to be with me, so I would go weeks without seeing her.

I remember letting her have sleepovers with friends at my apartment and thinking if I had to take care of somebody else’s kids in order to see mine, that was fine with me. I remember entering her in an “Absolutely Incredible Kid” contest sponsored by a local radio station and her winning. I remember taking her to Lake Michigan and having to explain why it smelled so bad (massive alewives die-off). I remember proudly bringing her to the office with me for “Take your Daughter to Work” Day. I remember coming home with two turtles from the pet shop, red-eared sliders named Franklin and Oliver, because she liked turtles. I remember teaching her how to parallel park.

But I never sent her off to prom in a shiny, poofy dress.

I never saw her graduate from high school.

I made so many mistakes.

I stopped knowing the names of her friends and if she had a boyfriend and what her favorite radio station was. I made an appearance when she had surgery, and I tried to be there when she and her mom started having problems, and I surprised her by bringing her soup once, and I even went to court with the two of them to help get her out of trouble for a driving infraction. But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Tier One.

We went a year without speaking at all. She even changed her last name to her mother’s. That hurt. But then we reconciled, and I had such high hopes that we could figure out a way to be connected again, like when she was little and we’d sit on the floor in the kitchen in the morning and eat Oreos and laugh and pretend we were watching a movie – she called it our “movie veeter” – or we’d dance in the basement to Cameo and Babyface. But it hasn’t happened.

People tell me I need to be patient. She’ll come back to me in her own time, they promise.

But I don’t know. It looks like I might have this gaping hole in my heart forever.


  1. When I was in my early 20s and still in school, I thought I knew everything and my folks knew nothing. In my distorted world view, they were old, out of touch, and couldn't tell me anything that I already did not know (or so I thought). It wasn't until I'd been graduated from college and in the workforce for a couple of years when I began to realize that maybe they weren't so wrong after all. I was around 28 when it finally dawned on me that many of the lessons and values my dad had instilled in me from an early age were actually right on the money. I figured out then that my old man wasn't as out of touch as I had thought, but that I was simply unwilling to give him that much credit in my younger years. Since then, I have grown to have a much greater appreciation for the personal and professional values that both my parents took the time and effort to teach me. They have clearly shaped me into the vital, caring, conscientious and hard-working adult that I am today, and continue to be. And as a parent myself, I can only hope to pass on those same values to my own son as he grows and matures throughout his life. But I have every expectation that at some point in his young life, he will reject the teachings of his mother and I, just as I did with my parents. At some point in the future he will view us both as "old and out of touch," and there will be nothing we can tell him that he doesn't already know. I think for many kids it's inevitable, it starts in the teenage years and progresses into young adulthood. Most kids will go through this phase, especially after they fly the nest, go off to college, or move out on their own for the first time. It's just another rite of passage, another bump in the road, of which there will be many. Now, I can't speak for children of divorce, as there are certainly greater hurdles for them to overcome than for kids whose parents are still together, like feelings of resentment, abandonment issues, etc. But I do believe that as most children mature into adults, they will eventually gain a certain amount of respect for the teachings of those who have nurtured them along the way. And I hope that your daughter Amelia will someday gain that kind of understanding and appreciation too. She's still very young, and even though she is your eldest, she is still but a baby in the game of Life. She doesn't yet understand the value of the lessons you have taught her along the way. But someday she will. You just have to continue to be patient, be who you are, her dad, someone who will always love her unconditionally and who will always be there for her no matter what. And sometimes just knowing that is enough for the time being, if not for you then hopefully for her. But eventually she will come around, and she may even surprise you too and thank you for everything you have given her, instead of dwelling on the things you haven't. Good luck with it, I hope you find the strength to continue to keep the faith for her. And I hope, for both your sakes, she comes around sooner rather than later, because you both deserve it!

  2. I'm sorry Patrick.
    I started to write more here. But this is enough.

  3. This broke my heart, but not just because of the touching story that it is, but because I am a mom who feels so deeply each mistake that I have made as a parent (and believe me, I'm not just blowin' smoke up your ass, I have made some whoppers too; mistakes that sometimes take my breath a way and make me hate with a passion Mother's Day). There is a reason for the cliche "love conquers all"; if Amelia knows how very much you love her then somehow sometime your love will mean something to her and become the treasured gift that it is. I know this is true because my kids still love me in spite of myself and precisely because I love them so damn much.

  4. Patrick...great post, and I'm sorry...but i think she is just out living her young most folks her age, who spread their wings and try to fly on their own. I did that, and did eventually alight again. (hug)

  5. Thank you for this post, Patrick. My heart aches for you. I am a product of divorce and my father disappeared from my life when I was five, only to reappear when I was 16. Why? Because I sued him. He has disappeared again, this time for 16 years and counting. I bring this up because of the wonderful times you shared with your daughter AND that you recall them. If these were so important to you, the day will come when Amelia will realize how much she cherishes them as well. You are a fantastic father, Pat. Simply be there when she needs you and as so many before have said, try to be patient. So many fathers walk away in these situations but you didn't. As she gets older, she will come to realize how much she needs her father because regardless of our age, we always need our Dad. Have faith, Pat.

  6. I just wrote this very long story and it was erased ! I have a similar situation with my son now 31 Bottom line I had to wrap all 9f the love I have for him up into a Little box and put it on a shelf. I feel your pain the whole in your heart. After years of analyzing my every breath with him I came to this there was nothing I did or didn't do as a parent that constitutes this kind of behavior. I began to realize its not about me per say this is his issue not mine. When he is ready i will be there open arms with all my love. Until that day comes I have to leave the box on the shelf easier said than done trust me. But if I want to be there when he is ready i must do it like this otherwise like you the pain will kill me. As a parent we want what is best for our children and how could being apart from them be best ? Idk this is just what I have decided to do and life goes on. He appears to be happy but I know After all I am his mother. I hate wasting time precious time. SO KNOW THIS EVERY GIRL NO MATTER HER AGE LOVES AND NEEDS HER DADDY. YOU ARE HER DADDY THE ONE AND ONLY
    don't let yourself get in the way of her perception of what happened growing up. To her I'm sure it looks totally different but don't defend yourself either because her perception was her reality. As she experiences life more and more she will realize how GREAT OF A DAS YOU ARE. Sad part is time time time I know take what you can get. Make moments best wishes to you Jennifer cummans