For 11 years, I’ve had the pleasure of raising our child. She has your almond-shaped eyes. She walks on her tippy toes like you do. She’s got moody tendencies like you, too, but she’s also got your charisma and charm. There’s enough similarities that I would think you’d be ready to claim her as your mini-you. It’s been a constant source of disappointment and frustration to know that you’re not. You’ve been a no-show on birthdays—no phone call, no card, no gift, no sitting through painful “High School Musical,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Sesame Street”-themed parties like a trooper parent who has to take one, two, three hundred for the team.
Easters and Christmases, I’ve been the one up until two in the morning stuffing baskets and wrapping presents, sorting which ones were going to be labeled “from Santa” and working extra hard to disguise my handwriting (and woofing down umpteen plates of chocolate chip cookies set out for him, but I ain’t complainin’). In the mornings, I busted Academy Award-worthy performances to match her enthusiasm about the gifts and goodies these figments of pop culture imaginativeness left just for her to enjoy. That was back when she believed that a rabbit was capable of putting items in a basket and carrying it to our living room and that a grown man could or would sneak into our house to bring her stuff instead of stealing it. That’s a testament to the innocence of a child, but she’s a big girl now.
You missed out on a whole, whole lot.
I’ve sat through every squeaky clarinet recital and hours upon hours of painful practices at home, every dance routine, every public speaking spotlight where I’ve fed her forgotten lines from the audience so loud that people in the back row could hear me (though somehow she couldn’t). I’ve met every single teacher, folded myself onto those tiny little elementary school desks to color and craft, doled out punishments for back talking and bad report cards and taken more trips to the mall than Cher and Dion in “Clueless” to reward her for good ones. And sleepovers? Please. I’ve had more little girls under my care at one time than any sane person should feasibly volunteer themselves for. I’ve watched her become more confident, hit her stride, turn into a cool, intelligent, gorgeous, enthusiastic, idea-filled young lady. Not a girl, a lady. Manners mean a lot in our household.
I am so proud of our child.
Now she’s 11: a tween. (Cue screeching “Friday the 13th” horror flick music here.) And on top of all the changes I see in her physically—as much as those alone make me want to press on her chest and butt and invert everything that’s trying to poke out and shape up—I also see changes in her emotionally, too. About six months ago, she started to ask for and about you. Wanting to call you. Leaving you voicemail after unanswered voicemail. Emailing and texting. Receiving little feedback from your end. I know because I watched the expression drain from her face time and time again after she checked the phone log and didn’t see your number there or scurried to look through a message-less email inbox. Then one day, she came home with the illest attitude ever, which stretched into days. I was worried. I thought someone had touched her, maybe, or was bullying her at school and she was acting out. I pressed her every day to tell me what was wrong. Finally, finally, after three or so excruciatingly sulky days, she blurted out “You’re keeping me from my dad!”
I was taken aback because I’ve actually always facilitated what little relationship you two have ever had. How many miles did I put on my little Civic jetting back and forth between Pennsylvania and Brooklyn or Philly or Delaware or wherever you wanted her to be so that she could know not only you, but your family down to the cousins twice and thrice removed? Somewhere—hmm, I dunno where—but somewhere she got the idea that I was keeping you two apart.
You and I both know that ain’t even close to true.
But that’s all ancient Egypt. The present is today. Starting now, I want you to step up. You’ve had an 11-year vacation from any real responsibility in raising this child. You’ve abstained from any painstaking decision-making, from the minute (like when I decided to lock her hair) to the major (like when I was shopping for the best replacement school after that public charter failure). Some girls fare well without a father in their lives—I’m one of them. But every individual, every child is a different case with different needs and this little girl is needing her father. I’ve surrounded her with positive male role models from my boyfriend to family members to good brothers at church, but nothing—nothing—can replace, for her at least, the presence of her flesh-and-blood father. I’m afraid the hoops you’re making her jump to nurture the relationship that should come naturally is the same kind of B.S. she’ll accept from boyfriends in the future. By making her chase you, her “daddy,” you’re demonstrating how she’ll have to pursue men in her future. It’s unhealthy, it’s inconsiderate and it’s unfair.
Remember when we agreed that because you didn’t have an active relationship with your father and I never laid eyes on mine at all that we would make sure this child that we created together, even though we were really young, would have all the benefits of a bond with both parents? So far, that hasn’t happened. And I don’t know if it’s because your family and I both avoid confrontation with you or because it’s just been easier to pick up your slack and do it myself, or if it’s because you’re a man who has the social and cultural green light to get away with just about anything (because if this behavior was coming from me, my name would be mud in every mouth that spoke it).
For whatever reason, you’ve been able to shake off any kind of accountability to her, and with a snooty attitude of entitlement at that. Until now, you’ve been able to be selective, to pick and choose when you feel like seeing her and when you feel like being bothered. An iTunes gift card and a trip to Claire’s don’t equal parenting. Never did. So I’m asking you now, today, to figure out how well you actually know your child. What’s her favorite color? What does she want to be when she grows up? What is she afraid of? Who does she look up to? If you can’t answer these questions, find out. Have a real conversation with her. Understand her. Appreciate her. Love on her. Don’t let your hatred for me—unwarranted as it may be—prevent you from being a blessing to her.
Be the man she needs you to be. I can be a lot of things to her, but I can’t be her father.
Prayerfully, Hopefully, Expectantly,
The Mother of Your Beautiful Child