This one’s not gonna be about writing. So if that’s what you came here for, you might want to look elsewhere for your weekly writing dose. I’m gonna wander off-topic for a bit, though what I’m going to talk about will relate somewhat distantly to writing. Sorta kinda maybe.
Okay, for those of you who are left, if you don’t know some of my personal story as it relates to my daughter, here’s the Cliff Notes version: I had no physical contact with her from the time she was about six months old, and no contact whatsoever from the time she was three years old, until early in 2007, when she was eighteen. I won’t go into all the whys and wherefores, all the nuances. A lot of it is private and I don’t share it with just anybody. Partly because some of it still hurts me, mostly in the sense of knowing what I did. But, for the most part, it’s because we’re all past it. We being my daughter, my ex-wife, and myself.
Sometime in early 2007—February or March, as best I remember—I got a postcard. On its face was a picture of a girl I didn’t recognize, and on the back was a note saying this card was from Jasmine M. Miller, born in 1988 to Gilbert D. Miller and Carolann M. Conant. It went on to say that she was hoping to get in touch with the abovementioned Gilbert Miller and had come up with my address via computer search, that if I was him or knew him to contact her at a California phone number.
Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. I guess that’s the right word. Hell, I went into shock. I’d dreamed for years of getting back in contact with my daughter, and now that it had happened, I wasn’t sure how to react. I mean, as the years had gone by, I had all but given up on that dream. I still had it, never completely gave up on it, but the hope was getting dimmer and dimmer. To have it happen out of the blue like that, after I’d all but given up…well, let’s just say that the desire to pinch myself repeatedly was pretty strong.
At first, I was scared. Was this just so she—or her mother—could ream me out for not making any effort to contact her over the years? That was one of the things that bothered me most, that rode my mind practically every day. I’d tried once in the late 90s, using one of those online things where they’ll give you so many addresses and put it on your phone bill. But, when they’d done that and said for another fee they’d search even more, I got cynical, suspected a scam. Never mind that it had been an agency that was on Sally Jesse Raphael. Money could have changed hands for that particular “reunited parents and children” episode.
And, if that didn’t work, I wasn’t sure how to go about finding her. I wasn’t a private investigator, and there were other factors to consider, not least being that it seemed my child support payments weren’t making it to her mother, since California kept billing me for them no matter what proof I sent saying I’d paid them.
So, for about three days, I didn’t call. I was confused, scared, not sure if I could face my kid after all those years. What if this was just to reject me? What if I called and she said never to bother looking her up? What if she asked me why I’d abandoned her? A thousand questions went through my mind, many of which were based on fear of rejection and the fact I believed she’d have good reason for doing it. On top of that, I figured her mom had told her I was a POS who didn’t deserve her and blah blah blah. It happens all the time, you know.
But I finally called, and I’d have to say it was a call that changed my life.
I caught her on the way to an amusement park with her best friend, and she said she’d call me back.
Another three days went by and, since this isn’t a story where I’m trying to hold you in suspense, she didn’t return the call for the same reason it took me a while to get up the courage to call: fear. And, when the call finally came, she had her mother call me and talk to me first.
I’m sure you can imagine how awkward that was. I figured her mother hated me, and I hadn’t exactly been the ideal husband, especially toward the end of our marriage. I hadn’t planned on it—at least not in that initial phone call—but I found myself apologizing to Carolann and we ended up talking for about an hour before I ever said another word to my daughter. And, when I got on with Jesi, as I remember it, it didn’t last that long.
But that was okay. I’d heard my daughter’s voice, and she hadn’t rejected me.
If you’ve read my blog with any regularity, you know that my daughter and I are still in touch and growing closer all the time. There were some mistakes made on my part at the beginning, most of them having to do with self-recrimination, but we worked through that. My kid has some tough love going and talked me through it without ever actually giving up on me.
Of course, when I found out she wanted to be a writer, that gave us something bond over, and it’s helped keep us getting close ever since.
It took a long time to get her to send me some of her stuff, but when she did, I was blown away. Maybe it wasn’t exactly the subject matter I liked, but her writing, even in rough first draft form, was great. To get me interested in something that I have no interest in at all, to keep me reading the story and actually rooting for the characters, was a feat in and of itself.
Jesi isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t trade her for any other young lady in the world. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but we’re enough alike that we understand one another, sometimes when it seems like no one else does. She’s given me more support than I probably have a right to expect, and I can’t help but give it back to her.
Our story is a little too common these days. I’m not gonna pretend to be able to decipher the reasons. I still love her mother and always will. Part of me thinks our divorce was a mistake but, on the other hand, I had some growing up to do and lessons to learn and I’m not sure I would have learned them if we’d stayed together. I’d like to think that I would have, but it’s true: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and losing my daughter and her mother pulled the rug out from under me big-time. It messed me up for years, and I had to face up to the fact it was mostly my fault.
Thing is, I’ve worked through that. Yes, I wish I could go back and change things, but I can’t. So, I have to make a decision: I can regret the past and wallow in my misery, or I can get over it and be the best dad that I can for my little girl.
I decided to get over it, because my kid’s worth it.
Now, not everybody is as fortunate as me, and I know that. I’ve got a unique opportunity here and I ain’t gonna blow it if I can help it. Every day, I try to think of ways to be supportive not only of my daughter, but of her brothers, because I’ve come to love them as well. And it wasn’t that hard to fall for them. They’re great boys, good looking and they have great personalities. I send them all presents when I can, and if I can’t, I at least send ecards to let them know I’m thinking of them. I couldn’t ask for better, and I won’t try.
Being a dad has changed my life, but I see examples all the time of men who don’t step up and do what they can for their kids. The only thing I really beat myself up for right now is that I can’t do more, but I got a feeling I’d feel that way if I was filthy rich and had not a financial worry in the world.
And every time I start wondering if maybe I’m not doing enough, my daughter must sense it somehow, because she sends me something, or says something, or writes something on her blog—something she did here while back—that lets me know I’m still on the ball. She knows I can’t do much, but she also says I’m trying, and not all dads do that. She made my day, my week, my life when she said I’d given her more support in the last five years than most dads do in a lifetime.
No, I’m not doing it to get praises. I’m doing it because I love her more than life itself. But I’ll take the praises. Don’t ever think I won’t. It reassures me that I’m doing my job to best of my ability and capability at present, and who can ask for more?
This thing could have gone a lot of ways, and there were some dark days in all those years when I had no contact with her. But it’s gone a very good way, and the only complaint I have is that I can’t seem to scratch enough money together so that I can be with my kids. I want to be an on-hand dad, not one that has to send things through the mail and talk to them on the phone. I want to buy them things and help take care of them, take the boys to their ball games and other things, talk over story ideas with my daughter and all that.
I have a lot of easy excuses for not doing anything. I’m half a continent away. I’m unemployed. Broke.
But I don’t give in to any of that. I find ways to show them I care, and it feels good to do it.
So, there’s dads out there that need to step up. And, if you ever get in the way of thinking maybe you’d like a little time off from your kids, try living in my situation, missing fifteen years of your daughter’s life and still not being able to be there for her when she needs me outside of a phone call or an email. Put yourself in my shoes, and maybe taking your kid to the new Pixar movie or an amusement park or a game won’t seem so bothersome.
Step up. Be a dad.
You’ll never regret it.