Last Sunday, my oldest daughter, Morgan, and I were at brunch. We started talking about what we should do for Father’s Day. As soon as I brought up the topic, I felt I had made a mistake. Father’s Day. Ugh. Her dad decided to vanish after the split because, well, he’s not a good man. He knows full well that the number one way to “get me” is to hurt the children. Their pain is my pain, only a million times worse. Plus, the kids were “too stressful” for him (alcohol is his number one solace) so he’s simply cut them out of his life.
“I was thinking, Mom, that Daddy doesn’t even know what I look like anymore. It’s been three years since I’ve seen him or talked to him,” she said with tears in her eyes.
What was there to say? “I know. I’m so sorry. You have to know that it’s not your fault, it’s his,” I said. My heart was shattering. I started thinking about escape topics. How could I distract from where this was heading.
“The last time he saw me, I was just a kid. Now I’m driving and in high school. I’m so different and he doesn’t even know it.” I noticed she wasn’t eating her food even though it was now pushing noon and she hadn’t eaten all day. Isn’t she hungry?
“If he saw you, he would recognize you. You haven’t changed that much,” I answered. And I wondered… Would he recognize her? What would happen if they met up again? Will he ever allow her back into his life? Oh, please, God, let this somehow work out.
Rob and Morgan were really close. They loved the same things– fishing, boating, the ocean, lobsters. Their relationship, though of course Morgan was severely impacted by the explosive alcohol-fueled fights between Rob and I, was sweet, genuine, and loving. They were great friends and they loved each other deeply. How I wish I had picked a better man to be a father. How I wish that his choices and behavior wouldn’t impact innocent children, skew their view of fatherhood, husbands, and men. Impact their future. Oh, dear God.
“I really miss him, Mom. I miss everything. I text him and he won’t even answer back.”
“I just say things like I love you or Happy Easter or whatever. Nothing.” There was a pause. “Why?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I hope that some day it will change. I just don’t think he can. I have to think that he has a conscience and it hurts him to know how horribly he has behaved,” I answered. “I think he’s embarrassed.”
Finally, and it seemed like an eternity, we switched topics to an outdoor camp that she was interested in attending. “Let’s sign you up,” I said.
And this is the only way I know how to handle life when it comes to Daddy. Distract. Give more. Try to make things “better” and more cushioned in their life. And, really, I know that this is just simply one of those deeply difficult life lessons that they are learning far too young: that people, including men who should love them, can disappoint and hurt and that nothing is guaranteed. And there is nothing I can do to make this lesson less awful and painful and devastating. It’s just “one of those things.”
Always trying “fix”, here’s how I’ve at least tried to distracted Morgan this summer:
1. Purchased a plane ticket for San Diego to visit her step sister, Kellie. Kellie is Rob’s younger daughter by his first marriage. During my marriage to her dad, she mostly didn’t live with us. She refused to live with Rob’s alcoholism and when he refused to stop drinking, she stayed with her mom fulltime. Kellie and I stay in touch and I love and respect her. She is smart, kind and funny. Morgan is ecstatic to spend a few days with her step sister, just the two of them. In fact, when I told her the ticket was purchased, she called me up from camp screaming.
2. Put both girls in endless camps this summer. Since both girls asked if they could spend a week with their dad over the summer and that was definitely not an option, I made sure to schedule their summer so so busy they don’t know what hit them. For Morgan, it is three separate one-week camps where she stays the night. Girls Camp in the wilderness, writer’s camp at Brigham Young University, and an outdoor adventure week near Park City And, of course, a weekend with Kellie, flying alone for the first time in her life. I assured her I would walk her to the gate and Kellie would be there to pick her up. A life long flyer, I know she will be fine. For Siena, it’s been Dinosaur Camp, Women In Engineering Camp, Bible Camp, and Family Zoo Days. I miss Morgan like crazy since she’s always gone but I think it’s a powerful learning experience for her. And with just Siena and I at home, we are bonding in new ways, which is quite cool.
3. Trips: We are heading up to Seattle and Canada for two weeks. When we get back, we are flying out to Orlando and road-tripping it up to South Carolina. While in Orlando, we are meeting up with my best friends who also happen to be there on vacation and hitting up Disneyworld. Getting out of town seems to make their immediate world so different that “normal” life is far away. In this case, good.
4. Buy stuff: I don’t recommend this one but the Mommy guilt is overpowering. We do a lot of retail therapy and get lunch so we can chat and bond.
5. Mommy dates: It is imperative that our close relationship continues. One-on-one mommy dates are a favorite activity for all of us girls.
6. Male daddy figures: And this one is the most important. I need to show them that some men are great, loyal and don’t abandon anyone, let alone children. My dad is an excellent example of a great man. Now that Morgan is driving, they love to go for long rides with Morgan at the wheel, get a root beer, and head to the lake, sit outside and talk. My fiancé is also a good influence– he is stable, positive, and “there.” He is thoughtful, setting up her bedroom so it’s comfortable for her, buying her favorite fruit for dinner (cantaloupe), and taking her on motorcycle rides in the neighborhood. Not all men will disappoint. Some adults can have positive, healthy relationships that aren’t volatile or explosive. This relationship is one of those. I hope they are paying close attention.
There is nothing I can do to make the pain of Vanishing Dad go away. I wish I could erase their vivid memories of dad. I know that Sunday, Father’s Day, will be difficult for them. I can only love and support them.