For a day or two, once or twice a year, my daughter’s life appears complete. For a day or two, whenever her mother finds the time, my daughter gets both of her parents at once – and her smile beams peace.
It’s like a demon. It is a void I cannot fill. She’s been absent from our lives for years – the significant majority of our sweet daughter’s life. Our daughter’s never worried too much about it.
Until now. Now she seems worried, this first weekend visit since last spring. I’m left wondering what’s behind her eyes as she watches her mom comb her hair, lead her by the hand through a store and dress her for bed. Her eyes seem browner, more solemn – perhaps more thankful – than usual.
When her mom leaves for the next state away, I’m left with no answers for our little girl. I tell her I’m here – that I’ll always be – and it’s not enough. It lacks completeness for her. Something’s missing, I see through her tears. She can only be so strong.
She notices now. She didn’t at 3, 4 or 5, but she notices at 6 her mother is not here. I explain nothing. I keep telling her I’m there, but I have been for so long it’s not enough of a question to be a condolence. Something – something major – is missing.
How lucky the children are whose parents are together. How lucky the fathers are; how lucky the mothers.
I am ill-equipped to deal with these emotions, internally and when it comes to explaining them to my daughter. Her mother and I will never be together; that is a fact. Like the male I am, I push the effect this has on me to a corner of my mind that’s rarely visited and move on. We have what makes us who we are and who we’re trying to be: I only ever discuss the latter.
I explain to our daughter this is her life. We have our house, just the two of us, two cats, a dog and fish. I work 40 hours a week but it seems like more because I have to cook, clean and do laundry when I get home. Sometimes I don’t have the stamina to read to her before bed. Those are the breaks.
But I love you nonetheless, I tell her. By meeting her physiological needs, I’m completing the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I tell myself. Someone like her mother takes her to the next level of Maslow’s pyramid, but she drops back down once her mother leaves. There aren’t enough minutes in the hours of a day for me alone to keep my daughter at that level of fulfillment.
Those are the breaks. Yes, those are the breaks.
What brown and solemn breaks they can be.