I always knew I had a daughter. It wasn’t a surprise or anything. I was married for a while, after all, and that’s what happens when you get married. You have daughters. But I was also divorced, and that’s what happens when you get divorced. Daughters move away with their mothers.
And then after a while you move away, and then one move leads to another and you get farther apart and in the pre-internet days the odds for miscommunication (which are pretty high in divorce situations anyway) expand geometrically. Pretty soon miscommunication is replaced by non-communication. So I knew I had a daughter. But she was more a daughter in theory than in practice.
And let’s face it—you adjust to that. You can adjust to almost anything. You adjust to a new city, you adjust to a new job, you adjust to being single, you adjust to being not-a-parent. People ask “Do you have kids?” and at first you say “Yes.” Then later it becomes “Yes, but…” After a while it becomes “Not really” because it’s easier and quicker than explaining all the events that led to that ‘not really.’ And eventually you don’t say anything—you just shake your head, because the cold and ugly truth is you don’t. You may have fathered a child, but to say you ‘have kids’ is a lie. You don’t.
Having kids isn’t passing along your DNA to another living being. Having kids is also them having you. Having you there. I wasn’t there.
Yesterday, at the hospice center where my brother is slowly dying, I met my daughter for the first time in a couple of decades. It wasn’t the most ideal circumstance for such a meeting. And yet, it was absolutely the most ideal circumstance for such a meeting.
To say it was weird is to diminish the term ‘weird.’ To say it was surreal would be to stretch surreality all out of proportion. To say it was wonderful is to turn ‘wonderful’ into a tiny little speck of a word. It was more of all those things than those words could possibly convey.
So I met my daughter. I saw theory become reality. Once again I ‘have kids’ and she has me. Of course, it’s not that simple or easy. It is, in fact, strange and confusing and messy and complicated. And wonderful. Full of wonder.
And then we left the hospice and went bowling.
I also managed to adjust, to something even halfway, but not sure any more tangible than the theory versus the practice gap described here. to paraphrase the joke from Steven Wright ( « everything is within walking distance, if you have the time » ), even under these conditions we can adjust to anything, if we have the time, which is a function of personality traits. it is amazing to discover how pliable we can be. evolution? maybe.
the uncertainty that hangs over the adjustment is the decisions made to divorce, as it would impact the child. there is rarely an uncertainty about the decision with regards to the spouse, but the kids — talk about the problem with not being able to predict the future.
I was away, then I was near, then I was a little bit away, then close again, now she is away — the latter one being a “natural emigration in American life” to many. even with this zig zag, the answers is always easy to say yes that I have a child, but perhaps the uncertainty of the relationship expressed here is not much different.
my gamble was that the stage of life for a father is just about now, and before then is something that is undefined and unpredictable. so far, the gamble is tracking. no, I have never done gambling, so that was quite the uncertainty.
You know what they say: One door closes and another door opens. I guess in a way, you have your brother to thank for this weird, surreal and wonderful “new” person in your life.
I was one of those daughters a few years back, meeting a stranger who I couldn’t bring myself to call Dad for at least a couple of years. We went through surreal and weird and wonderful and now he’s Dad and I’m Daughter, and we’re something like a normal family (whatever that is). Though he talked about it, I never understood the slide from “I have a daughter” to “I don’t”, but having read this I think I understand.