My three girls need me to be present. Not just there, not just in the vicinity, but present. This may sound crazy, but it’s a truth that has taken me a long time to realize. The mother of my two youngest ones left me almost 11 years ago, taking them with her. It was a cataclysmic event for all concerned, to be sure, but the progression of time and lives has made any questions of right or wrong moot. I only mention it because my exclusion from the day to day happenings of their lives has made it harder for me to be the kind of father I had always imagined I would be.
I thought I would always be there to change diapers and give baths. I would read stories to them and tuck them into bed. I would come home from work and they would bounce jubilantly around my legs, clamoring for hugs. There would be school events and doctor visits and birthday parties. It didn’t work out that way for us.
It’s not that the girls went far. Their mother kept them in the same area. Weekends and holidays were divvied up. I became a part time Dad. I missed getting them up for school and dressing them up for Halloween and shopping for clothes. I missed just sitting on the couch with them and watching TV. We would catch up with some of that on our weekends. I made elaborate breakfasts. We watched movies and ate popcorn. When they were still little, I put them to bed at night with made up stories about mummies who wore tennis shoes and dogs that talked. Then on Sunday afternoon they gathered their things and went home with their mother.
There came a time when I felt superfluous in their lives. I mean, how much could they need me when they only saw me intermittently? I began to feel like they came to my house because it was their duty. Those are horrible things to say, I know. My girls gave no indication they felt that way–my insecurities were my own fault.
My two little ones, Savanna and Madison, have been involved in cheerleading since Pop Warner. They are in high school now, a freshman and a junior, cheering for the football team. I had been meaning to go to one of their home games all season long.
It seemed every Friday I was just too tired. There would be other games, right? Worse, I told myself that it wasn’t really a big deal. Could it really be that important for me to just go to a game and sit in the stands? The big Homecoming game came and went. The season was dwindling, and before I knew it, the last home game of the season was upon us. Tonight was the night.
At the field, as I walked through the turnstile and made my way to the stands, I saw Madison’s cheer squad. Madison saw me the same time I saw her. It’s hard to imagine a human face exhibiting so many emotions at the same time. Elation and joy consumed her features in equal measure, but over riding all of it, and beaming out of her ear to ear grin, was pure, unconditional love.
For a second I was taken back to my own childhood. I remembered my Grandfather’s strong arms hugging my little body, always accompanied by the faintest whiff of Old Spice and wood smoke. I recalled the peace I felt, peace in the knowledge that he was just….there.
No matter how inadequate I felt, how could I deny that same peace to my own children?
I hugged my child and kissed her on top of her head. I was present, in every sense of the word, and that’s all that mattered.