I listened as my daughter babbled through the phone to string along a bunch of words, formulating her sentences and thoughts. I revisit that fateful summer night with each new milestone my daughter reaches, with each question she asks, with each conversation and new picture capturing her growth.
The hardest part about doing time is being away from my daughter. I was arrested when she was nine months old. For those nine months, she was my daily side-kick. I learned how to change her diaper, comb her hair (really rubbing baby lotion in and calling it a day), packing a diaper bag and putting her to sleep every night. On the day she was born, I knew I loved her, from the second I held her, she looked at me as I spoke to her. That moment was trumped when, when I heard her first words, “Da-Da”. My heart melted. At that moment, I believed that I would love her in a way she deserved. That belief came to a head when I committed my regretful crime. I was hit with a gut-shot that if I truly loved my daughter as I claimed, I would have thought about the consequences of my actions. Impulse has no forethought. I was taken away from my daughter and all those incredible memories. It should have never happened. I watched my daughter learn to crawl, walk and run, through a glass partition. I listened as my daughter babbled through the phone to string along a bunch of words, formulating her sentences and thoughts. I revisit that fateful summer night with each new milestone my daughter reaches, with each question she asks, with each conversation and new picture capturing her growth. It’s painful because I care so much. I didn’t consider my actions and it’s impact because I didn’t know how to love my daughter. This is because I didn’t know how to love myself. I had a very difficult upbringing. The common themes of: poverty, instability, food insecurity, lack of education, lack of resources, domestic violence, abuse, compiled with addicted parents. I was taught not to address mental health issues but to bury them. This was a patch work fix for a dam, flooded with suppressed issues until the gates burst. I could’ve let my uncontrollable waters flood the valley. But that would only create more harm and destruction. I remember one of my last visits with my daughter. She was three and I sat behind a glass partition. She wanted to kiss me but the glass blocked her attempt to give me affection. After many failed attempts, she began to cry – painfully. That moment greatly affected me. It started a conversation with the man in the mirror. If I cared as much as I claimed, then I would have to make a change. There is an old Daoist story about monks who created beauty of a thing’s essence not by adding to it but by taking away from it. Before I could incorporate those virtues to make me a better human being, I had to identify and face my character flaws and remove them one by one. No easy process. I had to wade in the pain, anger and sadness and not drown in the abyss. I read incessantly and vigorously. I revisited my life with each new discipline which relieved each trauma. I persevered because I cared. As a bi-product of all my hard work, I garnered multiple college degrees, facilitated self-help groups, developed bonds with family members in new and improved ways. My relationship with my daughter is limited to phone calls, but it’s stronger than ever. I used to lament about this limitation but now I see possibilities. I pre-plan our 15-minute phone call conversations. I write to her in journals to preserve moments without her near me. I vent, talk about my feelings, dreams, fears, anything I feel would include her in my mind and heart. The other day she answered my call out of breath. I said “Baby, why are you breathing so hard? What were you doing?” she replied “I’m just out of breath because I ran to answer your call, Dad.” over ten years ago I couldn’t imagine what my relationship would be like with my daughter. But I knew what my behavior would demonstrate: that my sustained change, and my actions, proves my love for my daughter. We walked through the light of love for over ten years. My daughter can feel the love through the phone, in the way that I speak with her. She runs to the phone to hear my voice.