May 18, 2009
Dear Dad (Part 1)
I woke my little gazelle up at 6 this morning. She decided last night that she wanted to get up and go for a run with me – a decision she was clearly re-thinking when I shook her from her sound sleep. To my delight, she got up and agreed to meet me downstairs, ready to go, in ten minutes or less.
As we took out the door, the freshness of the crisp morning hit me and I couldn’t help but get gitty excited. What a way to start my day – my week for that matter. I was going to get to experience my daughter’s first early morning run with her. The idea of embracing this new day doing something I love to do with my daughter was priceless.
While Madison can whip me in a short race, neither of us were sure how she would feel running first thing in the morning and running a longer distance at a slower pace than she was used to. We walked up the hill, talked about the route, our pace and learning to relax and enjoy the morning and the run.
She did great and I loved every minute of it with her. When she tried to push the pace, I reminded her I was running six miles, not three, and she eased back. Obviously she was made for speed. I, on the other hand, was not.
After I finished my run, I found Madison getting ready for school in her bedroom. I asked her if she had found her Daddy and told him about her run. She rolled her eyes disappointedly and told me that she had tried to tell him, but hadn’t gotten the reaction she was hoping for.
My heart sank for her. I could feel her pain. You see she got up to run as much to please her Daddy as for any other reason. Her Daddy is a runner; he’s built for speed and distance. She wants to be a runner like him. And don’t get me wrong, he would love nothing more than to be running with her if his knee allowed. (Soon – he’s now 3 weeks post-op.) But in that moment when she longed for a word of praise, her Daddy was stressed about his Monday and missed the opportunity.
After a brief conversation with the Man of my Dreams, I assured him that I didn’t want to hear any excuses for his lack of enthusiasm with his daughter. Nothing – not even his phone ringing at 6:40 am – should keep him from looking his little girl in the eye and telling her how proud he was of her effort this morning.
Like so many of our conversations, I am convinced he thought I was over-reacting. Thinking back on it, maybe I was. Maybe our conversation had less to do with Madison and her Daddy and more to do with me and my father.
When I was Madison’s age, I had never met my father. I knew very little about him, like what he looked like, what his name was or why he left me and my mom before I was even born. But what I did know was that I desperately wanted the love and approval of a man I didn’t even know.
I had these elaborate dreams (fantasies) about when I would finally meet him, how he would be so proud of me and ache for all the years he’d lost with me. I had thousands of conversations with him in my head, just like the one Madison had with her Daddy this morning.
During my teenage years, I became more and more inquisitive about my father. What was he like? Was he handsome? How did he make his living? Where did he live? How did he meet my mother? And what made him decide he didn’t want to be my father?
My mom did her best to answer my questions. She told me what she knew, probably what she remembered. They had met when they were working in Jefferson City. He was her elder by 12 years and he had several children from his first marriage. Mom knew that his oldest son wasn’t much younger than she was, but she knew nothing else about my non-existent siblings.
I have to give my mom a lot of credit. Despite the hurt and rejection of being left pregnant and alone, she never once had a bad word to say about my dad. She said she loved him and was devastated when she realized he didn’t want to be a part of our lives, but that she was sure he had a good reason for not being able to take care of us. She clearly loved him and she made it easy to imagine that he was a wonderful man who would indeed love me, given the opportunity.
All my life, my mother promised me that once I was an adult she would help me find him, if that’s what I chose to do. My senior year of high school was full of rights of passage. I voted for George Bush. I cheated on my boyfriend. I found my dad.
My mom called Kirksville and found out that he had moved to Colorado. She gave me the number and left me alone in our little kitchen. I don’t remember a great hesitation; I had rehearsed this a hundred times. I dialed the number, took a deep breath, and waited. When a woman answered, I remember thinking that she was likely his wife. As an adult, I now realize the pain and shock my call must have caused for her.
When he came to the phone, I asked if he was Michael Early and he said yes. I told him my name and who my mother was. Then I told him I was calling because I was sure he was my biological father. You can imagine the silence. He wasn’t warm and friendly. He didn’t know what to say and looking back, I guess I get that. When I asked if I could write him, he agreed and gave me his address.
I still have a copy of that letter around here somewhere. I remember crying my eyes out as I wrote it in my neatest handwriting. I included a newspaper article about me that had my picture and a story about my success in speech and debate – just to be sure and impress him.
Oh, it is all so humorous now. But in my honest moments, I have to admit that it still stings. This conversation was the first of many that didn’t go as I had always imagined them to go – which is why I probably do over-exaggerate the impact of Madison’s conversations with her Daddy.
In my defense, it’s not unreasonable for parents to want to give their children what they didn’t have. I don’t want Madison to question for one second how much her dad loves her and how our family will always be the most important thing in his life. And above all, I don’t want her to have a dad shaped hole in her heart and spend the rest of her life trying to fill it.