There used to be music in the room whenever she would nap. The music was quiet with a calm, celestial feel and deep tones to soothe the mind. We played this to act as a lullaby to make her sleep. There was a little noise machine too, which was a constant hushing sound to act as a cushion and drown out the ambient noise. Her crib was perfect. Her room was decorated perfectly for a baby girl. There was wallpaper with soft shades of lavender and white. I remember the room, and in my mind’s eye, I can feel the peacefulness of a baby’s breath. She was my little girl, sleeping peacefully, and I was always so amazed that I had the ability to create something so beautiful.
Truth be told, this is only a small porthole in time. These moments do not and cannot last forever. These are the times to hold as dearly as we can because in an instant, time moves quicker than our anticipations, and before we know it, we blink and turn around, and then ask ourselves, “Where the hell did all the time go?”
There are times that I missed. This was not done so voluntarily but more so, there are times I missed out of necessity, which to a child is not exactly clear. There were mornings when my body was tired after pulling double-shifts. There were nights when I was home late because there was overtime that I couldn’t walk away from.
There used to be a bedroom in a small, upstairs apartment, which I designed for her. I did the best I could because to be honest, I really didn’t know what to do at all. Then again, I suppose this is just life as a divorced Dad. There were times when I was less than patient. And truth be told, these times were often. There were times when “being right” and looking for validation superseded the moment at hand, which to a child is all the child knows or understands. Again, this is life after divorce. Perhaps this is not so for everybody. Perhaps this is only so for me, which, if that’s the case then fine. I’ll take it. Besides, I’d rather answer for my mistakes than hide from them, or deny them, or worse, make excuses and blame someone else.
There was a time when she was old enough to ask me why I have to work so much. I’m not sure if my explanation served her well. I’m not sure what she thought or if my explanation was enough to satisfy her with an answer.
She once asked me, “Do you miss me when you’re at work?”
The answer to this was and is extremely simple.
I miss you all the time.
There are days at work when everything is on a deadline —and let’s face it, deadlines suck. There is always something happening. There is always something that needs attention and something that gets lost in the shuffle because our attention was drawn elsewhere. This is life in the working world. I remember working overnight shifts that ran into morning and working a full 8-hours the next day. This meant by the time I came home, my mind and body were beaten up, which meant I was not me at my best. My patience was tried, which meant others often had to pay for my feelings of irritability. I admit to this without excuses.
There is a strange mix that comes with life. There is work time and playtime; but without work time, playtime is a tough thing to have. Financial insecurity is a tough idea to live with. My mistake was I gave into the idea that life, love, affection and attention is a competitive thing. And quite honestly, I was afraid to lose in this competition. Fear of loss is a real fear that can turn inward and create nothing more than the fulfillment of our self-prophecy.
Would I have rather been with her?
I would rather life was easier. But it isn’t.
I would rather have mortgages be free.
But they aren’t.
I never had any help. I had bills. I had bad credit. I had a small place that I rented, which was the upstairs of someone’s house. I had two bedrooms. One was mine and of course, the other was made for her. I built a little clubhouse, which I made inside one of the closets for her — complete with princess decals, princess decorations and a little-kiddie makeup table. There were a lot of stuffed animals. I put together a fish tank because I thought she might like it, which she did. I had a little cat that she named Tiki. I had a bird named Oscar Madison. He was a blue and gold macaw. She liked him too.
There is no good explanation for working too much. What I mean is without work, there would be no apartment or even a car to go from one place to another. There would be no health insurance. Ideas like these only exist in the adult world. Kids are not of this world.
Did I miss her?
Life is meant to be lived and not slaved for. Had I only understood more about the effectiveness of time engagement, perhaps I would have seen more and we could have done more together.
There were times when I swore my body was weak and I couldn’t take it anymore. There were nights that I spent rigging up heavy pieces of machinery with a chain-fall and hoisting them out of the way for repair and reassembly because the machine needed to be running by morning.
There were mornings when I climbed up to the roof of a building on Lexington Avenue with a cup of coffee in hand to watch the sun come up. I was at work, and meanwhile, she was sleeping in her bed or perhaps waking up. All I could feel was the contempt on my tongue for the regrets I had, and the ache in my heart because I was not someone different and I had no other way to make a decent living.
My running joke is “Why couldn’t I have been born rich, instead of just good-looking?
I work a lot. I still do. I have more than one position. I work as a building engineer to pay my bills. I work as a recovery coach and life coach to pay my heart.
I run empowerment groups in correctional facilities and private groups. I write short articles for a union publication. Somehow, I’ve managed to achieve my education and credentials to improve and advance in the mental health field. I have certifications on my wall. I have a loft in my home, which is where I start my day and write my thoughts.
I have an empty bedroom downstairs. I say empty, but I only say this because no one comes and sleeps there anymore. Time moved too quickly. Age happened. Life interfered and the idea of being right, or at least validated, took place over being happy and being part of something that is otherwise irretrievable.
I will never have another night when I come home and lay my little girl in her bed, tuck her in and place one of her teddy bears next to her. I will never hear her say, “Daddy, will you lay wiff me?”
That’s right. I said lay wiff me instead of lay with me because the word “wiff” has a special place in the daddy diaries. Same as neatballs is meatballs and sukermarket [Soo – ker- mahr – kit] is supermarket. The pronunciation of “wiff,” is the little-girl translation of “with” and as such, these words will remain in my heart for all of eternity because these are the words of a little girl that calls me Daddy.
The idea of being a working man is not an easy one. I stood on the roof of a building’s tower early one Saturday morning. I was tired. My body is not as young as it was. My joints hurt but there was work to be done. There are bills that need to be paid and chores that need my attention.
Did I wish I was home? Of course. I wished I was home or elsewhere but the job I do is what maintains the home I own. This is what keeps the roof up and the cars in the driveway. This is what ensures me that if someone is sick; my health insurance will give them access to the best doctors without exception. This is why I work. This is why I am part of a union. This is what I work for — I work to support a life that I would never have if I didn’t have a job that helps me pay for it.
The crazy thing is we work to feed our family. We work to keep the roof over our heads. We work to be sure we can retire someday or that in the case of our untimely exit, those that depended on us will be taken care of by our life insurance policy. We work long hours for these things that we only have a few short hours to enjoy when we get home.
We work to have a life we never get to see because as we work, we miss out on the people we’d rather be with.
She once asked me why I have to go to work. I told her that everything costs money. I told her I need to work to make that money. I never took this into consideration before but now, I see things differently. Children do not want to feel like a burden or an expense. They want love and attention. Anything else is only rejection to them.
If I were to answer my daughter’s work question now, perhaps I would say that working is part of living. This is part of life. Maybe I would tell her about the pictures I kept of her. I’m not sure that she knew about this. Maybe I would tell her that I keep a picture of her by my things because when the days at work become ugly, I could look at her because then I would see something beautiful.
This is a note to you, the divorced dad:
I was you and I still am. I can say that no, not everything will be fair. Not everything will be good, and not everything will make sense. However, the one thing I wished I did more is pay attention to the signs that were in front of me. Time is always limited.
If I could reach back to years ago and intervene with the person I was, I would suggest that by any means necessary —make the most out of every moment. Arguing never solves anything. Worry about being happy and not about being “right.” You don’t need anyone to validate you. Worrying about validation from a source other than you is wasteful at best. Worry more about the limited moments we have with each other. And do not, by any means, ever forget the stories you share.
Do not forget the bedtime stories you used to read. Do not allow anger, fear, resentment or ego to take the place of one important thing —your kids are only young once. This is not a rehearsal. Never allow anything or anyone to interfere with the love in your heart. Do not give into distractions. Trust me, they have a way of separating us from what’s important.
I’m just going to put this song here; it’s something that reminds me of my little girl.