I never met my daughter’s father. He was in jail when she was born, and several towns away when her adoption was finalized.
The charges he’d been serving weren’t his first, and they wouldn’t be his last. He was a severe alcoholic who struggled with demons from a difficult past, and when the little girl he helped create was taking her first breath, he was serving time for physically harming her mother while she was pregnant.
Of course, no one ever told me any of that — and to this day, I still haven’t heard the full details of what happened. All I know is what I’ve been able to piece together from court records, and what my daughter’s birth mother told me one day, when I asked if I should be worried he’d show up in the future.
“Is he dangerous?” I asked.
She paused and let out a sigh.
“Your idea of danger and my idea of danger are probably very different,” she said.
My heart broke for her a little that day. Not just for the massive disparity between our lives, but also because she seemed so clearly resigned to expecting less from the world.
The details of her life are harder than most, and she struggles with addiction as well, but I love my daughter’s birth mother dearly. Still, sometimes I wonder if she pursued adoption in part to be able to separate herself from him. I suppose I’ll never really know.
Whenever the subject of my daughter’s birth father would come up, I’d try to proceed with caution. To my little girl, I said only that he was sick; struggling with a disease he didn’t know how to fight. She has a picture of him and she knows his name. But he never made any attempt to meet either of us. I only ever spoke to him twice on the phone myself — once before the adoption was final, and once after.
He requested photos of her when she was a few months old, and I sent them happily — but that was it. I never heard from him again.
As the years went by, I stopped worrying that he might turn up. While we maintained an open adoption with my daughter’s birth mother, complete with visits whenever she requested, I’ll admit part of me was grateful her dad never tried to pursue the same.
I was torn between wanting my daughter to have as many connections to her birth family as possible, and wanting to protect her from a person I only knew terrible things about.
“He’d never hurt either one of you,” her birth mother once assured me. But I never understood why she saw a difference in what he was capable of doing to us, considering what he’d done to her.
I never grew the courage to ask. And then one day, I got a call that finally put my lingering questions to rest.
He was gone. My daughter’s birth father had died.
When the call came in, my little girl was actually beside me. We were about to head off on a fun adventure when the news hit me out of nowhere.
As I hung up, I wondered what I was meant to do next. Tell her right away? Keep the news from her forever? Cancel our plans out of respect for what had just been lost?
Or should we continue going, because he was nothing more than a photo and a name anyway?
My heart raced as I struggled with a swirl of emotions I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
The first emotion, of course, was sadness for my little girl, who will now never get a chance to know the man who helped create her. But there was also relief — and a lot of it. Because the worry that he might one day turn up and harm her was gone. Just like that.
I never would have wished for his death. But there was part of me that felt a little less afraid knowing he was gone; and I hated myself for that.
In the end, I decided to continue on with our day. I didn’t want to ruin my daughter’s happy mood with news of a man she didn’t even know.
But that night, I sat down and I pulled out her adoption book. I pointed to the only picture we had of him, and said, “Do you remember who this is?”
She beamed and said, “That’s my daddy.”
I nodded. Then told her the truth.
I told her that he had passed away and that he was now in heaven. That she would never be able to meet him, but that she now had her own personal angel to guide her.
I watched as her face fell, and I answered the inevitable questions that followed as best I could.
That was weeks ago now, and she hasn’t brought it up since.
In the end, I’m glad I told her the truth. I hated the idea of her coming to me a few years down the line, asking to meet the father she’d never known, only to be devastated by the truth. I think it was better this way, telling her while both the idea of him and his death are still so abstract to her young mind.
Now it will always just be a part of her story. A piece of her history she’s forever known.
But it’s a sad piece. A hard truth about a man who lived a hard life. A man neither one of us will ever really get to know the good in now.