Walking the Cat . . .

Because life's kinda like that . . .

How I Met My Daughter

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“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

If having a “checkered” past means you’ve gained a lot of experience (or as Oscar Wilde would have it, made a lot of mistakes), my life (my past life, anyway) would have to be described as “plaid”. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I haven’t always made the necessary effort to correct them. I’d have to say I’ve been adept at burning bridges; not always a wise choice, but I’ve never been accused of having an overabundance of wisdom.

When my second marriage ended (yes, I’ve been married “more than once” ) I was devastated, but determined to remain a part of my daughter’s life. My ex-wife had other ideas. The divorce was “amicable” only for its lack of bloodshed, and the fact that I was granted “joint custody” did little to lessen the tension between our warring camps (my ex-wife and her family on one side; me and my family on the other). The petty bickering and backbiting went on for weeks. Then, suddenly, it stopped. At first, I was relieved; later, I became worried. For weeks there was no word from my ex. No angry phone calls about child support (my checks were always on time), no complaints about visitation. Nothing. I contacted Social Services but they were no help. “Unless you have a location for her,” the caseworker said, “there’s nothing we can do. We simply don’t have the resources to track them down. Your best bet would be to hire a private investigator to find your ex-wife and daughter.” The interview ended with an overworked caseworker closing my file and reaching for another.

I was completely disheartened. There was no way I could afford a private detective, and even if I could, I had no idea where to start looking. The only hope I had was that maybe she and Sara, my daughter, would return, maybe to visit her parents, and I would be able to confront her. I tried keeping tabs on her parents (from a safe distance; the last thing I needed was to be arrested for “stalking”, which I had every reason to believe they would do if they knew I was looking for my ex-wife and Sara). Eventually, after months of “hoping against hope”, I had to stop. The only consolation I had, and it was very slight consolation at that, was that Sara was with her mother, and I knew my ex, as much as she despised me, would do nothing to jeopardize Sara’s wellbeing.

Years passed and the anger, resentment, self-recrimination and pain faded. But it never completely went away. I would find myself, at odd hours, wondering where Sara was, what she was doing. Eventually, even those thoughts faded and I resigned myself to never knowing my daughter.

Sometimes, no matter how much, or how badly we want to correct, or at least try to correct, our mistakes too much time has passed, a bridge is too badly burned to repair, and the mistake remains. Other times, if we’re lucky, just enough time has passed and we get that chance to, if not completely erase a mistake, at least make it easier to bear.

In early 2010, my mother’s health took a turn for the worst. The family gathered for what would be our last visit with her. She passed peacefully, surrounded by her children and some of her grandchildren. I found myself wishing Sara had had an opportunity to meet her grandmother. I thought mom would’ve been proud. The family opted for a memorial service as opposed to a graveside service. Mom wasn’t one for mournful occasions. She had often said when her time came, she would prefer the “joyful noise” of New Orleans style service. After the memorial service, at which each person in attendance received a kazoo, the assembled paraded around the room and out into the parking lot, accompanied by the “joyful noise” of 100-plus kazoos and a trombone. If she had been there, I like to think mom would’ve been in the lead.

Once in the parking lot, we broke up into groups to share stories and to “critique” each of the siblings’ eulogies. I, inveterate and unrepentant smoker that I am, lit a cigarette and chatted amiably with friends and family until my brother, Mike, grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me away from the group.  He had a somewhat stern look on his face, and I feared I was about to be on the receiving end of one of his not-infrequent rants about the evils of smoking. Mike guided me through the crowd and back into the funeral home to a side office. When he opened the door, I was confronted by several members of the family and a few close friends.

I remember thinking, “Oh, shit! An intervention!” Once in the small office, Mike left my side and disappeared into the crowd. A moment later he emerged with his arm around someone, a girl (a woman, really) I’d never seen. The crowd parted and Mike and his companion stepped forward.

“Steve, I have someone here you should meet,” Mike said with a smile. “This is Sara, your daughter.”

I was literally stunned. I stood there unable to speak, staring at this stranger with a sad-sort-of-smile on her face; a face that looked exactly like her mother’s.

“I know you’re not evil,” Sara said. In what seemed a heartbeat, we closed the gap between us — not just of space but of time, years of time — and collided in each others’ arms. Overcome with emotion, we just held each other tightly, fiercely, and wept. I don’t remember how long we held that embrace; not nearly long enough, I can tell you. Together, we found a place to sit and I tried to explain everything that happened in the intervening years, and made no sense at all.  It took Sara several minutes to calm me, to explain there was no hurry. We had all the time in the world to catch each other up. And so we just sat there for a long time, saying nothing, just being together.

Sometimes, when mistakes, big mistakes, are made you don’t get to make them right.  Then again, sometimes you do.

Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 070Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 082

Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 071Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 050Hagerstown - July 11-14 2013 048  These are my daughter, Sara and my granddaughters, Kellilyn (“Kelli”), Abagail (“Scout”), Julia (“Jules”) & Lillian (“Lily”).


2 Responses

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  1. Still one of the best stories I get to tell!


    July 3, 2015 at 10:18 am

  2. Beautiful!


    July 31, 2015 at 6:54 am

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