“They do need you,” Paul replied. “Didn’t you have to teach them when they were babies how to sleep on their own by allowing them to scream and cry a little?”
After I disabled their phones, they responded with anger. But at least there was a response. When I picked up my daughters for the Christmas holiday and brought them again to my mother’s house, Marisa narrowed her eyes and said, “You’ve changed.”
I thought about the different ways I could respond, and the first two that bubbled to the surface were silence and anger. It was how I had responded for most of my life, silent about who I was, and angry at the world for not accepting me. What did that teach my children? If I wanted my daughters to understand me, I had to claim my identity and my pride. I needed to accept myself.
“Yes, I have changed,” I replied, “for the better.”
When Marisa was a toddler, at night, she used to run into our bedroom and hop into our bed. After many sleepless nights, we put a sleeping bag next to the bed and told her she could sleep there and not disturb us. Somehow we always found each other in the dark, my arm dangling over the bed, her hand in mine.
Late at night over that Christmas holiday, I lay in bed in the tiny upstairs bedroom of my mother’s house, staring through the window at the crescent moon cradled in the arms of a pine. I called Paul and lamented the passage of time and the years lost, never to be regained.
“Dad?” I heard a tiny voice and a gentle knock on my bedroom door.
“Did you hear what she called you, Daddy-O? Call me later,” Paul said and hung up.
“Come in,” I replied.
Marisa opened the door, ran to my bed, and jumped in.
As I held her small hand in mine, I wondered if perhaps there was some secret part of me that had wanted my daughters to call me Bill. Not because I believed that they were beginning to understand I was not always a father, but because I wanted to believe that they had grown into young adults.
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