Every night, I read my two-year-old a bedtime story. Aside from the obvious benefits—helping develop language, emotional and social skills, and fostering a love for reading—it gives us a few quiet moments to cuddle and connect at the end of the day. A couple of nights ago, Kaia and I read a story about a puppy who was bored and looking for something to do. Nothing-to-do Puppy complains to his daddy, who tells puppy to invite his friends over and make a tent clubhouse. At the end of the story, Kaia didn’t ask about puppy and his friends, she struggled to understand just one concept/character from the book: daddy.
Kaia doesn’t really know her daddy. Consequently, she doesn’t really understand what a daddy is. After reading this book, she pointed to me and called me “daddy.” I can see her point. As defined in the context of the story, daddy is puppy’s caregiver. He’s the one who encourages puppy and provides guidance. And since we’re talking about cartoon dogs, gender wasn’t something that she needed to reconcile. While Kaia has several people who love her—mamama (grandma), papa (grandpa), uncles, aunts and cousins—she knows they are not daddy.
Defining daddy is something that Kaia just began to explore. A couple of weeks ago, we were visiting with my boyfriend and his daughter, and Kaia called him daddy. At first, I thought she was saying dirty. (Let’s face it, two-year-olds aren’t the most articulate.) But eventually, I realized what she was actually saying. She didn’t develop this idea on her own. She had been hearing my boyfriend’s daughter call him daddy all day. I think she may have thought daddy was his name. Understanding the source of the misunderstanding, however, didn’t make me feel any better about the reality of the situation, which is, Kaia doesn’t know what a daddy is because she doesn’t have one.
Not the Father
Technically, yes, Kaia has a father. But he has largely chosen not to be a part of her life.
When I was pregnant, Kaia’s dad tried to persuade me to have an abortion. He told me then that he never wanted kids, and his actions have shown me since. He “worked from home” during her delivery; he went home during the hospital stay for hours each day to sleep; and since I brought her home, he has visited infrequently, approaching that time like it’s a dreaded task rather than a privilege and a joy. While he saw her fairly regularly for the first five months, as soon as I attempted to serve him for child support, he had just the excuse he needed to disappear.
In the year and a half since, Kaia has seen her dad a handful of times. He drops in every couple of months and stays for a couple of hours. The last time she saw him was 4½ months ago, and then only because she was in the ICU. He even missed her birthday in February, which wasn’t surprising because he missed her first birthday and pretty much every other milestone before and since.
A Secure Attachment
Since Kaia’s dad is not around, she doesn’t understand that he is her father. Honestly, I’m glad for that. I want my little girl surrounded by people who love her. I don’t want Kaia to know that one of the two people in the world who are supposed to love her the most, apparently doesn’t give a damn. Like most parents, I want to protect her from the ugly things in life—and a parent who doesn’t care is pretty high on that list.
But I also know that someday, I might have to hide my disgust and watch as she develops a relationship with her dad. By virtue of the fact that I want to protect her from the truth of his actions, I am also enabling him to return to her life at some point with no consequences for that behavior. I know several people who idolized an absent parent because they craved that parent’s affection and approval. If that happens with Kaia, I know that she will only seem to prefer her dad because she’s confident in my love for her, and she knows that there is nothing she can do to lose that love. That knowledge won’t prevent the reality of the situation from breaking my heart.
When I’m honest with myself, I realize that I am to blame. I chose to be with her father. I ignored the red flags and past negative experiences, and made a baby with one of the most selfish people I have ever known. And now Kaia is paying for that. As much as I hate him, I still hope that one day he’ll realize how special our little girl is. I hope that he’ll begin to be interested in her life, and learn to sacrifice for her happiness as I have in the two years I’ve been blessed to be her mother. I hope with all my heart that one day he will become the father she deserves and that she will only remember being surrounded by love from everyone important in her life.