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Fathers and Families: Open Letter from a Dad who Misses His Kids
The Birth of Our First Child
There aren't many days that go by when the memory of Holly's birth doesn't cross my mind. It was a life changing event in every way - for both of us. We couldn't know that two more daughters would follow her then or have any idea that, in the years to come, we would go from Indiana to North Carolina to Georgia, then separately to Michigan, and then for me, back to Indiana.
We dreamed she would be as bright, faithful and wonderful as she is, but we never knew that cleaning her own room would be one of her greatest challenges. So many of our hopes when she was born are coming to fruition, we both have worked very hard to see that happen.
I remember the night you went in to labor so well. You were six days (or eight, depending on which doctor's guess you applied) past due, our apartment was spotlessly clean, a warm pie fresh out of the oven, and you were smiling.
We knew she was coming soon, but each day that passed after the due date dragged. Your patience was wearing thin. We made love - hadn't done that in months, and found it to be a bit of a challenge, but with days passing and no baby, thought it was worth a try. Something worked.
About 6pm you started having contractions and I could see your pain. I didn't enjoy that. For much of the next 18 hours, I was nervous - a little afraid. At the very end, in that surreal operating room where your face was hidden behind a curtain from the dayglo beam of your coated belly, I was very afraid - excited, but afraid. What if something happened to you? As routine as it was, with my own wife on that table, it seemed dangerous.
And turned out that it was. But thankfully everything worked out very smoothly. I'm sure it didn't feel smooth to you at the time, rather painful and exhausting. You did all the work at that moment, and I got to go upstairs with Holly.
OK, I do remember my first words as she was born, "There's his head." Neither of us knew whether we were having a boy or girl at that time. But I jumped ahead - seemed to suggest I wanted a boy. Of course there was a place in my heart that did make me want a son, but I wanted a daughter just as much. I had as many dreams, hopes and thoughts about a little girl as I ever could about a boy.
But somehow those words came out of my mouth. There was laughter from the surgical staff. That was good. They were relaxed, and showed they knew everything was going just fine. Within seconds, a beautiful, perfect, round-headed, bald, little baby girl emerged, as red as a tomato and crying almost the instant she first felt the cold air on her naked body.
They wrapped her in her blanket, put her under a warm light, took her initial scores and then held her close to you and me. I held her, together with the nurse, and you got to see Holly for the first time. Seconds later they rushed me out with her and finished the surgical procedures on you.
Holly got her shot of Vitamin K, cried only for a moment and then they handed her to me. They left us alone. She looked at me, and our eyes fixed on each other. She had this amazing look. It was a bond I could not even fathom.
Here she was, a few moments into this world and looking me in the eyes like she had known me all her life. Well, she had! A very short life, for sure, but all of it nonetheless. Her look said, "I trust you," on the one hand, but seemed to also say, "Don't worry, I just came from heaven, and I want you to know, everything is going to be okay," on the other.
It was a truly amazing, unmatchable moment in my life. I have watched as both of my other children were born, and saw three very different births, all with different doctors attending. Every moment of each has been incredibly special, but I have to confess that the moment I held Holly for the first time, and we were alone together - truly changed me like nothing else ever has or could.
Before that, I was committed and determined to be a good Dad. But it was all just an idea that existed in a vacuum. It was a good idea and gave me the strength of character to follow through on what I wanted to be for my kids.
But when I held her in my arms that very first time, everything in my world and worldview changed. I no longer had a shade of doubt about how we got here - God gave us that beautiful, little life, it couldn't happen without a loving Creator. And what I wanted to do, and to be for her changed too. I knew I would do whatever I could to go to bed each night in the home I could provide for her and her siblings (and you), and wake up in that place in the morning.
I would wake up every morning in that same place, teach them, bounce them on my knee, hold them, love tehm, play with them, given them everysingle thing I have to give. That was what I was made to do. You saw that in me, so did your family - and knew that it was good.
But somehow, some time that changed. You didn't so much reject it, it's more like you abandoned it. I don't say that with malice, Heidi, it's just true. It's what happened - and what is now. I don't, can't understand it.
You didn't abandon it in the usual way, you didn't walk away from the girls, you left me instead, took the girls and went as far away as you could manage and have worked constantly now for six years to do whatever you can to keep them from having contact with me in any way. Fear, loathing, hate - nothing can really explain it. You'v ejust abandoned what we had and what I could give to our girls - something that was very, very good.
I want to say something here that is very awkward. You've hurt me very deeply and I know our lives do not belong together as a couple - I've known that for a long time. But the truth is, I do still care about you. It would have actually been okay if you had rejected me or even what I was giving to our girls.
If you had rejected it, something could change. You could find a reason and a way to fix it and bring it back. But abandonment is a different thing. It hurts, but while it hurts the person who's still reaching out in the beginning, in the end, it must hurt the person, the people on the other side the most.
I know this to be true, but very hard to explain. It's hard to explain because so many things intervene between the act of cutting off an important relationship in your life and when the hurts return to you. Yet even if I could explain it, it's very unlikely you would listen. You've chosen to cut me out as a person of influence - to you, and in any way you can, to our children - now for you, I only exist for a very, narrow functional purpose .
One thing truly dumbfounds me, though. I'm certainly not alone in all this. Millions, literally millions of parents experience the same loss of connection with their children I am experiencing, but yet we live in a culture that tolerates, even accepts this as if it is normal, perhaps even healthy.
When a culture reaches a point where the alienation of children from one parent or the other is so open, and so accepted, it has devalued children to a point where all of the horrible things we imagine or fear might happen to our kids is not just possible, but probably inevitable. The protection of children is quite naturally dependent on the biological and functional bonds they maintain with both parents.
Heidi, I don't want to make this letter a forum for an even bigger problem. We have our own situation which is very real and very painful. It's terribly painful for me, but it's painful for three main reasons - the pain it will cause for Holly, Abby and Hope.
So Many Memories
Those memories of Holly's birth are just a beginning. In the eleven years that followed, a mountain of memories, photographs, ups, downs - everything a young family goes through, came our way. Abby sitting on my lap to get her to eat her breakfast. Hope resting over my shoulder for hours at a time, even while I worked. Holly playing soccer, then Abby trying too. Dance classes, choirs, Sunday school, laughs, tears, and lots and lots of joy.
Do you remember when we were getting ready to move to North Carolina and Holly and I took a day to come down to McCormick's Creek? Her love for horses started that day. We bounced along on a trail ride on an old, owrn horse named Charlie - and Holly treated that horse like it was her very best friend.
Or what about Abby being my helper taking care of our yard down in Georgia - pushing her little, plastic lawn mower like she was on a mission. Do you remember when you were gone to your retreat and the ice storm hit? The girls and I camped out in our family room - they loved that!
What do you do with all those memories I wonder? What do you expect them to do with them? Can you really get rid of them? Is that even possible? These are just a tiny slice of the hundreds and hundreds of memories we made. And you know, we've made many, many more even since we've been apart - many that you will never even know about. Memories your own kids have, but can never even feel free to share with you. And of course, there are many memories they cannot feel free to share with me. How strange is all of this? How unhealthy is it for them - for us?
Do you even understand how truly sad this is? I don't ask you that as a condemnation - though I know my words may sound as if I do. But this has gone on for years and years. The condemnation stopped a very long time ago. Now I only hope and dream that something, somehow could bring about change. That our kids could live and enjoy an open, happy relationship with both of their parents - not living behind a carefully constructed wall, designed to keep them from knowing or showing any love in any way for the only father they will ever have.
My heart breaks every day.
The Way it Is Now
Five years ago, when I followed you after you took our kids to the furthest reaches of the universe and a place with truly nightmarish economic conditions, I found it next to impossible to survive. No one cared about my professional licenses, education or all of my great accomplishments in other places at other times. But I tried, and tried - and tried.
So this past Summer, I tried something different. The girls are growing. Holly is almost out of high school and she is doing very well. The other two girls are a different story. There is this facade that they are flourishing in the environment you have them living in - with you and their maternal grandparents. They do well in school.
The girls and I get along well when we are together, but it has been very tough. You know I'm a single Dad, living close to poverty while you enjoy extraordinary wealth and privilege. I have contributed over a third of my net earnings (nearly $100,000 to you), subsidizing your lifestyle since I have been there, under court order and the threat of jail if I fail to pay. I don't see the girls benefiting much from this.
From what I see in your home, they would live exactly the same way if you took no money from me at all. This isn't surprising - you have testified under oath that you have to use this money to repay loans to your parents for the incredible sums they paid attorneys in their efforts to destroy me - literally to destroy me as a human being and viable father. So it is the cost I must pay in order to be able to have any time with my children now, apart from the consequences would impose if I did not.
After five years of wondering whether I could keep food in the refrigerator or keep the heat on for the next weekend the girls spent with me, I decided to go back to where I'm from, to do what I am trained to do, and to be in a place where I knew I could earn a living from month-to-month - a place where I could actually look forward to establishing something that I know will benefit our daughters in the future.
I knew the risk. With a court order that says the girls deserve a fair amount of time with me if I live close to you, but very little time with me if I happen to need to live elsewhere in order to earn a living, coupled with your determination to make the time we have together as limited and difficult as you possibly can, I knew moving away would present a whole new set of obstacles to my relationship with our daughters.
These obstacles are painful. They mean that I have even less input into their upbringing. Less time for building memories, less time to just give them my love. It hurts. So, less than a month ago, I made the move. And everyone I have talked to since has given me the same advice - contact you, let you know when I can be there, ask for that time with the girls. And that's exactly what I have done.
Last week I wrote to tell you that, four weeks in advance, I would be coming into town to see Holly's high school play. Could I have the girls for the weekend - or would you accommodate them spending most of the weekend with me. Your answer? The very same answer you have given every time I have asked for time that was not specifically ordered by the court in the past six years - "NO!"
Not, here's what we could do, not here's what is best for the girls, not even thank you for making the effort to work with me and to see the girls - just no. No...the girls don't need to see their Dad. No, all the love you have given them doesn't mean a thing as far as you are concerned. No, all the support you have given me (over $500,000 in total if you go back through all the years of our relationship), does not in any way instill an ounce of gratitude for which you would want to encourage the relationship between your daughters and the father who loves them. No, you do not have a single reason why the girls and I should not be spending time together, but you DO have the power to keep that from happening - so you do.
This is why my heart is broken, Heidi. This is why I am so hurt. The kids are hurt! Our three daughters are the ones who have suffered. They don't even like being in northern Michigan - 1,000 miles from the happy home life we gave them together for so many years. They are isolated, suppressed and confused. They cannot have a pet in your home now. They cannot even have friends. They cannot have anything that you cannot control - 100% control.
I've run out of things to do. Spent so much money, so much time, so much energy in courts, in counseling sessions, pleading with you, explaining, trying to help you understand.
Now I'm writing you in this way, open to the whole planet, in the hope that someone, somewhere is out there who you would listen to and who could help you understand the harm you have done and continue to do to our children. Not only to help you understand that, but even to help you see the harm it has done to you.
If I could change things, there is much I would do. But one of the most important things I would do is to help you have a chance to have any kind of relationship with our girls in the future. Because the way things are now, the truth is, you won't - really can't. The only relationship you have with them is based on your complete control over them. But how will you maintain that in the future? They will grow up and life will get much bigger for them.
I know you could never escape your own mother's control. And you must somehow hope the same will be true for our girls. Because your whole life is invested in controlling them. You don't have anything else that seems to even matter to you. But there are three of them and they will not want to spend every Winter day of the rest of their lives shoveling snow in the great, white north.
I know this may sound harsh. But truly, I don't mean it that way. I want to help. I always have wanted to help you. I saw what you felt and ho you hurt when you were young. I saw how you wanted to escape the grip your mother had over you. And I saw how you could not. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't help you do that.
But I can't any more help you keep our girls where you might want them, than I could help you break free from your own mother. What I can do is to do everything I can to help our girls and be there for them in the best way I can.
Heidi, they do need their Dad. They need me just the way I am. They need my love. They need my time. They need the fun things we do together and they need my hugs, smiles and encouragement. Please, whatever you do - don't keep this from them. They were born with their Dad being the first to watch, the first to hold, the first to love. Let them have this love.
Really, only you can keep that from them. And that will hurt them more than anything. Love them enough to let them have my love too. It may be the best gift you can give them. I'm asking you, with a very broekn heart, please...