“I don’t like you anymore,” she says, her lip quivering.
“You’re not my daddy.” I look down at her blue eyes and the pain of her comments feels like a boot heel to the gut. I am caught reeling. Tears fill my eyes as I see her fighting back the tears in hers.
Going back to work was a hard decision. For the vast majority of the past four years, I was a stay at home parent.My daughter and I were largely inseparable and the long hours I now spend at work seem to have created more than a little rift.
I squat down so that we are eye to eye and take her little hands. She pulls away and fidgets, already wanting the conversation to be over with.
“You left me,” she says and she cannot fight her tears anymore. They spill down her cheeks in a river of confusion and hurt. I am left speechless and wishing I could make her understand. “Daddy has to work sweetie. I don’t want to, but this is how we buy food and toys and do fun things like Chuck E Cheese and the Kiddie Park.”
“NO!” Her only reply is a rejection of what I am trying to explain.
“Daddy will always come back home. I will never ever leave you but I still need to go to work so that we can survive and eat and play.” She clams up and starts playing with toys that are within reach, anything to distract her from how she is feeling.
I thought that she would eventually come around, that her pain would lessen and that she and I would be the best of friends and the closest of thieves once more. It’s been three months and she has not let me back in. In fact, she has become more resistant. Her demands of me become more strict as the days march forward; no cuddles, no hugs, no picking her up, no tickling, no teasing and no more putting her to bed.
I continue to interact as she allows, all the while reinforcing how much I love her, how much I miss her, how I will always be here for her and I do my best to maintain my presence, always positive, always uplifting and always around. I try to instill in her that no matter what, Daddy is here, Daddy loves her and no matter how upset she is, that she sees me always trying, maintaining, and persisting.
I go downstairs once she is in bed, heave a sigh that seems to weigh a thousand pounds and I fight back the tears that mourn for our once seemingly unbreakable relationship.
I breathe in and I breathe out and I feel my chest tighten as I fight against the pain I feel and the pain she is feeling.
I learned some time ago that meditation is not about avoiding how we feel but sitting with it. Allowing ourselves to fully understand without judgment, fighting, or grasping but this pain, but this feeling that I have somehow betrayed her, hurt her, bent her sense of security in our relationship isn’t as easy to sit with as other things I have faced.
In fact, this has thrown me for a loop—a sense of backsliding if you will. I have started to avoid my practice. I have started to look for the closest toy to distract myself with, not knowing how to fix or heal what she and I are feeling.
I admit that I am lost and hurting, depressed and fearful that I have created a rift that might not heal.
I get home from work, not knowing exactly what to do. She looks at me and I smile, her face crinkles up as she pouts at me. “I love you, Sugarbear!” I reinforce how I feel and what I have called her from the day she was born. I plop down on the floor and start playing with her toys, talking to them like they were my best friends. With a side glance I see her watching.
“ZOOOOOOM!” I take her Paw Patrol toy and pretend it’s flying. “Daddy! You’re doing it wrong!” She hops down on the floor and grabs it, sitting down next to me. “This is Sky, Daddy, she goes like this…” She proceeds to show me the proper way to play and as the minutes tick by all of her toys are around me and we are playing together.
She still doesn’t want me to put her to bed, but I see a glimmer in her eye. She tells me good night and blows me a kiss.
It’s not what it was but I know that like most things, with persistence, patience and love I will be able to reestablish what was lost. The little smiles, the little laughs, the little lingering touches that let me know she still wants Daddy to hold her. I sit in my room with the sting of earlier rejection still fresh, but not as painful.
I breathe in and feel a sense of hope—a sense that these small moments will still add up into an amazing story.