There are so many different things when it comes to a single parent’s life which one has to deal with. From missing your child for vast swaths of time, to figuring out what to tell your child about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus we are constantly thrown curveballs. It’s part and parcel of what it means to be a single parent. In many ways, the struggle goes beyond what you had to deal with when you were married, no matter how badly your relationship with your ex went. And among all these struggles, missing your child’s birthday hurts as much as anything else. The one thing as a parent you never want to stop doing is celebrating your child’s benchmarks. All you want to do is let them know you love them. And missing my child’s birthday today, it’s all I want to do. I love you Bethany.
Here is my love letter to you on your 12th Birthday:
You cannot imagine what it was like the first day you were born. I was sitting and staring at a hospital bed with your mom up in stirrups, waiting all night for you to come. They had decided to try to force you to come out from your mother’s stomach. But you didn’t want to come. You seemed to know better than all of the doctors and nurses trying to force you into coming into this world. You just needed to let us know that you were a wild and active child, tying your umbilical cord in a knot and wrapping it around your neck five times. I knew you loved to move around whenever you heard music, but wow.
Your love for music went far beyond that though. I remember when you were just a baby and we were lying down on the bed. You used to like to sit around on my chest and listen to me sing songs to you. Maybe me singing “Rainbow Connection” a half dozen times every time I sang to you gave you your love for all things Muppets. But who knows? What I loved the best were all those times you tried to sing along with me. It was like that moment with you and Oreo (your puppy) singing into the mic where he sang with you. It felt so special to have my daughter appreciate music and try to sing along with me. Whatever you thought of your dad’s singing voice after that, you loved it then.
“. . . me singing “Rainbow Connection” a half dozen times every time I sang to you gave you your love for all things Muppets. . . “
And then the relationship we had, reinforced the movies you loved as a child as well. I grew up when the Disney Channel was all movies all the time. And there were some marvelous Disney movies I feared you would miss out on. So I put on hold every last Disney movie I possibly could, giving you the opportunity to watch some of the classics from my youth. But when you found the Jungle Book, it was like you had struck gold. The pure joy in your heart watching the movie made my heart dance. Whether it was my ability to scat as well as Baloo, I didn’t know. But the joy you experienced I loved. It was pure and it was amazing.
But life wasn’t always fun and games for us back then. We had so much to deal with, even from your birth. It seemed like death was a constant reminder in our world during that time. You lost your uncle, your mother’s uncle and her cousin, all within the first two years of your life. I know I never knew my grandfather on my mother’s side, for which I felt a loss but never understood it. And my uncle died when I was six weeks old, hardly older than you when you lost yours. While I never understood it then and so didn’t really face death until later, it seemed you kept being reminded year after year.
“. . . You lost your uncle, your mother’s uncle and her cousin, all within the first two years of your life . . .”
And in some ways this has made life difficult, because you have suffered through the trauma your family faced year in and year out. You had to experience all of our stress from such a young age. Some of this was death in the family stuff, others of it was family infighting, and ultimately stuff with your parents fighting. Whether this lead you to like lying face down on your daddy’s arm and sucking gently on his finger, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I loved just having another way you and I could bond together.
This bond, unfortunately, has had its ups and downs. Sometime after your turned two, your mother and I discussed the possibility of going back to grad school. We both decided I would go. If I had to do it all over again, I do not believe I would do it again. We were stressed financially. And we thought this would help. Unfortunately, grad school hasn’t been the panacea we hoped it would be. What’s worse, it took away three years of my life I could have worked on strengthening the bond we were building. And it might have allowed me to be a better person and husband at the time as well.
I cannot say about the latter. What I can say is that I missed out on years with you I so desperately want back. I am not saying I was not there. This meant I came home every night. I made dinner for you and your mom. We would occasionally go to Disneyland together and watch the occasional movie together. But mostly I came home exhausted from work, made dinner for the two of you, worked late into the night on some project, and passed out with barely an opportunity to see you.
“. . . mostly I came home exhausted from work, made dinner for the two of you, worked late into the night on some project, and passed . . .”
And what’s worse, your parent’s relationship started to affect the relationship I had with you. She would frequently keep you in the room with her, letting you out only when I had a lot of stuff to do, and not enough time to spend with you. Then you would be disappointed I couldn’t spend time with you, and I would feel badly. I don’t know whether your mother was trying to punish me for not having enough time for her, or whether she just didn’t know how to deal with things. It made you feel like your daddy didn’t care enough. This made me sad.
I admit, I hated these years. There are so many other things I could say, but I don’t want to lay blame or make you feel bad about anything. They were never your fault. Sometimes broken people enter into a relationship and they don’t do the things necessary to build a strong and lasting bond. The children from this relationship suffer as a result. I am sure you suffered, even if you always put on a brave face. And I apologize whenever you were put between us, faced to hide things and keep secrets you never should have been entrusted with.
Unfortunately for you, the biggest secret you kept was your mother’s secret plans to leave. I am so sorry that became an issue. And when I was upset, I was never upset at you. I could speak a lot more about this, but I feel like it’s something I don’t want to burden you with until you are ready to hear it. So I will keep silent about this, beyond saying I truly was never upset about anything you did.
“. . . Sometimes broken people enter into a relationship and they don’t do the things necessary to build a strong and lasting bond . . .”
And ironically, I was not upset your mother was leaving. Some relationships have grown so toxic, it’s best for the two people to part. I do think people should try harder. Most don’t. Most feel like they shouldn’t have to do anything to make a relationship work. They act as if they believe the magical relationship fairy brings the “right people” together and will have things work for them. The wrong people, they believe, just aren’t compatible. So they keep searching. And then they lie to themselves and everyone else they gave it their all after. Whatever the case was with your family, I am not sure.
What I am sure of was how I felt in the moment. I felt beaten up because I worried desperately about losing you. For the past couple of years prior to separation your mother threatened to leave with you out of state. I don’t know what you were told. But she told me and many others she wanted to leave with you and run. Not because I would ever do anything to her. And not because I would do anything to you. She wanted to run because this was how she handled areas of her life. In fact, my moving in with your mother in the first place was to prevent her from running away from her problems again. (If you think your daddy shouldn’t have done this in the first place, you wouldn’t be the only one.)
“. . . They act as if they believe the magical relationship fairy brings the “right people” together and will have things work for them . . .”
But running to solve problems never works. You just confront problems in another situation and another setting. My fear of her running away from you lead me to act in very strange ways the first year upon separation and divorce. I barely had any time with you as it was. How could I possibly deal with less? She didn’t even allow me to see you for my 40th birthday because I wasn’t going to celebrate it with your Nana and Papa instead of with my parents and family. Things like this lead me to be afraid of losing even one second with you. Acting and other things we put on the back burner because I wouldn’t trade my time with you for anything.
I hope I didn’t hold on too tightly during this time. Because I wanted you and I to become the father and daughter I had started out being the day you were born. I wanted us to move past this. And we did in so many different ways.
You see, my greatest fear despite some reservations still, is the time lost would mean I would not be able to connect with you as your daddy. I have fears to this day that your mother will try to supplant me as your father. But what I didn’t count on was all that quality time lost in previous years being made up for by the quality of the time we would be able to have. For once, we didn’t have to go to Disneyland with your mother saying she was sick the whole time and didn’t want to do anything. We got to do whatever we wanted, ride on whatever ride we wanted, and try whatever interesting and unique food we wanted.
“. . . my greatest fear despite some reservations still, is the time lost would mean I would not be able to connect with you as your daddy . . .”
And we created new adventures for ourselves at different places like the Getty Center, Griffith Park Observatory, or Knott’s Berry Farm. And each of these places, in their own little way, became our place of fun, education, food and connecting. You may think I only wanted to torture you through a long ride out to L.A. followed by staring two seconds into a microscope. (You may have forgiven me because you got to watch them play with dry ice and learn about comets, but you still looked at me funny along the way.) But all of those places weren’t necessarily about the place themselves, even if you loved Ghost Town Alive. For me, all of those places were about us.
Would you talk to me about your friends at school? What things were you interested in doing? Did you have any new thoughts about what you wanted to do with your life? And how can I help you get there? Learning all about these things let me in to your little world in ways I cannot express. I know you talk about your mother talking to you on the phone. You think she talks most of the conversation. But I do know she engages your interest. But she’s around you every moment. She doesn’t have to work. So she volunteers at school and sees all of your friends and gets to know all of these things. She’s around when you express your frustrations about everything. I’m not around. I get five minutes at night on the phone, if that.
I don’t get told about band concerts, and miss events because I am not told, or don’t hear about them until the last moment, and I cannot get off work. But, I realize you understand this and don’t blame me. But I blame me. Because I want to be there for you. And I have to sit there and watch as your mother acts like I don’t care. It hurts more than I can say.
“. . . But all of those places weren’t necessarily about the place themselves, even if you loved Ghost Town Alive. For me, all of those places were about us . . .”
But I don’t want to get into what information does or does not get to me. What I do want to say is how much I love hearing about you and the things you tell me. There is almost no better thing in the world than when you tell me your innermost thoughts. While I am not a genie, I am your dad. And I would wish every good wish and dream into existence for you if it were possible. I want the world of possibilities to be open to you. And I would do whatever it took to do that. But it all starts with knowing those things about you that are important to you. It’s why almost nothing beats hearing about your life and its goals and dreams.
I do have to admit there is one better thing. When you tell me spontaneously you love me, as if nothing prompted it but your love for me as your dad. Nothing beats it. Nothing.
Everything seemed to be going well until we got a little side tracked of late. I know sometimes it’s hard to see, but I began blogging for you. It was to provide you with so many new opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I know they haven’t been everything I would have wished up front. But what I hoped you would see from the experience is hard work pays off. I want you to see your dad working hard for something and him achieving dreams and goals for you and our family.
“. . . what I hoped you would see from the experience is hard work pays off. I want you to see your dad working hard for something and him achieving dreams and goals for you and our family . . .”
I know you see those dreams and goals starting to come to fruition. A Night at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel and celebration of the Peanut’s Festival was amazing. You should have seen the look on your face when you saw all the swag. And you seeing this work pay off makes me feel good. But all of the swag came with a year of grueling effort and late nights trying to send out the one last tweet, or make sure I finished the post for the morning. It took effort.
But none of the effort would be important to me if it meant the relationship you and I have took a back seat. I do all these crazy things but I want you involved in them. So if this means you help your daddy take pictures, write stories, write code, or we just step aside from everything for a couple hours every day, we will go forward and do that. Because your daddy wants you to know he loves you, all day, every day. And there is no one more important.
“. . . your daddy wants you to know he loves you, all day, every day . . .”
Ultimately, your daddy just wants you to know how proud he is of you. I see so many beautiful things available to you in your life. You are so gifted and talented in so many ways I wish I would have been. You put yourself out there in ways that I can only have dreamed about. If I was going to be on stage I would have had a panic attack, and yet you thrive there. You go out there and put yourself out there in ways I can only dream.
With this talent you will be able to connect with people wherever you are. I have seen you go up to people you have never met before and just work things out with them. Immediately you are like the best of friends with them. It will help you network with so many different people in your future. And networking will be so beneficial to you in almost every aspect of your life. With this ability you have a great future in front of you.
And then I have seen you just recently start to express other various new interests like coding. And you sat there coding and expressing how you loved to code in Java and php the best. I am not sure whether you could see my jaw hit the floor. I have done some coding but I have struggled in both of those programming languages. You are so amazing being able to learn that at such a young age.
“. . . You put yourself out there in ways that I can only have dreamed about. If I was going to be on stage I would have had a panic attack, and yet you thrive . . .”
As a dad I couldn’t be more proud of the amazing, sensitive, loving, and gifted person you are becoming. As you are entering into these preteen and teen years, you will be going through so many different things in your life. Some for which I will be there. And some, because of the situation of your parents, I will not be there. But I will always want to be there. And I will always be there to rejoice when you want to rejoice. I will also be there for you to weep when you need to weep.
I missed your being there for your birthday this year, unfortunately. But I will always be there for you in spirit. There will be ups and downs in your future. And your dad will always be there when you need him, no matter what you go through. Whether distance or time or life splits us apart, not one day will I not be there for you the moment you call.
With all that said, I want you to know you have my blessing every day for the next 12 years of your life. May every part of your life be blessed. May the things you do in the world take shape in beautiful and amazing ways. And with all of your relationships may you draw people to you who make every day better and beautiful. May you grow spiritually, personally and professionally. And finally may you take all of the things in life which seem like failures and turn them into beautiful successes. I will look forward to seeing you these next 12 years and how you will grow as a person. And I will be cheering you on in every way. B, I love you.
Continue The Conversation
I know this letter is my love letter to my child. I hope some thing resonated with you as parents, especially for those of you who are single parents. But I would love to know what things you do to celebrate your child’s birthday? Have you ever written a love letter to them? What do you do when you miss the birthday for whatever reason? How do you work out celebrating your child’s birthday anyway?
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If you liked this post, please like this post at the end, follow me here at the Guide, and share this post on social media, or any one of them works as well. I hope you have a blessed day and you do something to show the loved one’s in your life that you love them today.
Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life