“Daddy, you’re the one who missed it!”
Those words came stinging back to me the other day. I was looking at a picture of graduates of my school, Howard University, splashed across the front page of the New York Times. They were part of the audience for President Barack Obama’s commencement address at “HU…U KNOW!”
I know one of the students in the picture. That student has a father doing a bid. I met Moms, Grandma and Auntie at the show, but Pops couldn’t be there. He was unavoidably (hell, maybe avoidably) detained.
I know what it’s like to miss it. I missed my daughter’s 21st birthday. We did talk on the phone, though, and I went back to my part of the block looking sideways so no one would see the tears form. “You missed it,” said the voice in my brain, working its familiar guilt trip formula on my feelings. “But at least I called her…she knows I care,” roared back the Daddy in me that refused to allow bars and wire to separate me from that little girl who was growing into a marvelous lady.
I thought about that when I saw my student in that picture. I wondered what else her Pops had missed…First boyfriend? Prom night? High school graduation? College…
When I came home, I said I wasn’t going to miss nothing.
Then it happened…better put, I happened. Family gathering, everybody’s there…but me. No self care plan, a relapse, no responsibility, “can’t let them see me like this…” And I missed again.
When I called her to apologize, my daughter was forever gracious. She accepted my apology. But she ain’t a little girl anymore, so she stood up to her Pops and said “Daddy, you’re the one who missed it!”
She had told me she wished I was there. But she wasn’t going to run a guilt trip on me. She’s too smart for that. She just simply pointed out that while we, as fathers, are often the bad guy because we miss special events like birthdays, proms, weddings and graduations, our kids make it anyway. Many of them use our absence as motivation to do better. But my daughter pointed out something we don’t talk about. When we miss an event, whether because of incarceration or intoxication, in jail or indifference, mama drama or money’s funny…we lose a part of ourselves because WE missed it. I should have been there, not just for her, but for me, because my kids are a part of me and to miss their events is to miss a part of my own soul. I owe it to myself to be a part of their lives.
See, sometimes we are avoidably detained– detained by fears or faults, addictions or attitudes. Not gonna let that happen again, now that I’m home. After all, one day she might be on the cover of the New York Times.