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Father's Day Gifts

by Mark Bell  
10/07/2009 / Family

It's a very strange feeling to send your oldest child out in to the world. It is something every parent knows is coming, but doesn't quite know how to face when it comes. I can tell you it is a lonely empty feeling. I know, I had to do it this Father's Day.

My daughter is a beautiful, intelligent woman. She is everything a parent could hope for. She is not perfect. But, that isn't important. She is my daughter. And, that is all that really counts in the end.

As I hugged her good bye that day, I was taken back to when she was only 6 months old. You see, that was the last time I had seen her. She was a beautiful baby. I remember standing by her bed and just watching her sleep. Her mother and I went through the process of a divorce then. Fault isn't important, I certainly have to shoulder my fair share, if not most, of the blame.

I basically lost it then. Personal failure can do strange things to people. Especially when those failures are major ones. In my case, I checked out of reality in a lot of ways. Money didn't matter. Relationships didn't matter. Truth didn't matter. All that counted was this little world I had created for myself, and for a long time, I was able to hold that together in spite of numerous failures. I couldn't hold a steady job because I couldn't acknowledge the truth of my situation. I couldn't bring myself to even live up to my side of the divorce decree. I was thrown out of the military. I was evicted from three different addresses. I couldn't keep friends. And through it all, my little girl was growing up.

I owe her mother a great debt. I owe her step-father an even bigger one. They maintained a wonderful home where my little girl grew up. As it turns out, he was a pretty good daddy. I'm glad. She deserved one.

I never saw her first steps. She was barely crawling when I saw her last. I didn't get to hear her first words. I wasn't there. I never paid the child support. I never called, never sent a card. It makes no sense to me now, looking back. I do not for the life of me understand how I managed to get into that position. But, nevertheless, I did.

Eventually, my second marriage disintegrated. I lived out of my car until it was towed away. And, then, I moved into a street shelter. There are a lot of good things to be said about such places. They do a great job of trying to help people who want to be helped. I saw all kinds of people there, in all kinds of situations. There were people who didn't want anything to do with society. There were people who had hit hard times and just didn't have anywhere else to go. And, yes, there were people who were trying to get a free ride. But there weren't many of those.

Before I arrived, I was a very proud, arrogant, and deceived person. It was a hard thing for me to move to such a place. I cried. That was when God took out my old heart and stated building a new heart inside me. I think that was when the healing of my mind began. I know it was when I began to shed some of the deception. That was about twelve years ago.

It has been a long road for me, those twelve years. God has taught me many lessons about myself; some wonderful, and some very hard. I have come to understand the power of the words I speak. I am learning to understand the way my attitude changes the way my words impact people. After 40 years of living, I am learning lessons I should have learned when I was a kid. I am still learning to control my temper. But, there are worse things to have to keep working on.

Meanwhile, my little girl was becoming a teenager. And, I wasn't there. I didn't get to see her on the night of her Prom. I didn't get to see the guy who was her first date. Instead I had questions, and no answers. Why would God let my heart hurt so much for my little girl, and not make a way for me to take my responsibilities? I was broke, and couldn't seem to change that no matter how hard I worked. The car would break. Or, I would lose my job, or get sick. My life still seemed to be one failure after another. But, the time between each failure was getting longer. After a while, I realized that God had me on a journey. I needed to learn to accept reality that I did not define.

And I cried a lot more, too, because of my failure to her. I did not understand what was going on. I still don't. But, thankfully, she had what she needed. A real family surrounding you can make up for a lot.

And, I got married again. This one has held together well. We have both promised to never give up on it. And, I am still learning how to handle reality without defining it. Eight anniversaries and four wonderful children later, I can honestly say I was not the same man I--except for the fear, and the shame.

For years I was afraid. I was afraid that one day someone would show up at my door and demand I pay up the back support. Alternatively, I feared someone would come and take everything in place of the money. I was afraid that someday someone would show up at my door and just cart me off to jail. I was afraid that someone would show up and ruin the reputation I had managed to build among my colleagues and friends. I had more fears than I can name or describe. Looking back, I think I may have even sabotaged my own career chances because I feared succeeding and the truth being found out.

And, I was ashamed of the life I was trying to build for my family because it left my daughter out. Somehow, I could never manage to earn enough to deal with both. It didn't matter how many jobs I worked, or how hard I tried. Something always came along to eat up the money. My wife went into hard depression. I made some bad choices. Promised promotions never materialized. Companies downsized, or closed. But, I refused to give up. Like I said, I was a changing person. But, I was still ashamed. You see, I was still failing.

I still cried, too. Not as often, though. I reached the point where I chose to trust that my daughter was being taken care of, and do my best to work through whatever problems I was looking at face to face. My daughter, meanwhile, was graduating high school.

And that was when she found out about me. Her parents had never told her about me. My daughter found out by discovering the divorce records and old papers cleaning a closet during spring break. So, through her sister (who was once adopted by someone else), they found out where I lived.

My daughter decided to enlist in the Army then. The family went on a round robin trip to visit relatives before my daughter reported to boot camp. The trip included a stop at her sister's house, near where I lived.

And, so, the evening before Father's day this year, my phone rang. My wife answered and after a moment, told me to immediately take the phone. She looked me in the eye and whispered my daughter's name. My heart stopped. My wife was nearly crying. You see, she knew about my daughter. We had cried together about her on a few occasions. She had watched me hurt at times when there was nothing she could do to help or comfort me. She knew. And through her tears, her eyes had a look of hope.

I swallowed hard and took the phone. In two questions, my daughter confirmed who she was. Neither of us was able to say much. I know, in my case, my mind was blank. After all the years, all the unanswered questions, all the fears, all the uncertainties, I could think of nothing to say. I suspect that she was having some of the same trouble. We agreed to meet the next evening--Father's Day.

In a way, I was flooded with relief. I finally knew that she was all right. In another way, it just didn't seem real. Throughout the next day, and our meeting that night, which included her mother and her sister, it didn't seem real. We didn't talk much. I don't think either of us knew where to start. There are just so many questions. The next day, we met again. This time, my wife and I brought our children. Our oldest had always known about her. But, they were all excited about meeting their big sister.

After sitting and catching up on the life of both families for several hours, it was time to part. She was on her way to visit her mother's family. There was a lot of traveling to do before my she reported to basic training. We hugged each other for the first time in 18 and a half years. I was honestly afraid of that hug. I don't really understand why, but I was.

In that instant, I learned everything that God had brought through in the course of eleven years. And, I learned how hard it is for parents to let go of their children when they are grown up.

Am I sorry about all the lost time and all the failures? Absolutely. Do I have regrets? Yes, probably more than I can name. And, I still have a lot of questions. And, as I said, I owe her parents a debt money can't pay. All the scraped knees and hurt feelings that got kissed away, the raising of a wonderful, beautiful, and intelligent lady, and, in the end, letting me see the result.

In spite of myself, in spite of my stupidity and foolishness, God did something unbelievable. In spite of my unbelief and failures, God came through. I am left feeling humble, and lighter because of the weight lifted off my life. He has pushed me through another door into a larger reality. I have learned that I don't have to be afraid anymore.

There is a wonderful lady out there. She is my daughter, at least in name. But, she is her parent's child. And, I couldn't be more grateful to them.

I am a father of five, former military, a singer, songwriter, fiction writer, and a youth hockey coach. I have been homeless, manged a distribution center, and currently work in the financial industry. I love my family. I love my country. But, most of all, I love my God.

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