We all have heros. One of mine is my daughter. I divorced her mother when she was 9 but got custody of her when she was 15. It seems she was her father’s daughter, loudly opinionated. She allegedly had no respect for her stepdad.
At 16 she came up pregnant. Wylie isn’t that big of a town. She was the good-looking girl from California who worked at Brookshire’s, so everyone knew but me.
If there is a thing called justice it would be that the kids, he and she, existed in a state of terror for about three months. There’d already been a situation in which I’d acted like a total horse’s back end toward the boy. I ended up apologizing for it. One shouldn’t corner a teenager and explain in graphic detail how much fun one would have ripping off his head and pooping down his throat.
She was four months along when I woke up and smelled the potential diapers. It was a memorable father-daughter moment. Brookshire’s had called and asked if I could pick her up because she wasn’t feeling good. My wife pointed out that Daughter hadn’t been feeling good for some time, especially in the mornings.
Kids have a way of wrapping themselves up into a bundle where they almost disappear from sight. The first time I noticed this was while transporting a bud’s daughter to visit her father in the emergency room. We’d all been camping in the desert when her father had rolled a buggy, almost killing himself and his 8-year-old son. It was after midnight when they’d helicoptered the injured out, and so I took the daughter in my truck to the hospital.
She sat there in the passenger’s seat, 11 years old and about the size of a Texas native pecan. Scared to death of what we’d find at the hospital, she hoped that by shrinking enough, she could wake up later and find out it had all been a bad dream.
My daughter tried the same thing that Sunday afternoon.
“How late are you, darlin’?” I asked.
“Oh, Dad, I’m so ashamed. You’ve always put me on this pedestal where I’m so smart and everything,” she said.
“Hold on,” I said. “The only difference between you and everyone else is you’ve been caught. So don’t you duck your head to no one.”
I then explained that I felt we had three options. And there was only one I wouldn’t go along with. I wouldn’t raise her baby.
“I can’t kill the baby, Dad.”
“Fine,” I said. “But you’re too young, and I’m too old. Menopause isn’t an accident. Old people weren’t made to raise babies.”
I told her that my responsibility was her. And her responsibility was to the child growing in her belly. The best thing she could do for that child was find the world’s best set of parents. She did.
We went through an agency. It works like this: prospective parents put together a photo album. The birth mother goes through the albums and chooses the couples she’d like to meet.
Daughter heard three things every day. You have to find the world’s best set of parents for your baby. Look at the father carefully because the Good Lord made a ton of good mothers, but he only made a handful of good fathers. And she had the rarest of treasures, and it should be valued accordingly.
My daughter’s boyfriend stood by her. But he was a typical young male, and he made it known that the decision was hers, and he’d go along with it. So the choice wasn’t made until about two months out.
They picked a couple and had an interview. My daughter told them that they were it-with one caveat. Her father had to meet and approve of them. A dinner was arranged. Now, this wasn’t an open adoption. We met, but there would be no last names. And Daughter was to get pictures annually, but we weren’t to know where the child lived or what her name was.
At the dinner, the counselor positioned me at one end of the table and the new father at the other. I adjusted the seating. I sat right next to him so we could get to know each other. Like I said, the father’s the key.
There was a lot of small talk. Then the counselor asked my wife and me if we had any questions.
I had two.
“Discipline?” I asked.
Now that’s a cooker. You look at me, and I come across as the guy you want to watch in the crowd for a gun. The rednecks get themselves in trouble with me day in and day out. They think I’m one of them, but I’m not. So when the new parents looked at each other timidly, I understood.
I looked down at the end of the table and asked Daughter how many times I’d hit her while she was growing up.
“Never,” she said.
I don’t believe much in hitting children. The only time we strike out is when we can’t figure out a better response. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a pet, a fool, or a child. When we strike out, we’re admitting we’re too stupid to outsmart them.
Anyway, the couple explained that they believed in choices. It was the answer I was looking for.
My second question: “Education?”
The father smiled and said it was already covered. When his dad had heard there was a child coming, he’d done for his grandbaby what he’d done for all the others. Her education was paid for, that simple.
We broke all the rules when the baby was born.
On the way to the hospital for the delivery, I called the agency to find out where the new parents were and if they’d been notified. It was explained that they were in the hospital but would be kept away from us so it wouldn’t be so difficult. I requested they be in our waiting room with us. It happened.
Everyone told me that Daughter shouldn’t see or touch the baby. They’d bond, and that’d be that.
She had the baby for 16 hours. I wanted her to know she’d had a perfect child. I was probably wrong-have been, will be-but I figured she’d have tons of questions later on and having the child in her arms would answer some of those.
Signing the papers was the toughest part. I think it would have been more comfortable if we’d rented Texas Stadium for it. We had everyone within 6 miles in that room. Not a dry eye, either. There was a moment when she balked. I told her that the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest. She signed. I signed. It was done.
I pushed my daughter in a wheelchair to the car. Then I ran back up to the maternity floor in time to hand the baby to her new parents. I explained to the father that I’d be his worst nightmare if I even dreamed he’d let someone look down on that kid because she was adopted. She wasn’t given to them because she was unloved. It was because she was so loved.
I even gave him permission to use my line for the boys when they came calling: “This is my pride and joy. I expect her to be treated accordingly.”
We went through some shades of hell. When we came home from the hospital, I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. I’d been the driving force behind my daughter’s doing what is probably the most unnatural act possible. I would have needed a stepladder to have inspected the bottom of a snake.
I woke up when my wife came in and sat on the bed. “How are you doing?” she asked.
“Fine,” was all I could give back.
“The kids are worried about you,” she said.
“Worried about me?” I was stunned.
She explained how Daughter felt, that I’d helped her with the hardest decision she’d ever make and had assumed all the blame.
Every year, we get photos. The early ones I could have shuffled with those of my daughter at that age, and only family could have told who was who.
Then one year we got the pictures, and there was a baby boy in them. That was hard on Daughter. One of her criteria for the parents was that there would be no other children. I accepted that. I figure all kids who have siblings would like to be an only child. Daughter shouldn’t be any different.
By the time the pictures arrived the next year, Daughter was looking forward to seeing the little girl with her baby brother. We talked about how the kid was happy to be a big sister.
Last year, when the pictures didn’t arrive on time, Daughter cornered me. She was upset and wanted me do something about it. “Dad, you can talk anyone into anything. I want you to contact the agency and get them to send me the pictures.”
We had another father-daughter talk. I told her this was probably how things worked. The agency probably stops sending pictures at some point. I told her it was about time she let go and concentrate on her husband and making a life of her own.
“In about 10 years or so, a young lady is going to come into our lives with a bunch of questions,” I said. “She’s going to want to know where she got those killer blue eyes, gorgeous thick blond hair, quirky personality, and all those smarts. She’s going to want to know who gave her such a great set of parents to raise her. She’ll come. We’ll be waiting. And the best thing for her to find is you living a happy life with a wonderful family. She’ll meet you and be as proud of you as your father is.”
About a week later, the pictures came to our house. They were beautiful.
So all that to say this:
Somewhere in Dallas, there’s a couple with a little girl who just turned 9. I know their daughter does stuff that blows their minds, and they have to wonder where that came from. They must look at her and wonder how anyone could give up such a jewel. And I know they must be curious about whatever happened to the birth mother of such a bright and wonderful child.
They deserve to know that the birth mother of that precious little girl is doing fine. She graduated with her class. She went on to college. She’s got a good career. She married a fine young man. He treats her well and doesn’t have any of my faults. And that couple should know that they have their daughter exactly because she’s such a jewel. They were chosen.
When she was about 20, Daughter had some problems with her ovaries. It looked for a while like she wouldn’t be able to have more children. It was the ultimate injustice from my perspective.
So if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that she gave birth to a perfect little boy last night. And you can understand that he’s a lot more than just one more baby in this world. He represents maybe a little redemption for a man who knows right from wrong, especially when it involves other folks.
Sometimes it’s like a hand reaches in and rips at my chest. I have to tell myself that the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest. Then I look at my daughter, and hope returns. There are happy endings.
Harvey Lacey is a philosopher who lives in Wylie.