I have a young teenage daughter who painfully longed for her father to love her — love her enough to visit with her, spend time with her. I have over 10 years of emails offering him visitation on every school vacation — fall, winter, spring, summer — and 10 years of his written replies — always refusing to see her, as did her grandparents. Even the one visitation they shared, because we traveled to Los Angeles, he refused three times before he said yes at the last minute, and arranged for a court monitor. After that, when she turned 12, I wrote to him that if he wanted to see her, he knew how to reach me.
After he met her, he made more of an effort to email her, as did his parents. He even remembered her birthday and sent a present. But she — and I — could never make him or them understand that a relationship that by definition required intimacy could not possibly thrive on an email account, or even a phone call. She was never comfortable speaking with him by phone. He was a stranger to her, and when she was younger, the efforts were extremely painful to her, which is all I’ll say here. She, in particular, even as a teenager, will only really talk and open up with her close friends in person. She only occasionally texts or emails with them, and even then, it’s about nothing of consequence. She has an account, but hardly ever goes on Facebook.
She was happy he read the young adult novel she wrote and published, and he wrote to her of his pride in her. I do believe he loved her. He just didn’t parent her or see her — in every sense of that word — so it was impossible for her to internalize his feelings.
It is the role of the adults to parent, to protect, provide for, and take care of the child. It is never, ever the other way around. Not until the parent ages and requires the adult child’s care. That is the only healthy dynamic.
Why am I writing this? Because no one from his family or friends has thought in their grief and sorrow, that there is a young girl who also deserves to receive a condolence call, to ask her how she is doing, to rise above their pain for just a moment, to think of her. When she offered her own condolence call, she suffered through hearing how she was never a good daughter, and how her father was a wonderful father to her older siblings.
The gentleman from the Chevra Kadisha in Los Angeles and the woman from the cemetery showed kindness to her by answering her detailed questions about the funeral, where exactly he was buried. Due to health considerations, she was unable to fly to be there, though she wanted to very much. They didn’t seem to expect she would. A friend ascertained the circumstances of his death. No one else would tell her. When she asked if her name was mentioned at the funeral, that she was also a daughter, they could not recall. She asked the cemetery representative to send her a picture of his marker. She is not legally next of kin, we learned, because she is a minor child. She can only hope she will be asked for input on what will be written on his tombstone. The rabbi who delivered his eulogy was instrumental in our shidduch. The family has our emails and phone numbers. The rabbi never reached out to her, either. I found it impossible to believe he did not reach out to his other children.
I remember one Father’s Day when Rosie was 3. My mother and I took her out for pizza and ice cream. We called her grandfather, to wish him Happy Father’s Day. Her grandmother said he couldn’t come to the phone because he was busy with family. I was silent. She heard herself. Then she brought him to the phone.
If anyone in her family does not believe her pain is real and very deep, just ask to listen to most of the songs she wrote over the last few years. Many are about him. Here is one raw, scratch vocal she wrote last spring, and performed later here in Nashville. But this recording is just her voice, infrequent moments where she sketches out the notes on piano.
I hope ultimately the family does right by her. I hope they send a copy of the death certificate so our lives are not a logistical nightmare. I hope they break the patterns that served everyone so poorly – well, certainly served her SO poorly, and take her feelings and needs into consideration. I hope they find ways show her that her father loved her.
It is not too late for them. If your family has not said and done the things you need to do for each other, it is not too late. Hannukah is about teaching Judaism to our children. We educate the young by modeling behavior. Judaism is about both words and actions.
Why am I writing this? Because a mother must do everything for their child. Because there are other lost daughters out there, whose mothers don’t have a platform. Look around…is there a child of a single mother in your community who needs a helping hand and extra protection and care? I’m writing this for my daughter. And because, I believe, by asking you to show more kindness to neglected and lost children, we will effect a tikkun, a repairing of the world. Perhaps this will honor the better angels of his nature. It is not too late.
A dear friend of mine also passed away this week. Her children had lost their father years ago. She often longed for someone to sit with her young son in shul, on the other side of the mechitza. She was a passionate advocate for orphans, because she knew too deeply their pain.
There is no pain worse than seeing your child in pain. My daughter is sitting shiva through the weekend, excluding Shabbat. In the eyes of Torah, she is now an orphan. This will be a long year.