The camera zooms in slowly on the image of a middle-aged man, kneeling on the floor of a sparsely furnished room, opening a medium-size cardboard box. We’re shown the slow movement of a nondescript book being lifted from the box; there’s a dust-wiping gesture, a prolonged stare, then a look of recognition.
The camera shifts to another angle as the man rises to his feet. A few backward, catatonic steps are taken, eyes fixed on the book. When the back of his knees meet the edge of a chair, he sits, laying the book in his lap . . . my lap.
I began writing to my daughter in this 200-page journal on the day she was born, just over 23 years ago. The intention was to write the story of her birth and her upbringing on a near-daily basis and then one day, when the journal had been filled, give it to her at some appropriate moment: before she went off to college, maybe . . . on her wedding day . . . or, if I had failed as a father, on my deathbed.
The motivation I had for creating this journal was mildly selfish. I wanted it to represent a sacred aspect of our relationship—for her eyes only—an intimate, direct communication from her daddy, written in a familiar conversational father voice that her nostalgic future self would find comforting. As long as she held possession of this journal she would never be in doubt as to the details—the truth—of her origin story.
As a writer, Young Adult Chick Lit Nonfiction was a genre I’d never attempted. But from day one of writing to my daughter, describing the characters and circumstances involved with her cesarean birth, it was all there: the inspiration, the right voice, and the right words, flowing freely through an unobstructed crystal pipeline from the Milky Way, across God’s front lawn, through the center of Venus and down to Earth where it connected to my heart, travelled down my right arm, through my fingers to my pen, and onto page after page after page.
There was a lot to say. Telling the truth was easy . . . at first. I had no problem writing the details of how I experienced her little soul burst into existence at the ecstatic peak moment of her conception: a mythic, other-world instance of recognizing one another from across a very large room, nodding in mutual agreement to the terms of our psychic contract . . . then being yanked from the room, returned to earth, and put back in my body.
This time, there would be no miscarriage; this time, there would be no abortion.
There would, however, be horses, gardening, and music; there would be January birthday parties, August blackberries by the fresh-picked bucketful and father-daughter Sunday mornings on the couch, under a blanket, with Calvin and Hobbes. There would be the opening of my heart, a recalibration of my moral compass, and the continuing, random documentation of it all in a book written to, about, and for daddy’s little girl.
The first pages of the journal detailed the warrior-esque persona I adopted while holding this little 10-pounder in my arms, keeping her in constant sight while mom was sewn back together; the last two pages were blank. In between were dozens of heart-tugging stories validating a very tight, very loving father-daughter relationship.
Somewhere around page eight, however, was the first, almost casual mention of my confusion about her mom’s irritability; a few pages later a description of the difficulty her mom and I are having in getting along. By the third reference, I’m expressing concern that the disturbing, irrational bitterness in my wife’s body will be transferred to my daughter through breast milk.
It wasn’t intentional. I’d written plenty about the dysfunction of my sixteen-year marriage in my own journals, but until that moment—sitting in my barren apartment, reading this father-to-daughter memoir front to cover for the first time—I had no idea how often I’d referenced the unraveling of mom and dad’s relationship. At the time it seemed important and relevant; now it was borderline heartbreaking.
I got up, found a pen, sat back down, opened the journal to the blank pages in the back, and waited. This time, I was on my own; this time, no Milky Way crystal pipeline.
Eventually, the words came. . .
She would be out of high school in two years, so I began writing to her with the expectation that I would give her the journal the day before she left for college, that she would begin reading it in bed that night, read a little more the next day as her mom drove, and perhaps finish it, laying in bed, her first night in a dorm room.
At some point she would come to the final pages and read of my hope that she will one day forgive me, that she please, please sift through and separate the few dark facts of her parent’s relationship from the many golden facts of her childhood, and that, should God come around asking who’s been on his lawn, she can tell Him it was me.
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