Like too many fathers across the globe I only get to see my daughter every second weekend. Out of 336 hours, I get 30. Before, as a stay at home dad, I saw my daughter every day. I got her up for school in the morning, fed her, dressed her, walked her to school, and outside the school, hugged and kissed her, told her I loved her before she went in. After school I would pick her up and we would spend the afternoon together, playing, doing homework, drawing, watching television and reading. Then, at night, her mother, home from work, would take her to bed, and before she went upstairs I would hug and kiss her, and tell her I love her.
Every day I do not see my daughter is a half-lived day. My morning did not begin with seeing her. And my night will not end with me checking on her asleep in her room before I myself go to bed. Though myself and her mother separated over a year ago, I find my daughter’s absence no easier today than I did in the first weeks after the end of the relationship. If anything it is as though my daughter’s absence weighs heavier on my heart with every reminder of her, be it in the cry of another child, or in the sight of another girl the same age as her, or even hearing a song I know she likes on the radio; there are moments, sometimes only minutes long, sometimes hours, when I simply cannot function, so undone am I by such reminders, combined with the knowledge that I will not be seeing her for ‘X’ amount of days. I feel as though, were once part of my existence was defined by being a father, that now I am nothing more than this half-being I have become since I was removed from the everyday workings of my daughter’s life.
Every day, simply put, is a struggle, one I do not know how to overcome, beyond setting my sights on the next time I get to see her, what we might do across those thirty hours, how we might make up for all those missing hours. This is not healthy, this struggle, this feeling. I know this. But I find myself unable to shift my mind from this thinking, a feat made all the harder by the depression I have suffered from all my life, a depression which, like a snake endlessly eating its tail, increases, and is increased by, all those empty days. I am not existing. I am not living. I am surviving. That’s all: surviving.
Out of all those empty days, the Monday following my weekend with my daughter is the emptiest, the hardest. For those 30 hours I have re-experienced what it is to be a present father. I have become responsible again for her well being, directly so. From 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, when I pick her up from her mother, and we embark on whatever adventures she wishes, until 5 p.m. Sunday evening when her mother picks her up and takes her home, I have once more become a regular part of her life, playing with her, feeding her, minding her. On the Saturday night I put her to bed, read some stories to her, and when she has fallen asleep, simply watch her, drink her in, for a few minutes, a half hour, and, once, near the beginning of this seemingly endless journey, for an hour and a half. Come the morning I wake and she is there for me to see. Sometimes she wakes before me and I am woken with a body slam and an excited ‘Daddy’ while other mornings I wake her, just as I did when I lived under the same roof as her; there is an all too apparent cruel irony when she is the one to wake me, when before, I would dread being woken by her at some ridiculously early hour, but now, I cherish the sound of her no matter the hour. Both of us awake I give her her breakfast, get her dressed, and again, we do whatever she wishes to do.
I feel like a father again. Complete. I feel like a human being once more. 30 hours out of 336.
In the hours after she has gone home with her mother, I still feel relatively happy, complete. Normal. I have hugged her and kissed her and told her I love her. I have helped her strap herself into her car seat, and then stood at the gate and waved and blown kisses at her as they drive off, my daughter waving and blowing kisses at me. I am, I freely admit, tired, pleasantly so; while obviously impossible to cram two weeks into two days we have achieved much in our time together. Never the best sleeper myself, even before my world was so savagely rearranged, I sleep reasonably well that night. But come the Monday morning, and not only has the emptiness returned, it has expanded, widened itself to the point where I am more that abyss than I am a man; what I had been missing for two weeks I have experienced only for it to be gone again for another two weeks, and the pain of it is as bright and new as if freshly inflicted, like a wound almost healed, suddenly, and violently, pulled asunder again. My eyes are barely open and already I wish to close them again, and stay in bed and not rise until it is a morning where my daughter greets me.
That Monday after my weekend with her is my own private circle of hell.
I cannot help but imagine that this will always be the case, this dark emptiness, this immovable nothingness. I do not know how other single fathers endure it. I do not know how any man, or woman, can endure being separated from their children for such long periods of time. But, that is what occurs across the world every day. I have spoken to other fathers in similar circumstances in the hopes that I might find some comfort there, possibly even learn how they endure their own enforced absences. But all I feel after these conversations is a sharper sadness, one on par with how how I feel on those threaded Monday mornings. I have never been one to fully open myself with strangers, and doing so makes me uncomfortable, but it is discomfort I am willing to endure if it gives me some ease. Even talking to friends about it, I feel myself overwhelmed by its weight, emotions constricting my throat, tears coming to my eyes, and again I feel worse than I did before I began speaking. Even as I write this, hoping that maybe resorting to my beloved writing will ease my pain in a way no amount of talking ever will, I am crying, and there is a solid blackness sluggishly turning in the pit of my stomach; if it were not for the fact that I am alone as I write I doubt I would be able to keep putting word after word. Maybe when I reach the end of this piece I will feel better in the satisfied way I feel when having completed a poem or a short story. Maybe. As I write, it just feels as though I am pouring an ocean’s worth of salt into a wound the size of the Grand Canyon, my nerve endings launching fire into my heart and mind.
On my phone, in the clock app, there are four different times set for the alarm, all saved and ready to be switched on as needed; three of them get used at various points during each month, and so it is easier to simply leave them saved. The fourth one was for when I was still a stay-at-home-dad and my world still made sense, the one that would sound at 7:33 a.m., for me to rise and wake my daughter on those occasions she slept beyond that point and hadn’t already woken me with an elbow to the ribs, or a foot to the head. I have not used that setting since I moved out of the home I shared with my daughter and her mother, the home they both still live in, the home I still own but will never reside in again. But I will not erase it, no more than I would erase the first photograph I have of my daughter, taken mere minutes after she was born so various family members could see this beautiful new addition to the family, a photo that has transferred from that phone to every phone I have had since. Every time I have to switch on one of my regularly used alarm times, I see it there, and am saddened by the sight of it, which, some days, is simply an extra weight upon the sadness which permanently dwells within me, while on others it is a crippling punch to my mental equilibrium; there is no rhyme nor reason to what my reaction is going to buy, it simply strikes as it strikes, and I hurt as I hurt. If I were to erase it I might spare myself this unnecessary addition to my already manifold pain, but I would rather this extra blade to my being rather than lose one more connection, no matter how tenuous, with my daughter.
This coming weekend is my weekend with my daughter. I will ensure she has a good time. I will hug her and kiss her. I will tell her I love her, repeatedly. I will spoil her and feed her. I will play with her and draw with her. I will put her to bed, and read to her. I will watch her sleep. And I will smile when she says “daddy” on the Sunday morning, as I will smile when she hugs me and kisses me, when she tells me she loves me. This weekend I will, if even only for those 30 hours, do more than survive. I will live.
Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in
magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight
47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. He is currently working on a novel.
He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.
His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com