Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.
My heart breaks for my daughter. But I can’t fix what’s wrong, and I won’t even try. It’s not my place. Not this time.
But I’ve been in that place before.
All I can do is sympathize because I know what it’s like to try again and again to get my daddy’s attention and have him love me just for me and not for all his expectations.
She’s a good kid. A great kid. Intelligent, funny, creative, talkative, loving, respectful, visionary, honest, music-minded, insightful, open—not necessarily in that order. I often feel I’m the luckiest mom in the world to have her and her little sister because they’re everything I could ever have wanted in children, with the possible exception of clean-room genes and those have been recessive for the past generation or two.
Since she was 11, she’s been attending State competitions in forensics, with quite a talent for drama and oratory. She was supposed to be at one such competition in Ft. Lauderdale this weekend, leaving last Thursday morning and returning late Sunday.
Thursday morning, in the wee hours while I slept, she was on the floor of the bathroom, fevered and throwing up. I don’t know if she’d caught her grandmother’s flu while in her dad’s care or if it was something she ate the night before, but she was too sick to stand up. So I sent her back to bed and told her there was no way she could handle a 14-hour bus ride and to imagine how the rest of the team would feel if she infected them the night before the big competition. She finally acknowledged that she was too sick to go.
She sent word to her teammates, her coach, and her dad, who was traveling with the team as a judge. I don’t know what her dad said to her, just what she relayed to me and the hurt in her voice.
She thinks he didn’t believe she was really sick. He never asked her how she was feeling, what was wrong, what kind of medicine she was taking, what her symptoms were…anything. All he talked about was how it was too bad that she was going to miss certain things at the competition and not be there with him. When she hung up, she felt even worse—and felt guilty for being sick.
I know the feeling. I’m prone to letting myself get worn down by too little sleep and too much work and falling prey to various bugs or infections. And of course, when the kids were little, they brought home every known germ to cross the thresh- old of that biological warfare incubator known as daycare.
Maybe I’m supposed to be invincible. I don’t know. I do remember an ER doctor telling my ex one time just how sick I was and how dehydrated and him confessing that he’d had no idea I was so ill, even though I’d certainly not kept it a secret.
I used to feel guilty around my ex for being too sick to sit up on the sofa where I’d spent three days straight to keep from getting him sick with whatever I had. He used to seem an- gry that I wasn’t going to work, even with a 102-degree fever.
I have no idea why or what thing happened in his child- hood to draw him that direction. I figure it must go far, far back. I know only its effects on the people who love(d) him.
Sometimes I felt punished for being sick. Or that he didn’t care because not only did he expect me to go work—even with paid sick leave—but he didn’t call home to check on me or bring me lunch or pick up my prescription or hold my hand or drive me to the emergency room or to a doctor’s appointment. Maybe it’s that he’s really afraid of illness and doesn’t know how to handle the frailties it forces on us, but from his reaction to me, I always felt like a huge disappointment to him for being sick and that it somehow reflected badly on him. I felt I wasn’t worth even the acknowledgement that I was sick.
And that’s how my daughter felt Thursday morning. Worthless. Guilty. Unloved. Like he was concerned only that she made him look bad for not showing up at the competition and winning a trophy. I’d like to think that he didn’t mean for her to feel that way, except that she’s seen the same reaction to me when I’ve been sick, and she just never expected to get the same treatment.
So she’s been a bit subdued these past couple of days, and my heart breaks for her. I hate seeing her feel sad and wrestling with the self-esteem issues that come from not being able to get your dad’s acknowledgement that you’re hurting. After two days in bed, she’s feeling a little better but she didn’t fail to miss that her teammates have called her several times to check on her, to see how she’s feeling, to try to cheer her up.
She also didn’t fail to miss that she hasn’t heard a word from her dad.