My Daughter’s Father Is In Prison
Just before my daughters first birthday, her father was whisked away to state prison. Although it did not come as a surprise, I still felt a deep loss for myself, and for my daughter. From the beginning I knew his fate was inevitable given his lifestyle, and I knew that essentially I’d be a single mother, however, it didn’t occur to me that he might be gone sooner rather than later. I can recall preaching, almost even pleading with him to grow up. “Get your shit together, I’m not raising two kids!” I’d scream through text messages. I’d adamantly declare my disdain for his choices, and lack thereof, and tell him I’d NEVER bring my daughter to a prison. Prison is no place for children, I thought. Reflecting on the times I’d been on visits with my own mother to see a man she had been dating. The images of the facility, and the guards, and other visitors are so vivid. I remember the fear and anxiety I felt walking into the building, and through the metal detectors. It all seemed so orchestrated, and routine, though it was never something I got used to.
As in most cases, reality tuned in, and I found myself consumed with the desire to sedate the severity of the circumstance by doing anything, and everything I could to keep this man positive, and hopeful. I began writing him daily, sometimes even twice a day. I would study our little girl documenting every new skill, movement, and development she would make to keep her father up to date. I would send him pictures regularly in an effort to be sure he felt included, and less absent. Father’s Day rolled around, and I found myself making a three hour trip to a town I’d never heard of at 2:00 a.m. to beat the line. I even cried out of frustration when I almost didn’t make it into the visiting room. All this time and energy, and whirlwind of emotion I had been exerting was a shock to me. I thought I knew I would appreciate the hassle-free, drama-free life I’d be able to live with him gone, but nothing is ever really what we have planned.
In reality, I’m stressed I can’t visit more frequently. I fear my daughter has already forgotten her father. There is a heavy responsibility, and guilt weighing on me to keep their relationship in tact. For sometime I had exhausted myself carting my daughter around from house to house in an effort to build a relationship with her and her paternal family. Depleting my resources and time had grown overwhelming. Eventually I resolved that I would put no more energy towards anything or anyone not putting forth an equal effort. Even now, my life coupled with managing the social calendar of a little person is just overwhelming. Between several positions, reaching goals, school, mothering, and my own social calendar I can barely find time to write letters, let alone make it to a post office. It’s been two weeks since his birthday and his card is still in my bag. Even though I feel a great deal of anxiety at the idea of him feeling forgotten, especially on his birthday, somehow I still manage to forget about that card.
The first anniversary of a very long sentence is quickly approaching, and each day my daughter grows developmentally, physically and emotionally. As her second birthday also approaches I can’t help but wonder what’s next? I feel bound to this place, stuck in a time capsule of a parallel universe between life and prison sentence.
I worry about what affects visits will have on my daughter as she gets older. I worry about all the questions on these long car rides, and what I will say. How much of the truth should I tell? Should I tell her at all, or let her father answer for his own actions?
The hardest part of it all is that ultimately the outcome remains the same. No matter how hard I try to acclimate my daughter to the circumstances, no matter how much I may bend to create a “normal” life for her, her childhood, adolescents, and womanhood will be stained with the memories of a prison facility. She will never forget the look, and sound, and smell of the crowded room of Black men in jumpsuits, and the women and children lined up to see them. She will never forget what her father looks like sitting across from her as a prisoner, as property. I will forever feel a guilt and responsibility for everything I couldn’t do, because given the circumstances there just isn’t a best way.