I was sitting watching some website or another when D. walks in from outside. Her mom is working tonight so I’m staying with her before I go pick her up after 11 o’clock. She’s been outside playing with a couple of the neighboring girls, and now she comes in and just like that says, in Spanish:
“Daddy, I can’t take my bike out, right?”
It wasn’t the first time she’s called me “daddy” –her preferred nickname for me is “Bird Daddy”; more on that in a while– but this was the first she said it without even thinking it. Normally when she does, she’s either playing or fooling around or, when she does, she asks me, “It’s ok to call you ‘Daddy’, right? I know you’re not my dad, but…”
It came out so naturally I actually blinked and didn’t answer right away. Won’t lie –I was a little touched. I then told her that no, she was grounded for peeling a hole on the paint on the bathroom wall. “That bike is so mad at me, for not listening to my father and mother”, she said.
That’s a direct quote.
I’ve been living with D. and her mom since last November, automatically setting myself up for another first tomorrow: my inaugural Father’s Day. This little exchange I had with her today sort of served as an introduction to it.
D. will turn nine in a couple of months. I always describe her to people as having a heart of gold and the attitude of a pitbull. She always wants to help, make cute messages for her mom and me (many times on less than ideal surfaces), and has a hug for every occasion, not mention bright, sociable (sometimes too much) and got into the Honor Roll at her school.
She also talks back, refuses to follow instructions more times than I’d care to count, insists on doing whatever she wants, does not do as she’s been told, and is defiant to a very annoying point. Yes, she’s a handful. And she’s taught me a lot about myself.
She also suffers from anxiety and an unconfirmed diagnose of ADHD, not to mention fear of the dark and what we believe is a phobia of being abandoned. It could be residues from her past. She has had a rough life, even though she hasn’t quiet phathomed it.
My GF adopted D. after it was determined her ex couldn’t have children (ed. note: thank God). Her biological mother was in her early twenties, and demanded not to even see the baby when she was born (I won’t repeat her exact, disgusting words). They were living in Venezuela during a time when things were starting to very much go downhill. D. had a gun to her head in the backseat of her mom’s car when she was just two years old; she has either blocked the memory or truly doesn’t remember it. That prompted the decision to move to New York to try and find a new life.
Between the ages of five and eight, D. shared a bed with her mother in a studio-type basement in a neighborhood in Queens. Every day, my GF walked twelve blocks to and fro from her school, and only receiving…
I think about what I’m about to write and wonder if I really should. God willing, Diana is going to read this in the future. What kind of relationship will she have with her father when she’ll be able to do so? I breathe and decide I’m not ready for that decision.
I always wanted to be a father. Always suspected I’d either become one or be a stepfather, considering how time was going by. And D.´s arrival into my life has shown I was both good and ready to be one and completely ignorant of how to be one, given the size of the challenge she has turned out to be. There are days I´m not afraid to admit I´d like to hand her over to band of gypsies, like the time she said, after I told her I’d hide all her toys never to be seen again, “You better not hide Puffin”. (My answer: “If I do, what are you going to do?” Her answer: none.) And there are days when I truly don’t know how I could be loved that much.
A few months ago, after we get out from church, I see the car isn’t where I left it. Realizing it must have been towed, I confirm it with a number on a notice nearby. Upon hearing this information, D. got quite upset. At first it was just thinking about the stuffed owl she keeps in the back seat, but when we get to the car and she calms down she says, “Bird Daddy, you can tell Mommy it was my fault, that I insisted where you should park the car”. “Why on Earth would I say that?” “Because I don’t want you to get in trouble with Mommy”.
When her mom and I started getting together –virtually, as in through Facebook– she was still with D.’s father. They had already spoken to her that they were not going to be together anymore, and D. started noticing her mom was smiling more. When we were finally introduced, I started talking to her about birds and other animals in general. We both shared a love for owls, so eventually the nickname “Bird Daddy” stuck.
As my first Father’s Day in the dual role of father and son comes, I think about whether I have truly been a father to D. It all comes down to what being a father ultimately is. I help with her homework, take her out, see her to bed. I tell her off when she misbehaves, many times at a very loud volume. I’ve learned to calm her down when she has her anxiety attacks.
As you can imagine, this has been one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever signed up for. No instruction manual, no real training, just some imitation skills. Thank God I had one of the best role models, and I’m trying to apply everything I’ve seen before. Of course, as wonderful as my own dad still is, the same rules don’t necessarily apply. So I really am learning as I go.
Thankfully, it’s also been filled with rewards. It’s a unique thing to be loved by a little girl who didn’t grow up with you, who knows she has no real bond to me other than the fact I love her mother and live under her same roof. That means it’s a love that I earned, not one that came just because. For that I am eternally grateful. I keep having these fantasies that D. will one day mention me in a speech she gives, but all I want is to make sure that she grows into a healthy, well-balanced woman who knows that her Bird Daddy loves her very much.