Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Empty Nesting, An Early Preview

For only a brief period of time, while waiting to adopt a second time, my sole attention only needed to be focused or concentrated on one child. Even as I waited for that adoption process to conclude, it never took away the time and memories I had with my daughter.

After the arrival of my second daughter, it has always been the three of us. Sure, there may have been a function at school, or a performance somewhere. But the three of us were never apart. I did not look at it either, that I was “splitting” up my attention between my daughters either. I had plenty to give to both, and equally.

As my now teenagers will tell anyone, I took tons of photos. Photo developers would remark after a weekend of having to develop 300 or more pictures (this was before I finally got tech savvy using a cell phone, which did not mean less photos taken, just less printed).

In April of 2008, I faced the most challenging time of my life emotionally. I was facing life or death emergency open heart surgery, needed as a result of late developing side effects from treatment from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma nearly twenty years earlier. From the dates of their adoptions, we had never been apart. After the first night in the hospital, the absence of the physical presence of my daughters was as critical as the surgery that I was facing. Unable to give them one last hug before the surgery, one last look into each of their eyes to assure them that I would be fine, or for me to give myself one final remember of why I needed to get through this surgery, the realization, when, if, I made it through the surgery, there would still be a number of days before I would get to see them.

I had an idea of what to expect, which was nowhere near the reality of what anyone would be looking at when they came to visit me. I had at least three draining tubes coming from me, a mask over my mouth and nose with a tube going down my throat hooked up to a machine to help me breath, and countless lines for medicines and wires for monitoring coming out of my body. There was no way that I wanted my young daughters to see me in this condition.

To quote “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” was an understatement. Once the majority of hardware and gadgetry had been removed, about four days later, I was finally able to see my daughters while I was in the hospital. I never wanted to be separated from them again.

Though more health issues would begin to develop, I did what I could to get through them, allowing me to share so many more great memories with my daughters. And still, it was the three of us, never apart again.

I filed for divorce back in 2013, and of course one of the unfortunate consequences of divorce with children, is that they would end up spending time with both parents, while separate from the other parent. And while the situation was not ideal, nor did it always function they way that it was supposed to, my experience as an adult child of a divorce, I knew what I did not want to happen and would do all that I could to prevent that.

If I could not be with them every day, I would at least see or talk to them every day (or at least attempt to). Technology today, so much better than in the 1970’s, I had Facetime, Skype, and other video options, that I could actually see my daughters when they could not be with me.

But when times came that we were able to get together, it was like we had never been apart.

And so, several more years would pass, tons more photos taken, and a lot more memories have been created. But we still were able to do it, a Dad and his daughters.

I have wished as hard as I could, and even begged each daughter, not to grow up, stay a child forever. If there is one greatest joy in my life, it has been, that of being a Dad. And while that title will last as long as they are able to utter that word, “Dad,” I knew that at some point, a transition would come, away from all the fun of childhood, the reliance on one of their role models. Worst, I would fear that them getting old, would somehow mean distance would step in, taking time away. This is the heartache of parenting often referred to as “empty nest syndrome.”

My parents went through it. Most of my friends have gone through it (I just started parenting later). It is inevitable. It is something that I must face. But I have a slight advantage that others may not have had, an “empty nest lite” if you will. Yes, custody periods have already prepared me for when this time would come, but I actually have another year to finally prepare for the time, when my older daughter takes that next step in her life.

She is approaching her senior year in high school, adult age.

That means that she has reached an age, no longer covered by a custody agreement, able to make her own decisions. And that means, she has also begun to lead her own life, make her own plans. This past Father’s Day, I knew this day would come, and it would have to be something that I would accept.

I know that my daughter is not going to disappear from my life. It does not work that way. But just as a child will go off to college, or perhaps the military, or even simply travel abroad or move away from home, that Father-Daughter relationship will always stand, and actually take on a new meaning.

I have taken a lot of photos over the years of my daughters. It is impossible to list a count of how many. And while there are photos individually with me, the majority of them, are the three of us together. Again, the only time it was just my older daughter and I for the most part, was as we waited to adopt her sister.

As I prepare for the annual summer custody, this will be the first time, not only will it be just my younger daughter spending time with me, but this will also be the first time that the sisters will actually be apart from each other, other than the occasional sleepover. And just as that first year with my older daughter, now it will just be me with my younger daughter, comparable to a “bookend” type finish to their childhood. I know how much that communication will be between the two of them, because I have been there, so I will do all I can to keep them in constant communication, just as I did as father to daughters.

But my older daughter has plans now, as an adult. It appears to be a full schedule as she prepares for her next step. And just like the song “Cats In The Cradle” from Harry Chapin, I am hoping for a little different of a result that she finds some time to make a visit to her sister and I. The next year, it is likely she will make the leap to continue her education, and that will be her official leap from “the nest.”

I am proud and happy for her at this moment in her life. Still, I want to refuse to accept the time has come that my little girl has grown up.

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