Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Adoption”

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.

Trying To Outrun The Inevitable

I was asked not too long ago, “when did you know that you wanted to be a Dad?” And when I answered “right after graduation,” it was not because I was looking to go out an populate the world right away. Rather, I had been so hurt by my father at that point, I wanted to prove to myself, that I would not make the choices that he did. I would be there for my children. I would be the father that I wanted, needed to have.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma took that opportunity away from me. However, through adoptions, I was given that chance back again. And regardless that my marriage ended in divorce, that did not mean that my role as a father would cease either. In fact, I faced a similar crossroad that my father faced, when it came to his children. But I chose the other path.

As I often state, I will not go into details of my divorce, but the one thing that has been constant in the eight years since? I made the choice to stay involved with my daughters. Certainly it has not been perfect, or ideal, but I have done all that I can to make it work. Hell, even a pandemic could not stop me.

So, having followed through on my self-promise, as a father, and managing the multitude of health issues from the late developing side effects from the treatments of my Hodgkin’s, I have arrived at an even bigger stage of life, my daughters having grown up, and becoming women of their own selves.

All parents go through it, their “babies” growing up. So this is not something unique upon me.

My emergency open heart surgery, was the first time that I had been separated from my daughters, ever! It was the longest week of my life, with the night before the surgery, the most difficult, because prior, I was just supposed to have a simple catheterization to correct the problem, so my goodbye to my daughters was nothing more than a “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” But that next afternoon, turned into a “life and death,” a very risky surgery, something that I might not survive. All I wanted was to hold my daughters one more time.

Obviously I survived, but divorce would soon lead to time apart via custody agreements. But with the help of technology, Facetime, texting, and other media, I was at least able to make daily contact with them. But for my daughters, with the exception of an overnight visit with a friend, they have never been apart from each other.

A friend of mine warned me a long time ago, of the time coming, as his daughters got older, they would ask for moments when he was scheduled to spend time with them, that one or even both, might have either plans, of course to a teenager, they would be important to them. That would result in his visit with perhaps only one of his daughters, or both, or even perhaps none. I could tell it was hard on him. I would dread that time coming, and resist it as best as I could.

I do not know what I did that was different from my friend, but I managed to spend every available moment with both my daughters. But with one daughter now eighteen, she is now able to express her own decisions, and yes, now I am at yet another crossroad, and this one is not up to me to decide. All I can do is hope that I had enough of an influence, that decisions that affect both of us, will keep our relationship in mind.

While the term “empty nest” does not really apply here, because that would imply no children at home any more. I have many friends who have already experienced their children having moved on and are now on their way through grandparenthood. But I do have a few friends that are or have just gone through this similar stage, one child of multiples having gained independence, the feelings of “loss” are still just as painful. I am not looking for sympathy, but I do know that there is empathy for me.

I have had one of the best Father’s Day visits with my daughters. But for one, the time was cut short, as she chose to travel home before her younger sister, staying with me a few extra days. As we dropped off my older daughter to return home, it did not take long to realize someone else was being affected by this, my daughters. As I mentioned, they have been together basically their entire lives. This day would be inevitable when they would go off to college, but it is happening now.

You could see what this meant to them, all day prior to the departure. While they have always gotten along with each other, there was definitely some last minute bonding happening. Back at the house, now with just one of my daughters, this was a new experience for both of us. It is only a short few days more before my younger daughter heads home, and back to her sister, so this short “test run,” will help us to adjust for the future. The summer visit will be a true test, as it is several weeks, my older daughter has arranged other things during her summer, and is likely at best, maybe to only visit a few days. It will definitely be the longest time the sisters have been apart from each other. I see this as an opportunity to help them to establish a line and need for communication for when the actual college departures come in to play. I will do all that I can to make sure that they talk to each other frequently.

It is going to be an adjustment for all of us for sure. My daughters know that I love them both equally. The only advantage one can even claim, is simply by age. When it came to gifts, decisions on activities, help with homework, and more, both daughters know they can count on me. I had time with only one daughter by herself, way back, waiting to adopt my second daughter. And now, with visits, it will be my younger daughter who will get focused attention.

I am sure all the while, we will be wishing my older daughter, my younger daughter’s sibling, would be with us.

Happy Father’s Day

If there is one thing in my life that I will say defines it, it is Fatherhood. All I have ever wanted to be, was a Dad. Along the way, I have been challenged in the most extreme ways from cancer to divorce, but nothing has stood in the way of the unconditional and never-ending love of my children. My daughters are the reasons behind every decision that I make, and the drive to keep moving forward.

Historically, prior to the arrival of my daughters, Father’s Day was just another day in June.

This is one of three photos that I possess with my father from childhood, none occurred on or around Father’s Day. In fact, I do not remember spending any time with my father for Father’s Day. To be clear, this was his decision, a result of the divorce from my mother. Another reason for my sadness of Father’s day, my grandmother passed away the week before Father’s Day in 1998. And then, my Father was memorialized on Father’s Day weekend in 2014 after passing from the effects of lung cancer. Admittedly, this was something that I requested.

Even with my daughters, Father’s Day seemed to take a back seat, as with other holidays, because I was expected to work. I had a 40-hour/week job, but if offered overtime, so I was expected to work it, even on Father’s Day, the one day that should have been about me with my daughters. I was supposed to just be grateful for the few hours I had to spend with them once I got home from work.

To be clear, there is no one more important to me, than my daughters. When faced with emergency open heart surgery back in 2008 due to late effects from the treatments that cured me of my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, it was the fear of never seeing them again, them having the possibility of experiencing what one of their close friends experienced, losing a parent, that really pulled me through.

Unlike my father, I was there for my daughters for Father’s Day, with the exception of three, two of those were beyond my control, and the other was purely for everyone’s health and well being. A process with my divorce led me to miss two Father’s Days. And in 2020, Covid19 and all the uncertainties left me no other choice, than to keep my daughters safe, and that meant not having them travel to see me. Those three years, came and went, each time, leaving me with a broken heart, no other options available.

But just after the last time that I missed spending time with my daughters for Father’s Day, I made sure that they knew every Father’s Day, they are my priority. They are the reason I wake up every day. They are the reason I look forward to every tomorrow.

This Father’s Day is more than just having lost last year’s time together. For years, I have had friends prepare me for the time when my daughters would get older, and the likelihood that visits with them would be less frequent because they had their own things to do a la Harry Chapin’s “Cats In The Cradle”. In all honesty, for my one friend, he got much less years than I have in regard to that situation. My daughters know how important Father’s Day is to me, as important if not more than, our visit at Christmas. Father’s Day is the day, I get to celebrate and cherish all of the memories from the thousands of photos I have taken of my daughters over the years, opportunities that have lessened from the demands of the teenagers.

My daughters have a biological father, somewhere. But I am the only Father they know. And whether they are six, eighteen, or forty two, they know I will always expect this day to be ours, together.

Yes, their mother and I are divorced, and unlike my Father, I made the conscious decision, to stay in their lives, to be active in their school and interests, to be one of their two main role models, to guide them with their decisions toward their future. Each and every day, I make an attempt to reach them, through various means from phone, to Facetime, to text, a reminder that every day to them, that I am thinking about them. That I miss them. That I love them.

There are so many fathers that I do hear from, that for any reason, are not getting that opportunity this year, perhaps for several years now. For some, it is their first year without either their children, or their father. My heart breaks for them, because I understand the many different issues surrounding the emptiness of this holiday as an adult child of divorce, a divorced parent, as well as someone who lost their father.

The time with each other is only temporary. It can be a few years, or decades. But it is only temporary. That is why it is important every year, on this day, you celebrate if you are able to still do so with each other. And if you are in the unfortunate situation, having been alienated from your father or from your children, you DO NOT EVER give up! Time will heal. I got that chance to do that with my father before it was too late.

I do not know what Father’s Day will look like in 2022. But after having lost Father’s Day last year due to Covid19, this year will be more special than ever to me and my daughters.

Needless to say, as few photos there are of my father and I, my daughters will never have that problem.

Happy Father’s Day.

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