You overhear your daughter’s conversation with her father. She is so excited, he’s going to take her to the aquarium on Saturday. She has been wanting to go and even more importantly, longing to spend time with her dad. You know that it’s important for her emotional health to have a good relationship with her father, so you support and encourage his involvement.
She gets off the phone, bubbling with enthusiasm, and you paste a smile on your face as you discuss the plans. You want to be happy for her, but you can’t erase the history of doubt, the memory of all the disappointments. How many times has he promised to come to school and have lunch with her, take her to the movies on Sunday afternoon, come to watch her soccer game?
Yes, sometimes he does show up. Just often enough to keep her hoping, keep her making furtive glances into the stands, thinking that this time he will come through and do what he says. He shows up just often enough to stoke the ember of hope in her young heart. But what about the other times?
When you first got divorced, he was consistent with every other weekend visits, swearing his relationship with his daughter wouldn’t change. But as the last five years have passed, his visits have dwindled to an occasional day here and there. You’ve lost count of the times your daughter has sat on the front porch with her backpack, ready for a day with her dad, her eyes peeled for the sight of his car coming down the street. You have the indelible, sad image of your daughter sitting on the front porch, waiting hopefully. After an hour, you go out and softly tell her he probably isn’t coming.
You’re the one that is there to pick up the pieces of her heart, to hold her as she cries bitter tears of hurt and disappointment. You comfort her and even though you want to spew words of anger, you know that would only hurt her worse, so you assure her he does love her, but he sometimes has problems with following through. You mentally cancel your own plans for the day and distract her with chatter about what the two of you can do together. Inside, your own heart is breaking. Your anger at him – for hurting his own child with disappointment over and over again – boils underneath your calm exterior. Each time he breaks a promise, it’s like a cut in the fabric of who she’s supposed to become. You wonder, if he had to be there to witness the consequences, would he be so cavalier with his actions?
Her need for her dad is strong, and you hope and pray this Saturday’s trip to the aquarium will be a success. Maybe you shouldn’t, but the day before, you can’t resist sending him a text saying how much your daughter is looking forward to the outing. A non-accusatory, friendly reminder in place of what you really want to say.
Your nine-year-old daughter is so excited about the visit she can hardly sleep and is dressed and ready to go hours before his scheduled arrival. As the appointed time looms closer, you are full of nervous energy that you channel into housework so your daughter doesn’t sense your anxiety. The doorbell rings, and you breathe a big sigh of relief. This is one of his good days, a day he is going to follow through with his promises. Today he will be the hero your daughter desperately needs, and she will get to be the daddy’s little girl she craves to be.
Today is a good day. Yet, you can’t help but worry about the long-term damage that is being done by the inconsistencies and broken promises. Will your daughter think this is acceptable behavior by men? Will she think it’s normal to make promises and not keep them? How will she ever fully trust anyone and form a long term healthy bond with a partner? Doubts and worries plague your thoughts. The future is uncertain but for now, you thank the stars he showed up and for a brief moment in time, all is well in your daughter’s world.