Eighteen years ago, our daughter was born. She was large, nine pounds three ounces and round, so round, and so beautiful. So wise. As a child in my womb, as a new born, she was already wise. Of course she was. She came through us.
You never got to place your hands on my stomach or witness the pregnancy. You wanted to come close and yet, my family and I pushed you away. Everyone was terrified that I was pregnant at eighteen, and you, dear man, were made to be a monster. Truths were falsified against you. Your child was being denied you, you were panicking, but you didn’t receive acknowledgment for that.
Not until I sat in front of you seventeen years later and began my apology.
We were young when we met, and I remember you first on the back porch of a cabin, in an oversized sweatshirt, jumpy in a nervous and athletic body, but your tenderness certainly apparent and your dimples deep. You were a speech pathology major in college. I believe I was fifteen and immediately had a crush on you. A few times a year, we volunteered at the same camp for kids with disabilities, and when I got to be there with you, something ignited inside of me. I finally confessed how I felt about you my senior year in high school, and you, already twenty three, took me up on it. We traveled the summer before I moved away to college. I remember feeling both loved and smothered by you - it was too intense in some ways for a young girl, and yet part of me loved the intensity. I know it was real love.
When I went to college, nine hours away from home, you wanted me to call nightly. I was missing out on college life. I remember I was opening in brave new ways, like moving my body for the first time, uninhibited, to the drums in the African Dance class. But I’d have to pull myself away to make sure to catch your phone call. I started to feel conflicted.
When we got pregnant over fall break of my freshman year, unplanned, I knew by Thanksgiving. I remember I started puking early in the pregnancy, and in the dorm toilets, gagging daily at the site of shared showers and clogged drains. I subsisted on plain bagels and orange juice. My first thought upon hearing I was pregnant was, “No one can know.” I went to the college counselor and cried and cried that my mother was going to hate me. She gave me the information on abortion. I knew somewhere deep inside that there was no way this child was not meant to come into the world. One way or another, for everything it meant, this pregnancy was happening.
As I write this, I call you to ask you to tell me the details, because my brain only begins to remember my pregnancy and my experience with my pregnancy and not many details of our relationship from the moment I found out. It was as if my head went down and stayed down, with a mix of protection and shame. You remind me that yes, you drove nine hours the day after you heard, and we spent the weekend together. You urged me to connect with you, to make a plan. When you left to go home, you said I called my parents, and after that, our relationship became disconnected.
I moved back home to Pennsylvania, into my parents’ house, at the end of my first semester of college to have this baby the following July. You wanted to help. You wanted to be a family. It terrified me. My parents were so angry. I allowed myself to ignore you. I allowed the distance to be enforced, and heavily. My father took over. Law enforcement was involved.
You were losing your child.
My family brought home information about adoption, and yes, I’ll say that they pushed it, though, ultimately, all responsibly is of course my own. It’s why I have to write this letter.
I didn’t speak to you for at least the last half of the pregnancy. The social worker from the adoption agency was your point of contact. We chose a family in New Jersey, a state with a “once and done” signing of surrender seventy two hours after the birth. After her birth, still in the hospital, the social worker told me that three weeks prior, your house had burned to the ground while you were working the night shift. Your two best friends, animals, and all of your belongings were lost in the fire.
My mind couldn’t grasp the depth of this loss then. I knew it was devastating and I still didn’t reach out. There was so much confusion. By this time, I believed you were dangerous. How did my heart turn so ambivalent to your condition? To this suffering? I called you when our daughter was two, for the first time. You told me later that you actually answered the phone high as a kite, you were so lost in drug use by that point.
You had been working the night shift to make extra money to support your child, should I change my mind. I never really knew how badly you wanted to show up for us, how prepared you actually were to make it work. My parents told me that I could not depend on you, and I believed them. I spent my entire life believing that no man really did want to show up for me. You sat across from me seventeen years later and explained how you so, so deeply had wanted to.
This is a letter of apology. I know that I was young, that I was far too impressionable, and yet, I denied you your child.
Women can do that. And they often do. And, it’s wrong. You are one man in a sea of men who have been denied their rights, openly shamed, and forcibly pushed out of their child’s lives.
I denied you participation in conversations about her fate. I denied you connection that our bond actually deserved, as our love had been real. I denied you meeting your daughter in the womb, or in the hospital, and the way you were framed has lead to you not yet meeting your daughter, now eighteen. I denied you your place in her childhood.
I allowed myself to believe that you were a monster that I needed to protect my child from, where for the life of me, in the last five years as I look back now, I can not find any evidence that this was ever true.
How do I ever apologize? I have tried. You have said that I am forgiven. I know this is true, and I am blessed by your graciousness. Your genuine nature. Your love. We know that life shapes us. We know that this is all for reasons far bigger than you or I alone.
How many men are called monsters and denied their own children? You and I both know a few. And that is why I write this now. To all the men, on behalf of all the women who also find themselves with a relatable truth through my story. We live in a world of women’s liberation, and yet, it is not healthy if women are using their status as Mother to overpower the decisions of Father. We need to invite men to the table. Mothers will always have that special protective role, and yet, you wanted to help. You wanted to be there. What we believe is protection of our children is sometimes harmful, harmful denial and projection.
Our daughter, therefore, was also denied access to you. When she went with her family at birth, I sent written letters, stories, and pictures. I know I sent the one of you in the tree on the hill at Warren Wilson College. I don’t think she ever saw it and I don’t know why her parents would not have shared that with her. As I share an open adoption with her family, when she was sixteen, her family and mine were on the beach together. My son, then, six, playing with her in the waves, her mother said, “She has some questions about Jeremy.”
I only ever really offer information when she asks, which is hardly ever, but am always happy to do so. She wanted to know your last name that day, and I asked her if she was going to look you up. She was getting curious. I realized she hadn’t seen pictures. I asked her if she knew who you were or how we’d met, and she said no. I was shocked. She was a sixteen year old young woman at the time, and I said as my mind swirled to realize she didn’t know, “Oh my, oh my. You, my dear, were conceived in love.”
By that time, you and I had begun to talk again, to find healing. I knew that you were safe and that that old feeling of guardedness had largely subsided. I told her there on the beach that day everything I could in the moments that I knew would be too short. I told her how we met, of your good heart, why I had fallen in love with you, that you were an artist like her. I told her about your dimples and how handsome you are. I made connections to her athleticism and yours. I tried to begin to restore your honor. I said, “These are your stories. You can ask for them whenever you want.”
You and I both are still waiting for her to ask for more.
I know you love her. I know it broke you to lose her, and I carry your heart in my heart now, because that’s how I love you. We talk. We became friends again. You support me in my unabashedly risky endeavors to start a business aligned with my soul purpose, and you honor how this has all shaped me too. We text one another on her birthday, reaching across that heart space of two birth parents with our own version of the story of that day.
We sat across from one another last year in a conversation that was such a gift, it changed my life. And I would venture to say that it changed yours too.
You have land now, you build things with your hands. You escaped the early self-sabotaging behaviors in the years after her birth where addiction could have taken you down, thank God.
You pull yourself up. You do what you have to do. You find heart. You are beginning to create again. You are planting orchards and have dreams of opening your animal farm up to children with disabilities.
Every morning, I put a spoon into the honey that you send to me now from your hives. The sweetness is profound. That I am standing here, back for the last decade in the mountains where our daughter was first conceived, with your forgiveness blessing my heart and your honey in my mouth, is more a gift than I can say.
I am sorry.
I am sorry and I am grateful that we both understand that this imperfect and wounded life can also bring eventual healing. I am grateful that you allow me to tell our story such that it might also allow for others’ healing.
She’s in college now. She doesn’t know it, but she picked your original major. I see in my mind a vision that I trust will come true. The house you are building is finished on your wide open acreage. Your orchard is producing. You are painting again, those incredibly talented portraits and landscapes; I imagine the final evidence of your heart’s liberation. And she and I drive up. We walk through the orchard, the three of us. The sweetness of truth and life and honey on our tongues.