Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Love Lasting a Lifetime
What is your happiest moment in a lifetime?
I asked myself that this morning, and there was no pause whatsoever. For the older readers you know how sometimes things get lost up there for a while and a file search in that marvelous computer that is our brain is initiated? This memory was right up front, with no search required.
It was September 4, 1975. The occasion was the birth of my daughter. There was her momma Peggy. For days before we had been trying everything to get her to deliver this baby. Exercise, jumping. Then there were those pesky contractions, coming closer and closer together. She would call the doctor. Wait an hour and call me back. But they would have stopped. Finally it was decided she should come to the hospital and have induced labor. We were already running overtime.
That moment we arrived at the hospital and were given a room, suddenly the emotion of it all just overwhelmed me. I became dizzy and had to sit down for a few minutes. Today we would have a brand new baby daughter! Peggy was hooked up and a drip started. Midway into it all she decided to have an epidural injection. Peggy at that time was an obstetrics nurse and knew what to ask for. She was feeling no pain, and as they were wheeling her into delivery she was talking about craving Mexican food. “Some tacos really sound good!”
I called back, “Have the baby first, then we can talk about tacos.” I was shown the way to the waiting room.
Now this was another generation, and while the idea of Dads being in the delivery room was starting to catch on about that time, it had not quite made it to Mother Francis Hospital in Tyler, Texas yet. So I sat and waited. A few minutes later a nurse came out to me. Bending over, she whispered in my ear. “Don’t say anything, just get up and follow me.” Rounding the hallway she said, “I could not say it there because it is against the rules, but if you wish, you can come into the delivery room.”
“Wow, I’ll say!” I must say I was breathless with excitement. Standing by, I watched bit by bit, my daughter emerge into this world. As they cut the cord, she was totally covered in slimy ick. Her face was contorted into a scream about to happen, and then the scream itself.
She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. In this moment, we shared together a love more powerful than anything we could imagine. This one small baby, being bathed to clear off the gooey mess to show a bright pink skin underneath, had captured our hearts forever. Her name would be Jennifer, named after Jennifer Warnes who I had seen years before in the west coast cast of Hair.
Over many years we had such happiness. Even though Peggy and I were not meant to be a couple, we were united in our love for this young girl. We went to dance recitals, band events, tee ball and softball where her mom, always the athlete of the family coached the other girls her age. Later it would be football games with her in the band at Elsik High School. She stayed with me when her mom went on vacation and went with me when I had time off.
One year we traveled to Arkansas, spending time camping and fishing and hiking. In one restaurant we saw a stuffed animal. “What is that? She asked.
I looked at the jackrabbit with deer antlers attached. “Hmm… it’s body looks like a rabbit.”
“Yeah, but the antlers are like a deer!”
“You are so right. Hmm… what do you get when you mix a rabbit and a deer?” ::pause:: Grinning I said, “It must be a Reer!”
She started to laugh, and when she got home, she told her momma, “We saw a reer!”
“A rear?” She responded.
Jennifer was fun to travel with. We would sing songs along the way, or play games like Doodlebug or Out of State License or just talk about anything. Recently I found an old tape from when she was 6 years old singing Chantilly Lace and “Doe, a deer, a female deer”… On that trip we rewrote the song to Reer, a female reer, Re a drop of golden sun… We made trips to Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona. We also for a time traveled around the state staying at Texas historical sites.
Another memory was from her 8th grade year. She entered the History fair with two of her friends. Together they put on a video presentation with musical accompaniment in a tribute to Scott Joplin who was born in Texas. She won the fair and traveled to Austin for the state competition. They finished third which I thought was wonderful. Her heart was broken though, expecting to win the event. Sometimes she could be as competitive as her mom.
This of course only scratches the surface. She was a beautiful sensitive child and exceptionally good. The memories still bring a smile to this day. But also a few tears as well. Hindsight is 20/20. I made two mistakes as I look back. First, as long as I did not have a permanent partner, I saw no need to tell her I was gay. That proved to be a big mistake. She was close to grown when I told her. She just sat there and cried her eyes out. From that day on, the relationship was strained. She did not come over that much anymore, and after Skip moved in, not at all. When Skip died, I was furious with her and everyone else. This was my soul mate, and how could people I loved be so uncaring. I felt so alone at that time. I should not have shared that with her, but I did. I have a confession. I’m terribly human. Mea culpa.
Then there was the second mistake. I should have dealt with the transgender thing when she was young as well. I was well on my way before Skip passed away. Her momma was opposed to my transition, but as we talked about it, she felt and I agreed that she could talk to her first, and then I would sit down with her. Okay that was the third mistake. After her momma talked to her, she called me up. “I talked to her. She is crying her eyes out. She does not want to talk to you. I told her if she didn’t want you in her life, I’d still be there for her. She is going through photos now cutting you out of them.”
So we began talking about our happiest moment. In that one conversation I lived my worse nightmare. That tiny baby I held in my arms, that little girl who had always been there, declared me persona non gratis. The rest of the family except for a few soon joined in.
So I still took my responsibility seriously. I continued child support payments after she was 18 and for four years of college. No letters. No phone calls. No news. I learned later she went for five years, but I had no way of knowing at the time. I wrote her every month or so, just to let her know I still loved her. A couple of years ago I got a letter filled with hate asking me to no longer contact her. I have honored that request.
Today, even as I write these words, tears are flowing. That connection of love formed when I first saw that little baby in that delivery room so many years earlier still burns freely. I may be gay and transgender, and sometimes or perhaps often stupid, but I am human. How does one end the love of a parent for a child? In my case, that is impossible. I miss her terribly. I had to do what I had to do. The same is true for her I’m sure. But the love, it’s forever for me. I can’t imagine it any other way, reciprocated or not.
“That love is all there is,
Is all I know of love.”