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There’s a girl I know. To me she’s a little girl and always will be. To her she’s a big girl and rightly so, she’s earned that status. Still, I can’t help but think of her as a little girl. Maybe because I wasn’t in on the part when she was a little girl, the growing up, school dances, trips to the ice cream parlor, pretty dresses and all things little girls do. My memories of her back then are relegated to an old photo and a little person jibber jabbering in the rear seat of a car. There’s no fault to place as to the why, it’s water under the bridge, it’s just how life is sometimes. We just have to work with what we have. Sometimes what we have now can be better than what we would have had then.
For many reasons, too many to list and others too old to worry about I didn’t get to take on the role of being there for this particular little girl. If I could turn back time I would. I’m not the kind of guy who regrets or resents or carries a grudge but I would also be lying if I said some of these feelings don’t pass through me now and then. But life is what it is and people do the things they do for reasons that are sometimes out of their control. It’s the life lessons we learn from and our inability to have something that may be what helps us help another in the future. So I move on and do what I can to be all I can be to her in the now. I don’t try to make up for time I cannot. I can’t be bitter, I can’t be angry nor can I allow myself to be sad because all I have is the now and it is in the now for which I have to be here for this particular little girl. There is a lot of past but there is only one now.
She is a beautiful little girl. Smarter than I ever was and wise beyond her years. Wise enough to know she can’t tackle the world alone. Smart enough to know when it’s time to stop and move on, something I wish I had known at her age. She has all these talents and skills. Sometimes I think the only one unaware of all she has to offer is her. That is part of my job, to build her up and help her be her own person not the person I want her to be. But it all comes with time and experience, all in good time. Don’t get me wrong, she has had her hard knocks and life hasn’t always been fair to her and she has made her mistakes but she’s learned to work with what she has and build something on it. Like I said, she’s way smarter than I ever was.
Her name is Kyla and she’s my little girl, my daughter, the love of my life. I know she is my little girl not because someone tells me she is but because there are just too many ways we are alike and little quirks we share for her not to be. For all the years we spent apart it’s uncanny how alike we truly are we are connected. We smile alike, we share the same dark and often demented sense of humor, we think alike in so many ways it’s scary, we scan any room we enter alike, we act like we’re not nervous when we really are, we constantly talk over each other and know how to laugh at ourselves, we even get angry alike. Yes, our similarities are many, many good and some not so good. Sometimes it scares me how like me she can be. My dear friend Ray Latulipe who passed away just prior to my getting to see my daughter after many years told me to “look for the similarities not the differences. Anyone can find differences but too few look for the similarities” Ray knew the ropes, he had been down the road, he knew I would be meeting her again soon. He taught me “never have regrets in life, don’t die with regrets. It’s all too short kid” He knew this because he had many regrets. A few of whom I met when he died.
There is not a day goes by that I do not think of my little girl and how she is doing. Is her day good? Is she happy or sad? Can I help her day in any way? Yes, a funny thing happened to me on our journey together, I realized I was not alone in this world anymore and never would be again. The void I carried inside of me my entire life, the hole in my heart, was filled by her.
We came about our reunion the old fashioned way, through the power of a written letter. To backup a little I should say that it was a letter almost a dozen years in the making. I had been told many years before by one I trust to let life take it’s course and when the time to reach out was right that I would know and God would lead me. That one is my older sister who knows me. She knew I was in no psychological, emotional or spiritual place in my life to go out and seek a relationship with my daughter. She knew I was too damaged to fight for something that could only end badly with other concerned parties. I was no stranger to a court room or a violent lifestyle. I’ve always been big on doing whatever I wanted, whatever I thought was right for me, yet in this instance I listened to her knowing she was right. I couldn’t control my own life and was in no position to take on someone else’s. So I waited and a funny thing happened, my life choices got better and as a result my life changed for the better. For that to happen all I had to do was disregard everything I had ever known and learned and start over again. Learn life’s lessons by people willing to teach me. No easy task I might add.
One day and a whole other lifetime later I sat down at an outdoor café on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood California, twenty-one hundred miles away from where I had started in Chicago. I sat down and wrote that letter to a sixteen year old girl. I didn’t expect much, I didn’t even expect an answer. It was just time for me to lay it out there the how and why’s of the way things had worked out the reasons they had. I was as honest as I could be without trying to drag others down. The character assignation of others I figured would serve no useful purpose nor was my heart and mind in that place anymore. I had no fight left, I had left it all in the streets. We all owned a part in the why. If this were going to be the one time we ever corresponded I wanted her remember it as a positive one. Unbeknownst to me her mother had been telling her for sometime to reach out and contact me through my father our one open connection the same connection through which I passed my letter. My father God Bless him has never had a problem letting others know what’s what and refusing to let anyone take from him blood he knew to be his. To her credit Kyla’s mother was open arms when he, quite literally, came knocking. He always had a way of getting through closed doors
Not surprisingly Kyla was uncertain as whether or not to do that. Who can blame a teenage girl who thought one thing a good portion of her life only to find out the truth was different. Understandably she was likely distrustful, angry, uncertain and confused. Rightfully so. We owed her, she did not owe us. I owed her, she did not owe me.
Time passed and I did my best to let it go but the thought of a return letter always lingered. Every time I opened my post office box my hands shook and my heart was anxious. Every time, I let myself down, but it only takes one time to change a world. Suddenly one day a letter arrived.
I sat and stared with trepid anticipation at the large manila envelope for a long, long time. Part of me wanted to rip it open and consume her words yet another part feared her response. Would she be happy I wrote or would she deny and condemn me and insist I never contact her again? I had been in some very real life and death scary situations before but nothing ever made me feel like I did in those few moments. It must have been an hour of staring and thinking before I slowly and carefully opened her letter fearful of ripping the envelope too quickly or in the wrong place and carelessly tearing even one letter of one word of her writing off the page. Her letter was my past converging with my present. Her letter I hoped would create a future with purpose and a goal but I knew it could easily be a rejection of me and everything I had hoped for.
The photos that fell from the envelope told me everything. My sister as usual had been correct, I would know when the time was right and God would lead me. I read and re-read her letter countless of times that day and over the course of the next few weeks. I carried it in my pocket then neatly tucked it in the tool compartment of my motorcycle so I could read it whenever I wanted. Eventually I placed it in my miniature ‘hope box’ of things so special I could not stand to lose them. It still hides there to this day and is there whenever I need to read it.
It would be another year and a half before we would meet in Chicago with my father playing host to our reunion. Our reunion was his reunion too. For a family as fractured as ours, I owed him this one. As well it would be a slow but steady road on a journey we both take to a great, wonder filled relationship. It would take time to get to know each other yet strangely enough we realized we were alike in so many ways and every time we spoke we found something else we had in common. We played the question/answer game. Kyla would say “question” I would respond “go for it”. I never lied to her in fact I never even stretched the truth I let it all out even when I thought it might sting a bit and I know she did the same with me. How else to better know someone than be honest. For some time I was known as ‘my Steve’ to her in context to her family and friends as she was not sure how to refer to me otherwise and I was not sure how I wanted to be referred to. It was new for us both.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I heard the word ‘dad’ escape from her lips in reference to me. It was unexpected, unsolicited and very welcome yet confusing. Was it really me she was talking to? She had been relaying a conversation she had with her mother when asking her if she thought “my dad would mind”. Even at her age she sought permission from her mother to call me dad. It shows her thoughtfulness, respectfulness and loyalty to family, another quality we share. As for her mother Dawn, I could not ask for a better relationship with someone. Many people together decades don’t have the friendship we have and we only dated a few months. But it took time and still develops as we go along. She allows me to be the asshole I can at times be, it runs in my family, but she knows my heart is in the right place. I can even go to her for advice on this whole being a dad thing. Today Kyla refers to me as ‘dad’ regularly. She says things like ‘hey dad’ or ‘my dad’ this and ‘my dad’ that. It’s a title years later I’m still getting accustomed to and learning to live up to. I demand I live up to it. It’s a title I hope I have earned thus far. As used to it as I have become I will never totally get used to it and will never take it for granted. Things have come a long way for us both.
Don’t get me wrong we have had our disagreements and even a few blow out arguments. But we both know we are allowed that. She has a mind of her own, something too many people don’t have and it’s one of the many things I love about her. If you’re not able to be upset with someone you love then how will you ever know when you’re happy around them? I have tried to impart on her to always stand up and hold her ground when she knows she is right and never take shit from anyone. Happily that has blown back in my face a few times. She’s a tough kid for sure. I’ve also tried to offer what life lessons I can when she asks for them. To my delight she asks me my advice or opinion on many things. Me! Who would have thought my opinion would be worth a nickel fifteen years ago? Certainly not I. As for my advice, well, let’s just say I try to steer her toward the direction she is already going with the confidence she needs to get there. It’s not that my advice isn’t worthy of reception but my own advice has been known to lead into some dark places and messy situations. I just feel it’s best to let her walk, stumble, fall and get up again but know inside of herself that she can do that and still be okay and know that someone will always be there in her corner. Someone will always be there to pick her up when she can’t stand on her own and hold her upright until she can again. That someone is me.
I am positive nothing has ever been more fulfilling for me than my relationship with my daughter. She is everything I ever hoped for and more. I’m so proud of the woman she has become and the little girl she will always be to me. It’s pretty crazy watching someone grow and become them and be allowed to be part of it. I can only hope I live up to her expectations and then some. Yes, I tell her she should have expectations and high ones at that. The highest should be those she has set for herself. I hope I can always be there for her when she needs and be the beacon in the darkness to lead her safely home and stand back and stand by when she needs to do it for herself. But I’ll always be ready to catch her. I couldn’t be there to bandage her skinned knees or when she kissed her first boy but I can be there to make sure she doesn’t have to fall to her knees and answer questions about love and life the best I can. I can be there when she calls. Not when I want to be but when she needs me to be. After all, she’s my little girl.
I hope and pray God I have been to her all that she is to me. I hope and pray that I have been there for her and continue to be. I’ve slipped, fallen and deliberately turned away even when I knew you were looking but you kept me anyway. Dear God please be there for my little girl the way you have been for me.
A wise man once said to me “don’t spend your life looking for the differences in people, look for the similarities you share.” At the end of his life the same dear departed friend also said “don’t have any regrets in life, close all old deals and get rid of the bad blood.” I heed his advice daily.