Edward Lee -Absence Eased
My daughter lives forty-eight kilometres from me in the house I bought with her mother, the house I still own; the family home, but I have not spent more than thirty minutes in it in over a year. My daughter’s mother, my ex-partner, lives there too.
Forty-eight kilometres, not that far. A forty minute drive, if the traffic is good, sixty minutes if it isn’t. Not that far at all. Not a single hour of any day passes without me being aware that she is forty-eight kilometres from me, when once she used to be under the same roof as me and I saw her everyday, that I can not simply walk into a room and see her there. And then there are days when those forty-eight kilometres feel like a thousand kilometres, two thousand, twenty thousand. There are days when it feels as though my daughter lives on another planet, non-traversable within the one lifetime. Those days, coming with no rhyme nor reason, weigh down my heart with a force I imagine equal to the crushing pressures of the deepest parts of the sea, those lightless places where humans cannot thread without sturdily constructed submersibles. Every day I do not see my daughter is a hard day, but those crushing days bring with them a pain sharp and blinding in its ferocity; on those days I barely recognize myself as a human being, so complete and all-consuming is the pain.
The only comfort I can find on those days, beyond looking at pictures and videos of her – every electronic device I own full of both – is by speaking to her on the phone, or via Skype, but because of school and the surrounding daycare I have to wait until the late evening before I can make these calls. Even then there is no guarantee that I will get to speak to her, for a variety of reasons, some I understand, some I do not, neither set safe for me to dwell upon too much least I risk a hard anger rising in the centre of my being, coiled tightly around a helix of sadness and bitterness, and if I were to find it within myself to write about either set of reasons it would not take long for my words to disintegrate into jagged shards of vitriol and insults, which is of no use to anyone, myself included, and my daughter especially, who some day may read these words, or words I have already written or will write in the future, and there are things she does not need to know, even when she is old enough to fully process and understand them (nothing sinister, nothing untoward, simply the byproduct of the fragmenting, and subsequent personal and legal dismantling, of a long relationship, with words and finger-pointing guided more by emotions than sense).
If I were lucky, these crushing days would descend within the thirty hours I get to see her, contained within every second weekend, but seeing as I am spending that time with her, that is rarely the case. So, with no other avenue of ease available to me – and how I discovered this particular avenue I am not entirely sure, the idea seemingly appearing in my mind one hard day fully formed – I watch one of the many TV programmes she watches, programmes we used to watch together when I was a stay-at-home-dad and my life made sense. With my body shaking with a sadness I cannot endure, tears usually threatening in my eyes, if not already freely flowing, I will switch on the TV or pick up my phone and watch Teen Titans Go, The Amazing World Of Gumball, or Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, and in doing this I find myself feeling closer to my daughter, imaging her beside me, or picturing her reaction to whatever might be happening on the screen, or, if it is an episode we have both seen too get her, recalling what her reaction had been and imagining it new. I understand that this may seem pathetic. I might even conceded that I can imagine that, if I were not a father made absent, and read of some similarly afflicted father doing this to be closer to their child, I would view that man as pathetic, and if not pathetic, then feeble, weak, or even demasculinzed (all accusations, I must admit, I have levelled at myself since this absence was bestowed up me). I would probably have gone as far as telling this half-man to man up and pound on the door of his daughter’s home, demanding, insisting, to see his daughter and refusing to leave until he was able to see her (and again, I have thrown these at myself, simply ignoring the fact that the world is far from a black and white place). But, pathetic or not, it works, it gives me comfort. It eases the harshness of an absence that has effectively become another aspect of my life, an ailment almost, an illness or injury with with I have to come to terms with if I am to have any hope of living a life which is in any way productive. And it is a part of my life, a necessary and unavoidable part. I am a father, like countless fathers across the world, who sees his child far less than he would wish. This is my life, and everything else, be it writing, or try to find my way again in the dating world, or working at a job I don’t want but need so I can pay my bills, or any of the other things which fill out a life, have to revolve around it.
These programs she watches, as she gets older, I imagine they will change as they have already changed from Peppa Pig, Ben And Holly, and Barbie: Life In The Dream-house. I enjoy watching these current shows, especially Teen Titans Go, being a card-carrying comic book geek since my early teens, because unlike most of the shows that existed when I was a child, they are well made and not insulting to the intelligence of the child, not some throwaway entertainment created solely to distract a child for ‘x’ amount of minutes. They are funny, and knowing. They are fully aware that there will be adults watching them, and shape many of their jokes accordingly. When she once agains moves onto other shows I do not doubt that I too will move onto those shows, watching them to better endure the distance between us; they may be shows I do not like, like I never liked Peppa Pig or Ben And Holly, but just as I watched them, I will watch these new ones, because my daughter watches them.
On the weekends I see my daughter we will invariably do anything she wishes to do, within reason of course, though even then, wrapped so tightly as I am around her little finger, she is easily able to flash her blue puppy eyes at me and get pretty much anything she wants. Sometimes she wishes to go to a play centre or playground, other times she wishes to go to a stationary shop and buy some pens or notebooks and stickers. Occasionally I bring her to art galleries and museums, talking through each painting and piece which engages her interest. Most times we draw or read together. Always she wants to go to a toy store, because what child does not? And sometimes, she simply wishes to watch TV, and that is what we do, she sitting on me, or beside me, her legs thrown across my lap, or sometimes my head, or some such variation, always wanting to have some physical contact with me, speaking of how she herself feels about our distance without using words. We watch and we laugh and we talk and we exist, father and daughter, and my world makes some sense again.