My biggest fear is that I’ll be released from prison after two years and my daughter will not recognize me.
I felt an unimaginable amount of weight lift from my shoulders the day I sign my release papers. This is the end of what seems like a never-ending journey of incarceration. I knew the day would come, but couldn’t see, touch, smell, taste or hear it. All I could do was dream.
In my dream, I pull up to her mother’s house: my stomach churns with butterflies while she plays in the front yard. I get out of a car. The sight of me, makes her stop everything she is doing, she hesitates as if she thinks she knows who I am, but she’s not sure. After all, she was only 2 years old the last time she saw me. In my dream, she hears me utter the words, “Hi, stinka butt”, and it must warm her four-year-old soul to the point of pure euphoria. Her eyes light up wider than the first time I introduced her to strawberry milk when she was one years old. Her “pink” is what she calls it. In my dream, I bend down on one knee, brace for the joyous impact, wrap my arms around her, “I missed you Da’da,” she says, a glimmer in her eyes. Then I reply, while trying my damnedest not to cry, “I missed you too, baby.”
Here’s what really happens. In early October 2018, I pull up to her mother’s house. My daughter isn’t playing in the front yard. In fact, no one is outside on the entire block. I get out of the car. Before I ring the doorbell, a rainbow colored hummingbird appears on the front porch’s hanging flower pot. It hovers for a few seconds, then disappears. I take a deep breath and ring the doorbell. My daughter’s mother answers. Her beauty is breathtaking, and rounds up all of butterflies I had just managed to shake off. I take five steps and there is my daughter sitting at the kitchen table eating a snack. She waves and says, “Hi”. She looks at her mother and asks, “Who is that?” My heart drops. Her mother asks her, “You don’t know what this is?” She replies, “No, who is that?” I take a few steps toward her and say, “Can Da’da have a hug?” She runs off, scared, as if I am a complete stranger. Her mother encourages her to give me a hug. She replies, as tears well in her eyes, “But, I don’t want to.”
I want to run – run far away from the pain, fear, anger, frustration, embarrassment and the guilt. I want to run fast. But, I don’t. I have to be there for her. Despite my mistakes, lost time with family, and the fear of being an inadequate father – I must try. I love her more than anything. My daughter’s mother is supportive and understands how hard the transition is. Thank God for second chances: to rebuild broken relationships and to be a better father. I’m going to prove to myself that redemption is possible and that my worst deeds don’t define who I am.
by: Phil Roberts, Contributing Writer & Indiana Prison Writers Workshop Participant