The truth is, it’s not a fairy tale. Or perhaps, it’s more like a fairy tale than you might think – evil step-parents, a child’s desire to escape their current situation and a surprising amount of talking pigs who are talented masons. But that’s an article for another time.
I met my future wife when her daughter was three years old. Emotionally, I’d say I was about the same age. The truth is, I had never been fond of children as they never added any value to my life. They don’t understand the offside rule in football, their views on post-colonial literature are juvenile at best and they always leave you with the tab at the pub.
More importantly, I had no desire to fill the role of a parent, nor did I believe I would have the desire to become a parent in the near future. However, I had fallen in love with a wonderful woman and a beautiful little girl was part of the package. I remember visiting my future wife’s tiny flat to meet her daughter for the first time. I arrived after work and my wife was giving her a bath. From behind the closed door, my future daughter let out a laugh that emanated from the very depth of her gut. A laugh that was so unreservedly honest that it sounded as if it bordered on painful.
I realized at that point that I was out of my depth. I didn’t know how to be a father. I had just learnt how to talk to women, I had no idea how to talk to a little girl. My experience in being fathered was limited to rule under fear, and even though I didn’t know what to do, I knew that’s not how I wanted to do it. So instead of a parent, I became a manager. I knew how to manage staff, so I began to manage my daughter. It was the only skill I had that was remotely applicable. And to be honest, I thought I was doing a damn good job. I didn’t go as far as setting her KPI’s and conducting performance reviews, but I was tempted to do so.
But there still wasn’t a deeper connection there that I wanted or expected. I was living with undiagnosed depression at the time as well, so perhaps that too influenced my inability to connect with her. In addition to this, she saw me as someone who was coming in to steal her mommy from her. Of course, that was not the case. As I told my wife early in our courting, I could never be with a woman that was willing to put me above her children. But this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hurt and upset by the fact my daughter opposed our marriage. And that hurt led to anger, which was an inappropriate feeling to have towards one’s’ own child so I swallowed that anger and it evolved into indifference.
When my daughter began to act up, this indifference returned to anger. What reason could she have for acting up? We gave her everything she could possibly need and almost everything she could have ever asked for. She had far more than either my wife nor I had growing up, so what was her problem? I genuinely couldn’t understand it. At this time, my sister had remarried and both my wife and daughter compared me unfavourably to my new brother-in-law’s relationship with my nieces. A comparison that I resented. Now, when I look back, I realize that he had already been a father for a few years when he had met my sister. Perhaps it was the experience?
Everything changed for me when my son was born and it happened practically overnight. When my son drew his first breath, the connection was there instantly. And feeling that connection with him produced the instant pain of a lost connection with my daughter. It was like feeling the ache of a phantom limb that you never knew you had lost. I realized how badly I had failed her. She didn’t need a manager or father. She needed a daddy. I wish I could go back in time, with the experience and knowledge I have now, because I know I would be a better father to her. I’m not saying I’d be a good father, but certainly better than the one she had. But regret doesn’t change the past.
The connection between my daughter and I now is stronger than it has ever been. She now understands the offside rule, which certainly does help. It doesn’t change my shame or guilt for failing her in her formative years and it’s a guilt I’ll carry forever. I can only hope that one day she will understand that although I failed her, I sincerely did my best. I think that’s all a loving parent can offer after all. Their best.
Kurt Ellis is an award-winning novelist and copywriter (he has no awards for copywriting as yet). He’s the father of two, the first of his name and protector of the realm. He describes himself as a man of three passions: Writing, Liverpool FC and Fatherhood. His new novel, In the Midst of Wolves, is scheduled for release on October 2019,
Website: www.kurtellis.com twitter @kurtellis2