Though I took care of her several times a week for nearly a year, her absence has defined my fatherhood nearly as much as her arrival—10 months of reunions and partings, distances crossed, transitions made, trying with an ever-ticking clock to parent her well and worrying always that she'd forget me from one visit to the next, or that I'd come to seem as unreliable to her as my own father seemed to me. Yet absence in my case is a circumstance I can't avoid. So how do I forge with my daughter a stable bond? How do I give Amelia all the love and care she deserves?
And now that she's in Brazil, we Skype, which only seems to deepen my dilemma. I can see her on my big new screen as large as life, but I can't put her to bed at night or be there when a bad dream wakes her in the night. When I see her bump her head and cry, I watch helplessly, unable even to offer her the comfort of a kiss. After 30 or 40 minutes, I've exhausted her attention and she begins to rub her eyes. "Night-night, pumpkin," I say. "Don't let the bed bugs bite." When she leans toward the lens, I lean forward myself to say goodbye, then we sign off and my screen goes blank. The Boston night presses against my windows, dark panes reflecting all the bright toys still strewn about my floor that I can't seem to pack away, and I sit there wondering how she must feel seeing her father's face on the screen one minute only to watch it vanish into blackness the next.
But then, as if struck by some great insight, I remember that all parenting presents challenges one never anticipated and demands solutions one never knew existed.
I used to think that I Skyped mostly for me—so that I could watch her grow, get surer of foot, work out the wonders of the opposable thumb, and be witness to all her other first great discoveries. Now I think that I do it for her. Amelia's still too young to remember any of this, of course, her synapses not yet formed enough to seal into memory even the features of my face or the timbre of my voice. But when I rush home from work two nights a week to sit down at my computer with her rubber duck, Sophie the giraffe, an empty box of Cheerios, and her old sippie-cup in my lap, I am filling up a bank of shared experience for us that I can hold in trust. At least that's my hope. For even here in Boston I can start building us a rope of memory to help withstand the eroding tides of forgetfulness, a tether stretched from one hemisphere to the other, from me to her.
Darcy Frey is the author of The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams and a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. He teaches creative writing at Harvard University.
This piece was originally published on ResponsibilityProject.com.
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