Two days a week, usually on Monday and Friday evenings before she goes to bed, I open my laptop and, using the Internet, call the Brazilian city my daughter lives in 4,600 miles from my Boston apartment. If my timing is good, her mother is there to answer the call; I hear through my speakers the soft, gull-like sounds my child has made since birth, and in another few seconds she materializes on my screen, propped on her mother's lap, her almond-brown eyes shining and alert. Sometimes she looks back at me and smiles. Sometimes, with her mother's help, she stands up and jumps. She's not quite walking, but she will be soon: In another three days she'll be one.
We started Skyping, Amelia and I, a little over a month ago after her mother took a two-year job in South America. And I must admit that—Luddite though I am, reluctant to use my cell phone, late to post to Facebook—I'm in thrall to technology as never before. I anticipate our sessions with ardor, always making sure I'm showered and shaved; sometimes, before logging on, checking the lyrics of the song I plan to sing her from a cheat-sheet on my desk. And what a miracle it is! Here in Boston, rain and wind rattle my windowpanes and the sky is dark by five; there she is with tropical birds calling from outside and a yellow summer sunset streaming through her open window at eight. I offer a painfully off-key rendition of Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow," but she doesn't seem to mind: one line into the song I've sung her since the day she was born, and her eyes grow wide. I bring her orange bathtub duckie into camera-range, and she squeals at the sight of her familiar friend. Then it's on to games of peek-a-boo (even more fun now that I can make myself disappear right off her screen) and the itsy-bitsy spider, with my fingers tracing its upward route. The other day I acquired a luminous 24-inch "cinema display" screen that beams her from my laptop at nearly her actual size, as if my desktop image (a photo of her from our last visit together) has magically sprung to life.
But while Skype may help Amelia and me get through the next two years, the larger problem of absence has been with us since her first glistening appearance in this world. In the argot of family law, I am her "non-residential parent"—her mother and I parted ways before she was born—and I've been trying to figure out what it means to be a part-time father since I attended her birth, cut her cord, learned like all the other dads on the post-natal floor how to make a good tight swaddle, then watched her go off to live beneath a roof that wasn't mine.