We’ve never met. But in a way that is both ironic and quite logical, I’ve gotten to know you well. Through your daughter.
She mentions you often. Or never. Either she doesn’t communicate with you–or sees you all the time. She has shown me photos of you.
The resemblance is uncanny. She’s got your eyes–so wonderfully expressive that they could turn state’s evidence without an utterance. Her mother must have melted the day you cast your eyes upon her; eyes that, through your daughter, have had the same affect on me.
In any case, the more time I spend with your daughter–the more I get to know her–the more I can’t help think of you. Those thoughts moved me to reach out.
You know who you are.
I figured maybe you’d like to know how she is doing, your daughter. I hope you do.
She is an A+ university major. She is the postal worker who delivers my mail. She is unemployed but confident that soon she will find the job she wants. She is retired. She is a doctor. She is homeless. She is a single mom and secretary, devastating in Chanel.
Above all else, she is your daughter.
I say all this as if you don’t know it. Even so, there are things you may not know about her, and I hope you don’t consider my telling you out of line.
Your daughter is in pain, sir.
She is having a problem with a certain part of herself. The pain is most apparent when she deals with men. She either goes from one to the other or hasn’t been romantically involved with a man in years. Or, she stays long After The Love Is Gone, in uncomfortable convenience, as she grapples to define the torturously blurred line in her psyche between love and hurt.
Quite often, what your daughter interprets as love is control. Manipulation. Abuse. You’d think she’d see it, sir, considering her intelligence and common sense. But when it comes to affairs of the heart–her heart–she often seems clueless.
Sir, you’d be offended if you knew the men she gives quality time: men whose impotent words and shallow actions would not beguile anyone except a misguided, yearning child, which is what your daughter becomes in their presence, to be shaped like warm putty in the crafty hands of a cold sculptor. She doesn’t seem equipped to know the difference. Yet, when she allows such intuition, she knows something is not right.
When she lets this man inside her, she closes those eyes of yours and surrenders, hoping this time sex will somehow become love, strong enough to numb the truth she can’t quite grasp; hoping that her screams of fleeting ecstasy will drown out the nagging notion that something is missing.
Her void goes way back. Forgive me for saying so, sir, but whether or not you were physically home is inconsequential; she needed YOU. After all, you were her first: the first man she ever knew, in many ways, her first boyfriend. Who you were back then–how you treated the girl, how you treated her mother, how you treated yourself–forever established in her susceptible little mind what a man is.
Thus is the spirit of her life quest. Through your eyes, she searches for…you.
As I don’t have children, you may ask what I know about raising them. I’ve plenty of experience, sir. I’m raising yours. Matters not that she is a grown woman; I am trying to give her what you didn’t.
Shame on you.
You ought to see how your daughter gets treated out here, sir. I wouldn’t send a dog out into the world in the unenlightened fashion you dispatched your own flesh and blood–vulnerable, callow with no real perception of what a good man is and thus no protection from a bad one.
Ultimately, I sympathize with you. Chances are good you were raised by the father you became. However, knowing this doesn’t make me any less weary of meeting, over and again, the woman who appears forward thinking and contented, only to discover at some dramatic twinkling that she is your daughter.
Undoubtedly, she is sick of me, too, your daughter–exhausted by my theorizing what went wrong and what’s missing in her life, while seldom turning the magnifying glass upon myself. We both get frustrated. But in the end, I am grateful that your daughter puts up with me, a man raised by a good woman–whose father was a lot like you.
In spite of all that I have said, sir, there is one more thing I am obliged to share with you, something you truly need to know: after everything, your little girl loves you. Still. I can see it in her eyes.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]