SHE WAS A DARLING LITTLE GIRL in a black and white photo, holding a tiny flower, a face blooming with innocence and wonder.
I picked it up from my desk and walked to the next office, where I thanked my friend and colleague for the shot. “Your daughter is so cute,” I said.
He looked at me funny – not surprising as he did that often, but what he said next was no joke.
“Um, that’s your daughter, not mine.”
I looked again. The photo was from years earlier, when my daughter was about the same age as my friend’s. Not only was it my daughter, but as I looked closer, I realized the picture was taken at my house, in my own backyard.
I blamed my mistake on being tired, stressed. I blamed it on too much travel, too much work – anything but the real reason.
I didn’t remember because I wasn’t there.
I tried to make up for lost time in the ensuing years. I did my best to be at school events and volleyball matches; to be present at home, and not at home without being present. Now that she’s in college I make extra efforts to visit, to be available by phone or text – and to take pictures together more often.
I’m still pretty selfish and self-absorbed. I still too often put work and writing on a pedestal above seeing friends or relaxing with my wife. If I have a free moment, it’s usually spent working on the next book chapter or catching up on SportsCenter.
But at least now I see it – I know what I am and can try to get better. And I no longer use my past as an excuse.
Sure, I didn’t have a dad growing up, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be one. I didn’t have a close family, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make one.
Father’s Day has never been easy. It’s a reminder of loss – of my dad from cancer, of my fatherhood from ignorance. But each year it gets a little better, each year a little more focused on the future than the past.
I wasn’t too late after all. I’m back in the picture, where fathers belong.