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How the Father of My Daughter Helped Me Overcome My Own Fatherlessness

Monday, September 13, 2021

By Amanda Rose Harper

His response to my pregnancy started a journey of my own healing that I could never have anticipated.

When I was a child, I told myself that my dad was Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Why not? I didn’t know who my actual father was, so I figured he could be anybody I wanted him to be.

Jean-Luc seemed like the perfect kind of father. He was kind, adventurous, and strong in a quiet and elegant way. I pictured him finally meeting me one day, taking me on a tour of the USS Enterprise, and showing me off to his crew. He’d pull the throttle of the ship, whisk us off into space, and say “Make it so.” With those words, he’d finally restore balance to the precarious Jenga stack that was my seven-year-old heart.

His absence was a void in my life. It was a feeling of never quite being in balance, of constantly trying to not get knocked over by the faintest gust of wind. I would stand tall whenever anyone asked about my father. I’d say I never knew him, but it was fine. I was fine. I’d catch myself from falling, adding more pieces to the stack with toxic relationships, losing myself in fantasies.

But then my daughter arrived like a hurricane, and all the years of coping mechanisms came crashing down.

When I first spoke of my daughter’s existence out loud, it was to myself in the bathroom over a stick that I had just peed on. I added it to a pile of about ten others. Perfectly in balance, two lines on each one, there was no question or missing link in this stack. I think I said, “Oh, shit.”

But even then I knew I loved her. I secretly downloaded podcasts on pregnancy and babies and listened as I drove through the city, feeling more protective of my body than I ever had. My blood rushed and my heart pounded against her heart, newly forming, her soul in mine.

I was scared to tell her father. Even though she was only the size of a bean, I was worried she would inherit the trauma of not knowing her father.

It took a few days for me to muster up the courage to tell him. We were in Arizona visiting my grandma for Christmas. She was my rock and forever a safe place to land. Unlike all of the giddy pregnant women on the podcasts I had listened to who couldn’t wait to tell their partners, I told my grandma first. We passed a yellow sticky note back and forth in the quiet of the early morning.

“What are you scared of? It’s wonderful!” she wrote. My heart sank. Deep down I knew it was wonderful, but I didn’t know if he would agree. Do fathers love their children the way mothers do?

I walked with him out into the desert, trembling as I took his hand. I stayed silent until we were far enough away from the surrounding soft pink stucco homes. I didn’t want an audience. I needed space in case there was any shame. After a few deep breaths, I let the words roll off of my tongue. Speaking of her existence again gave me a rush.

“I’m pregnant.”

I looked pleadingly into his eyes, as a fatherless daughter does. Love us. Don’t leave us. I asked without saying the words, the collapsed pieces of the tower I had built throughout the years on display, a mess at our feet.

What happened next hit me like a shockwave: He radiated. The corners of his eyes lifted, and he put his hand on his hat in disbelief as if he had won the lottery. He pulled me and my daughter into an embrace, and that sealed the deal. His response started a journey of my own healing that I could never have anticipated.

My daughter was loved the minute her existence was spoken, and she will be loved in this way — the way only a parent can know — until the day both her mother and father are unable to speak again. No matter what happens between her father and me, my heart is working hard to stay open, to not fear the love of men who might leave. I do this for her, but I do it for me too.

Maybe somewhere my own father speaks of my existence to himself, or to a close friend, and feels something that he’s afraid of. Maybe he keeps himself busy stacking the pile, covering up the missing pieces, filling the void. But even if it’s for a split second, a fleeting thought in his day, when he thinks of me, I know that it’s real. It might be the only thing that’s real. Love is real, no matter how distant it is.

I now have the privilege of witnessing this love every day. I see it when my daughter’s father looks at her with the same glow he had that day in Arizona. When he exhaustedly picks her up for the five hundredth time to swing her around the living room. I also feel it in my belly — a quiet knowing every time she rests her cheek on my shoulder. When we all watch Star Trek together, I’ll smile knowing she’ll never have to pretend Jean-Luc is her dad. He will be sitting beside her.

I’ll love my daughter forever, and so will her dad. And somewhere, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment, wherever he is, I know my dad loves me too.


Amanda Harper is a writer and runner living in the beautiful hills of Northern California wine country. She is currently working on her second novel, a sci-fi drama about the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters and the Milky Way. When she isn’t writing, you can find her running along the coast, sipping untreated wine, cooking vegan dishes, raising an almost-three-year-old, or gardening barefoot.