I was always taught that there are very few times when a grown man should cry – Funerals, and that sort, I suppose. My own personal list, however, of permissible occasions for a man to tear up a bit definitely includes those few minutes when I am returning my daughter to her mother after a week or two of good quality time together. Life as we know it changes for the duration of the time that she is with us, as my girlfriend and I temporarily abandon our “come-and-go-as-we-please” lifestyle to adapt to the warm and inviting home that my daughter knows in California. Sushi and fish tacos are replaced by fish sticks and chicken tenders, and Nickelodeon tends to be the order of the day on the flat screen. Late nights at the office take a back seat to playing “Go Fish” and reading a fairytale princess story before bed. But it is all so very welcome and we both get upset when it is time for Allie to go back.
I start to feel a bit sad about the day before I have to take her back, as I am compiling my mental checklist of things of Allie’s that I need to remember to pack. She often senses this slight gloom and ironically it is her reminding me that “Daddy, but I’m still here right now,” in that every so adorable high pitched voice. It is amazingly deep sentiment coming from such an innocent, young, four-year old girl, showing that even this thirty-something Daddy can still learn a thing or two from his little princess : enjoy the moment. Thinking about setting the alarm to catch a plane bums me out, because I know that at the end of the long day of travel (I fly her there and then back alone on the same day – usually about 13 hrs of travel and 4 flight segments or so, in total), even though I’ll sleep like a baby and I can get back to my normal work routine, there will be a big piece of me now 1,500 miles away.
Her mom usually meets us at the curb out in front of the airport, which means I have all of about 2 minutes to say my goodbyes, remind my daughter that I am just a phone call away, and give her a big hug and kiss. The whole time, I know that she needs me to be strong for her, as she’s struggling to cope with the notion of not seeing me again for a little while. It sure doesn’t reassure her if I, too, am a bumbling sobbing mess when we part. So, I bite my quivering lip and try to avoid eye contact with virtually everyone, so as not to embarrass myself or to have her see me in such a vulnerable state. I usually crack an inside joke, to break the “heaviness” of the moment for her (or maybe that’s for me) and send her on her way, hopefully with a slight smile under the inevitable tears. The resulting loneliness for the next 7 hours or so is something that never gets any easier no matter how many times I experience it.
When I first became a long-distance daddy, about a year ago, I came to this very site for insight and to figure out how to be the best long-distance parent I could be. Having this forum to read the plights of others and to feel a small sense of community with those who share a similar predicament is a bit refreshing, especially during such a difficult change, it is my hope that my own story is even a little bit helpful to someone else. In addition, I searched out books and anything else I could get my hands on to help with my adjustment. One such book that I found was The Loneliness of The Long Distance Father, by Simon Worrell. It’s a fantastic, albeit brief (only 26 pages) read. I re-read it every now and again, as I feel that it captures the emotions involved in these trips to take Allie home so well.
The one notion that really resonated with me above all others was the idea that during these emotionally trying times, my role is not to share these emotions with my daughter. That’s not what our children need. They need to see us strong and know that everything is going to be okay. Having them share our sadness doesn’t make things any easier, and if anything, only serves to make the moment that much more difficult. It’s the same reason that I don’t drone on and on about how much I miss her when I talk to Allie on the phone. And make no mistake about it, I REALLY miss her! But she doesn’t need to hear that. She already knows it, and she misses me, too. She needs to feel reassured and feel whatever sense of security and stability I can provide for her. It’s one of the most difficult aspects of being a long distance parent, but it’s an important one. It’s fine to let our kids know that we love them and that we miss them, buy making them sad about it in the process is just so counterproductive.
So, yeah, I might make a beeline to the men’s room at the airport, in order to splash some water on my face and dry my eyes a bit, after I say goodbye to my little girl. But I don’t want her to know that. I want her to think of the fun that we’ve had, laugh at our inside jokes, and leave her wanting to do it all again really soon. After all, I like fish sticks and chicken tenders, too.