Throughout my teens and twenties, fatherhood
had never crossed my mind and only would
when she who’d be my wife, when nights were wild,
expressed the wish to one day have a child.
Since that was out of the question then for me,
I asked a doc about a vasectomy,
a fact I’m now embarrassed to admit.
The doc said he knew no one who’d do it,
since though in theory it could be reversed,
I might regret it and would feel they cursed
my life through making me be childless.
He eyed my girlfriend in her loveliness
as if to question whether she agreed
with my request that he considered greed
for pleasure stripped of possibility
of parenthood’s responsibility.
The doc was right, although I didn’t know it
and thought myself a wise, high-minded poet,
unaware that I could be so stupid.
But luckily the arrow shot by Cupid
would lodge itself with depth, so when I popped
the question to my girlfriend, I had dropped
my hesitance and downright pure aversion
to making of ourselves a smaller version.
But when we married, my wife was a student,
so at the time it didn’t seem too prudent
to have a child straight away, so she
could focus on her Pharmacy degree.
Avoiding having one back in those days
was not too hard as there were many ways,
although those times appear now prehistoric
and full of making love that was euphoric,
but I regret one method that we used—
the daily pill that I would have refused
had it been me who had to take a pill
to trick the body with a chemist skill
and tampered with its balance and design.
I wouldn’t let such medicine in mine
and wish it had occurred to me back then
that women shouldn’t have to do what men
would keep from doing, for their body’s sake,
preventing thus a life that they would make.
It’s true the method is the most effective
compared to others, risky and defective,
and it’s been helpful so the population
will not explode too much through copulation,
but still it seems to me to be unfair
the brunt is one that mostly women bear.
But when she reached the age of twenty four,
we didn’t use precautions anymore,
because though in my past life I had winced
at thoughts of having kids, my wife convinced
me that the time was ripe for us to try,
and we were so in love that I’d comply
by then without the slightest bit of fuss,
resisting life that would be born from us.
And trying was, admittedly, a blast,
a lot of blasts that I wished then would last.
And when a year of great efforts had passed
and thoughts of parenthood had long receded,
it seemed the thrilling efforts had succeeded:
within her womb had taken root a seed.
Yet still it didn’t look like we’d succeed
and shortly after push a baby carriage
for some signs seemed to point toward miscarriage.
The doc assured us that the embryo
was rooted and continuing to grow.
A fortune cookie verified the fact
that our hope and our baby were intact,
because my wife had two instead of one.
But would we have a daughter or a son?
With waves of sound, what’s hidden can be known.
Thus was the gender of our baby shown
afloat within an amniotic water,
an ultrasonic picture of our daughter.
It once had seemed like something to avoid,
but fatherhood had made me overjoyed.
While she was in the womb developing,
I read her poems with their sounds enveloping
her living living room that she would kick,
and ones I wrote for her would be first pick.
Gestation was joyous, and I found it amazing:
there’s more to making life than just a mating!
I planned for what I’d say when she emerged,
a person from her parents cells that merged,
but when the time of birth arrived at last
I found its torment ghastly, and was aghast.
I had expected joy, to see her, finally born
but when I saw the grimace of suffering she bore
as from the womb she was expelled and torn,
all I felt was trauma at the torment and the gore.
Those pains of birth are in the fading past,
and labor’s lengthy agony looks fast,
and led to gladness I had never dreamed.
May all our pains in life be thus redeemed!
It’s possible that I was not prepared
and full of joy instead of sick and scared
as I spent lots of time in lofty thought
and seeing it as life, but it was not,
or rather there was more to life than that;
the tough things of our Earthly habitat.
So when I could have cut the umbilical,
my squeamishness made it unthinkable.
The cord was cut, but we were indivisible,
linked by a love from then that is invisible.
Though I had once resisted fatherhood,
I soon saw it as not just simply good
but great, though daily, from the crack of dawn
my time to spare was often scarce or gone,
and rare were nights of sleep that wasn’t broken
by cries for which I got up when awoken.
She’d wake up wailing and I’d carry her
until she slept, so many nights there were
a lot of sleep hours lost, until her doc
looked at my worn-out mug in mild shock.
She said she thought it time to Ferberize,
which means to not respond to infant cries
so babies can thus learn to sleep at night
without a need to sate their appetite
for being held whenever they’re awake.
It seemed then cruel, and yet for sleeping’s sake,
we had to try it out an awful time
in which it felt to us like vile crime
to hear her screaming as if being killed
by orders of the doctor who was skilled.
But thankfully it worked: from that night on,
our baby mostly slept until the dawn.
We named her for a poet, Emily.
I liked that her initials thus would be
with “S” from her mom’s last name, E. S. P,
because I hoped she’d have an extra sense
to see beyond the world, opaque and dense
to realms of love that she’d help bring to Earth
in years beyond her forming and her birth.
At first, the most she did was poo and pee
and eat and sleep, and cry, the same as me
and everyone when they’re first starting out,
when we just take things in, and then we spout
whatever we can’t use, and then cry for
whatever we may need or want some more.
But after months the seedling took deep root,
in life, and from her sprang the sweetest fruit,
a smile spread from beautiful to cute.
No helpless infant, lying in a manger,
she easily soon put herself in danger
with things she wanted or would hanker for,
and I took this as a grown-up metaphor.
The world to her in those first days was fresh.
The sights, the sounds, the feelings of things on flesh,
the overflowing fun she’d daily find,
enthralled and thrilled her budding infant mind
that swung between amusement and amazement,
with “ooo! ooo! ooo! her favorite exclamation.
What had looked gross before I had a child;
to clean a diaper soaked in pee and piled
became routine and not at all a bother
as she was my bebé and I her father.
I taught her to say things like “bicicleta!”
and this made my mom happy for her “nieta”
because it seemed that she would speak great Spanish,
but, for a time at least, that hope would vanish,
and on my shoulders squarely lies the blame
because I did a thing that now seems lame:
though in her first three years I’d mostly speak
in Spanish with her, English soon would sneak
its way into my words, because her wish
from all she spoke at school was for English,
the language which for comfort I preferred.
(In Spanish often I’d not know a word),
and I had many books to read to her
each night before her sleep, and they all were
in English. But her mom stuck to Chinese
so now, grown to her teens, she speaks with ease.
It’s one of my regrets that I did not
start her on the path to polyglot.
Although I now regret I dropped the ball,
she still can catch it though I let it fall.
Because my college job was civilized
I got parental leave that was well-sized;
three months that we could use to take a trip
across the world as we’d escape the grip
of gravity for hours on a plane
till we had landed on a runway lane
in China where we’d visit my wife’s kin
and we’d explore the country we were in.
My daughter on her first trip had much fun
as center of attention, like the sun
is center of the solar system. She
would fill the days with jolliness and glee.
But jolliness for us, her parents, was
on its way out before too long, because
we struck an iceberg: our relationship
began to sink though it had been a ship
we deemed unsinkable. When we came back
we saw the vessel’s hull begin to crack,
but since I knew the pain of having had
a broken home, a split up mom and dad,
I was determined not to let that fate
be one my daughter too would have to face.
But one night an explosive argument
convinced me that the two of us weren’t meant
to stay together for my daughter’s sake
as she would suffer from a larger ache
of verbal warfare that obliterated
all chance of our not being separated,
at least until the trouble had subsided,
but soon instead divorcing was decided.
My wife soon met another man, and she
then had a second daughter who would be
a sister from another family,
a blessing for my daughter, Emily.
When my parents had split, they each moved far.
You’d have to take a plane, not just a car,
and I moved with my mom and from then on
from most of daily life my dad was gone,
as distance of a continent or sea
would make him someone that I’d hardly see.
I was determined not to let that fate
befall my daughter for whom I would fade
to distant memory, a monthly check,
a casualty of marital shipwreck.
I met some other dads who barely saw
their kids because the judges and the law
would tend to favor mothers and was sad
to think I might be become an absent dad.
But we agreed to sharing custody,
with schedules of a time spent equally,
no parent more important than the other,
of equal worth a father and a mother.
Though since I lived where she would go to school,
she’d spend most days with me. The judge would rule
that our agreement was one that was fair,
although it looked complex, the time we’d share.
My ex, however, sought to leave the state
and wished I’d sign a paper that would state
that she could take our daughter if she left,
but that felt like agreeing to a theft.
I recall as one of the happiest days of life
my lawyer telling me that my ex-wife
could not take her unless I gave approval,
and I would not agree to that removal.
I taped the law on my refrigerator,
because it made me happy. When, years later,
my ex-wife moved away, my daughter chose,
her childhood then drawing to a close,
to stay with me and finish with her schooling
long after the divorcing judge’s ruling.
I moved to an apartment up the stairs,
and going out I often would get stares,
because my little daughter’s features were
Chinese so people thought I adopted her.
By then, most people had a mobile phone
which was a thing I hadn’t cared to own,
but I wished to be reachable whenever
my kid was at her mom’s, though that meant never
or rarely could I make a plan at all,
because I was at her mom’s beck and call.
But I did not protest or start a war,
because this meant I’d see my daughter more,
as it gave me an awful pain to know
that I would miss some days that she would grow,
unlike the lucky parents who aren’t forced
to spend less time because they aren’t divorced.
Before I’d been a dad, I didn’t drive,
and everywhere I went I would arrive
by bike or bus or train or if too far
as passenger in someone else’s car.
But fatherhood had made me a chauffeur,
and when my kid was far I could show her
the distance couldn’t keep us long apart.
When we spent time together we’d make art,
and I would keep her finished works and drafts
and we’d play or I’d help her make some crafts.
When children grow up, often they seek mates,
but when she was a kid she had play dates,
Her friends would visit and I’d take them out
to places where they’d run around and shout
with glee which some kids have in great supply
that spills on grown-ups on whom they rely.
For years, I had a children entourage
of friends and half-siblings who’d even lodge
at my home, and it didn’t make me bitter
to be relied on as a babysitter
as it was lots of fun for me as well,
a blessing in great contrast to the hell
of separation and divorce, unlike an eagle,
that moved so slow—five years till it was legal.
I took my kid to Pre-K at BC,
where I was working, so she’d be with me
on lunch breaks, when we’d have some office fun,
but in a lightning flash those years were done.
The schools where we were living weren’t the best
or scored low in a state assessment test,
and at the time that seemed good cause to move
to somewhere schools were better. Tests can’t prove
a school is worse or better, but back then
this seemed a good barometer. We went
to nearby Arlington where I found rent
I could afford though everything was high,
so never would I have enough to buy.
We struck gold with our downstairs neighbors who
were Germans in the states a year or two.
They had two daughters near my daughter’s age
from preschool to a kindergarten stage.
Since those days when as princess she was crowned,
she’s often had a pal or two around.
Her friends, at first, were mostly like my own,
from other countries, so that she has grown,
with friends from far and wide, like Germany,
Bhutan, and China, and it seemed to me
that this was wonderful as she unfurled,
to have good friends from all around the world.
For years, my life was serious and brainy.
Now days were full of silliness and zany,
and I enjoyed the times I photographed
the things my daughter did at which we laughed.
In many pictures she would seem to fly,
like gravity was something she’d defy,
and I shot many times this kind of scene—
her in the air suspended and serene.
I wished to have a record of such flights
for years ahead that could hold woes and frights,
so she would see though she grew old and sore
that she could fly as she had done before
in different ways than she had done back then
but somehow she could always soar again.
She’d get the hiccups often when she laughed
so I made lots of jokes and tried to craft
fun ways that she’d get more and more and measure
the day’s success with hiccups as a treasure.
She’d make some fake foods out of leaves and muds,
and I’d pretend they thrilled my dad taste buds.
Since I have wished to stay a kid at heart,
I much enjoyed to play each acting part
that her imagination cast me in,
each role a prize that I was glad to win.
I loved to act as though upon a stage
for her and for her friends of her own age
as they’d throw balls at me, and I’d pretend
they knocked me out or brought me to my end,
as little kids I found regard as fun
to feel that they are powerful and won
play fights with grown-ups bigger than they are.
My acting roles did not make me a star,
yet they’re among my life-pick favorites.
But sometimes too she’d have some hissy-fits
when I set limits that she wished to cross,
expecting that she shouldn’t have a boss:
In one such fit, she wallpapered my room
with papers that she filled in angry gloom
with “I HATE YOU” spelled in giant letters,
but shortly afterward she would feel better
and would express a love that wouldn’t stop:
“I love you to the stars with sprinkles on top.”
When Emily had reached the age of nine,
her mom had gotten her a cute canine,
but where we lived no canines were allowed
as they were deemed too hairy and too loud,
but we would smuggle him when darkness fell
so nobody would see and none would tell.
So that the dog could always be with her,
when she was with me or when with her mother,
I looked for some place we could have a pet.
My sister helped in finding one I’d get.
We’ve lived with that fun, loving dog since then,
and he has just turned seventy, that’s ten
in human years, through which he’s been a joy,
for half her childhood, a sweet, good boy.
To raise a kid is not just fun and games
as anyone who’s done so knows the aims
of kids and parents are at times at odds,
and though to babies grown up seem like gods,
as an infant grows to toddler then kid
it sometimes may occur they’d like to rid
their lives of rules or some parental orders
and throw a fit or cross forbidden borders.
The hardest thing to get my kid to do
was have her bite a vegetable and chew,
from when she was a tot and liked to snuggle
until this very day it’s been a struggle.
I used techniques like served a ‘daddy dish’
while she would watch a program as her wish,
but though techniques like this were efficacious,
she always thought of vegetables as heinous,
with few exceptions such as broccoli
submerged in cheese till it was hard to see.
I hope, as she matures, her taste buds will
open so she gets a healthy fill
of balanced foods she won’t eat as a favor
but since she likes their wholesomeness and flavor.
It’s possible that since I got divorced,
and I regretted that she thus was forced
to rarely be with mom and dad together
but be with mom from whom I go to get her
to spend the other half or more of time with me,
I overcompensated possibly
and pampered her too much to make up for
the tapestry of family that tore.
In old days, parents may have used a belt
or ruler as a punishment. I felt
these methods were barbaric. In our times
such disciplines have been regarded crimes.
Yet compensation may have made me lax
and too permissive with her words or acts,
as when for some new toy she over-hounded.
As I recall, just once I had her grounded.
In retrospect, I wished I gave the sense
that actions all will have a consequence
that may not be avoided by just talks.
Apologies can’t shield us from life’s shocks.
But still I feel that I instilled in her
a sense of wrong and right. What may occur
is hard or is impossible to tell.
I made mistakes but feel I raised her well.
Though I was brought up Catholic and baptized,
a mental ailment when I grew full-sized,
gave me great difficulty with religions,
and many years I’ve struggled with revisions
of my beliefs which I have documented,
endowed with reason though they seem demented.
I’ve heard that certain people, meaning well,
have told my daughter she will go to hell,
because she’s not a Christian as they are,
and talk like that has pushed her very far
from that religion they were speaking of,
though I insisted that our God is love.
She dreamed with angels while she still was little,
but as she grew that fragile link grew brittle
and broke, but I have tried hard to instill
the sense of its importance to her still:
a sense there’s more to life than only matter,
a sense that in the end just love will matter.
While some have spoken of a god of wrath,
I pray God holds her through whatever path
she finds herself upon from light to dim
and hope that every path will lead to him
who’s not a him or her or even it
but love that can’t be fathomed, infinite.
As fate would have it, when she hit her teens,
my mental health was blown to smithereens,
but this was not to do with her
but something that just happened to occur
when she attained the age of adolescent
and some things were unbearably unpleasant
like when anxiety kept me from sleep
so days felt like a climb that was too steep
that started with an awful lot of fuss
of making sure she wouldn’t miss the bus.
The sleeplessness made me feel overloaded
and then my latent OCD exploded,
but I had been an easy-going parent
and mental trouble sometimes aren’t apparent,
as when a person needs to walk with crutches,
so that she couldn’t see me in the clutches
of something that was difficult to bear
when I behaved as if it wasn’t there.
But she has spoken openly with me,
and I have told her of my history,
including things which have been difficult
but which have also served as catapult
propelling me from what’s been hard to stand
toward other ways to be and understand.
From struggles of the dad on whom she’s leaned,
I hope that something helpful may be gleaned.
Since as a child I was very shy
and thus missed lots of living chances, I
tried to instill in her a bravery
for speaking up to not miss out like me.
Apparently, I have succeeded: it
appears she’s far from shy, the opposite.
Whereas I had been timid she’s been bold.
Like this a curled up seedling can unfold.
Where I would never speak of birds or bees
and other kids relentlessly woud tease,
by when she was a teen, no topic was
off-limits, even bees and how they buzz,
and I deemed that a healthy way to be
as she began to blossom gradually.
But there were some things I would not find out
till later years when she would talk about
their happening when they were history
though at the time they were unknown to me.
Communication channels may not open
within a heated torrent of emotion,
but like a ship that set off on the ocean
I hope that if she needs to she’ll express
the need for help, relay an SOS
to me or to another who would help
so in a harbor’s arms she will be held.
As kid she’d fly through her imagination,
but as she grows she’ll have to face the nation.
It’s sad to think that since when she was one,
the country’s been at wars it hasn’t won.
Yet as she reached adulthood at eighteen,
a state of peace was all that she had seen,
because the wars were being fought abroad,
so she could grow to be a carefree broad.
It’s easy here for world views to be narrow
and aim for our own good as with an arrow,
but many people still are cannon fodder,
and I have tried to give a view that’s broader
about a world that’s full of joy and sorrow
in which we can’t know what will strike tomorrow
in life that’s more by far than boobs and booty
and merely superficial made up beauty,
and with the time allotted us to live
there’s much that we can do so that we give
some things that make the world a better place
though very slowly—at a turtle’s pace.
From she, a treasure which I never earned
but have been blessed with, there’s a lot I’ve learned,
relationships a two way street: I knew
I’d need to teach lots to her as she grew,
but sometimes it has worked the other way
as I have learned from what she’d do or say,
and I recall a load of fun we had
when we swapped roles: though she was not the dad,
but much enjoyed pretending she was mad
as stern-strict piano teacher testing me,
on music notes with flash cards I would study,
delighting at each answer I got wrong
while I learned how to read and play a song.
The funny stories of her childhood
outnumber shore sand grains. I wish I could
recall and tell more than a little stash
of all the memories that time can smash,
but if I were to tell them all I’d need
to quit my job to write for all to read
the stories, and I’d have no time as well
for new ones which I’d also want to tell.
I hope, though, that this little summary
containing just the tip of memory,
conveys how wonderful for me it’s been
to be her dad, though it can just begin
to scratch the surface of what’s very deep,
the treasured memories I want to keep.
As I write now my rhymed biography
I think of one book that she wrote for me:
a book she gave me when I had turned fifty,
handwritten full of drawings that were nifty,
a book that moistened eyes which had been dry
because it moved me far enough to cry.
When I consider what a fool I was
in youth as birds would sing and bees would buzz,
in thinking that I wasn’t cut out for
fatherhood and tried to slam that door,
I’m glad her mom convinced when we got hitched
as life has been immeasurably enriched
through parenting of she by whom I’m blessed,
among all my life’s blessings, of the best.
Although the marriage blew up like bomb,
I am forever grateful to her mom.
As I am writing now this story’s words,
she’s starting, as do other fledgling birds,
to fly out on her own and leave the nest,
and I hope for her in her every quest
much love and happiness through every stage,
extending to a healthy, ripe old age,
beyond a hundred, with her own kids, maybe,
forever loved—through all her years—my baby.
Mario A. Pita