A letter to my oldest

Dear A.S.R.,
     You may not remember me, and your mother may not ever talk about me, but you were so young when I left I thought it was best that I did. I still think about you, and I hope that you and your mother are safe, healthy, and happy. I have a tattoo that reminds me of you, and I have so many vivid memories of you.
     One of my favorites is hearing your footsteps running upstairs, and the sound of your padded feet climbing down the steps on the Christmas morning after your second birthday. Your mother and I were sitting on the carpet in the living room, next to the tree, and the smile on your face was wider than the Atlantic Ocean as you yelped and screamed about presents and Santa as you ran towards me to jump in my lap and give me a hug. I can remember the warmth I felt watching you tear through presents from Grammy and aunts and uncles. You were so excited about everything, all the presents all of us got, and you wanted to play with the TMNT motorcycle that mom got me as well.
     I remember days when I was coming home from work, parking my truck on the curb and seeing your little hands part the blinds, your bright blue eyes peering through them, and watching me walk up the path to the door. I can hear you inside over the jingling of my keys as I opened the door, and how you would jump down from the couch to run over so I could pick you up and give you a big hug when I got home.
     I remember playing in the snow in the backyard, and lifting you up so you could make snowballs in the bed of my truck and throw them at mommy by the back door. Your teal jacket keeping your warm as your little face pointed towards the sky, catching snowflakes in your mouth.
     I remember feeling your little legs kick the back of my seat from your car seat, asking for me to put in the soundtrack to our favorite movie, Finding Nemo, so we could “listen” to the movie while we drove around town, and I did the voices for you, much to your delight.
     I also remember hearing your cries in the background when I called home from the road. The way mom would yell at me for being gone so much and she hated the fact that you kept crying for me even though she was still at home with you. I remember the piercing sound of “DADDDDYYY!!!!!” between sobs and jagged breaths as I tried to talk to you and calm you down before bed, telling you that I would be home soon, and that you should be a good girl for mommy.
     I remember when your mother said I wasn’t allowed to see you after her and I broke up. How I had to ask for permission to come back to the house to get the rest of my things out, so she could make sure you weren’t home. I didn’t get to see you before I left, and I remember wiping away my own tears during the better part of the first three hours of driving when I left Virginia ten years ago. I knew that if I stayed, I would still want to be in your life and see you and take you to the park that we always played at. I would still want to take you to the beach, pick you up from daycare, and everything a daddy does for his little girl. But when it came down to it, your mother and I were no longer together, and even though you called me Daddy, and I thought of myself as your dad, I was not your father, and so with the way things ended with your mother and I, I left.
     I’m sorry for hurting you. I am. I do not regret this decision, because I felt like it was the best choice for me to make, not only for myself, but for you and your mother. Even now, I still believe that this was the right decision. It wasn’t an easy one to make, and there are times when it is hard to realize that it really was the best decision. The What If game is a brutal one to play, and in most cases, it’s a waste of time and doesn’t result in any learning or growth.
     I’ve wanted to be a dad for a long time, even before I knew you. But I knew that after I left that I could very well be a great dad, but that it just wasn’t the right time for me to take on that role. Almost ten years later I got the chance to be a dad again, and it was great. You and her are almost the same age, and I jumped right in and stepped up to be her (step)dad (as she did not know her father either). We had our own little jokes like you and I did, and had plenty of fun, just as we had our little squabbles (since I can’t always be the fun parent), but eventually things went south with her mother and I, and the dad vs. father topic came up again, and I moved out. I didn’t leave the area though, and that’s tough sometimes, but I still know I made the right decision.
     If it has not already, the question may have arisen, “Why write this letter? Why now? What happened for all this to come up?” And it’s very simple. Last Christmas I had a daughter, and on Christmas morning, footsteps bounded down the stairs, and a bright voice behind big eyes and a wide smile spoke out at 6am like an alarm clock. “It’s Christmas. Wake up.” We unwrapped presents, had breakfast, and hung out with cousins and aunts and uncles and all of that.
     But that was last year’s Christmas. This year was very different. I slept in, stayed in bed until almost lunch time, and then finally got up and out of bed to spend some time with friends. The holidays have always been tough for me, though. For almost two decades I’ve spent the holidays in different houses, with different families, in different states. Sometimes I was on duty, underway, out on a job, or maybe I was just out somewhere not being with a family I have yet to really find.
     I hope you’ve been safe all these years, and that you’re safe and healthy and happy. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, and although I have moved on, I have not forgotten about you, nor do I think I ever will. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity to raise children of my own, but that’s another story.
     Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, lil’ Nunu, and if you have any brothers or sisters as well. And maybe, if/when you watch Finding Nemo in the future, a part of you smiles at the time that our lives’ paths crossed.
Love, Dad.
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