My daughter needs her Daddy. Not having much experience in this area, she was quite confused in the beginning. When we went places she would sit as far away from him as she could. When he put his paramedic uniform on she would cower and shake. The sound of his boots on the steps made her jump, although she would always offer him up a timid smile.
Last week I watched her huddled up on the couch. She was wearing an over-sized Red Sox baseball cap and an enormous Paramedic jacket. A stethoscope was wrapped around her neck and a laminated first-responder badge hung from her lapel.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked.
“I’m the BEST daddy!” She joyfully shouted. She is clearly dressed up as my husband.
This makes me think of those early days. Those days when Mary was 7-years-old and completely flummoxed by Luke’s constant presence. She would often ask, “Why is he still here? How long is he staying?”
Sometimes she would tell me that I did things “all wrong.” When I asked her what she met she said, “You know, you’re supposed to have your kids first and then if you want a man or a boyfriend or whatever, you just get one. But you married Daddy first and you don’t have any other boyfriends. He’s our only Daddy.”
At times it was like having children who were exchange students from a foreign place. Carl would often comment how it was really weird that my husband and I never hit each other. He actually thought we never got mad at each other because there were no punches thrown. Despite the vigilant watch our kids kept, they never did catch me with my “other boyfriends!”
As time went on the children began to change their concept of who a daddy is and what a daddy is supposed to do. In the beginning, Luke worked a lot of hours. We had just added a large sibling group to our family and we needed the extra cash. He was often in uniform and it took a long time to realize that Mary’s fear stemmed from her fear of police officers. His medic uniform was similar. Mary was the only one of the siblings who had been home during the drug raid when their first mom was arrested and they were taken into DCF care.
Lucky for us, Luke is a giant goofball. He will dance around the kitchen with us, shaking his booty and singing along to old New Kids on the Block songs. He does an amazing “girl voice” and a bunch of silly faces. My husband is also the king of puns. He is hardly ever serious and he takes most things in stride. He will play barbies and dress-up and board games. He will allow his hair to be done in ribbons. In short, he is the ULTIMATE playmate for any child.
As time went on and the children needed more intensive therapies, psychiatric in-patient stays, evaluations, and scores of appointments. We had to make hard choices. Our children needed us and they were really struggling. I couldn’t handle the violent outbursts and tantrums alone. There were many nights where dinner didn’t get made for hours because Mary was screaming and clawing at my face or trying to break the windows in the house. The emergency crisis team would come and eventually the ambulance, and her brothers just had to wait. There was only one of me and she was frequently in danger of hurting herself or them or all of us. As we battled uphill for her mental health we knew we needed to do something differently.
Luke decided to work part time, on a per-diem basis in order to be around for all of the counseling and doctor’s appointments. Finances were tighter than they had ever been. Our income dwindled and our bills started to pile up. Something else was accumulating, though. The days of Mary’s intense rages were long gone. With the right medication, therapy, and with her father’s presence she was making huge strides.
The healing our children experienced this past year far outweighs anything we lost in income. Luke put the children on the bus each day and was there as soon as they got off. He made dinner, handled school functions and bonded with our children. If someone was having a violent meltdown, he didn’t go to work. He managed his schedule around our children’s emotional lives. Their healing and mental health came first. I honestly think that Luke was the key in helping out attachment challenged children to heal.
Mary’s journey into a relationship with her father has been the most rewarding to see. She began by avoiding him completely, as she did with all male figures. Now she is glued to his side. She’s picked up his way of speaking, his walk, and his food tastes. She began to wear a stethoscope around the house all the time.
Luke attended every trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy appointment with Mary. It took a long time for her to open up in therapy and she flat out refused to talk about her past unless Luke stayed in the room. Her therapist called it “unconventional” and just went with it. In this way, Mary was able to create and describe drawings about the traumatic memories of her past. She was finally facing her trauma.With Daddy by her side, she could do anything!
Mary has recently started to say that if she ever dates a boy, he will have to be “like Daddy.” When I asked her what that meant she replied, “well he has to treat me like a princess, of course!” At her annual father-daughter dance she was a princess. I got a picture of my beaming girl gripping my husband in a huge hug.
The time for Luke to return to regular work hours has come. As he journeys back into the world of saving lives on a regular basis, I find myself reflecting. Luke always saves. It’s what he does. After all, he saved this little girl’s idea of what men are like. He saved this family. And one little princess will never forget that. Neither will her mom!
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*If you have ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to start your own adventure today!