I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. – Umberto Eco
It was after midnight when he arrived. The shift had been long but he wanted to see his baby. The child was sleeping soundly. He stood by the dim light looking at her face and noticed the paper on the night stand. One after another e, e, e, e, e… his eyes moved past the letters. Each slightly different, yet written in connection and placed exactly one finger distance from the previous. Written in pencil, the letter e filled the entire page of the ruled paper.
“What is this?” he asked, without looking up. “It’s her homework. She wanted you to see it” muttered the nanny. The sides of his mouth turned inwards as he shook his head. “Don’t you see what’s wrong with this?’ he asked softly. “This is all wrong and you didn’t correct her?” “Wh-at?” the nanny took a few hurried paces towards him and stopped. He waved the piece of paper above his head, “Look at the e”, he pointed to the letter. “You missed it?”
The nanny stared at the paper and the neatly written letters. She had watched over the girl as she finished her homework and was pleased with the results. Now his tone bothered her. In her care the four year old was ahead of the curve with her verbal and written skills improving noticeably. The child was a delight. Her intellect was sharp and the nanny had tuned into it.
“Look, at the top” he pointed to the e. “This looks like a circle. It needs to be an oval, like the shape of an eye” he drew an imaginary circle on the paper. “How can you let her turn this in?” The nanny studied the shapes of the letter and finally nodded. He was right. She hadn’t noticed it before, but there it was just as he had said, a circle instead of an eye. His attention to detail caught her by surprise.
The child had spent many nights with her while the parents worked long hours in the village. It had bothered her a little in the beginning but she had an answer ready in case the child asked- “They love you very much, but the sick children need a mommy and daddy” she practiced her words carefully. But, the child had never asked.
“She is very good” the nanny retorted defensively and picked up the little book bag from the floor. “Look at the teacher’s notes.” “Stop” he said sternly. “She is good. But, I want her to pay attention to the details.” That is the distinction he thought to himself. “Being good is not enough. She needs to be the best!” He grabbed his keys and walked towards the door. “Wake her up earlier than usual and make sure she does it again before she goes to school. And… bring her to the clinic after school so I can see her tomorrow.”
The ride back was quiet and filled with the familiar pangs of guilt. He hadn’t kissed the child for fear of waking her and now he missed her terribly. She was his pride and joy. The long hours were becoming part of the routine and he hadn’t seen his wife in days. His cause was noble and with it came a sense of peace and contentment. He was making a difference in the village. The children needed him. It was ironic that his only child was being cared for by a nanny. “It was for the best” he said out loud and bit his tongue remembering the words from before. He knew the nanny was truly a blessing and there is time, he thought to himself. When his wife gets back from her assignment they will make a change. Take some time for the three of them and slow down the roll of life.
A letter arrived in the mail… The handwriting was unmistakable on the brown envelope. Recycled paper, he thought as he felt the paper and it made him smile. He hadn’t heard from her in many months. The relationship was strained. How bittersweet it is to be a father, he thought, to give up a part of yourself to create a whole; to miss out on the little things for the sake of the big picture. To be a parent is to detach yourself from all that which truly belongs to you… You do the best and somehow in spite of your best efforts to hold on, the months turn into years and time becomes your worst enemy. The last time she had visited him, all grown up, she had kissed him on the cheek and whispered “don’t you worry about a thing, daddy. I’m a tough cookie! I don’t give up that easily.” and he knew she was telling the truth.
He had cried all the way home thinking about the little girl disappearing in his rear view mirror. “I failed her!” His heart ached. There was a distance between them even though they both pretended otherwise. The pain was real and he had wanted nothing more than to carry her home in his arms and tuck her into bed. He wanted to sing her favorite songs as she lay on his chest. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, but instead he had been frozen in pain.
The letter felt heavy in his hands. He gently traced his fingers across the spine of the envelope and neatly tore at the end to reveal its contents. One page. One beautifully handwritten written page. He took a deep breath. “To the best father” it began and line after line the letter e filled the entire page of his daughter’s letter. The lettering was etched with precision and placed exactly one finger distance from the previous. The top of the e, the eye, was perfectly oval. Tears streamed across his face as he kissed the paper.
It was simply signed… Love, Me.