Sometimes it does take a village…

July 31, 2007 at 12:56 am (That's not funny...)

The young lady I call my daughter will be turning 28 in a couple of months. I phrase it that way because I am not her biological father. I met her mother when mom was about three months pregnant, and raised her as my own, at least for a while. It was a fiery relationship, but the kid and I always got along famously.

It hurt when her mother would remind me I wasn’t her *real* dad. (Usually booze was involved.) I told myself that my daughter didn’t know that, or need to know that at her tender age, and I carried on. I did my best to be responsible, but without parental rights I had little leverage.

My little family was two-thirds Native American, and adoption laws would not allow a white family to adopt a Native child. While it screamed of reverse discrimination, I understood that cultural immersion was important, and my ex-wife was determined my daughter would be raised in the Indian ways. Since we were anything but stable together, and my white family couldn’t legally take her, she had to go to a foster home until an Indian family would take her.

I was allowed phone contact, and I called as often as it was prudent. After almost a year, her foster mom and I had a long talk. It went something like this.

“I know you love her, and I think you are getting a raw deal. I can’t allow you to see her, but if some Wednesday night about 6:30 if you happened to be in Waterfront Park by the battleship mast, I probably wouldn’t call a cop or anything…”

I’m a horrible liar, and I raised even more suspicion when the ex-wife offered to get me drunk and I declined, because I had ‘something important to do.’ She got pissed off and I didn’t see her for a week, but I got to see my little girl.

She was thriving. She was doing better in school; hell, she was in school! She was growing up away from me, but at least I could talk to her on the phone, and keep me fresh in her mind.

When AFS finally found a home for her, on a reservation in Montana, our time was coming to an end. At the ripe old age of six, she would be heading off to live with yet another dad and mom. It was killing me, but I was powerless over the state and the ex-wife.

The night before she left, the Oregon foster parents called me, and gave me one more opportunity to say goodbye. They would meet me on a predetermined street corner, and if there was even a sighting of my ex-wife, they would keep on driving. I went out for cigarettes and didn’t come back for about five hours.

I was taken to their home in the suburbs, where I got to spend a last evening with my daughter. When it was time to go, I got her to climb down out of the tree in the back yard and give me a hug. I didn’t let her see me cry, just told her to have fun on her next adventure and never to forget me, or her auntie, or her Grandma, who was still alive then.

It would be a decade before I saw my daughter again. One afternoon at work, I was sitting in the back having a smoke when I saw a dark-skinned teenage girl with a beaming smile come walking toward me. I could tell by the look on her face who she was, and it was the sweetest hug ever.

She was back! And back to stay, apparently. The adopted family in Montana made us look like the Cleavers, and she left, stating in no uncertain terms that she would never return. She was raising so much hell that everyone agreed.

Her mother had stabilized, and life, though not idyllic, was good. She seemed to have a rationale her mother could only find on occasion, and they balanced each other out nicely.

So one night, after a couple of beers, I decided to call her former foster parents, the ones who had been so cool with me. I got a hold of the dad, who was thrilled to hear she was okay. Time had been tough on their family. They’d divorced, but he gave me the phone number of the foster mother.

I called, and of course she remembered me. We commiserated on the stupid laws that took our baby away. (If it couldn’t be me, I would have supported them as adoptive parents, and was quite vocal about the fact.) I thanked her for being so nice to me back in the day, and wished her the best of luck with her new family.

I bring all this up, because as I was catching up on the weekend papers, I saw her name in the obituaries. Her first name was the same as my mother’s middle name, and so caught my eye. She passed away at the age of 56 from breast cancer.

There’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of my daughter’s kindness and sensibilities came from those early years. I’m eternally grateful that they did what they could to ease my pain.

And to help my daughter turn into the fine young woman she is today.

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