My daughter left home early on the morning of Wednesday, 25th April, 2007 and returned on Saturday, 28th April, 2007 at approximately 9:00 p.m. Before she called on Thursday evening to inform me of her whereabouts, her mother had already given me the news, which she had obtained in the afternoon from our daughter’s same-age friend, at whose parents’ house our daughter had taken up temporary residence. My wife had sounded sternly triumphant when she broke the news—as though she had just accomplished an unparalleled feat that had brought her no joy.
The telephone felt heavy in my hand. “You could have told me about this,” I said.
“I left a note in your work bag,” she responded softly. Then, she started to say something that sounded like an explanation of sorts. I cut her off abruptly, surprising both of us.
“I’m not about to condone what you did,” I broke in sharply. The anger had resurfaced; it tasted bitter and acidic like stomach bile.
“You see the same thing, daddy…” my daughter said. She had shifted easily to our local dialect to protest my sudden burst of seeming authoritarianism. Immediately, I felt chastened. My voice lost the decibel or two it had acquired.
“Look, I’m not going to continue discussing this over the phone. When you come home, we’ll have this discussion.”
“Okay, daddy” she said. A wounded-bird quality had crept into her voice. And her wound became mine.
What had happened to us? When this child was born to my then common-law wife and me eighteen years, two months and two weeks ago, she had become mine. Her infectious smile and laughter, unflagging energy, and unbridled, childish curiosity had claimed me from the start. I took her places with me, gave her my share of the care and attention she needed to develop into an emotionally-stable individual, and she reciprocated unreservedly with liberal doses of little-girl hugs and kisses. In those days, we danced, my daughter and I, unaware of the changing circumstances of time and tide. I thought she would be mine forever; I thought the life we shared couldn’t be touched. I was wrong!
It began, I suppose, when she turned eleven; when she sat and passed the common entrance examination that gained her entry into the all-girl secondary school, St. Joseph’s Convent. That was where she really began forming new bonds and loyalties stronger than my pale-in-comparison father-love. That was where she began to discover and experience a whole new world of Black Entertainment Television-inspired pseudo culture, internet exploration, unintelligible teenage jargon—combining ancient Sumerian with Mandarin, the adolescent, swooning wonder of boy-attention, and the constant need to monopolize our phone. By the time I discovered that her hugs and kisses had dried up, that my insipid father-offerings couldn’t compare with her new reality, she had already drifted off into new relationships.
On Sunday, 29th April, we did have the discussion as I had promised. She cried miserably, and said things that suggested her mother and me were too hard on her. I explained as gently as I could our concerns and fears for her well-being in this wretched world where vulnerable children were lured by false promises, and turned into unrecognizable, sub-human zombies even before they reached twenty-one. She finally acknowledged our love and well-meaning intentions, but added she sometimes felt unsure. My heart moved within me for this 21st century child. She was still my daughter, she was still mine, but there was now an inescapable truth appended to our relationship—I now had to share her with the world.