I am four. I am fumbling with tiny buttons on my school shirt. My fingers keep slipping and I’m feeling frustrated and cross. There’s nobody to help me. Everyone is busy. And then you appear by the door, peeping your head around at first, then moving into the room so your presence casts a shadow over my feet. I don’t know if you’re going to be happy, or sad, or mad. I never know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling, or why you’re so cross all the time. So I stop with the buttons and I wait.
I stand so still.
I just know that it’s strange, you being here. You don’t usually come into my bedroom, and especially before school. Usually you’re gone long before breakfast and that’s just the way it is.
But today you are here. And you’re looking at me. The air around me seems like it’s closing in, pushing me down and making me breath deeply, in ragged and raspy breaths. I don’t know why you’re here, or what you want from me. Have I done something wrong? Are you cross this time because of me? Am I going to be in trouble? Or maybe you’re here to help me get dressed? I’m four, but school shirts are difficult because the buttons are so small and I’m suddenly so cold standing here in just my underwear. I’d like you to help me but I know already that it’s not what you do. Your hands are too big. You don’t know how to help. It’s not your job.
So I stand.
And I do nothing. I press my legs against the radiator and lean into its warmth. I dig my toes into the carpet and I wait. For you. To do something. Say something. And eventually, you do.
You kneel on the floor and you look at me, making me realise that the whole time you’ve been here you have looked only at the floor. You look at me and you tell me you’re going now. And I think, well yes. You always go. You never stay. You go every day. This time, you tell me, you’re going and you’re not coming back. You’re sorry, you say. I’ll be ok, you say.
And you know what? I am ok.
You left. You turned your back and you left. You made a new life, with new children and new bedrooms and new radiators casting warmth on chilly school mornings. You chose to leave that day and you never came back. And I am ok.
And now I sit and I watch a different kind of dad. One that spends time with his children- through choice and not through duty- and one that enjoys their funny little quirks and odd little traits. One that sits and reads to them every night- sometimes with voices, sometimes too weary. But the point is that he is here. He tends to grazed knees and cut fingers. He administers medicine and cuddles. He attends birthday parties and parents evenings.
And for once the word Dad does not seem like a curse word.