How to raise a child
But no one knows
How to raise a father.” – Stromae
Today after filming my news reports on the rooftops over Casablanca I came home to get ready to go for a birthday party with Shiyara as Wednesday afternoons are school free in the French system here in Morocco.
My camera operator is a long time friend and I felt comfortable filming intimate moments at home with him as he practically lives with us.
As we filmed I finally addressed in our conversation something my daughter asked me about a month ago as we returned from a different birthday party in the taxi. I wasn’t ready to respond at the time. It caught me off guard. All I could do was hug her. This time I wanted to unpack it for my daughter who isn’t yet old enough to express all of her feelings and thoughts in words.
She said, “I want Papa to be your wife. I want you to be the way you were before. Can daddy come here and live with us and my brother too.”
She wanted things the way they were in her imagination and it’s partly due to things I have said as I have tried to keep the past in the most positive light as possible: “Your papa is a good man.” “Your father would do anything to help us live and pay the rent and put food on the table.” “He was a fighter for us. He protected us.” “The best thing I ever did was become your mom and it still remains the happiest time in my life.”
She walked me over to the photo in my hallway of me pregnant smiling at the cameras with henna on my hands next to her father.
“I want things the way they were.” She says, “And I want you to get married for real this time and have someone take your picture at the party.”
She had tears rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t have to tell me how she felt. I could see.
I know my daughter so I took the time to tell her I wasn’t punishing her, nothing that she felt was wrong. I told her something also that I wish someone had told me when I was young: “Honey your father and I are adults. We are fine and we don’t need anyone to worry about us. You are our daughter. You are precious. It’s our duty to care for you, not you for us.”
I walked the line of disclosure like a tightrope. I can’t tell her about domestic violence that was at home when she was a baby. I can’t tell her about the PTSD her father and I struggle with from traumatic childhoods. I have never told her that he is by definition a deadbeat dad. I take both of our responsibilities.
I didn’t want to burst her fantasy but I had to explain a bit. So slowly I said to her, so carefully, as if any word I said could make us fall in under cracked ice and take us both down: “You know…Shiyara…things back then weren’t always so great like you think. You know my love…sometimes….me and your father fought too. You have to trust me honey it’s better for all of us.”
According to the American Census Bureau, 43 percent of children in the US grow up without their biological father in the home and Morocco, it’s about the same.
I took the opportunity to try to teach my daughter the art of gratitude which will serve her well in life.
“If it wasn’t for this new life your father has we wouldn’t have your brother. You love him, he’s your friend. We have to thank g-d for everything we have in life. Life is full of surprises honey. You don’t know what life will give you. It’s a surprise. Maybe you will have a baby brother or sister in the future! Maybe there is a wedding in the future. We don’t know. Life is a surprise we have to be grateful always and see the good.”
“What will happen?” She asked curiously.
“I don’t even know but if someone were to tell you it wouldn’t be a surprise!” as I said this I reached out to tickle her. She screeched and laughed loudly a happiness from her belly to counter the tears from before. There was a magical explosion of joy that evacuated the pain.