I’ve been through some traumatic experiences; I lost two high school friends in two separate car accidents when I was 16. Then my father passed away suddenly during my junior year in college.
After college, my addiction progressed to a point where I found myself sleeping in my car at night, and eventually, I ended up serving a 10-year federal prison sentence. People tell me I’m resilient, but I’m certainly not the most resilient person.
That honor would undoubtedly go to my daughter Melrose.
Melrose was two when I went to prison. While I was incarcerated I heard other inmates lie to their children about where they were: “Daddy’s at school” or “Daddy’s gone for work.” From the beginning, we decided that we would tell Melrose the truth about where I was.
At first, she refused to admit that I was in jail. There was a time when I called and my mom told Melrose, your daddy is calling. My niece was there and she yelled out, “Uncle Noah’s in jail.” Melrose quickly shouted back, “My daddy’s not in jail!”
She must have been 5 or 6 years old and her mind only associate jail with bad people and didn’t want to think of her dad in that way. It might have been, she was embarrassed or hurt, and this was how she learned to cope with her confusion and uncomfortable feelings.
Over time, she accepted reality and her resilience started to show. Even with me in prison and her mom fighting addiction, she stayed happy and energetic. Instead of focusing on what she didn’t have, she embraced all that she did, family and support on both sides, friends at school, and a safe place she can call home.
She always lit up during our 15-minute prison phone calls but the visits took time. The first one was 9 months into my sentence and she was 3 years old. On day one, she wouldn’t let me hold her for pictures, and she would only sit next to Grandma.
I felt like she didn’t know who I was and I was devastated. That night I lay on my bunk wanting to die.
But on the second day, she came running through the door and jumped into my arms. “Daddy!” No hug ever felt so good.
That first visit showed me how strong she really is. I was all twisted up about how terrible I felt, without thinking about her discomfort and anxiety. That second day, she shifted the energy and lifted mine. From then on her visits were the best of my prison time.
I have always told her if she has any questions, I will answer them openly and honestly. I know how important it is that she can talk about what she’s going through. She doesn’t come to me with these questions, though. She goes to her Grandma.
With both of her parents struggling, Melrose lives with my mom. While I was in prison, I asked my mom about Melrose’s resilience. Here’s part of what she wrote:
She has always made friends easily, and that is something we have talked about since she was very young. We have talked with one another about why is it that friends like to play with her – she is smiley and pleasant, eager to play and interact, and makes others feel welcomed.
She has also transitioned between her mother and me very easily. There has only been one time she was 4 and 1/2 when she cried going with me and leaving her mommy. They were living in Fargo at the apartment complex for mothers/children.
I think because she has always been easy to transition and adjustable to her surroundings and when she knows her environment is loving, safe, and healthy, she is a pretty go-with-the-flow kid.
We do lots of talking about life, and as she asks lots of questions or makes a comment that we will have a good discussion about. She will mention that her tummy is feeling scared, which she now knows that might be a feeling of being anxious.
She has lots of successes with new and unknown factors (classes at school, new friends, and sports), and I will point out how that anxiousness changes to something really great when she has made it through.
I believe the good Lord gave you this special, easy-going girl for a reason. He knew you both were going to have challenges, and she didn’t need to be one of those challenges. She has been such a blessing to all of us.
Hope this helped…love, Mom.
Melrose may have inherited some of my optimistic traits but she has learned them from my mom.
Melrose faced questions from her friends over the years about her situation, and there will be more to come now that I’m released and back in her life. At school, sporting events, or parent-teacher conferences, my sudden reappearance after being absent will be obvious.
Now 9, she’s tapping into her resilience again with me home and in her life. The first few weeks were amazing, a kind of honeymoon, but now that high has worn off, the reality is rockier.
One morning I was up early and stuck in my head thinking about my relationship with Melrose. It seemed more often than not, she didn’t want me around and would ask to be left alone.
There would be times when I would be staring at her, thinking how lucky I am, and she would tell me to stop looking at her like that. She said it makes her feel weird. My hugs and kisses were met with a cold shoulder.
I felt like I was more of a stranger than a dad. I didn’t know what to do. My friend Nate called to check in on me and I told him how bad I was feeling about how things were going with Melrose.
He said that just like me, my daughter had expectations of what life would be like after my release. He said, “Think about it, she probably built you up to be this knight in shining armor. Now you’re home and you’re invading her space, you tease her more than you should, and life isn’t a fairy tale. She doesn’t understand the conflicting feelings she’s having.”
Nate was right, we are strangers in a way. She’s used to her schedule, her routine, and her space, and I’m disrupting all three. I was so happy to see her and be together that I wasn’t thinking about how she was feeling.
Nate gave me some amazing advice, “Keep telling her nice things about her but do it from a distance, give her space. Let her come to you and appreciate it when she does. And never tease her about boys.” Since that phone call, my relationship with my daughter has slowly begun to strengthen.
My resilience didn’t come from nowhere. I got my resilience from my mom: the rock for both Melrose and me. She passed it not just to me, but to Melrose, the most resilient person in our family. I can’t wait to meet the woman she becomes.