“She looks just like her father.”
I flushed every time I heard these words, hoping the discomfort I felt was hidden by my brown skin. I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel, I just knew hearing that didn’t feel good.
Naturally my daughter would look like him. She has half of his DNA, after all. But it just doesn’t seem fair. I carried her in my womb for 40 weeks. I carried her in an infant car seat, convinced my arm was going to detach from my body. I carried her up the stairs as a preschooler after she had fallen asleep in the car. And I’ve carried her in my heart from the moment I knew of her existence.
Carrying a little person who somehow overnight becomes a big person is at times scary and exhausting, but it’s also so right and so rewarding. My daughter has always fit in my arms and my heart just perfectly.
But I’ve done the heavy lifting alone. He is her father, but he hasn’t been her daddy. He wasn’t putting together Christmas presents and reading bedtime stories. He wasn’t applying Band-Aids or trying to find seats at the Doodlebops concert. He didn’t even know the Doodlebops were her favorite. There was no help with homework or wiping runny noses, praying that the fever would break soon. He had long gone away.
I truly believe that in his own way he still loves her, but not the way that I believe a father should or that a daddy would. In his absence, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I felt like we had just narrowly avoided a future filled with instability, angst and heartbreak. Leaving him gave us a chance. She and I had a chance.
Only he never really went away. I see glimmers of him in her – his face, his mannerisms – parts of him present in the person I loved more than anything. But how could I declare that I love her more than anything when I have yet to forgive the person who helped me create her? Was all the wrong he did canceled out because he gave me the most precious, priceless gift?
Over the years I’ve learned an awful lot about forgiveness and what it truly means to forgive (my greatest aha moment). As I’ve shared before from The Five Love Languages:
“We cannot erase the past, but we can accept it as history. We can choose to live today free from the failures of yesterday. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love…”
This excerpt is geared toward married couples, but I still find it to be applicable in the case of my ex. It seems strange, offering an expression of love to someone you aren’t in love with, but it isn’t. Because this forgiveness isn’t about me loving him, it’s about me loving my daughter.
When I let go of the hurt and the anger, I realized that there was love left over in my heart for him, too. Not the kind of love I share with my husband, the man who is, and forever and always will be our daughter’s daddy. But rather a gracious love for the role he played in her existence.
My love for my child is so fierce and true that I am not willing to allow the past to water it down. And in order to love every single part of her, even the parts that remind me of someone I once desperately wanted to forget, I had to forgive and choose to be thankful instead.
In my eyes, she’s perfect. A part of God’s perfect plan. She is exactly who she was meant to be.
She’s just like her daddy, I think to myself as I watch them dancing and singing around the living room. The two share characteristics that make it evident that they were meant to be. Their passions, their giving hearts, the way their eyes light up when they see the people they love. She’s just like him in so many ways and beams with pride when someone says they favor one another.
But she’s also a little bit like the guy who will never know exactly what we know. These various quirks and mannerisms come together to make her.
She’s just as beautiful and perfect and miraculous as she was the day she was born. We, her daddy and I, are so proud. And in his own way, I imagine the man who helped create her is proud too.
More from Babble:
The other woman I see in my daughter's eyes
I broke up with my boyfriend, not his kids
Did you know what kind of parent your partner would be?
9 rules for divorced parents (from a kid who’s been stuck in the middle)
How I learned to stop hating my ex-husband