Dear Father, I am just born. You run after nurses wheeling me away. Mother's blood still coats my body, but you're determined to get a glimpse. You'll bring me home, and you will cradle me, rarely see me as you work to save me. The graveyard shifts leave little time to hold me, but your tired body will tiptoe past my crib every night for fear of waking my tiny eyes. All you'll want to do is rest yours but they'll linger on mine, instill hope in my dreams. Your daughter will have everything, you swear, even your dreams.
Dear Father, I am two. You watch me sleep in the backseat as you drive across the Canadian border. Twelve hundred miles to my name, but I have barely learned to walk. Maybe this is where I learned to wander. Maybe this is where I learned to travel, to search the world for something more.
Dear Father, I am four. You are watching as a woman I'll come to love and fear places my fingers upon her Steinway. Video camera in hand you'll document my voice as it learns to hold pitches, my hands as they learn to make music. Maybe this is where I learned to love music, to speak to others with my hands, to touch a soul with my voice.
Dear Father, I am six. I am falling asleep in the backseat on the way home. Eyes closed, I'll hear the sound of the garage door open and the car parking inside. Careful not to wake me, you'll gently open the door and carry me to my bed inside. And you won't know this, but sometimes I'll pretend to fall asleep in the back just to see if you'll still carry me inside and you always do. And you always did until my sister needed your arms more than I did.
Dear Father, I am nine. You'll begin to tell me stories about your childhood in Vietnam. Mother will tell me stories about hers. My head will be filled with vivid images; my heart will be set on fire. Maybe this is where I learned to tell stories, to fill others with vivid images like the ones imagined, to give voice to the voiceless, namely me.
Dear Father, I am twelve. You are yelling at me for the third time to go to bed, and I swear just one more stanza, and I'll be done for the night. You are telling me that writing is a waste of time, but writing is my only voice. I am at the age where boys are starting to matter and my self-esteem is starting to tank, and writing makes me feel powerful. And my twelve-year-old fist will want to slap you with words, take my poetry and hit you with it because you've never read a damn thing I've written. How would you know it's a waste of time?
Dear Father, I am thirteen. Boys are vulgar and girls are mean, but I am teaching myself how to shut them out. I will give a reading from my poetry at my eighth grade graduation, hope that maybe then you will be proud. Maybe then my writing will have worth. Maybe then, I'll have worth. I will receive the highest score on my high school entrance exam, land a $6000 scholarship to my high school, the certificate to which you will lose. My achievements must have meant so much to you. And I will open the front page of the Omaha World Herald and see the pictures and faces of all the high school valedictorians also graduating, and I swear I will be one. Maybe then you will be proud. Maybe then.
Dear Father, I am fourteen. I am a freshman in high school. I will cry because girls are mean to me, and a senior boy will message me on Facebook at ungodly hours of the night to tell me all the things he wants to do to me. You will not know, and I will not tell you because I know that you will only blame me, that the punishment will fall on me, because you were never good with your words, but words were all I had to seek justice.
Dear Father, I am sixteen. You are teaching me how to drive at the same time another man is teaching me how to fly. You show me when to choose P, R, or D the same way he's telling me never to pick C. I got a 33 on my ACT, and you had the audacity to ask me why not 36? At the same time, I'm using my words to tell high school students across the nation that they are more than a set of numbers, that nobody asks Mark Zuckerberg what his ACT score was. But you are too obsessed with the destination to care about the journey, but I'm too wise to accept the destination as the only form of growth. I am also applying to Princeton. I am also applying to Yale. But you're too caught up in your disappointment that your daughter is a poet and not a doctor and that she didn't choose the school you wanted her to choose to be proud of her. I am sixteen and learning to dream without you.
Dear Father, I am seventeen. And you are abandoning me. I will be sexually assaulted in the basement of a boy I thought was my friend, and to this day you won't know because I know you'll find fault in me, because you'll make some stupid comment about your "culture" and your "culture" will get in the way of asking me if I'm okay. I'm not okay. Thanks for asking.
Dear Father, I am seventeen. And you are abandoning me. Choosing a college becomes less about me and more about you as you are ashamed to tell your family that I am a poet. So you tell them that I am nothing. But your daughter got into the twelfth best school in the nation and has a full ride somewhere else. She can choose between NYU and Notre Dame, but all that is futile because your daughter is a poet. Tell them I'm a poet. I am not nothing.
Dear Father, I am seventeen. And you are abandoning me. I am giving my valedictory speech in the ugliest yellow gown I've ever seen. My report card is one straight-A record, not a blemish to be seen. My picture was in the newspaper twice, and I graduated in the top 4% of all the high school seniors in the state, but you don't know that because you weren't at the awards ceremony. Mother was present, and she doesn't know it either. I give you my valedictory medal, tell you that it was for you, that all this was to make you proud. And you scoff at my medal and scoff at my speech, and tell me that you're disappointed because my speech "wasn't up to your standards". My speech was about poetry. Of course, it wasn't up to your standards.
Dear Father, I am seventeen. And you are abandoning me. I am contemplating suicide by my bed and on the bathroom floor. All these years of you depleting my self-worth are finally catching up to me. I lay a knife to my skin, hope I bleed out your poison.
Dear Father, I am seventeen. And you are abandoning me. But I want you to. Drop me off at the gates of my university and say your final goodbye. I'm not coming home. I'll ignore your phone calls, so you'll text me the reasons why I'm such a disappointment. I am learning that I am beautiful, with or without you. I am learning that the only person I need to come to terms with is myself.
Dear Father, I am eighteen. And you are abandoning my sister. She is bawling in my arms from an anxiety attack, and you'll just look at us and say, "You're girls. You're just trouble," the same dismissive way you said, "You're girls. You can't be the president." My sister is trying to break free from the vulgar boys and the mean girls, but her voice is engineering. She wants to go to MIT. But you're selfish and you don't listen, never heard her cries in the night, never once heard boys tell her that she was too pretty to be an engineer. I come home just for her, to tell her that you're wrong, that girls can be president, to tell her that she's worth more than she looks. Instead, you reverse my words, tell her what she should be wearing and shouldn't be wearing or commenting on how I look rather than telling her that she's beautiful enough that the dirt from whatever she wants to build can't taint her, that her brain is beautiful for its ingenuity.
Dear Father, I am eighteen. And I'm realizing how many times you didn't tell me I was beautiful, how many times I went searching for someone else to tell me I was beautiful but found none. They told me that writing was such a typical girl thing to do. Apparently girls have too many feelings, and it takes me back to the very first time you told me writing was a waste of time, but can't you see that you were taking away my voice the same way they're trying to take mine? And you silenced my voice in the best way by simply ignoring it. I asked you why you never told me I was beautiful, and you told me that I should've been confident enough to know it, that if I wasn't it meant I wasn't. But how was I supposed to feel beautiful when the only way I could speak was the only way you wouldn't listen? How was I supposed to feel beautiful when you thought my voice was the number of letter grades I could bring home or the test scores I could aim for or the medical degree you and I both know I was never cut out for?
Dear Father, I am eighteen. And I want you back. My friends talk about how amazing their fathers are, and I have hope that you can still be like that, have hope that you will still carry me inside should I fall asleep in the backseat of your car. But you will turn me away, and I will sob on the floor of my dorm room, afraid to leave it for fear they will see what you've done to me, the person you've made me. But I will stand up and realize that you didn't make me. I made myself, and if it wasn't good enough for you, that's okay.
Dear Daughter, you're not yet born. But your father will love you. Your father will see the galaxies in your eyes and he'll worship the ground your little feet stomp upon. He'll shatter glass ceilings with you and for you if you haven't already shattered them with the sheer force of your being. He'll be proud of you for who you are, even if you're a poet too. So don't cry yourself to sleep in the comfort of your dorm, in the comfort of being a thousand miles away. I promise you'll never have to run that far.