Letter to My Daughter: I’m Not the Father I Should Have Been

T.J. Holmes reveals his pain and regret over missing his daughter’s childhood.

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Dearest Daughter:

Daddy’s little girls. I’ve been blessed to have two in my life. You were the first. And you were the one who didn’t get the daddy you deserved.

Today, I’m again compelled to say: I’m so sorry.

I was a child myself when you were born. I was 18 years old, had just finished my freshman year of college, and could barely provide food, much less provide the kind of home or nurturing you needed at the time. I tried to be a good daddy, I promise. I know I didn’t try hard enough. My immaturity, selfishness and stupidity were too much to overcome.

Despite sterling success and happiness in many areas later in my life, I never forgot those early failures as a father. For years, I was ashamed and insecure. I internalized and masked my pain the best I could. I didn’t really talk to anybody about it. I should have.

You probably don’t realize that it was you and your graciousness that helped me eventually find some solace. IPhones, iPads, laptops, Skype, etc., have allowed us to stay in constant contact, and we have grown closer every year, even though we haven’t lived in the same city since you were very young. We always make the best out of our time together. It sucks that is usually only a handful of visits per year, but you have never shown anger or bitterness toward me despite the countless band concerts, birthdays, holidays and volleyball games I have missed. You have loved me no matter my shortcomings and our circumstances. Our relationship is one of the great joys of my life.

Yet today, I’m experiencing a new round of old emotions. Some sadness even. Your high school graduation is just weeks away. That has naturally prompted a season of reflection. I’ve recounted so many happy moments from the past 18 years. (Chaperoning your band trip to Disney World was a particular highlight.) But I’ve found myself too often focused on what I could have done differently and better over the years, especially when you were very young.

And it’s not just your graduation that’s getting to me lately. For the past 16 months, I’ve had a constant, daily reminder of just how much we missed: Sabine. 

Your half sister is getting the daddy I wish I could have been for you. A daddy whose face is often the first one she sees in the morning and the last one she sees at night. A daddy who’s in a loving marriage with her mom. A daddy who shows her every day how a man should treat her. A daddy who cooks her meals, answers her cries, takes her on date nights and does her hair.

During many of those sweet and routine moments with Sabine, I find myself thinking about you and what might have been.

Still, things worked out beautifully. You have flourished beyond any parent’s wildest expectation. None of the credit for that should go to me. Your mother has been the driving force behind the young lady you’ve become. Your stepdad has been a positive influence as well. You’ve always been an A student, you excel at anything you try, and you’re simply a good person. I can’t imagine anything I could have done differently that would have made you a better young woman. I only wish I could have given you more and richer memories of the time with your daddy. 

During moments of self-doubt over the years, my mom tried to reassure me by saying, “Do the best you can. All you can do … is all you can do.”  I agree. It’s just that no one tells you how to cope when you realize that doing “all you can do” often means you’re still not doing enough, especially when it comes to being a good parent.   

In a way, you and I have grown up together. Though I’m sure you’ve made a more significant contribution to my growth than I did to yours. You spurred something in me. I was driven and motivated to make you proud and to support you the best way I knew how. Without you, who knows where I’d be.

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