My 14-year-old daughter is away at camp, and I don’t miss her as much as I used to.
Most years, I obsess about writing, sending packages, making sure she knows I’m thinking of her every day. This year, not so much.
In fact, I’ve gone a week without sending a scrap of paper — and now my guilt is piling up.
Of course she’s older now, and it’s not like when she was 9 and went to sleep-away camp the first time. Then it felt so important to flood her with tokens of love and connection, to make sure she didn’t feel shipped off to Siberia or cast off like an used piece of furniture.
Back then, I was sure my stream of postcards and letters was for her, something she needed to avoid a dreaded bout of homesickness or other emotional devastation.
Then camp became routine for her, a high point of her year, with special friends and activities. I knew she looked for my letters with less eagerness and excitement, but I believed keeping the link was just as important as ever.
I guess my extreme postal output was more for me than my daughter, fulfilling my need to be involved in her life, my desire for connection, my insecurity that being her dad was less and less important.
But this summer, as my few weeks without her have filled up with work and play, social obligations and deferred projects, the dispatches have dwindled. Each morning I swear I’ll get a letter off to her and each night I berate myself for failure, feeling more and more like a neglectful parent.
The days are sliding by quickly, their passage a blur, their disappearance a mystery. I’m busy and have gotten to some movies. Life is pretty good. Except that nagging feeling that I’m letting my daughter down.
Separation works both ways, her feeling secure and able to go off on her own and my having a life that revolves less and less around my kids. I should feel lucky it’s going that way, but deep down I know there is a sense I’m betraying my little girl.
So as I’m packing for visiting day, I’m adding extra comic books and special items to my bags to pay for my pangs of conscience. I’m ready to take her out for ice cream and send her back to her cabin with anything she might want.
When I leave her, I know there are only two more weeks of my freedom, dinners with friends, relaxed weekend mornings, spontaneous outings with my wife, even working late without a worry. Oh, how awful I’ll feel if I don’t get a letter off to her then but only because I’m enjoying the childless life a little too much.
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