I have a dear long-time friend who once confided in me that he was a post-abortive dad. We had been talking about the loss of my Bernadette, and he started crying and told me about his own little girl. She is the child he has never known and the child he loves completely.
I encouraged him to write about what it is to live in the silence of being a post-abortive father. This week he surprised me and sent me the following, then he surprised me further by allowing me to share it with you. He felt it needed to be said out loud and in public. He loves her and misses her and just wishes more than anything that he would have had the chance to be her dad.
I'm in love with a girl I've never met. I've never held her hand, or stroked her hair, or sang songs to her. But I love her all the same.
Whether she's tall or short, I don't know. The shape of her face exists only in my imagination. The lilt in her voice and the joy in her laugh - sounds that would rival the chorus of angels, I'm sure. Sparkling eyes of brown, perhaps hazel.
All that is lost to me. All I possess are the unreal memories of what could have been.
Because 25 years ago, about this time in August, the girl I love was aborted. My little girl. My only daughter. A child so inseparably wrapped around my finger to this day. A girl who will never call me "daddy".
A girl who never felt the protective embrace of her father, because her father failed in her greatest moment of need.
I could write about the abortion, the whys and wherefores, but why? That guy, in a very real sense, no longer exists. I'm not that guy anymore, just as I'm no longer the kid who attended Catholic grade school, or the idiot who got drunk at college parties. The days of "If only..." are long behind me, nor do I play the "I should've..." game any longer. After 25 years, I ought to have stopped all that, right? I admit that what I did, what I allowed to happen, was wrong. I've repented and done my penance. I'm reconciled with the Church.
Reconciliation, while it removes the sin, it doesn't wash away the grief. There's a child-sized hole in my heart that will never be filled in this life. Actually, there's a child-sized hole in my life that my heart will never get over.
The grief of lost fatherhood due to abortion is rarely talked about. It's only been recently that groups like Rachel's Vineyard have reached out to dads and help them through the grieving process. It's something I yearn to participate in, to get the full healing I know I still need, but am unable to.
Why? Because a couple years later, I married the woman who had the abortion. I married the mother of our daughter. You might think that a lot of pain and suffering could have been avoided if we had married other people, and I wouldn't necessarily argue with you. But back in those days, I had convinced myself that the abortion wasn't on me, that I wasn't responsible. It had nothing to do with me. As time went on, though, I faced the fact that I was responsible, that I was a father, and I needed healing.
The bad thing is, the abortion remains a taboo topic of discussion between us to this day, an invisible intractable wall, breached only twice in the past two-and-a-half decades. I'm not going to dive into the dynamics going on, except to say: the one person who can help me work through the grief and pain is the same person who refuses to acknowledge that I'm justified in experiencing pain and grief in the first place. Plus she is unwilling, or incapable of, admitting she killed her child. But this is something I must talk about. To go this long without telling anybody is beyond what I ever believed I could bear. To go any further leads me into a wilderness I have no desire to venture.
It's important that people realize that there are many, many fathers out there who regret the abortion and yet are unable to, or are uncomfortable with, talking about it. The guilt and shame; the feelings of inadequacy, in failing to protect the vulnerable; the isolation; the detachment and inability to form stable relationships; the unspoken tension; the negative effect on parenting; the emotional scarring. These things and more plague countless men, and most carry their grief as an invisible weight that squeezes the very life from their souls. They love the children who exist only in their hearts, unrequited and forlorn.
I know this because I live this, and have lived this. I've seen it in the way I've interacted with my family. This time of year, every year, is rough. I've shed many a tear at Christmas in the loneliness of an empty room, after everyone else had gone to bed. Certain songs evoke strong emotions - such as when Fantine sings "I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I'm living". Some movie scenes can be devastating - such as Capt John Miller, dying on the French village bridge, and gasping to Private Ryan: "Earn this! Earn this!" And he did earn it - and I'm left asking myself, what have I earned from my life, from my choice? I've watched my brothers walk their daughters down the aisle on their wedding days, and I think, "I'll never be that dad". I have thrown myself on the floor of adoration chapels, before our blessed Lord, begging for His peace, asking for His help to relieve the pain. He always provides the peace, but that child-sized hole in my life remains.
And I don't want that hole to go away. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. I had tried filling that absence with other things, subconsciously at the time, and yet it remained. For many years I tried to give the love that was meant for my daughter to other pursuits - some good, others not so much. Looking back, I now understand that that was never going to work. I came to realize that this love won't be satisfied. Nowadays, I pray with her, and ask for her intercession. It's what is left to me now.
The hardest part is the isolation - being unable to talk about my experience, and perhaps being unable to help other men cope with their own grief. I believe God may be calling me to do that, but without a miracle, I don't see how that will happen. Still, I remain hopeful. The grief? It comes and goes, and I take it as a normal emotional response when a loved one dies, except I'm the one responsible. I suppose it's similar to a father of a stillborn or miscarried child, to a degree. I really can't say, because I haven't experienced those, but I imagine that despite the glaring obvious differences, there is the similarity in loving a child you never met. What makes the grief more pointed is that I brought it on myself.
Please don't think I wallow in grief or self-pity. I regret that day in August 1988 with every fiber of my being, but I don't fantasize about what should have been. The choice to abort was made, and I suffer the consequences of that choice. As does my wife, whose unwillingness to admit to herself that it was gravely wrong impedes full healing between us. I love her, and have forgiven her. I hold no grudge, and pray that God softens her heart so she can begin her own healing. Still, that is my reality, and since she is the mother of all my children, I have made the choice to remain committed to the end, whatever that end may be.
Finally, I believe my daughter has forgiven me - and her mother - which has helped me greatly. And someday, through the inexplicable mercy and kindness of God, a Father Himself, I am ever hopeful we will finally meet. A reunion of strangers who have always loved each other, and I will finally get to hear her say "Daddy!"