Dixie Lee Brown was born prematurely in Middlesex Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ. She spent her first days in an incubator as was the practice then. I remember holding her on the day Doris and I brought her home. She was so incredibly tiny. She weighed about four pounds and fit easily in my hands. She was ugly–but not for long.
She cried with the teeniest mewl and waved her wee arms about as babies do but she was loved. As she grew she had allergies and other baby problems that meant doctor’s visits and special care but she was loved.
Every other year Doris and I created another daughter. First came Karen Jeanne. Dixie was a loving big sister. Next came Lorene Marie. Dixie was even more a loving big sister.
Unfortunately, her father was a rectal sphincter and he abused her mother physically and emotionally for the most immature and selfish of reasons. The marriage ended in divorce and the demise of the family. Doris remarried and their petition to adopt my daughters was granted by a judge whose area of expertise was in business and criminal law, not the family court judge. His logic was he’d be saving me child support.
During their childhood years there were long periods of time when I was unable to see them but Dixie managed to get to a pay phone from time to time to call me. Visits to their home were infrequent and Karen managed to “disown” me. By the time I moved to California in 1978, the children were old enough to become closer to their real father. Dixie had lived with us for a short time. Lorene came to her old house to say good-bye.
I flew home to New Jersey several times and motorcycled across country two or three times to visit all three of my daughters and their growing families. Dixie had made some unwise choices in her life just as her dad and others have made. She was still my daughter and still loved as always. The girls were not happy with our move to California, but I needed to move on from the by then two divorces. It was one of the worst decisions of the many I have made in my 79 years. I wished they could have understood the pain and helplessness I’d gone through from not being with them as they grew up. A pain that would never subside.
Dixie too fled from her problems. She chose to move to North Carolina where a friend helped her get restarted. I never saw her again but we’d write to each other and I’d call her as well. Then suddenly it all changed. I’m told it was the drugs she had used back in New Jersey that distorted her thinking and she stopped communicating with me. My grandson Michael also stopped our regular Email conversations. My heart has been broken ever since. But I always loved my daughter.
I hated California almost from the beginning. It never felt like home. I added to my university degrees, had a good job and some good friends. My third wife and I had our kids and the chance to realize the “American Dream”. But unforeseen, unexpected and this time undeserved circumstances blew the dream to smithereens. I lost everything including my family, my position in the community, most of what I owned and my savings. I had to start all over again.
God works in mysterious ways indeed! He led me to a humbling job and then caused me to have to give it up because of surgeries I needed. It was during this off-time that my church called for volunteer short-term missionaries to help in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. Money was provided for my passage by the church. It was a wonderful experience that led to several more annual trips to Central America. Being single again in 2008 and frustrated with my life in the U.S. I moved to El Salvador. I became very active in my church here and regained the sense of fulfillment I felt had been taken from me in the U.S. Through Email I kept in touch with my children. But over time they stopped communicating for various reasons I’ve been told.
I have pictured my Grandpa Roscoe, who died before I was born, living alone apart from his estranged wife and children and perhaps discovered one day dead at 75 in a lonely room. He’d been active to be sure but alone. I imagined my own last days being like that, thousands of miles from my uninterested and uncaring children who were living their lives as though I never existed. I never considered that any of them would precede me in death.
I continue to serve my church and community as best I can. But my focus is on my wife and especially my daughter. I live to ensure her a better life than her mother could have imagined, a life certainly better than her own. Sometimes I wonder about Adriana’s perception of me as a father, as her father. My girls were always great huggers, jockeying for position on my lap, three kids wanting to hold my two hands. Adriana isn’t like that for the most part. I can count the times she’s kissed me on the cheek on one hand. Her mother had to encourage her to give me a hug at bedtime. A man who has lost the confidence and love of his natural and adopted children is insecure. As a teacher I thrived on the love of my students. As a parent I had little to show. Adriana is perhaps a measuring tool in my last years as a father. Among all my endeavors and successes, the most important endeavor, fatherhood, feels like a loss.
But this morning when Adriana found me sitting on the edge of my bed crying aloud over the loss of my first daughter, she threw herself into my arms holding me ever so tightly and lovingly. Not one of her typical hit-and-run ‘OK, I’ve done my duty hugs’, but so genuinely in tune with what I was feeling. I don’t know how many times a day I tell her that I love her and how happy she makes me. No one child can make up for the loss of or separation from another. No one child is more loved than another. As I wrote to my grandson Michael, Dixie’s son, love is forever. I will always love Dixie, my other children and grandchildren, and Adriana.