Learning to love behind bars: having a parent in jail

My entire life, I’ve lived with my birth mom and step-dad. Together, they’ve raised four daughters: Tatiana, Alexa, Sophia, and me. We do not all share the same two parents. Some of us don’t have either’s blood in our veins at all. It never mattered.
I first met my biological dad when I was in the third grade. Though I was never formally told, I knew from an early age that something was unusual about me. No one ever told me I had my step-dad’s eyes, that my cheeks look just like his mother’s, or any of the other things I would hear them say to my little and oldest sister. Alexa and I were somehow different.
One day, Alexa showed me a picture of our biological dad, and things started to make sense. But when I answered a knock on the door of my house one day nearly a decade ago, I did not recognize the man standing before me as my father.
Throughout the years, I began to learn more about him from my mother. While she always told a neutral story, I still began to resent him, because he wasn’t around and never tried contacting me.
My freshman year of high school, that all changed. He started writing me letters from his home in Pennsylvania and was interested in learning about who I was and what I was like. He became my best friend, and we spoke everyday. The summer before my sophomore year, he came down from Pennsylvania to visit. Once the week with him was up, I looked forward to seeing him again next summer, as he had promised. My dad and I became the closest we’d ever been.
He didn’t visit this past summer. Alexa and I were notified that he had to go to Cuba for about three months to take care of a sick relative.
And so three months passed by, without a single word from our dad. At this point, my sister and I were worried. Something was definitely wrong. I could feel it in my bones. So our mom told us the truth:
“Girls, your dad never went to Cuba. He’s been in jail these past few months. He wanted to tell you. He loves and misses you both very much.”
At first, I laughed it off. I laughed at myself for letting him convince me he was a good person. I laughed at how pathetic I was, waiting to receive word from him. And most importantly, I laughed because this stranger that I had resented for my whole life for hurting me ended up becoming someone I cared about very much, and had now hurt me again. I laughed because after all these years, it was when I finally got the chance to enjoy having him in my life that he was ripped away from it. And now, I was angry.
Whenever Alexa mentioned our dad, I changed the subject. I didn’t want to talk about him, nor hear about him. He didn’t think of his daughters when he made the decision that took him away from us, so why should I miss him now that he’s gone?
Later on I found out that although he had served his sentence, he hadn’t been released. I called the prison to find out about it, and as I spoke to the woman on of the phone, the walls of cold indifference that I had built to separate myself from my father’s situation came crashing down and collapsed upon me. Speaking his eight-digit inmate number aloud sent flame-tipped arrows into the center of my fortress. Knowing that this woman was so near to him and that I couldn’t be set off powerful, booming cannons that exploded my barriers. Then, hearing her scoff and say: “Sweetie, he’s not coming home anytime soon,” set off the emotional ticking-time bomb inside me that had begun counting down the moment I received the news, and suddenly my world felt like it was shattering in slow motion all around me.
“Dad’s in jail…”
“He misses you very much…”
“Sweetie, he’s not coming home anytime soon…”
I was left shocked, and then all at once, I was crushed by the pulverizing weight of the truth: that I have a convict for a father.
It was only after confiding in a dear friend that I realized that one decision my father made does not define him nor me. People often turn up their noses when they hear that someone they know is in prison. But those inmates: they are also mothers, and children, and sisters—and fathers.
Even though my dad did something bad, that doesn’t mean he’s a “bad” person, and it’s possible to really love someone even if they let you down. This is my dad, come Hell or high water.
At first, I was overcome with shame. But now, knowing that my father is in prison isn’t a burden weighing on me anymore. Yes, he’s surrounded by criminals like himself every single day. Yes, he is monitored 24/7, and won’t be back for Christmas. There are days where I go straight to my room after school and cry my heart out because I just can’t handle it, but there are also those wonderful days when I can think of good memories I made with him and smile.
It’s with the support of people that really care about me that I’ve been able to see this as a hurdle I have the ability to jump over, and not a blockade in my path to happiness.
I find comfort in knowing that one day my dad is going to walk out of that prison as a free man, and he’s going to come see me and he’s going to take me to that pizza place that only I go to with him. And it’s going to be one of the happiest days of my life.
So do I accept and love my dad, despite his handcuffs? Of course I do. I love him with all of my heart. Unfailingly.