For Father’s Day I’d like to share this chapter from my book with you — the story of the little girl who changed my life…
Chapter 5: My Little Girl
I always knew I would be a dad. Maybe it was all those years spent with my mom at the day-care centers where she worked. Or maybe it was a deep-down desire to be the man my father never was. In any case, I just knew.
Glen’s son and I had started a side business at the flea market selling advertising on the back of the parking receipts. We got the idea while buying a pack of gum at the grocery store. After paying, we got the receipt and the cashier pointed out some money-saving coupons on the back. The moment we saw that we knew what we had to do.
After a brief conversation with Glen, during which we promised to pay the $500 per month printing fee for the parking receipts, I was in the advertising business.
Down the street from the flea market was a taco shop called Taquería Garcia. I met the owner, José, and I convinced him to buy some ads. We ended up becoming friends. He was a jolly man, always laughing and smiling and telling jokes. I would visit him for lunch on a regular basis and that’s where I met my first wife, Claudia.
I’m not going to talk much about Claudia because this isn’t that kind of book―the kind where I tell you all the reasons why I was too young to get married or how Claudia wasn’t the one for me. What I will tell you is that when I met Claudia she had a daughter named Nataly who stole my heart. Nataly’s father had left, which left a void in her life … a void I was all too familiar with from my own childhood.
The first time I met Nataly was at the taquería. She was a precious little girl, short, with a round face and chubby red cheeks pressed up against the edge of her glasses. She waddled around the taco shop like a curly-haired penguin. I reached out to hold her hand and say hi and she fell down. She was a year-and-a-half old at the time and this was a catastrophe. Sitting on the floor, looking at me like I was the bogeyman, she wailed. You know the kind of wail … the one that causes everyone to look at you like you’re an abusive S.O.B. who made a little kid cry. She wailed and I sat there red in the face.
As with most fathers and daughters this wouldn’t be the last time I would carelessly make her cry. Like on her second birthday when I hired a Barney impersonator to come to her party. She took one look at that big, purple monster and ran. She hid under her bed for the entire party while the other kids played.
But all the tough moments would be blanketed by the warm love of a father and daughter who chose each other. Since I only worked three days a week at the flea market, I would pick her up from the babysitter while her mom was working. We would walk, holding hands, at the Happy Hollow Zoo. We would talk to each other in animal voices; laugh and play hide-and-seek. Then we’d go to Baskin-Robbins and eat ice cream and talk about all we had seen.
When Nataly was around six I adopted her. She was so proud to say that she had chosen me, and when the judge was finalizing the proceeding, she stopped him. You see, he had assumed the round-faced little girl in pink glasses had nothing to say … he was wrong. This was her life and her adoption and she wanted to tell all who would listen that she was choosing me as her daddy.
The next year Nataly made another declaration. She now had a brother, Kevin. She notified our friends and family with a heartfelt, hand-drawn birth announcement: “My baby brother.” Nataly was shy and quiet about some things, but when it came to manifesting the family she wanted, she was the boss.
By 1999 Claudia and I divorced and I was awarded custody of the children. Since the legal fees had cost me my house and what little savings I had, the kids and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a small complex.
Our day went something like this. We would wake up at 6:00 a.m., eat breakfast and get ready for work and school. Then Nataly, Kevin, and I would drive first to Nataly’s school and drop her off. Then Kevin and I would drive to the day-care center my mom ran where Kevin would spend the day. I would arrive at my office, which was down the street, by 8:30 or 9:00. I’d work until 2:00 p.m. and then I would drive back across town to pick up Nataly from school and take her to my mom’s day-care center. Then back to work until 6:00 p.m., after which I would hustle back to the day-care center to pick up the kids before closing. Add to this I was running my own business as a concert promoter.
The schedule was as exhausting as it sounds. Not to mention that I couldn’t help noticing the irony―or perhaps destiny is a better word― that I was reliving my mom’s single parent life.
It was also beautiful as the kids and I were spending so much time together. My travel and work had to be planned around them. We bonded like never before. Through the stress and the chaos of divorce and the life of single parenthood came a lifetime bond that bears its fruits today in the unique relationship we share.
There is a version of this story in which I, the dad on the white horse, rode into Nataly’s life and rescued her … became her father … spent my young adult years providing her a life of love and opportunity … put her through school … loved and supported her. All that is true.
There is also another version in which an amazing little girl from a broken family manifested the life she had always dreamed of … and in the process rescued me. That little girl with the beaming smile and curly hair became the one constant in my life, giving me a love that was always there … the only love that never left me. Her powerful ability to create the life she wanted would benefit our family.
After my second divorce, it was Nataly who convinced me to buy a dog for the kids. Then in the midst of her teenage years, walking the tightrope between hating and loving me, she put teenage angst aside and helped her little brother build a PowerPoint presentation, as she had seen me do so many times for my boss. Slide after slide, they laid out the reasons a dog would be good for our family: love … comfort … companionship … even hypo-allergenic. It had both their names on it, but I knew it was all Nataly. And she was right.
It would be Nataly years later who led our family toward the healthy habits we now follow. She would pester us, harass us to watch documentaries like Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead; Forks Over Knives; A Beautiful Truth; and so many others. It took us years to listen, but once again Nataly led the way.
When I would finally find my soul mate and life partner, Christy, Nataly―then 20 years old―would play an almost seer-like role. Sharing with me later that when the three of us met innocently for the first time, she had gone home to tell her brother, “Today I met Daddy’s wife.” Something only a daughter could have known.
In the end, the truth is that Nataly and I chose each other. A man determined to be the kind of loving father he never had, and a little girl, a powerful creator, who wouldn’t stop until she had formed her life like a story from her childhood fairy tale books.
Once upon a time they met in a taco shop, and through the everyday routine of life learned a lesson in family and love. A truth more important than blood or race or circumstance.
Big hugs of Father’s Day love,