The metal door slammed with a loud clang. I took a seat in front of the window. There sat a man I knew only from letters and photos and yet, I had so many things I wanted to say. My tears came before my words. I dried my eyes, embarrassed by my emotions.
“Don’t cry, baby. I’m so glad to see you. You’re prettier than your pictures.”
Sniffing I nodded my head. I was six months old when Daddy went to prison. My mother wouldn’t let me visit him until I turned twelve. Finally after months of begging she arranged for my grandpa to take me to the state penitentiary.
“Jennifer, I love you with all my heart. Can you forgive me, honey? I’ve done foolish and dangerous things in my life. You can’t imagine how disgusted I am with myself for leaving your mother and you. I’m a horrible example of a man let alone a father. Please forgive me?”
My eyes burned, tears flowed staining my red blouse with dark circles. Through heaving sobs I said, “I forgive you daddy. I love you, but I don’t understand. Mom won’t tell me about the past. She acts angry but I think she’s afraid of something. Grandpa says she doesn’t want you to influence me.”
“Baby, I’ve already confessed to being a terrible example. I will never influence you to do wrong. Rhea loves you…obey her and respect her.”
“But you are important to me too. I get so angry when mom says things about you. When I turn 18, I’m going to visit you
whenever I want.”
“Oh Jenn, please don’t be angry with your mom. I failed her. I failed you. I threw away my right to be a husband and a father. When you’re young it’s easy to romanticize about things. Believe me Jenn, there’s no glamor in a life of crime…just bad judgment and selfishness. Don’t glamorize my life.
"Honey, I’m living proof that crime doesn’t pay. That’s the only good example I can assign myself.”
“But Daddy, you’re sorry for all that aren’t you?”
“Yes Jennifer, I‘m very sorry, but being sorry doesn’t satisfy the laws I’ve broken. It doesn’t fix the harm I caused. It doesn’t make everything alright.
“Listen baby, when I’m confident you can handle the truth, I will tell you. Until then, enjoy your life. Don’t rush to grow up. Enjoy being twelve…enjoy life NOW.”
“Okay daddy, maybe I’m beginning to understand things better. I guess I’m not as grown up as I think I am. You know Grandpa brought me and he wants to see you, but I’ll come back to say good-bye.”
“It’s good to see you, Henry. Thanks for bringing Jennifer. How is Rhea?”
“Eric, my daughter is having a very difficult time emotionally. She lives in constant fear that she can still be implicated in your crimes. The District Attorney told her he’s convinced she played a part in the robbery and beating of the bank teller in Omaha.
“I ‘m not asking you to confirm or deny anything, but Rhea is horrified you will tell Jennifer something that will devastate their relationship.
“Jennifer is dramatic, as with any 12 year old girl she fantasizes. Your life on the run captures her imagination. Rhea’s attempts to discourage her fantasies are met with anger. Whatever happened is over. Rhea needs to have peace.”
“Wait a minute, Henry. Jennifer will never hear a negative word from me about Rhea. I take total responsibility for everything. Rhea has nothing to fear from me. Tell her I’m not the same man she knew. I’ve found a better way of living that’s more exciting than robbing banks. Thank her for letting my daughter write me and for letting her come here. She could have said I was dead or something. This is a place I wish Jennifer had never had to visit.
“I owe you a great deal for being a father to my child. And Henry, the only thing Rhea is guilty of is falling in love with the wrong man.”
“Eric…you…you have changed. Uh…thanks for answering a father’s unasked question. I’ll bring Jennifer as often as I can. You know, it’s not too late for all of us to set a better example for our little girl.”
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