‘He’s Gone.’ A Daddy, Deployed

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

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The distinct pitter-patter of her 3-year-old feet on our weathered hardwood floor awakens me. The sun is still hidden from the horizon, and any other morning I would pull her into my bed in the dark silence, with the intention of us both catching a little more sleep. Instead, today she looks at the empty pillow next to me, and with heavy sadness in her eyes, only offers, “He’s gone.” Two little words for one little girl — half statement, half question — hoping the outcome has changed overnight, from a month at sea to just a normal day at work.

I nod my head, whispering how proud we should be of daddy, and how we will be brave like him until his return. I pull her close to me, hoping to validate her emotions as the tears stream down her face. Her quiet cries are just enough to wake her brother. He runs at full pace into my room before jumping on my rib cage. “Sissy crying?” he asks.

I listen as she repeats, almost verbatim, what I’ve just told her. It’s a moment fraught with emotional conflict for me. While I’m so proud of her empathy, I’m also wistful for my first minutes with her in the hospital. Stroking her soft hair, memorizing every inch of her sweet little hands, and promising her aloud that I would always protect her. I swore the same to my son, born just over a year later. In this moment, I can’t safeguard their hearts; I am unable to spare these tears. It’s a powerless feeling, before the sun is up.

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