The first time she visited her father in prison a social worker came to her house. They had given her mother and Emma this big speech about family values. The woman told them that just like other parents in the child welfare system, parents who are incarcerated continue to have the right to be involved in their children’s lives, whatever the crime the parent has committed and as long as parental rights have not been terminated. She explained that children maintain their right to have a relationship with their parent, despite the parent’s incarceration. That these families have special challenges and issues that can be addressed so both parents and children can continue relationships that will be of value to both of them.
Value. It was a funny word to smack on the relationship she had with her father after he’d gone to prison. After all, it wasn’t like her father had chosen to go to prison. He hadn’t come home from work one day and declared that he just couldn’t take it anymore. Her parents didn’t fall out of love with each other or grow apart. There was no other family or spending every other holiday with one or the other.
No. There was prison. And prisons had procedures and requirements, often connected with security that were uncomfortable and in some cases even humiliating. Some security precautions were in place to prevent contraband from coming into the prison through visitation. They had strict dress codes, even for children, and rules around what people could take into the prison with them. She’d been padded down, stripped of all identity and even had to give up her doll for a visit that would last less than half hour.
Value was the last word she use for the relationship she had with man they called the Oklahoma Reaper. Even her relationship with the man she called Daddy had been strange. He was sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when they were around other people. Her parents had very few friends that they would invite over for dinner on the rare occasion. One of them had a little girl that was a few years younger than she was.
Emma had never considered herself mean or vindictive but she couldn’t stop herself from thinking that this little girl was not a pretty little girl. Emma would look on with wonder as her father would pick her up and put her on his lap and be so sweet to her. One time Emma had gone to bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. All she would see was her, she didn’t actually know if she was pretty or not but she knew he didn’t think she was. He was never fascinated by her. She was an obligation, an eighteen year commitment that he sometimes treated like a prison sentence. The irony was not lost.
She had seen it a million times, watch movies about it and read about it in books. The term “Daddy’s Little Girl” was just a big void in her life. Even using the term brought up images of pain, lonely nights and years of questioning why she wasn’t enough for him. He was supposed to be the first man to tell her that she was beautiful and help her determine who she was before anyone had the opportunity to label her. She was supposed to be his “little girl”.