Perhaps it was because we missed sharing our birth date by a mere four hours. But it was clear very quickly that my oldest daughter was closer to me than her mother. The youngest one identified more with Mom than me. There was at least balance in the house.
I recall one special night (gosh, with a child's life there are so many!) when she was barely more than a month old. We had moved from McMinnville to Eugene and my work hours had changed dramatically from the morning news shift (5am to 2pm) to the evening talk show (4pm to midnight). Somehow this tiny bundle sensed the change. She struggled mightily, according to her mother, to stay awake until I got home, but would be sound asleep by the time I got there.
Then, on about the fourth night she made it. Her mother, a bit frazzled, handed me the baby who would not sleep and once in my arms she looked up and started to laugh so hard and so loud! She'd stayed awake long enough....Dad was home! I never knew a baby that young could laugh. Some doctors will tell you that's not possible. After that night, I can tell you those doctors are wrong.
That would almost become her nickname....the Baby Who Would Not Sleep. Night after night, her mother and I would take turns rocking her in the rocking chair. And singing "Rainbow Connection" to her. We had seen "The Muppet Movie" a few months after she was born and simply adored the film and the music. Jeni would slip into some not asleep, not awake stupor. Just as we would stop, she'd awaken. And we'd rock and sing the song all over again. So many times each night, so many nights. Is it any wonder that before she could effectively put two sentences together after learning to talk, that she could sing the entire song, on key? She wasn't even two years old yet!
It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2001, that Saturday, that I told my daughters my truth. I wrote earlier that one was in puddles, the other bravely feigning wanting to learn but asking "who will walk me down the aisle." Jeni was the one in puddles. It was the scariest moment in my life. These two precious daughters - I'd spent hours with my therapists wondering if either, neither or both would keep with me. One week I was certain I would lose one but not the other. The next week it was that I would lose the other, keep the first. Both scenarios crushed my heart. The idea of losing both was something I just didn't want to contemplate. (Incidentally, knowledgeable therapists will counsel their trans clients that they will lose people from their lives - friends and family. It's only a matter of who and how many. I've been very, very fortunate).
I know that both my daughters had difficulty with the disclosure. In no way will I ever compare whether it was more difficult for one than the other...I know it was hard on both. And I may never know the depths of their challenges. I will forever remember the words Jeni shared in a television story that had chronicled my transition, "Dad, as Dad, is gone." It broke my heart to hear that, but I also understood it was her way of rationalizing the situation, her way of making sense of it all. I needed to give her, and her sister, their space to figure this out.
Now, back to that song. As everybody knows, the rainbow has become a sign of acceptance for and pride by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoples. The lyrics begin...
With cold nose and hands, candle wax dripping on my fingers, and names being read with faltering voices, I realized more and more how thankful I am that your name is not on that 17 page list. I am among the fortunate. I am among those who can still pick up the phone and say I love you.
And I do.
You have a strength inside you that most can't even touch. You have faced your friends, your family, and your community and said, "This is who I am." You put yourself out there to be mocked, loved, ridiculed, but above all, you've put yourself out there. You stepped out of the shadows and have stood basking in the sun as your self--not the self so many others would have you be. I am thankful for you. You have taught me so much about my own life and my own strengths.
I see you now for who you truly are, and I love you so much for it. You are a strong and beautiful woman, and I am proud to have you as a parent. Keep up the good fight. Hopefully one day it will no longer need fighting.
I love you. -Jen.
Those years seemingly so long ago...and yet not so long ago...singing those words to the Baby Who Would Not Sleep, I think she has now found The Rainbow Connection. At least the connection between her and me, stronger now than that late night when I cradled in my arms the Baby Who Would Not Sleep and heard her laugh so heartily.
And if you think I didn't cry reading her note......I am truly blessed by my daughters.