A friend posted this photo on Facebook, pausing to reflect on the death of Bradley Nowell seventeen years ago.

I find it difficult to view.

My immediate reaction involved the infant staring at his father, and the way that made my heart hurt. Following that, I noticed Louie the Dalmatian, lovingly enthralled by his adopted, human dad.

Sorrow o’er came my best sensibilities, because when I gaze upon this picture I see a man who threw away fatherhood, for heroin.

If I examine my response, I think the emotions I am mired in come about due to the fact Nowell exited the child’s life so quickly into his existence. I find that offensive, and can’t really muster up the ability to care that I’m being a judgmental prick in the process.

A baby knows two things: love, and pain. When it is in pain, you want nothing more than to end the suffering, to absorb whatever is making it unwell. When emitting love, the rest of the world fades away and all that matters are the eyes staring at you in wonder. So while I understand, logically, that addiction is a difficult demon to challenge, my sympathy ends there. I bring too much emotion to the table to be forgiving.

My daughter Hillary recognizes and stares at me in a manner not unlike Jakob eyeing Bradley. When I enter her room in the morning, her arms reach out—“Pick me up, daddy, I want to be held.” When I return from a week on the road, upon seeing me or hearing my voice, her little face lights up with a huge, partially-toothy smile. It radiates warmth, joy, and innocence.

I observe the world through a different lense these days; what I see involves empathy for anyone participating in the marathon called parenthood. We live on a violent, unfair world, and the best some of us can do is provide love for our children. Whatever challenges are provided by circumstance, you fight them with everything you have, no question. Succumbing to drugs seems too easy a cop out by comparison.

Of course, maybe leaving the child to be raised by others is for the best. I mean, would it be better to never know your father, or live with one who is an addict? Arguments could be made both ways, I suppose, but I cannot help but think that in the least: give your child a chance to get sick of you. When she passed, I immediately believed Anna Nichole’s Smith’s daughter was better off without her. Of course, I’m comparing apples and oranges—a talented musician vs. retarded shell of a human being—in this case.

photoAs always, if I am judging others I must pause and scrutinize my own hypocrisies. I drive extensively for a living. Considering “traffic fatality” is an extremely high-risk way of passing, am I selfish, too? Would it be better for my daughter to lock myself into a 9-5 job, one more safe than dodging 18-wheel drivers bug-eyed on homemade amphetamines, breaknecking it to their destination because the boys are thirsty in Atlanta?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

All I understand is: My heart lives inside my daughter.

It is that simple.

No flowery prose is required to describe the love I feel for her; Hillary is the sun I orbit. I hope to never do anything so selfish that will remove one minute I can spend as her father.

Because, to put it in the words of a beautiful poet: “Lovin’… is what I got.”

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