As more reports surface of children seeking asylum at our borders being separated from their parents, there has been much consideration of the impact and effect on children. As Father’s Day approaches, I can’t help but wonder how I would cope if my daughter was taken away from me. The thought of her feeling unprotected and abandoned is hard to fathom.
Last weekend the Washington Post reported on the death by suicide of Marco Antonio Muñoz. Having crossed the border — fleeing violence and seeking asylum — Muñoz was forcibly separated from his wife and three-year-old son and detained. Within 24 hours, distraught and held in a padded isolation cell, the Honduran father had taken his own life.
Many of us experience — and struggle with — a much more benign family separation. My daughter, Addie, was less than two when her mother and I separated, a decision that both came out of nowhere and had been building for some time. As it became clear we were serious, I walked into Addie’s room. Heavy sorry set in as I sat with her, and with the realization that starting right then I would spend half as much time with this wonderful child.
In the early days, after dropping her off — fully confident that she was safe and loved with her mom — I would sit in the car and cry like I hadn’t since I was a little kid. The act of crying has always been hard for me. I was taught that boys don’t cry. That fathers were strong, protective, and invincible. But I wasn’t prepared to love anyone so much, and even five years later, a blue lonesome feeling looms every time she leaves, with so much love, energy, and connection suddenly gone.
When her mom picks her up, I am conscious of how much we connect in those parting moments, knowing that even the decision to step out on the porch and wave to her as they drive off, could remind her that we are separating. Sometimes she’s the one who breaks into tears, expressing deep disappointment and hurt, the exact feelings parents try to protect our children from.
It’s hard to not be with your child, even when you know exactly where they are. Picture then, the trauma of a child forcibly taken from their parent’s arms at the border. Regardless the reason, it’s easy to imagine losing it, if I didn’t know where Addie was. Didn’t know if she was safe or if we would see each other again. To know I left my home and country to protect her, only to be in another devastating situation.
Critics of this empathy would say that these fathers made a choice. But the safety of our children feels more like a promise than a choice. A parent who brings their child across the border must believe that this calculation to travel on buses, in the back of pickup trucks and by foot into a country they do not know, compounded by the risk of being detained or separated, will make them safer.
As parents, we have some basic and yet big responsibilities. Help our children feel safe in the world. Make sure they know they are loved. Prepare them to navigate the world. I make much less heroic decisions than migrant parents all the time to give Addie the best life I can.
I hope dads across the country can, for just a minute on this Father’s Day, contemplate the risks that migrant fathers take to make their children safe. And I hope they are morally outraged when this administration separates children from the person who is trying to and expected to protect them. Knowing all the while that the race of who is migrating is the determining factor in the outcome.
That’s why I’ll be spending this Father’s Day at our southwest border, together with people who are as outraged as I am by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions’ campaign to terrorize children who look to the United States, seeking nothing more than refuge.
I believe we all hope to live in a world where delivering on a child’s expectation that their parents can make them safe is within reach for every child, and every family.