Driving while Dad

A fictional story about our unfair reality

I was six years old when I had my first run-in with the cops. It was not a pleasant experience, either. Three decades have passed since that day, but I can still feel the tension that radiated from my father’s body. He was worried about how this would look with me in the car, and he had every right to be.

I’ll back up a little. My parents are Thomas and Ava Miller and they adopted me six months after I was born to a heroin-addled prostitute and her pimp in Savannah, Georgia. My mother was an environmental lawyer, a deep-seeded passion she’s harbored most her life, but for all her success, the one thing she wanted most lay just outside the functioning of her body. Her T-shaped uterus had only experienced life once, a short lived miracle that gave my mother her first and last glimmer of hope for a biological family.

They were leaving the hospital to mourn for their lost child when my birth mother dropped me off at the front desk and left. The hubbub had trapped my parents from the exit just long enough for her eyes to meet mine. Then, before she could stop herself, my mother set about moving heaven and hell to make sure she could have me. That was the moment I became a Miller.

My father, Thomas, was every woman’s dream. He was tall, charming, and undyingly devoted to my mother’s happiness. From the moment they met, Dad swooned and fawned, lost in my mother’s luscious blond hair and endless chatter. So when he struggled to give her the family she so desperately desired, he tried even harder. Ten years, temperatures and calendars, shots and tests, several failed IVF treatments, but finally they got their second pink line. In his excitement, Dad started the nursery right away, choosing gender neutral colors and soft, pastel farm animals to dance around the walls. For twelve weeks, my parents floated. For twelve weeks, he touched her belly every time they passed. For twelve weeks, life felt right, until it didn’t.

There wasn’t a manual for how to support your grieving wife after a miscarriage, though he couldn’t have read it anyway, he was barely surviving himself. He held her shoulders and guided her from the hospital, careful not to jostle her fragile emotions. But their path was blocked, a crowd gathered around a screaming baby at the front desk. Anger flooded his face and he felt his muscles flex, disgusted at how fucking insensitive fate could be. He was ready to fight, to push every last person out of their way, but his wife planted her feet, eyes fixed to a kind-looking nurse in maroon scrubs, holding the fussy, tiny pink bundle. In that second, everything shifted. And the next, his heart belonged to two.

My father gave up his generic administrative job to fulfill his fatherly duties. He diapered and fed, rocked and played, everything a loved baby needs. He taught me how to walk and eat and brush my hair. He met me every morning with a smile and laid me down with a kiss every night. Our paintings hung on the refrigerator and he wore the macaroni necklace I made him for a week straight. He was a daughter’s dream, too.

When I asked to start ballet, he handpicked my shiny pink leotard and tied on my pointe shoes. It was funny to see him, sitting amongst the other mothers, all of them enamored by his enthusiasm. Ballet class rarely included a cheering box, but my father couldn’t help himself.

It was a Tuesday evening and there were two more practices before our recital. We drove to the studio, belting Adele like our lives depended on the performance, when suddenly, blue and red lights filled our mirrors.

“Dad, were you speeding?” I asked, the only driving infraction I’d ever seen him condone.

“No honey.” He said, straightening in his seat and fixing both hands at the top of the steering wheel. He smiled at me reassuringly, but I could see the anxiety seeping through. He wears the same face when he doesn’t want to admit to me that he’s in trouble with Mom. But this time, we hadn’t done anything wrong.

The officer stepped up to our window, surveying us over the reflective lenses of his aviators. “License and registration,” he demanded rudely, a deep southern draw in his words.

“Yes sir,” my father said. He fumbled for the paperwork and handed them over. But the officer didn’t even glance at them, he was staring so intently at me. “Little Miss, you ok here?”

Why wouldn’t I be? But I didn’t say anything, I just stared back.

This man intimidated me. I didn’t understand the dynamic happening here, my strong father, powerless and obedient to this short, scrawny uniform with a cheesy mustache. If my father couldn’t speak up, I sure wasn’t going to try.

My silence seemed to anger the tiny man even more. He moved from the window, “Sir, step out please. Hands on the car, feet apart. Anything sharp in your pockets?” He patted my father from top to bottom, then he closed the car door, blocking me from the heated conversation on the other side of the glass. The man stood on his toes, wagging a finger and mean mugging my father. For his part, Dad motioned with his hands too, a nervous habit whenever he had to explain our relationship. I watched them for several tense minutes, before my father slunk back into the driver’s seat, exhausted but relieved.

“I’m sorry, baby. It’ll be just another minute. Then we will get you to ballet practice.” That anxious smile plastered his face, hiding the frustration churning behind his flamed cheeks.

We were quiet for a minute, the silence more awkward than normal. “Dad, are we in trouble?”

“No baby,” he said. “Its fine. The officer needs to check his computer, then he will let us go.”

“But did you do something wrong?”

“Yes,” he sighed, “Driving, and with a child that isn’t…” He stopped and shook his head, dislodging the thought, “I expected karma to be fair.”

I didn’t understand, but it didn’t seem like the time to ask.

“You did really good,” he said, finally smiling true and patting my shoulder. “Now you know for next time.”

“Next time?” I scoffed. Surely this was some horrible fluke. My father was innocent of any crimes, except an off-key chorus and running a few minutes late to ballet. There should be no reason for “next time”.

“Baby, let me tell you something. I don’t want you to be scared of the world, only to know its rules. People are nervous about things they don’t understand. They jump to conclusions and it makes them do funny things. This is one of those things. We will be stopped again, by all sorts of people, and some times will be harder than others. But always remember to be polite, hold your head up high, and that I will always love you, heart and soul.”

My father’s advice filled my head. With the tiniest voice I had left, I asked “But what don’t they understand?”

“It’s nothing we can fix, it’s all about our skin.” He said, brushing a brown ringlet from my shoulder, “They don’t understand a little white girl with a daddy who is black.”

I considered that for a moment, tossed the words around in my mouth, still not sure about the fuss, but I knew it wasnt fair. Soon I had an idea, “Daddy, I’ve got it! Just show them how our hearts fit together.”

He laughed a little, kissed my forehead and we waited for next time.

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