By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch & The Washington Herald Times
Zara Daugherty’s therapist suggested she could write a story and draw pictures about a difficult subject in her life — her relationship with her father.
Zara, who was 6 years old at the time, wrote about a time her father didn’t show up to spend the day with her when he had promised to come. She drew a picture of herself waiting on the front porch and told her mom on the drive home in St. Louis about the little book.
Mia Daugherty, her mom, asked her how she was feeling about it.
“Mom, I want to write a real book,” Zara said. Mia assured her it was a real book, but her daughter objected.
“No, Mom. I want my book on Amazon, and I want my picture on the back.” Mia was worried about the pushback that might come if her young daughter shared such a personal story.
But Zara insisted that her book had to be for other kids, like her, hurt by a parent’s broken promises. Her mother relented. She contacted a children’s author, who connected her to an illustrator. She created a GoFundMe to pay for an illustrator and publishing costs.
A year later, Zara’s book, “Broken Promise,” came to fruition.
Zara, who will enter third grade in the fall, had a book signing party on her birthday in May.
“I wanted to have my own story,” she said. The book combines different real-life experiences and how she dealt with the sadness and anger on a day when she waited for hours and her father failed to show up.
She said her therapist taught her various tools she could use to deal with her emotions, like taking deep breaths or squeezing a toy. In her story, she screams into her pillow, which was another strategy she had learned in therapy. The story takes a happier turn when her mother plans an outing for Zara with her grandfather and uncle.
Mia said she learned over the years to have a Plan B in place on the days her daughter expected a call or visit from her dad — just in case.
Cheri Tillis, CEO of Fathers and Families Support Center in St. Louis, commended Zara for putting her story out there to help other children and possibly even their fathers. The nonprofit offers fathers parenting classes, legal services, employment workshops and counseling services to help them be more involved in their children’s lives.
She points out the data showing that children without an involved father are at greater risk for dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and other negative life outcomes. While some fathers might think their children are too young to remember or be upset by their absence, they are completely wrong, she said.
“Those unfilled promises can have a negative effect on a child’s self esteem,” she said. “They begin to wonder, ‘Why isn’t my father following through with these things he tells me? Is it something about me? What’s wrong with me that he doesn’t want to spend time with me or other things are more important?”
In fact, the disappointment and pain can be even more crushing for a young child who doesn’t have the ability to understand and process situations like an adult. She said some fathers who are struggling financially feel they cannot see their child because they don’t have money for gifts or outings.
“Being a dad is about the time spent,” she said. “It’s about having opportunities to bond and build the relationship. … It’s not the money that children expect.”
Others, who are not married to the mother of their child, may not realize they have legal avenues to get visitation rights. That’s a process the center helps fathers navigate.
I reached out to Zara’s father to ask if I could talk to him about her book. Initially he said that he wanted to get “the truth” out about the situation. When I said I wasn’t going to get into the contentious relationship between him and Zara’s mother and wanted his thoughts on the book, he didn’t respond to calls or messages.
Zara said she wants other children to know that it’s still possible to have fun even though you get sad sometimes. Most importantly, “don’t let anybody get in your way of being great.”
Wise words from an author who just celebrated her eighth birthday.