By Latanya Stiner
As the month of June approached, Father’s Day sat at the forefront of my mind as I thought of how different it would be this time around. You see, I had gone twenty years without being able to celebrate this day or any other day with my father, Watani Stiner, the way other daughters did. Because of his incarceration, there had been no dinner outings, movie nights or picnics in the park. There were no home-cooked meals, jazz concerts or any of the traditional gift giving that usually took place. There was, however, an abundance of improvisation, communication and love. In other words, I refused to let the many small defeats define the relationship I had with my father.
Yes, as Father’s Day drew near, I thought of the rocky road I had traveled over the past two decades. I remembered flying into this country desperate to be reunited with my dad who had already been imprisoned for eleven years before the airplane carrying my siblings and I had finally touched the ground. I recalled the powerful feeling of anticipation during the long ride in a crowded passenger van on the way from Los Angeles to visit my father in San Quentin State Prison for the first time. And I remembered the sadness of leaving him behind when visiting time was over. Undoubtedly, life while my father was behind the walls had been more difficult than one could ever imagine. Still, I never lost hope and I never stopped believing that one day we would be able to do all of the things that fathers and daughters do together on the outside. My focus remained on not letting the small defeats I suffered get the best of me. I was determined to maintain a solid relationship with my dad.
Of course, this had to be a two-way street. It was just as important for my father to improvise, communicate and show the love necessary to help preserve our bond. Despite the obstacles that prison presented, he was as involved in my life as he could possibly be considering the circumstances. He continually wrote, called and showed the type of concern a daughter would expect from her father. And whenever I stumbled upon hardship, I could always read one the many letters he had written to me over the years and use it as a source of inspiration and strength to move on and pursue all of my dreams. It would be impossible to minimize the struggle my father and I faced in attempting to keep that loving connection alive, but I will tell anyone willing to listen that it was very much worth it. And now that he is home, we both are extremely excited about the opportunity to more freely cultivate our relationship as father and daughter. Having encountered what I thought were defeats along the way, I can nevertheless still proudly proclaim that we were definitely not defeated. In fact, as my father would say, “There are no defeats, only delayed victories!” Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And to the men still on the inside who continue fighting to overcome the odds, happy Father’s Day to you, too.