Relationship issue: Father-daughter bond conquers prison separation

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Photo courtesy of John Ring

Ring and her family attend a wedding in Nantucket the summer her dad is released. They celebrated the wedding as well as their first family vacation in a couple of years.

Characterized by Friday nights at Dave and Buster’s and spontaneous trips to Cici’s Pizza, I have always had an amazing relationship with my dad. Although we’ve gotten into our fair share of fights, I don’t know where I’d be without his guidance and overwhelming knowledge.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve had in-depth discussions about grammar, arguing over the difference between farther and further. We’ve taken dozens of road trips up to Connecticut, singing along to Hannah Montana and David Gray for seven hours straight. There are pictures of the two of us reading when I’m just a few years old, holding books I still haven’t read yet. We’ve made hundreds of trips to Chipotle, each bringing a book and ignoring each other while we read for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and eat our identical chicken bowls (with white rice and just a little bit of cheese). Long story not-so-short, my dad and I are more alike than I would care to admit.

One night when I was in seventh grade, my dad sat my sister and me down and told us that he would be going to prison for a year and a half. Now I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow, I wonder what he did.” I was confused, too; it’s a long story, but a quick Google search of Kevin Ring will provide a better explanation than I could give. I knew that whatever came next would be a lot to handle, and in that moment, I felt more alone than ever.

How could my dad, the man who taught me long division and how to ride a bike, suddenly be sent 130 miles away to spend the next 18 months in prison? It was definitely a slap to the face, and I wanted nothing more than for my dad to come forward and tell us it was an April Fool’s joke that was just seven months late.

I’ll never forget the day he left: January 7, 2014. I remember walking onto the bus, having said my final goodbye to my dad the night before. I think I was more nervous about how my friends and teachers would react than how my relationship with my dad would change. We kept in touch, but I can’t lie and say that my life just continued as though everything were normal. My conversations with him went from hours a day to a mere 15 minutes, split between my sister and myself. It felt awkward to try to tell him about my day when just seconds before, an automated voice had alerted us that for security purposes, all calls would be recorded. Between nightly calls and Corrlinks—an email service for the incarcerated—we tried to keep each other updated, but there was only so much we could do.

As one might expect, it was extremely difficult, but we made the best of it. Since my dad couldn’t come to my piano recitals, I’d play over the phone for him. For Christmas that year, he used extra minutes so we could talk on the phone as we opened the gifts he mailed us: a crocheted blanket and a stuffed animal he had spent months making. I’d email him daily with my homework problems and wait anxiously for inmate 29494-016 to respond.

My dad was released from prison on April 23, 2015. We celebrated with a taco night, and by the end of the meal, it was almost as if he had never been gone. Within weeks, we were back to our Sunday evening Safeway trips and dog walks.

More than six years after this whole fiasco started, it’s hard to remember how different our lives were, yet incredibly easy to remember how he managed to be so supportive the entire time. As I was recounting our story, countless memories came rushing back. I thought of the lessons he would teach me based on the stories of the inmates he came to befriend; the times he would stand behind the gates outside after the visit, waving us goodbye as we walked to the car.

I can think of only one story that accurately sums up the whole experience. In a comically intense game of Apple to Apples one visit with my dad, sister and uncle, the card we had to describe was “perfect,” and on his turn, my dad played: “My family.”

“If our family were actually perfect,” I said, “maybe we wouldn’t be playing Apples to Apples in a prison.”
Everyone laughed, and although I was only half-joking, I truly cannot imagine having a better relationship with my dad.

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