The reason I’m writing this, Caylee, is because there isn’t a father who knows you, or even worse, no father will admit to knowing you. There are so many possible reasons for this. Your father may be this man, a 24-year-old from Boston who died in a car accident in 2007. Your dad may be “Jesse... I don't know his last name,” which is how one of Casey Anthony’s friends explained your paternity to detectives. Maybe it’s some guy who is scared of the bright, tireless spotlight of America’s 24-hour news cycle. Or maybe it’s some guy who just doesn’t want to be responsible for his kid. In any case, your father is invisible, unseen, uninterested. My wife and I have two healthy, happy boys, but we’ve talked about wanting a girl. We like the names Adelaide and Tova. But yesterday, as the phrase “Casey Anthony found not guilty” popped up like a bad rash across every media outlet, I realized there’s so much I want to say.
The American media likes its missing girls to be white and impossibly cute, and those first photos of you — little, uneven brown bangs; big sparkly eyes — were square pegs that fit perfectly into the media’s square hole. If you had dark skin and braids, Nancy Grace would have moved on swiftly to the next topic. You’re lucky that we all know as much as we do about the final month of your life. That’s a horrible, calloused thing to write, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
There’s another reason we all know your name, your face. You see, Caylee, your mother’s trial was like O.J. Simpson for us parents. All moms and dads have their own Caylee, and we get ill at the thought of letting a converted crib bed, covered in stuffed animals, go empty for 30 straight nights — 30 straight nights — before calling the authorities. So hearing the verdict yesterday was like waiting for the test results from the pediatrician, or opening the door at the lost children center at Disney World. But this time, the doctor has scary news; the boy who was just with you on the carousel is gone.
Maybe if your dad was there, he’d have been playing Chutes and Ladders with you on the nights Mom went out. He’d have called the police once you were missing for more than a couple hours. He'd have known the babysitter tale was a ruse. In short, he could have changed everything.
So what happens now? We wait for Nancy Grace to be indignant about the next missing toddler with blonde pigtails. We wait for the Jose Baez book tour. We wait for the Casey Anthony interview with Diane Sawyer. And we wait for the tens of millions of missing dads to be visible, seen, interested, and save all the Caylees we still have. Father absence is connected to higher rates of physical and emotional neglect, teen pregnancy and incarceration, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. A missing dad isn’t only bad for Caylee, but for all of us.
Until all those guys show up, the rest of us have to do more, try harder. I hope you’ll forgive us for letting you down at the tiniest, sweetest, most vulnerable point in your life. But sadly, if what we learned in the past six weeks is true, you’re safer where you are now.