As a first-year teacher, I'll admit it: I'm a pushover.

My voice rarely rises. I fall for the puppy dog eyes when a student forgets an assignment. I cringe at the punishment of paddling used in the school system here, and instead will reduce a student's lab time.

Few rules are posted on my classroom walls. But one is no free play on the computers during a lesson. No pacman. Solitaire. Instant Messenger. Nada.

I stood a few feet away from my desk when I realized Emilian's window was not closed. Maybe she didn't understand me. Her class has never used computers. My feet shuffled backwards, imitating the Moonwalk on the school's dirt floors.

“,” I said, slowly, still pretty clumsy with the kid's names. “Click on the X.” I pointed to the upper right corner.

She looked close to tears. “Dad, please say something,” she whispered.

Last week, I asked the class to write a short essay on a day they will never forget. When I got home, I skimmed through them, laughing at stories of birthday parties gone wrong and moved by the pain many students described after losing a family member. Emilian's was longer than the others and said something about Russia, which caught my attention.

“From the day I was born till I was 13 years old, I had never seen my father.”

I put the other papers aside and kept reading the story that reminded me of my own.

“When my uncle told me, 'Lu Lu your dad is coming from Russia today,' I thought he was joking, but when I saw his face it was like magic; he looked exactly like me.”

In the months that followed, father and daughter spent every waking moment together.

“Until the day he was to go back to Russia.” Emilian was sick for a week after the separation.

“He left, I got very angry, but there was nothing I could do.”

She doesn't command much attention. When Emilian speaks I have to bend my ear so close to her mouth I feel the warmth of her breath. She often walks with her head down and prefers not to walk with the gaggle of girls in the class.

Her brand new Facebook profile is bare. No picture. No witty quotes. Her “About Me” box is empty. When I walked to her desk the instant messenger box was open.


A picture of man with a lazy eye and faint smile popped on the screen.

Who is that, Emilian?

“My father.”

Emilian after sending her first email to her father. They haven't spoken in a year.