True Parent 2
By the time my daughter was born, I’d broken off my relationships with two other women, neither of whom were her mother. But by then, it was too late.
Because of my foolishness, I found myself in the middle of an emotionally untenable quagmire; one that would ultimately destroy my dreams and visions of fatherhood and force me to reexamine what kind of father I’d ultimately become.
Though dating three people at once is not a crime, I freely admit the way I went about it was emotionally and ethically irreconcilable—not to mention manipulative, cowardly, and for me, self-destructive.
I confessed to my indiscretions, and with three months to go in the pregnancy, the mother of my child and I somehow managed to stay together. We weren’t married, and even with the help of a counselor, our relationship became a tenuous and cautious affair. Some say trust once destroyed never fully heals. She stayed with me for a time and then one day, unannounced, walked out on me forever, taking our daughter with her.
The first weeks of her life, my daughter slept curled up on my chest. Above my heartbeat was the only place she slept uninterrupted through the night. The sacrifice for me was a sore back and sleep that never really fully took hold; however, it was a small price to pay for such indescribable joy and an unparalleled sense of contentment. I would rock her back to sleep when she woke and place her to suckle beside her mother, who was slowly regaining her strength... and possibly contemplating her eventual escape.
My daughter was not yet a year old when everything fell apart and she was gone. Soon after discovering her mother had taken her to Portland, I followed. A few weeks later, I was served with papers—the first of many attempts to eliminate me from my daughter’s life. This is when I learned of her mother’s false allegations of violence and abuse. It wasn’t enough I was an admitted liar and cheat—it would take much more to legally push me out of the picture. Slippery allusions of misconduct were added to my profile, ones designed to paint me as an unfit father.
I was allowed to see my daughter sporadically, though she became a bargaining chip in a game I didn’t know I was playing (“I’ll allow you see her if you give me full custody”). At one point it was suggested I submit to “supervised visitation,” conditions which I adamantly refused. It took awhile, but I was slowly beginning to understand that, no matter what grand idea of fatherhood I’d envisioned in the beginning, it was going to change significantly.
But more than anything, I was thinking of my daughter. I’d heard too many stories of couples fighting over their children, saddling them with burdensome emotions predating their existence.
In the end, I chose the exact opposite of what everyone in our culture says to do in the name of justice and family. I knew there were more important things at stake. After years of clinging to and suffering by my ideal picture of fatherhood, I stopped fighting. I allowed myself to just let go.
For the next few years, I mostly did as I was told. I was allowed to see her for 11 hours a week, while paying child support that amounted to half my monthly salary. I would see my daughter for two- and four-hour blocks on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but never overnight. I resolved to make the best of my time with her.
The most difficult thing I’ve learned to accept is the irony of my situation, in which I’ve been legally and emotionally relegated to a tertiary presence in my daughter’s life. Because one day the reality, which I’d wrestled with for quite a while, hit me full in the face: My daughter doesn’t really need me.
Today, I see my daughter about one weekend a month. I don’t talk to her mother at all, and I’m trying to rebuild my career and finances after being devastated in a war I refused to fight. As a black man so committed to being a dad, it was painful to realize that my fatherhood, my daughter’s childhood, and her mother were all being added to columns of statistics and other unfortunate social stereotypes. I love my daughter more than anything, but I chose not to fight back because she deserves better than two squabbling parents.
It’s funny. No one knows how the Biblical “Judgment of Solomon” eventually worked out. There is no epilogue explaining if the child turned out fine and lived happily ever after with one mother or the other. While we may admire Solomon’s ability to resolve conflicts, the real moral implores us to place the needs of an innocent child above personal contentment and desire. In my decision to avoid conflict—to stop the fight—I’ve set out on a willing journey through profound sadness and loss to make, what was for me, the ultimate paternal sacrifice. To let go. All for the benefit of someone I love.
In any case, I look forward to telling my daughter our story, whenever she’s ready to hear it.