The Stigma of Terminating My Paternity Rights

Originally posted to The Good Men Project

The date was November 4, 2014. It was an Election Day Tuesday. I groggily maneuvered my legs onto the hardwood floor and meandered towards the bathroom to get ready for work. My two-month-old son and my girlfriend were in the other bedroom. We had been sleeping in separate rooms since the end of her first trimester. The tension between us was palpable. My girlfriend’s mother had been staying with us to help with the baby and with her daughter’s transition back to work.

I entered the bedroom to check on my son and girlfriend. I peeked into the bassinet and saw a big smile. He was very active; his arms and legs would flail wide in the morning. I glanced toward my girlfriend who was curled up on the bed in the fetal position. She looked pale and exhausted. I asked if she was feeling well and she said that she was having pelvic pain and that she was going to stay home. I kissed her on the cheek and asked if I could do anything. She replied that she needed to rest. I nodded in empathy and went back to the bassinet to pick up my son and hold him for a few minutes before heading to work.

My girlfriend abruptly sprung up from the bed to her feet when I picked him up and said that I wasn’t supporting his head properly. Her mother, alerted by her daughter’s vocal distress, rushed into the bedroom from the kitchen and flanked my back left. I turned toward my girlfriend, showing my middle and index finger firmly supporting the center of my son’s head. She started to ease, claiming that she did not see my fingers supporting him from her angle. Her mother returned to the kitchen. I said goodbye to my girlfriend, grabbed my lunch, and went to work.

I returned home at 3:47 pm to find an empty driveway and an empty home. I received legal papers from a Sheriff’s Deputy a short time later and a forwarded text from my Aunt indicating that my girlfriend had taken our son and had left the state. She was heading home. We were not married and had no custody arrangement, therefore she was well within the law to cross state lines.

The next year-and-a-half was torment. I filed for child support almost immediately upon confirmation of DNA paternity. I was confident that infidelity wasn’t an issue, but I had to be sure. I spent thousands of dollars on an attorney that was young and inundated with litigation. We had no custody agreement and summoning her back to my son’s birth state was nearly impossible. I was fighting a losing battle in a system designed to destroy the father physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I was drinking heavily and making bad decision to numb the pain.

I reached an epiphany in the Spring of 2016: I would never see my son unless I moved halfway across the county to be with him. A plan was needed, so I buckled down. I informed my ex vial email that I had made my decision to move out to the Midwest upon securing gainful employment. I didn’t expect her to reply and she didn’t, but I didn’t care. I moved in with my mom to save money. I applied for approximately 110 jobs total and I found the right one that placed me an hour away from my son. I embarked on my journey in December of 2016 and sent my ex another email, informing her that I had relocated to the area and wanted to talk about our son. She responded a week later asking me if I could meet her at a local coffee shop. I agreed.

I was served with legal papers again, with time with a No Contact order. My head drooped in sadness and disappointment. I was tired and I wanted the madness to stop.

Over the next six months, I witnessed profound changes in our lives. We talked about the past because it was the only way we could heal. She told me she left because of my anger and resentment and was afraid I would harm her. For the first time, my ears were receptive as I put things into perspective. I told her I wished events would have unfolded differently, but that I understood her reasoning. I apologized and asked for forgiveness. She said she would try. There was no malice in our voices. I needed Father Time, healing conversations, and an unwavering commitment to my son’s best interest to reach peace.

My son was diagnosed with autism. At first, I was in denial, but after reviewing medical records and spending more time with my son I accepted it. It did not change how I felt about him.

I witnessed how hard my son’s mother worked to give him a good life. She married a man that loves her and my son. He was with her when my son first received his autism diagnosis. They work together as a team to take my son to therapies and appointments. Together they provide a stable and loving home environment that every child desperately needs.

A couple of months ago I requested that my son’s mother meet me at a coffee shop to come up with an agreement. We had previously undergone legal mediation, yet we were both dissatisfied with the tentative agreement. She showed up.

I informed her that I wanted to move forward with adoption, something I new both her and her husband wanted to do since the beginning. I told her that I did not want to drag all of our families through years of court litigation and that I wanted what was in my son’s best interest. It was the hardest decision I have made in my life. The right decisions are oftentimes the hardest ones.

Every Sunday morning I am welcomed into the home of the woman I used to hold in great contempt. I greet her husband and flash my son a smile. We discuss his therapies and how he is surpassing all expectations. We talk about our week and I spend the morning with my son. I help him with counting, sorting, and hand-eye coordination. We read books, play with trains, and play in their backyard. The awkwardness we all experienced in the beginning has nearly subsided.

I acknowledge that once the adoption is finalized that she could prohibit me from seeing my son, but I don’t think it will happen. However, if she does, it is on her to live with. I have made peace with my decision. I also realized that I will not be financially responsible for my son, but I will help out anyway.

Parenting involves sacrifice and terminating rights is mine. My decision required soul searching, perspective, acceptance, healing, and love. We all unfairly judge each other based upon individual perceptions of a situation. I will be judged for my decision and I’m okay with that, but I refrain from judging others as best I can.

We are never fully capable of walking in another person’s shoes.

First Breaths (September 7, 2014)

I never knew I could love someone so much
Until we held hands and I felt your delicate touch
You entered this world crying, kicking, and screaming
I cried with you. You sent my heart beaming

I shouted with great pride ” I am your daddy!”
I smiled at you and gazed into your eyes madly
So beautiful and precious, an angel in disguise
Life started making sense and I started to realize

You are my happy thoughts, my spiritual guide
You lift me up high when this world makes me cry
Let all living creatures know you are my joy
I am your daddy and you are my sweet boy

I made you a promise on the day you were born
That I would be there for you through turbulent storms
I will protect you from the evil in this world
My love for you is endless and unfurled

It is a learning process to be a good father to you
So far I’ve learned a lot, and changed a diaper or two
There is still a long way for both of us to go
Yet I am most excited to watch us both grow

You will teach me things I never knew before
Like how to appreciate what this life is for
I will teach you how to be a good man
How to use your integrity to make a stand

This world can be what you make of it my son
Do not let the bad times make you want to run

The Smoking Section (November 11, 2013)

The family went over to your sister’s house on Sunday for a Veteran’s Day BBQ. We played Cornhole and devoured ample amounts of high-calories southern food. I had a cheeseburger (all of the fixins), some baked beans, and potato casserole. The casserole was always my favorite, remember? People complained it was too dry. I took the leftovers home.

I expected you to walk through the side door to join us. I imaged you in your faded,  blue-gray Local 80 Union sweatshirt and shorts. You wore shorts year-round. I saw you as a weary traveler that found solace and peace in a local family diner. You didn’t say much when you wandered in. You never had to. The smoking section was out back.

I made my way outside to sit with you and talk about work and life. I didn’t drink or smoke anymore, so I felt slightly out of place. You knew how horrible my anxiety was. I was able to push through it and explained to you the necessity of maintaining a positive outlook.

I rinsed off my plate and placed it in the dishwasher. I glanced outside to see if you were still there, still smoking those damn cigarettes. You were gone. You were never there.

The ashes were still smoldering.

Capitalists Behave (July 8, 2013)

Growing income inequality
Built with Monopoly money
The wealthy are lacking
Working class backing. They’re packing

Most do not want wealth redistribution
Eager for a new playing field solution
Where citizens exhibit pride
In a country that has withered and died

Politicians cannot hear your voice
Big business purchased the illusion of choice
Real wages are in decline
Every child is left behind by lying swine

Roads and infrastructure deteriorate
A CEO demands you compensate
Every dollar that we earn
Is fuel that churns the burn

Trickle-down economics
More rhetoric. Word vomit
Policies and programs are suggested
Media moguls have thoughts redirected

Focus on the class below
Another government worker is furloughed
I do not dislike the rich
I am tired of the bullshit sales pitch

Are your fortunes dwindling?
Will your soul be used for Satan’s kindling?
When greed is what you live for
Know the reaper knocks on every door

Dance With Me (June 21, 2013)

She sings in harmony to me
The composition of sweet symphony
Headphones on. Playing a love song
Standing tall as the great Redwood tree

We dance in unifying embrace
Locked eyes. We’re face to face
A great moan. We are not alone
Hearts racing at a blurred pace

Pink lips taste of fresh cream
Seeing no end to this beautiful dream
Pay a toll to relinquish your soul
Whisper confessions and come clean

Time is absent meaning
Surrendering to an unknown feeling
Unfettered love. Broken-winged doves
Exorcism eyes roll back to the ceiling

Is this moment real?
Are our hearts each others to steal?
Light-headed as we are bedded
Savoring her as if she was my last meal

We lie beside each other. Spent
Contemplating what it all meant
To be together and storm any weather
I left because my mind was bent

The .38 at 3:00 A.M. (June 19, 2013)

It is difficult to describe
The pain and fatigue I feel
A life full of show and disguised
To mull the sorrow behind the wheel

Wailing demons haunt my dreams
My mind will not shut down
I stare at the chamber. The black handle gleams
A frown that always comes back around

In this moment life has changed
Impossible to force a smile
An act the locals will view as strange
My phone will no longer dial

I consider myself a burden to whom I love
Irreconcilable harm done to my boys
No Devil below or God above
Take comfort in finality and rejoice

To spend last year making amends
In preparation for a solitary moment
Final thoughts of family and friends
I relinquish myself from torment

It is early in the day
I am out of smokes
A fitting way to end May
The black handle is how I cope.

How She Ames (May 4, 2013)

I wrote you a letter
To make me feel better
About the love we lost
My anger and hatred
A sorrow of ill-fated
We cannot afford its cost
Bright and lively ways
Yet dark on the brightest days
I see you and want to speak
Will we know again
How to be more than friends
Thoughts of you make knees weak
I pushed you away
Because happiness is not meant to stay
A fire burns white hot
Do you know what you want?
Does it change from month to month?
Cease, halt, STOP
To learn from the past
Life moves much too fast
Help me slow it down
Flying through my head
Thoughts of you and me in bed
Your smile removes my frown
I want to meet you again
In a place we have never been
Do not give up on me
How fucked up our lives are
With distance not too far
I bury you to set love free