The Stigma of Terminating my Paternal 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.

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