I have had lots of rough Mother’s Days over a couple of eras of my life, but despite being raised by a step-father (the man I now call Dad) and not having any real contact with my biological father past age eleven, I can’t remember ever having any particularly sad or tough Father’s Days.
Until this last one. The first since ending it all with my daughter’s father.
When I told my dad that I was having a baby, by choice, at forty and while unmarried, I was nervous. I felt confident and steady in my choice to try to get pregnant, but I was antsy about how my dad would see it. He’s an amazing grandpa and I knew he would love the baby – but what of my turn-about at this age?
What about me being a parent.
I remember him tearing up and being so happy and that I cried with relief. Old and independent and self-assured and it was still a very weighty thing to come to my dad and say I was going to try to be a mom.
I told him, so so sure of it, no matter what happens with x and me, I know he’ll always be an amazing father.
That sentence has echoed in my head too many times to count in the last seven months. It has haunted me ever since my abuse-fueled blinders came off completely.
He’ll always be an amazing father.
He isn’t. He never was.
It took getting out of the fog to see everything clearly.
The clarity is empowering. And sharp.
This Father’s Day was a bitterness in my throat.
A month ago, I offered him the weekend even though it was my one weekend a month per the court order.
He waited until the last day I gave for him to confirm and then argued about the weekend to trade for and the time and berated me for ‘not coparenting again’ and and and and and.
He never confirmed. Argued that he did. I gave him another chance three days later. He read my messages and waited until the day after the second deadline to assert he had confirmed. He had not. I had moved ahead with my plans for my one weekend in June as I couldn’t wait any longer without losing all options for a get-away.
The weeks between that and Father’s Day were filled with threats to involve law enforcement and messages stating I had now forfeited having any weekend in June and ‘pleas’ for me to get immediate psychiatric help for my psychosis.
When the weekend arrived, my daughter and I took a road trip and stayed in a tiny cement floor cottage on a cattle ranch near the northern California coast. It had no cell service. It was scenic and quiet and perfect.
If the police tried to call me, I don’t know it. If he filed a report, no one’s told me.
When I arrived at the cottage, I digitally signed my last submission to the court before our hearing this week, where I am asking the court to, among other things, outline a plan for future Father’s Day to avoid this mess moving forward.
After I hit send on that document and sent it sailing back to my lawyer for her to submit to the court, I closed my eyes and counted some breaths and re-centered myself in the moment I was in: my daughter learning how to hop onto a one-rope swing without help as cows bellowed in the distance and the breeze made a rattling song through the trees surrounding us.
Everything I wanted and needed in that moment.
I thought of my dad, who I share not one shred of DNA with, who didn’t meet me until I was a little younger than my daughter is now, who wanted to adopt me a few years later but I said no because my biological father cried when I tried to talk to him about it. The man who, even when my mother stopped being in my life has stood by me and been a true parent, whether he knew me at birth or not. Who has taken every call I’ve made as I left x and navigated a hell I had feared, but still underestimated.
This man who had nothing to do with my birth has been a rock for me for decades. With no biological obligation. Just with love.
I can get caught, lately, in this thought: I failed my daughter.
I decided to have her because I felt sure that the man I was with would be someone like my dad, not my biological father. I was wrong.
Very, very wrong.
This is the first Father’s Day where I am clear on what was and is happening. It’s an acrid smell and a burning in the back of my throat to know that x is hurting her and not putting her first and telling her things that make her wet the bed after visits with him.
It’s my original sin as a mother. To have been so mistaken and so fooled.
For her to pay the price.
On Sunday, as I packed up our stuff and prepared to drive home, as I sent x a video from our daughter and planned on the message I would send offering him Facetime when we got home, as she ran the ranch and swung on all three tree swings, I stopped and counted my breaths again:
One for the love my daughter has surrounding her, in all directions, from people she shares genes with and lots and lots of people she doesn’t.
Two for the fight I fight to keep her protected from the worst of it. For strength and wisdom to know what to fight and what to let go.
Three for the knowledge that a real dad may still enter her life.
Four for the surety that if that doesn’t ever happen, that she knows great dads (mine, my brother, the long-time friend whose family we spent Father’s-Day-eve with).
Five – the last breath in before exhaling long and steady with the certainty that she was meant to be and that she will thrive whether she can celebrate this day the way some people do or not.
As I walked over to push her just one more time on the swing, she yelled out, head tilted back on the upswing and her hair flying into her face: This is the best day of my life!
She says that a lot lately. Lost in the joy of a moment of pure fun and promise and life.
As we all need to be sometimes.