In 2012, my husband of nearly eight years told me that he was going to the store, and then he simply never returned. In the coming weeks, my panic turned to grief as I came to understand that his disappearance hadn’t been the result of a tragic accident but rather the execution of a carefully laid out plan to abandon his family in search of a carefree life.
After leaving his company vehicle in the parking lot of his job at a landscaping business (a job that he never returned to), emptying our joint bank account, and shutting off his phone, he became untraceable, leaving me as an only parent to my 7-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
As a stay-at-home mom, I wasn’t prepared for this. My days had been spent taking my daughter to music class and ballet, and my nights had been spent avoiding the injuries I sustained from my husband in domestic violence. After years of trying unsuccessfully to leave him, I truly hadn’t expected him to abandon us.
In the months following his disappearance, each day felt like I was waking up in a nightmare — not knowing how I would support our family and finally having to file for government assistance. But no matter how hard I worked to pull our lives together, the most complicated struggle was just beginning.
For the rest of my life, I will be raising two children who were abandoned by their father. I will be asked questions that I have no answers for — things that my children so desperately want to understand, but situations that as an adult I can’t comprehend. When one of the first things children learn is the love of their parents, I’m watching my children learn a lesson that I wish they didn’t have to: that sometimes people hurt us in ways that we never could have imagined. I’m walking the fine line of not telling them that their father doesn’t love them, but also not giving them a false sense of what love is. “Does daddy still love us?” is a constant question in our house, and the truth is I don’t know. I can’t imagine that if he really did love them, that he would make absolutely no effort to see them and, in fact, spend most of his time avoiding us. But the truth is that I can’t answer that question for them because it’s not my question to answer.
I’m fighting the stigma that society has placed on me as a single mother — that I must have done something wrong to be in the position of being an only parent. There are people who assume that I could foresee the future and suggest that I was just too “stupid to have kids with him in the first place” or that I “must have done something to drive him away.” Or yet other people who decide that there is no way he really doesn’t want to see his kids and that I must be keeping him from them. Or any of the other excuses that people choose to believe because it’s easier to blame the parent that stayed than to accept the horrific truth that some parents just don’t love their children like they should and sometimes those parents leave.
In my case, I don’t even know where my children’s father is living. For three and a half years, I’ve tried to find him and make him pay child support, but he has spent so much of his energy dodging the system, and I’ve spent so much money chasing him down, that I’m coming to the realization that I just need to let him go.
My children are growing up fatherless, and that is terrifying. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering if I will be enough to help them beat the fatherless statistics of becoming pregnant teens or juvenile delinquents. Every phase they enter feels like another opportunity for me to go wrong, but I have to just keep reminding myself that if there is anything I did right, it’s that I stayed.
I stayed, I’m here, and I’m helping my kids wade through the destruction that their father left in his wake. I’m raising two kids who can only rely on half the people who were supposed to love, protect, and care for them, and that is not an easy task. Aside from the daily tasks of motherhood, the difficulties in single parenting, the burden of financially providing, and the logistics of balancing it all, I have to deal with the fact that my children’s father broke their hearts.
He left me to explain why there is no daddy to attend the daddy-daughter dances at my daughter’s school and to explain to my son why there is no dad to play with him on the father-son T-ball team. I have a little girl who cries before bed at night, clutching her father’s picture and asking why there are no daddies that want to love her. My son is so confused by what a dad is that he calls every man he knows “Dad,” because to him, “Dad” is nothing more than an adult male.
My ex left me to teach a boy how to become a man and teach a daughter how a man should treat her, a job that he should have had, a job that he utterly destroyed.
A million memories we will make without him, three lives forever altered by the choice he made: a rougher road, some tougher lessons, and an empty space where he should have been. I know now that even if he had stayed, he would not have been the father that they needed, yet I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if my children weren’t one of the 24 million American kids growing up without a dad. Would they feel more secure? Laugh a little more, cry a little less? Would they have more opportunities and fewer struggles? Who would they be if they had more than just me?
I think about that sometimes as I cry myself to sleep at night, but when I wake up in the morning, I don’t have time to dwell on it because I have two children who need me.
(Photos: Courtesy of Eden Strong)
According to court documents filed in March 2012 and provided to Yahoo Parenting, the author’s husband “voluntarily vacated the parties’ marital residence and abandoned the Petitioner and the parties’ minor children.” The documents also state “That upon vacating the marital residence, the Respondent would not return any of Petitioner’s telephone calls or communicate with her regarding his intentions regarding the parties’ marriage, financial support or his whereabouts” and “The petitioner later discovered that upon vacating the parties’ joint bank account, that he did not deposit his paycheck into said joint account, that he removed money from the parties’ marital residence, that he removed essential and sentimental items of personal property.