As I was reading a recent post on Singlemommyhood.com about Jackie’s Father's Day Drama, I couldn’t help but think of that day ten years ago when I became, not a single parent, but a solo parent. Yes, there is a difference.
Every year about this time, I reflect on what it means to be both father and mother to my child. Reading Jackie’s heartfelt and eloquent thoughts about dealing with a “deadbeat” father, caused my mind to drift back ten years to the day I got that fateful letter from the court. I had received so many court notices from The Ex that it wasn’t unusual. I opened it while Leah was riding her little pink tricycle in the courtyard of our townhouse complex. Distractedly watching her and the other neighborhood children on bikes, trikes, and big wheels, the words grabbed me out of my distraction.
“Relinquishment of Rights and Responsibility. Respondent (that was him) agrees Petitioner (that was me even though I didn’t remember ever petitioning for anything) shall make all major decisions regarding the child. Respondent relinquishes and surrenders further rights to the child. Respondent agrees to abatement of Parenting Time.”
I called my best friend and lawyer Arianna and read her the contents of the legal notice.
“Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “he has decided not to be her father.”
“Can he do this?” I wailed.
“Yes, he can do this. He may think he’ll get out of paying child support, but that isn’t the case. We could tell the judge we want to deny the motion, but it probably won’t do any good.”
I looked up to where one of the neighborhood girls was pushing Leah on her trike. She hadn’t gotten the hang of the business of peddling.
“The hearing is Tuesday,” I said flatly.
“I’ll be there.”
The Ex didn’t come for the hearing, and his attorney seemed apologetic when he said that it should be a rather simple procedure and that The Ex wasn’t required to even be there. You can go to court, decide not to be someone’s father, all without even showing up. How do you like them apples? It was all very anticlimactic. We didn’t even see the judge.
As we were leaving, The Ex’s attorney said he was sorry for the whole thing. “Yeah, me too,” I replied. “Do you know why he did this?”
“No,” he answered. “I merely file the motions my clients ask me to file. I can’t make him want to be a parent.”
Arianna shook her head.
When I got home, my already rotten day got even worse. The UPS man came to the door with a large box. Leah exclaimed, “presents!”
Fortunately, I had a notion that maybe the contents weren’t from Toys R Us or Baby Gap. I had seen that the return address was from The Ex. I told Leah to play in the other room while I opened the box. The box, as it turned out, was only a gift in the most macabre sense of the word, packed I assume by The Ex’s new wife.
It had every toy that had been over at The Ex’s house, every scrap of clothing including every little sock and hair bow. It even had pants and panties that had been soiled during her toilet training accidents that had never been washed and were returned these months later completely filthy and covered with, well, filth. It had pictures drawn by Leah, crayon drawings made while waiting at restaurants, stuffed animals, and Happy Meal toys. It was, in short, every tangible memory of Leah that had remained in his life. Effectively, he had relinquished his rights and responsibilities, and sent them to me in a cardboard box.
I closed my eyes for a few seconds and took a deep breath. That’s one thing I know for sure about being a single mother, and in particular a “solo” mother. There is never anyone to take over, never anyone to give you a break. When you are tired or stressed or upset or sad or sick, you just deal with it. So I threw out the clothes that were too gross to salvage and boxed up the memories.
Every year on Father’s Day, I have an urge to send myself a card or a gift. Just to say, “Hey, you’re doing a great job. Maybe not a perfect job and probably not the best job, but a great job nonetheless. You’ve raised a good kid who made it to the age of thirteen without any major mishaps. Everyone says she’s beautiful and fun to be around and you love each other. Happy Father’s Day to me!”
copyright © 2009 Tiia Jones