Understanding Parental Abandonment: My Lightbulb Moment
October 28, 2011
Five years ago to the day tomorrow, I met JD’s father. I was dressed as a ballerina. He was dressed as a pirate. We were at a bar on the LES that has since closed down. My friend, Claire, spotted him from across the bar and whispered into my ear, “he’s cute.” He was. And he was to be, my son’s father.
I continued the evening with my friends. I drank beer in Fifth position and did the occasional plie (to be cute, flirty, single and 25). I don’t remember how our first words initiated. I remember he was celebrating his birthday.
I said, “Where’s my beer?” at one point. “What are you supposed to be?” I think I touched his arm. He claimed to be a pirate, but all he had on were jeans, a white T-shirt, a bandana and a drawn on tattoo. I anticipate the day JD wants to be a pirate for Halloween. This year he’s being a dragon.
He disappeared into the crowd. I hung back with my friends. He reappeared a half-hour later with a smile and beer. We exchanged numbers. We didn’t kiss that night. I hung with my friends and he did his thing and we occasionally made eyes and chatted. I didn’t expect anything.
The bar was crowded and loud and several beers in we must have agreed to see a movie together, because the next morning I woke up in my apartment at noon, hungover in a tutu and saw a text from him that read: “What time for the movie?” I think about how I could have ignored that text. How I had ignored so many like them from guys I met at bars under the influence (to my defense, I was single and young). How I deleted their names from my phone the next day, went to brunch with girlfriends in SoHo and never, ever thought about them again.
I will think about JD’s father for the rest of my life.
I texted back a time for him to meet me near, not at, my apartment. We met on the corner across the street from my place. Now, when I hear the Script song, Man Who Can’t Be Moved I think of that day, basically for “the corner” reference.
I remember walking towards him. He didn’t see me. I could have turned back. It was Fall and crisp. Yellow cabs were everywhere. I was wearing black ballet flats, skinny jeans and a casual fitted grey sweatshirt with ruffles at the shoulders. I had on my red tweed coat. I loved that coat. I threw that coat out.
He was looking at the newspaper for movies and movie times. I approached him saying, “Hello.” He looked up. I instantly noticed the little folds of skin under his eyes when he smiled. JD has those little folds of skin when he smiles. I don’t.
We decided on The Departed. I was happy, because I love Leonardo DiCaprio. (I've seen this film many times since. I once watched part of it while JD napped next to me.) We got wine and calamari first. The bartender gave us a free dessert to celebrate his birthday and she thought we were a couple. He told me he was from Indiana, but he was really from California and grew up in Colorado. He went to college in Indiana. He told me about his ex. His parents divorced when he was 2. His father left. He was later adopted by his mother’s husband. He claimed to have no relationship with his father. I didn’t see this as a red flag. I felt sorry for him.
I didn't grow up in a Cleaver house by any means (at all), but my parents were married for most of my life (they divorced when I was 26, because well, they had problems their entire marriage). I have two brothers. From the outside looking in—it was typical, I guess. My father and mother came to my ballet recitals. My mom was the Girl Scout leader. The five of us drove to a farm in North NJ and picked out our pure bred golden retriever from a litter of nine. It never occurred to me I would be a single mom or that my parents issues might be influencing me and my future relationships. I always assumed I’d have a hubby, kids and golden retriever. It was MY normal.
I told him about my life, aspirations to be a writer, my ex. I told him it was going to be my first Christmas without Brandy, my golden retriever because she had died at age 13.
We watched the movie. I sat in a way that I was leaning into him. He didn’t want our date to end and neither did I, so we got beers and talked more. He slept over my apartment, but it’s really, honestly, not what you’re thinking. It was late. He was living with friends that lived in Riverdale, NY. It was a far train ride. We slept. OK, we made out and slept. That's it. Looking back, allowing him to sleep at my place was so dumb and set the tone for our fast track romance. The next morning I closed the door when he left and did a little happy dance. I met someone. Thank you, God. I took a shower and went to work.
We proceeded to hangout 24/7 thereafter. He met my friends. My father. We went to the Opera with Uncle Brian and his girlfriend at the time. He met Uncle Carlo one day when he was picking me up in the city. Uncle Carlo busted his balls (normal). I met his half-sister. I met his brother and his sister-in-law. I met his best friend. We talked about a trip to Mexico. He sent flowers to my office on my 26th birthday. He nicknamed me “Smalls.” He bought me a gift certificate towards a plane ticket to Mexico for Christmas and a book titled something like “100 things to do before you die.” We went on real dates. They were romantic and special. We slept in the same bed 5 or 6 out of 7 nights.
I got pregnant in December after his boss’ Christmas party. There was champagne and no birth control involved. We were conscious of this the next morning. It didn’t occur to me to take Plan B. I went to work. I felt fluish a month later. I thought I had the flu. I took a pregnancy test while he sat on my bed. I was pregnant. We talked, I cried, we fought, we talked some more. We stopped talking. We made a decision. We wondered if we should get married, move in together. He claimed to look at rings. I wanted a grand gesture. We planned to go to my 12-week sonogram together. But he went to Indiana to see his ex, telling me it was for work.
I was naïve. And hormonal. Nothing occurred to me. I was still stunned I was pregnant.
The rest is history.
I recently shared bits of this story with Dr. Leah Klungness. She provided eye-opening thoughts that I never considered. Thoughts that have shifted my thinking. I am now empathetic towards JD’s father. This is a strange feeling. It is now my job to pass this empathy to our son regarding the life he was brought into. It is my job to break the chain. JD will be a wonderful father. Period.
Regarding my son’s father’s dad leaving him: “Such men are repeating, often not consciously, a pattern of life decisions familiar to them. For the same psychological reasons the likelihood suicide increases when a parent took his/her own life, the likelihood of parental abandonment increases when such abandonment is part of a man's personal history.” (I should note that JD’s dad’s bio-dad remarried and had more kids.) “To the individual, abandoning a child feels familiar and does not carry the same stigma and shame such actions carry for others.”
This was the lightbulb moment. Click. Puzzle piece in. I said, “Aha!” This is what I’ve been trying to understand for four years. How does a man leave his kid? How does he function? How did he get married, when I’m still scared to really date? Because, his baseline for normal was a modern family. When dad left, mom found a Plan B. Growing up without a bio-dad (might be?) is normal to him. (It's really not all of my fault.)
JD’s dad is waiting for ME to find a fill-in Dad. His mom did it—I can do it, too!
Only problem is, I don’t see it this way, because my Dad still calls me 4x a day. I would love to get married one day and yes, that guy will assume the "dad" role, but I'm not dating for a "dad."
“If you were raised as a latchkey kid, you feel much differently about raising a latchkey kid, than another parent who was raised by ‘June Cleaver’ - SAHM always available with milk + cookies feels,” advises Klungness. Visit Singlemommyhood.com
I don't blame him for everything. I take responsibility for being scared and hormonal and freaking him us out. Shutting off, coming back on. Being confusing and matter-of-fact at the same time while our baby was growing inside of me. But I really don't feel that guilty about it all anymore (OK, sometimes I feel guilty). Our son is 4. It's been five years since we met. Five years. It'll be six this time next year.
Chew on that and have a great weekend! I am now emotionally drained, Internet. But, as with all of my blogs and why I share my most personal feelings - I hope this has made someone feel less alone or even lit a bulb in your life. XO