When Daddy Leaves
I am the proud mama of a beautiful 5 month old little girl who is the light of my life and the joy of my days. I never thought I would get to be a mother and now that I am, I can’t believe how right it feels. Every aspect of my life is made brighter by her presence in it. And yet (and you knew that ‘and yet’ was coming because you are the Alpha Mom). I have a problem that I just cannot solve on my own. That problem is baby’s father. I am not married, Amy, and to my great distress, baby’s father left us about two months ago. He is younger than I am and baby was a big surprise to us both. This is not the first time he has left- when I found out I was pregnant, he left for three months. Left far enough that I didn’t know where he was. He came back when I was six months pregnant and I was so relieved. I was so grateful and relieved and elated at having him back, at having his support through what turned into a very difficult pregnancy that I didn’t listen to that small voice in my heart that said ‘be careful!’ and ‘you were broken when he left you last time, can you handle it again if he does it to both you AND baby?’ Amy, I wish I had listened to that voice and been more guarded. I love him. I love him so much. But those last few weeks we were together, I was miserable because he stopped talking to me. He stopped joking and laughing and playing with our precious daughter. And I told him to leave. I told him to walk away if that was what he was thinking, if he no longer wanted to work at us. I never thought he’d leave. I really didn’t. He left that morning. And that voice was right. I am broken again. And I have a bright-eyed, joyous little girl who can’t understand where her daddy went.
All of that is awful and heartbreaking and sad but my problem, Amy, is I don’t know how to move on. He is over all the time to see baby. He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out. And it’s killing me. He is the kind of love that, once it ends, I need not to see anymore. I need not to have contact with. Because I do still love him. I do still wish we could work it out and be a family- a real family- together with our beautiful daughter. I feel like I am living in this limbo where I almost have my relationship but in fact, I don’t. I don’t want to be angry and contentious and make baby having a relationship with him hard, I want him to spend time with her and to be a huge part of her life. But I also want him back…and if I can’t have him back (I shouldn’t have him back), I need him to be gone. How do I do both? How do I move on and heal and hopefully someday find someone who does want us both, who wants to be my partner (maybe even my husband?) and who wants to be baby’s full time dad? How do I stop wanting the ex when he is always around? How do I stop loving the father of my child? I want to be strong in this, for me and for baby. How do I be strong in the face of overwhelming and helpless, hopeless love?
My dear, I am so sorry. I can’t even imagine.
This man is not your love. He never was. He never will be. Your great, true love — the one who deserves you — would never, ever abandon you during your pregnancy, and then come back only to rinse-and-repeat the process again when you have a newborn. No. He is not your love, his is not your future.
This man is, however, the father of your child and thankfully appears to be making an effort to remain in her life. Which means — while he is not your future — you cannot cut him out of your present. For your daughter’s sake, you will need to find another way to deal with the heartbreak. A way that DOESN’T involve removing him from your lives or pushing him away (for THIRD TIME, Jesus).
You know all this, of course. I can tell that you do, in between your sad, heartbroken sentences about helpless, hopeless love.
You are not helpless. Or hopeless. And again: This man is not your love. He deserves access to his daughter and I suppose your respect over his ability to sack up and take responsibility for her (in the face of what was a pretty huge freakout over impending fatherhood). He does not deserve to take up space in your heart and head and dreams of the future and make you feel rooted to a dead, dysfunctional relationship.
Start by arranging father-daughter time that does not involve you, that doesn’t conjure up painful fantasies about what Might Have Been. He can spend time with her — there’s no reason why you should feel like you need to do things all “together,” so he gets to play house and while simultaneously torturing you. Since I’m guessing he KNOWS how you feel and KNOWS that every family outing is giving you hope and keeping you emotionally tethered to him. Is he punishing you for calling his bluff and telling him to leave? Is he just a jerk who enjoys toying with you? I don’t know. I sense there might be some mind games going on with this “He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out.” stuff and I don’t like it. I’m not sure I trust this man’s motives. He wants to spend time with baby, that’s awesome. He can do that without you around. You guys are officially no longer a 2-for-1 deal.
The next time he comes by and wants to spend time with his daughter, instead of accepting a hug, hand him the diaper bag and tell him you have to run to an appointment. Preferably, I would like the appointment to be with a therapist who can help you talk through all of this. Because you would benefit very, very much from therapy right now, both to deal with the crushing rollercoaster of a year you’ve had and your (still raging, postpartum) emotions. You need a safe space where you can grieve and be sad and also totally freaking ANGRY at him. Rage and yell and cry and talk, then leave it all there behind on the couch so you can go home and be civil to him and bid him “goodbye” without feeling crushed by the sight of him leaving again, always with the leaving.
If you need more time to find a therapist, however, make that first appointment with your hairdresser, or get a manicure. Just get out of the house and away from him and the invasive fantasies about “oh, maybe he’ll change his mind and it can be like this all the time.”
No, it can’t. He probably wont change his mind, but EVEN IF HE DID…gurl. No. There will be no third strike here. No more times for him to prove to you that his default setting for “THIS IS HARD AND I DON’T IT” is to simply pack up and walk out the door. If anything, he should still be on your watchlist: He needs to prove to you that his recent dedication to fatherhood isn’t temporary and he won’t get bored/antsy and start flaking on your precious little girl. You are now, unfortunately and unavoidably, the guardian of her heart. You will not let him break hers too.
I also recommend getting some legal advice in regards to an official custody and visitation schedule, as well as financial child support. Here’s a brief overview of the some of the issues to think about when unmarried parents break up but both retain legal rights to the child. Not only would having something official and in writing simply be a smart thing to do for your daughter’s sake (especially given his flakey track record), but it will hopefully help you reframe the relationship with him and bring some closure to the romantic side that is no more.
You are strong. You can do this. Your future and your great, true love are out there. And you will, with time and help from a good therapist, be able to see that you can find that future even with this man there in the present. On the periphery, the co-parent sidelines.