Hear me out. I never wanted it this way. If I had the power to change things I would, but it’s too late. Now I struggle to forgive.
My story begins in 1995 when I was pregnant with my daughter. Her biological father and I spent months apart. He wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to be a father. That should have been the first red flag but I was young and naive, and scared to be a mother.
He had always done drugs. During our time apart his friends and family tried to warn me but I didn’t listen. Denial was better than facing something I had no ability to deal with. He came back and after my daughter was born his substance abuse escalated.
I remember how he would make promises to her and then not come home for days at a time. He continuously failed to follow through. I did my best to stick with it but it was far more than I could bear. I worked. He spent every dime I made on crack and heroin. It became a regular thing for me to dig through the couch cushions in hope of finding spare change to buy milk.
In 1999 he left for several months to go to New York to stay with his mother and get treatment. When he came back he cried and pleaded for another chance. He never got treatment while he was there.
My son was born nine months later but nothing changed. He left my daughter at the hospital with me “to go home and shower” the morning I gave birth. I called, and called. He didn’t return until the next day. There I was in a hospital room exhausted and alone with a four year old and a newborn.
I spent the next two years dealing with his substance abuse, arrests and occasionally coming home to him passed out on the bathroom floor after shooting up. The day I found needles soaking in my children’s toy closet is the day I took them and left for good.
That’s when the abuse started.
I filed for full custody in court. He didn’t contest or show up. The kids still spent weekends with him during the times they were willing to interact with him but as time went by the physical, emotional and verbal abuse began and I drew the line. He was no longer permitted to see them without me present.
He thought I was fucked up, controlling and trying to keep them away from him. It had nothing to do with him physically harming my daughter, choking his girlfriend in front of them, throwing a fit (and bicycles) and then dragging my six year old son, tossing him into his car and taking off with him.
At eleven years old he locked my daughter out of his apartment on Christmas morning wearing nothing but a tank top and underwear. He stood on my front lawn tearing up all the artwork she had ever made him screaming that she was a bitch and a cunt. She was twelve years old.
These are the memories we have.
There was my own physical confrontations with him each time I intervened or didn’t meet his demands. In each instance, the more I stood my ground and wouldn’t back down the more he would back off until the next time it happened again, and again.
I’d made numerous calls to the police. We were no longer willing to speak with him. He placed all blame on me.
He finally moved to New York to live with his mother. I felt a weight lift, but his anger towards us only intensified, his abuse grew to utter outrage and his drug use transformed from addiction to a sinking, slow drowning death. He was the anchor and we were the ship he was taking down with him.
But I still tried. I tried to remain strong and as fair as possible regardless of how impossible it proved to be. I would intervene and act as a sounding board for his abuse.
Make them talk to me, he demanded.
I will not force them to submit themselves to you.
I’m their father. They need to respect me.
Respect is earned. If you want them to respect you then you need to respect them, I insisted.
If the roles were reversed I would make them talk to you.
Dear lord, I hope not. This same argument went on for years.
He claimed he was getting help. He claimed I could trust him with my children and I desperately needed to believe him, so I did. They went to visit him in New York. Their trip ended early when my daughter asked for money to go get ice cream with her cousins. He accused her of knowing he didn’t have any money with the intention of making him feel bad, locked her in the bathroom and then smashed a window in front of my son. She was fourteen and he was ten.
I flew to New York to get them.
After that he pleaded and begged for me to allow them to come and visit but I wouldn’t and because of this I was a bitch, he hoped I’d die, I was the most cruel person he had ever known until five minutes later when he would ask for forgiveness. I could never bring myself to forgive him.
I understand it’s a disease but that doesn’t mean I have to tolerate abuse.
If he wanted to see them he would have to come to Arizona and he did but we didn’t feel comfortable. My daughter has always referred to our time spent with him as a line from the Pixar film, A Bug’s Life. “They come, they eat, they leave.”
He busted through our front door and began smashing things in our living room screaming and demanding my children spend the day with him. They came running into my bedroom and hid behind me frightened and crying so hard they could barely speak or breathe.
I’ll go out there, I assured them.
My son grabbed the bottom of my shirt and begged me not to go. He was afraid his father would hurt me. I wasn’t scared. I had become a pro at standing up to him. I insisted he leave or I would call the police. On his way out the door he picked up the microwave and threw it at me.
He came over for dinner. He showed up 45 minutes late. When he sat down at the table he announced he was late because he was waiting to buy a bag of marijuana. My son’s friends were there and my son felt humiliated.
These are the memories we have.
After a series of other traumatizing events, per my son’s request we blocked him from everything. Our cellphones, social media, email accounts, every and any way he could get in touch with us. We were free.
But is anyone ever really free?
More time went by and my daughter turned eighteen. She wanted to go visit her biological father in hope he changed and was ready to be the parent she has always wanted him to be. He picked her up at the airport and immediately went to a keg party with her in tow. She called me crying. A fight broke out and she was scared. She couldn’t find him anywhere. He had left her there. She flew home the next day.
I consoled her. I told her he may not ever be the father she needs him to be. That drugs control him. She told me she’s always been heartbroken he chose drugs over us.
He chose a different path than us, I said.
She wasn’t ready to give up. She remained in contact with him through his verbal and emotional abuse, through threatening suicide if she attempted to break away from their communication. I would call the police each time he did so. He continuously dumped his problems on her and made demands of her that she was incapable of meeting. Still, she stuck it out. Just as I had done my best to stick it out for two decades.
She now shares his disease. She self medicates in order to not face the things in life that are too unbearable for her . She has spent her entire life longing for his approval because of the way he’s treated her and us. She never accepted he was the problem. Every relationship she’s ever had has ended with me calling the police on her abusive boyfriends.
She had been using substances for years regardless of my attempts to help her. She possessed an inability to follow through with treatment programs. She too is now an addict. At one point she attempted suicide. Against my request to hold her, the hospital released her.
In September 2016 she was ready to give her biological father another chance. She left for New York with the intentions of spending a month with him. My son and I did our best to convince her otherwise but she refused to listen. During the time she spent with him he gave her heroin, verbally and emotionally abused her and after he smashed a mailbox in with his bare hands and broke windows with a bat she was in fear for her life.
We made a plan to lead him to believe she was going to spend Thanksgiving with her grandparents and then she would return. She did spend Thanksgiving with her grandparents but she didn’t return. We met in Arizona and drove across country back to Iowa. I “took one for the team” as we now refer to it when speaking of him, and told him she wasn’t coming back.
He justified giving her heroin. He couldn’t understand how she could feel traumatized by his violence since he wasn’t directly violent toward her. After she returned home he continued to mail her drugs and when I discovered this I reported it to the Post Master and requested they give all packages from him directly to the police.
In the summer of 2017 my husband and I petitioned the court for our daughter’s substance abuse issues. We exhausted all options to get her help. We were watching her slowly kill herself. We could no longer keep her safe from herself at home. We needed to do something. We felt desperate.
The sheriff came and picked her up and took her to detox until her court date. She requested outpatient treatment and my husband and I believed she was ready to help herself because we needed to believe her. We agreed and the judge released her to our custody. A week later she had vanished. She ran from her court order.
She confided in her biological father that she was going to run and he did nothing to prevent it, mention it to me or encourage her not too.
You have no idea what it’s like to go through withdrawal, he said to me.
No, but I know what it’s like to live with substance abuse, I responded.
After three months my daughter willingly came home. The sheriff came, picked her up and brought her to the hospital. After failing a drug test, given her psych history and evaluation, the state of Iowa filed a mental health committal against her along with our original substance abuse petition.
Her biological father is only able to contact me through email. The day she came home he requested I call him. When I did he claimed that as her parents we should be working together to help her, but I disagree.
My definition of a parent is someone who emotionally supports their child, encourages them, guides them, is there for them no matter what, sacrifice themselves for their child’s well being. He’s not that person. I am. She is my daughter, not his. They are my children, not ours. Our conversation ending with him yelling at me. I hung up on him.
He emailed me shortly after and reminded me I was the reason he did drugs and that I’m sad for my lack of willingness to put our differences aside to help her.
I responded. You’re accountable for your substance abuse. I take no claim for your actions. I don’t need your help.
The day of her court hearing he called her while we were outside the court room. He dumped the conversation he and I had on her minutes before a judge ruled she be committed for an undetermined amount of time.
How dare he cause her more stress at a time when she was panicked and struggling? On the drive home from court I suggested to my son that we call him on speaker phone and ask him to stop treating her in such a way it sabotages her recovery. I thought if he heard it from both of us he may actually hear it. My son hasn’t spoken to him in almost two years. He refused. I waited until we got home and called him myself.
He again attempted to justify giving her heroin and mailing her drugs. I expressed that I’m close minded and there’s nothing he can say that would cause me to change my opinion. Truth is, I can’t even wrap my head around it. I explained to him I’m either black or white, I have no gray area and I would by no means allow him to cross my boundaries. He said I had no right to lock her up.
I heard my voice escalate. I have every right to lock her up. I will not watch my child slowly kill herself. I didn’t petition her for the sake of recovery. I petitioned her because she is no longer safe from herself. I have lived with this. I am the one who has been here.
He wasn’t willing to see my side of things nor was I willing to see his. Shortly after we ended our phone call he emailed me.
I didn’t think to ask- what happened at court today?
My story ends now with putting my shoes on and heading out to the hospital to visit my daughter. When I arrive I’ll empty my pockets into a locker while a staff member watches over me. I’ll be permitted to enter through the two sets of locked doors to the unit. I’ll sit across from her in the day room and think of how beautiful she is, how much I believe in her and how hopeful I feel for her. I’ll tell myself out loud that she is not her father. She’ll hear me say it, break down and cry.