A couple of months ago, while looking through a box of old pictures, I came across this picture of my son, which was taken in 1996, when he was 2 years old. It's quickly become one of my favorites. It shows his personality very well-- sunny and good-natured. It also reminded me that there was a time, shortly after this picture was taken, that those qualities disappeared temporarily.
After my son was born, I moved in with his mother. I was hoping that she would overcome her lack of communication and basically passive personality (or so I thought) and we could be a happy couple raising our child together.
The old saying "watch out what you wish for, you may get it," applies here. Soon after we moved in together, she became hell on wheels, regularly following me around screaming, assaulting my character, frequently throwing and smashing household objects. Afterward, she would cry and swear it wouldn't happen again. And of course it eventually would. It was classic abuse behavior.
When Adam was about a year old, I decided I needed to move out. I was going back to school to finish my teaching certification and knew that I would not be able to finish school with my self-esteem being constantly battered. I left the possiblity of reconciliation open-- if she would get counseling. She never did, and eventually I started dating someone.
She erupted in rage at this. She filed a paternity suit, though I'd never contested paternity-- and filed for sole custody of our son. She began taking counsel from a trashy friend of hers who had 6 children by 7 different fathers, and lived off the child support from the various fathers. She apparently imagined that she was going to get a bunch of money from me.
A bruising custody fight ensued. I hired a lawyer and, mirculously, started working a web design job that paid very well. My friend Mark, who was shot to death in a robbery nearly four years ago, secured this job for me. I was eternally grateful. It paid for a lot of lawyer time.
Things quickly got ugly. At one point, she broke into my apartment and attempted to take my son out of the place while I had time with him. I called the police, who asked if I wanted her arrested. I declined. I had to contact the police and phone company-- she was making harassing calls.
I began dealing with the court process, which sucks. Your child is basically treated as a piece of property that is the subject of ownership dispute. We were put into remediation. It did little good.
In the meantime, his mother was able to use procedural manuevers to try to keep me from seeing my son. I did not dispute paternity, but until the papers saying this were filed, she could technically keep me from seeing him. The people who owned the day care center he attended saw this, and saw that it was distressing him not to see me-- I'd been the primary caregiver-- and began letting me in to see him every day.
When my son's mother figured this out, he pulled him out of that school and put him into the preschool at the New City YMCA.
As things dragged on, it became apparent that the people at the YMCA had figured out what an ass my son's mother was. Several times, when I went to pick my son up, after my lawyer had been able to force his mother to give me time with him, documents were left "accidentally" for me to see-- this helped me anticipate the often-ridiculous moves his mother was making.
This whole thing wore me down. I'd married the woman I'd been dating, but she suddenly asked for a divorce when it became apparent that this was going to drag on for a while. So much for "stand by your man."
I was doing my student teaching, the final step for my teaching certification, working full time as a waiter and trying to spend time with Adam. One day, I got a call from the school. I just had enough time to stop in and talk to them on my way to work.
It turned out that as distressing as this whole thing was for me, it was even worse for Adam. He gone from the good-natured, friendly kid to one who was defiant, argumentative, and had even hit other kids at school. I'd been called in, along with his mother, to discuss counseling. I met the counselor, Dr. Carl Hampton and quickly agreed to the counseling.
I saw my son sitting near the room and hoped he didn't see me-- I knew he would want to come home with me, and I had to go to work afterward. Unfortunately he saw me and jumped up and shouted "I'm going to dad's house?" I tried to explain to him that I couldn't-- that I had to work. He cut me off, turned away and said "Go. Go, Dad." He refused to talk to me. I had to fight back tears-- it was probably the most heartbreaking moment of this whole sorry process.
It was at that moment I realized that this could not go on any longer. I called my lawyer the next day and told him to settle this as quickly as he could.
Adam began working with "Dr. Carl," as he was known at the school. I was later to find out that his likeness was used for a children's book by his friend and neighbor, illustrator Michael Hays, for the book "Kevin and His Dad." (Hays is probably best known for the children's book he wrote with musician Pete Seeger, "Abiyoyo.") I wish Adam remembered his talks with Dr. Carl-- I would love to know what they talked about. What I do know is that I am eternally grateful to Dr. Carl. My gentle, friendly kid quickly returned.
I do also know that my ex-girlfriend was regularly telling my son what a bad person I was, and calling me things like "asshole." He does remember that. For my part, I kept my promise to my old friend Tasneem, who'd dealt with her parents' bitter divorce, where each parent had bad-mouthed the other. She secured a promise from me to never do that. I kept that promise.
Over time, things have become calm. My ex-girlfriend was diagnosed with a degenerative thyroid disorder, which probably explained her behavior, though according to my son she still yells a lot, despite taking medication for the condition. He's learned to shrug it off. He and I are very close, despite his mother's attempts to keep that from happening.
In a little over two years, he will turn 18, a few months before he finishes high school. He has already started making plans for moving out of his mother's house on his 18th birthday and into my home.
I try not to dwell too much on it all. As an old friend advised me, "Don't rent her free space in your head." But once in a while I think about that evening I made my decision, and realize that the moment I decided to do what I thought what was best for my son, despite what I wanted, was the turning point.