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A Single Mom's Saga for Father's Day

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Father’s Day is near, and it’s a dreaded holiday for me and probably for my twin sons. They haven’t had a father of their own around since just after their first birthday.

That’s when he went ballistic and threw us out of the little room we were staying in — attached to a friend’s house in a remote area of West Marin. I had been telling him how uncomfortable I was with our living situation and how I really thought we needed to get serious about trying to find a place of our own. How he might actually need to consider getting a real job in order to facilitate that. How even though I was working as much as I could, it was very trying while I was nursing two babies every few hours. That’s when he snapped.

As he screamed expletives and raged in the tiny space, I gathered everything I could carry in the way of clothing, diapers, toys, and blankets, threw them in the car, scooped up the boys, strapped them in their car seats, and, heart racing, hit the gas.

I looked in the rear view mirror as I turned the corner and saw him still jumping up and down on the dirt road, shouting. I hurriedly rolled up the window to drown out his throaty bellows.

I don’t think I took a breath or unclenched my fingers from the steering wheel for two solid hours. Finally, with the kids sobbing in the back seat and my eyes blurry from focusing on the road, I checked into a cheap motel.

I carried the babies in, barricaded the door, and settled in. I’ll never forget that day. It was 'Super Tuesday' March 8, 1988. It was also my best friend Liz’s birthday. But she was somewhere on the other side of the country, unavailable to help, and unreachable. A cell phone would have been great that day.

I had other friends in the area and back in the town I left, but I didn’t feel safe going to them because I didn’t know if he would try to find us. I honestly didn’t know what he would try to do. I had never seen anyone boil over like that and I was frightened. So I sat, watching the primary returns, while my exhausted little boys, now satiated, snoozed in a little heap on the bed. I’d figure out the next step tomorrow.

I’ve been figuring it out for the last 23 years, through good times and bad. I’ve done OK with my sons, I think. Varsity sports and honor rolls were the norm. One is graduating from college this month, and the other one won’t be far behind. They have really great friends and they are really good people. I’m so proud of them and the men they’ve become. But I always think about how hard it must be for them without a dad.

I’ve seen several interviews with President Obama where he talks about the important role fathers play in their children’s lives in general and about his father specifically. For all intents and purposes, our president grew up without a father, just like my sons have. At first, the thought comforted me.

But Obama said that even though his dad wasn’t there, his mother always built up his father and therefore he always held him in high esteem. Despite the fact that his father made a clear choice to not be a part of his life, just as my kids’ dad did, he never felt that his father was a bad person and he said that made a big difference. Having a positive image of the man he didn’t know helped.

That’s when I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why didn’t I do that? Should I have created a mythical, positive father figure for my sons to adore from afar? If I had done that, would my sons be better off now?

But I didn’t do that. I couldn’t do that. While I don’t think I ever painted a picture of their father as a bad man, I certainly never built him up. He threw us out, violently. He was unstable and never paid a penny of child support. How could I put that guy on a pedestal? I was honest and realistic with my children. I said things like: 'He isn’t a perfect man, but he helped to create you two. He was a smart, accomplished man, but some men aren’t cut out for fatherhood. If you ever decide to have children, you’ll be great fathers.' I hope I did the right thing.

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Reader comments so far...

Kelly (not verified)
Your story struck a cord in me that resonated to my core. Our stories are so similar. I won't bore you with my personal saga but I will say that I applaud you for choosing to go with the truth. We don't positively know the details of Obama's mother/father situation do we? Not truly anyway, we weren't there to witness it. What is better to have your kids look back at your words as a saint who lied hoping it would help them or a mother who did her best and told the truth. I don't feel that the Santa Claus theory is harmful but I also don't feel that you need to lie when when your children ask about the bearded myth. I'm sure they have asked you about their father many times and if you told the truth (without telling the entire truth as to how truly deficient he really was as a father) then hurray for you! Good for you! Children are intelligent, they know when we are lying and you are a wonderful mother to tell the truth to your children. If I were President, I would most certainly say those things too (it's encouraging, hopeful and rosey) but seriously, the young Obama probably knew that his daddy wasn't up to snuff - since he wasn't present in his life ever. Obama is President because this has been his path not because his mom lied and smoke-screened her child's image of his father. You sound like a great mom to me.

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March 14, 2019