My story began one evening in September of 2011. I remember sitting on my couch thinking, 'he's not coming back.' I was 7 months pregnant when my boyfriend left because he couldn't handle the idea of being a dad.
It took a while before telling my family and friends. In the back of my mind I always thought he wouldn't do this to me and surely he'll come back when he's ready. He did return, after our daughter turned one. Even then he was never fully devoted to being a father. After she turned two, he left again.
The next time I saw him was exactly a year later as we sat in a small 8x8 room in front of a mediator to work out a joint parenting plan. He had wanted to come back into our lives several months later after leaving his second time, only I wasn't having it. I refused to allow him to show up whenever he wanted to ruin our lives, more importantly my daughter. He retaliated by filing for joint custody.
Mediation was full of anger and tears by me. I hated him that day. It felt like he was trying to take away my girl when I had been there for her since before she was born. He wasn't there for the late night feedings, the 3am hospital visits because of a fever, the thousands of diaper changes, or the crying at bedtime. He wasn't there as a dad to my daughter or as a parenting partner with me. I took it all on. I handled everything without his help or input. My daughter was two years old when I sat across the table from him with daggers in my eyes. With every custody request he made my blood would boil.
It was a relief to speak about my frustration with his behavior. Naturally, I questioned if he'd stick around this time. We worked out supervised visits every other Sunday. I would be the one supervising them. For about 10 hours a month, and he didn't request more time than that, the three of us would spend time together either hanging around his place, or going to the zoo.
This arrangement went on until earlier this past January, 6 years later. He continues to show up to spend time with our daughter without my presence. Today, we are friends. Shocking, right? After everything he did to me it would be reasonable to think I'd want nothing to do with him. That was true in the beginning. Time allowed for my resentment and anger to subside and I was able to find the strength to forgive him. She was about 4 years old when I saw a moment when she looked up at him with the biggest smile. I remember thinking that second that she truly loves her dad. That was the moment when I decided forgiveness towards him for the past will make parenting so much easier.
We still had our ups and downs, but we both knew that it was always about our daughter, Ava. It's about her having a happy, healthy relationship with both her parents, together and individually. It's about her witnessing that even though we don't live the societal norm of us living together as a family, we are still able to instill values, respect for one another, and above all else, love.
I hope to see all divorced/separated couples mirror this model if possible. Our kids see everything we do and they learn from it. They will see us fail and rise up. They will see us in defeat and in our triumphs. They need to see that the very people they look up to the most, are always there no matter what.