How One Mom Filled The Void That Her Child's Dad Left

What I Did When The Packages From My Son’s Dad Stopped Coming

February 21, 2020 Updated February 25, 2020

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Labeling and putting stamps on boxes that will never actually get mailed may seem pointless, but it still needs to look authentic, like a “real” delivery.

It needs to remind him that he is not forgotten.

I used one of those white United States Postal Service boxes, the one with the red and blue emblem — his father used to use those — as I carefully wrapped the contents inside.

Books, some chocolates, baseball cards, a gift certificate and my note placed right on top.

I love you. I am so proud of you. Love, Mom.”

It’s been a long time since he got one of those United States Postal Service boxes in the mail. It used to be the way his dad communicated with him, his ongoing absence in his son’s life covered up by those white boxes. They came once a month, and for those few moments, the excitement of getting mail — ripping the box open, the curiosity of what was inside — took over. But it wasn’t really about the gift inside the box, it was the feeling of being remembered; in some small way these deliveries made his father’s fleeting role in his life seem less transient.

And then one day the boxes just stopped.

The cold, overcast winter arrived and nothing came. Christmas and all the holiday excitement came and went without any acknowledgment from his father. Nothing that whole winter and spring.

I knew from reaching out to different relatives that nothing had happened to him, he just stopped making any effort.

Naturally, my son started to notice, “He doesn’t send me boxes anymore, is it because I am older?” he asked one day as we walked home from school in the early spring. His voice trembled as he blinked back tears.

Watching my sweet, kind ten-year-old son experience this kind of hurt tore at my heart. Why, I thought for the millionth time, can’t his father just do right by him?

Despite all of my attempts to reassure and comfort him, I couldn’t cover up this one. I had spent years trying to minimize the damage of his father’s messes, but this one was impossible to hide. The stain was too big to scrub out.

A brown cardboard box is left on the front stoop after being delivered while no one was home.
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“I cannot fathom disappointing a child like this,” his stepfather commented one night as we got ready for bed. This was the man who comforted my son with me when he was sick, changed vomit-filled sheets from the stomach virus, ran to the pharmacy at 2 a.m. for more cough medicine, came to every baseball game — my husband’s love cemented for my son the first time he met him when he was a toddler, as he peeked his tiny face out from under the coffee table, when I first introduced them.

As the months went on, the lack of boxes and contact continued, until it became the new normal. My son stopped running into the building to excitedly ask the doorman if he had a package. He stopped asking me to check the mail.

When his father’s lack of effort would hurt my son, it felt like being on the beach and digging holes in the sand: You can dig and dig forever, but there never seems to be a bottom. Same with his dad. There never seemed to be a low he would not sink to. There was no bottom to the hurt he caused people.

So, I began a new tradition of “sending” boxes here and there, just to remind him of how loved he was.

I tried, in some small way, to fill the endless void his dad left. I never actually sent the boxes through the mail, just left them on our front door welcome mat or the shoe bench — and each time it was met with surprise and excitement. He knew it was from me, but it was still a reminder that he was not forgotten. They weren’t necessarily extravagant gifts, just little things that he likes, reminders that he was never too old for some special attention.

“Thanks for remembering, Mom … even if the boxes don’t come from the post office anymore, they still mean a lot,” he told me one night as he drifted off to sleep.

I blinked back tears as I kissed his forehead goodnight.

And then went to the closet and pulled out another USPS box to surprise him again.