Ghosting: The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
I was unfamiliar with the term “ghosting” until I separated from my ex-husband. The first man I dated after leaving that relationship was awesome, until he wasn’t. Poof, he was gone, without a word. It hurt. Those feelings were raw, real, and I quickly realized life in the dating world wasn’t going to be easy.
What I didn’t realize was that the pain I felt being ghosted by a male acquaintance was nothing in comparison to the pain I felt when my young son was ghosted — by his biological father.
I was naïve when I left my husband. I knew our marriage was a hellhole of darkness, control, and manipulation. However, I still had rose-colored glasses on, believing that his son meant everything to him. I thought we’d have the picture-perfect co-parenting situation where we put him first. We would both remarry and continue to support our son — together — and all get along. I really thought this would be the case.
That was until the day he vanished from my son’s life.
He came back around, only to (literally) beg to sign over his parental rights. He harassed not only me, but also my family and my lawyer. He walked away, wiped his hands clean, and ghosted a 5-year-old boy who had no idea what was happening. A 5-year-old boy who loved and idolized his “Daddy.”
The upcoming months were hell. Pure hell.
First, it was the night terrors. Screaming in the middle of the night for Mommy to come. Thrashing so hard that he would hit me in the face, legs, and arms while I tried to encompass his entire tiny body into mine. Screaming “Daddy, don’t go!” over and over. It was devastating.
We spent many afternoons in therapists’ offices, trying to get my son the help he needed to process and grieve the loss. Each appointment, I would have to explain it all again, answer a litany questions, and describe in detail the night terrors, the anger, and the sadness he was exhibiting. I would excuse myself and break down in the hallway, just overwhelmed that this was our life — heartbroken for my precious boy.
I developed post-traumatic stress disorder. My anxiety turned into a full-blown panic disorder that wanted to swallow me whole. I would hear a ringtone that was previously associated with his biological father and immediately have a panic attack. When my doorbell would ring, I feared he was on my doorstep and wanted to hide, even when it was just the UPS man. I always had to carry prescription medication with me, because when those moments hit, I would crumble and couldn’t cope.
I lived with constant sadness, not just mine, but my child’s. I remember walking outside one day, and he looked at me and said, “Does Daddy love his girlfriend more than me? Is that why he won’t come around?” What do you say to that? How do you handle these questions? These topics should never come out of a 5-year-old’s mouth — ever.
I had to work hard to break the walls of hate he had built around me. He turned so many of our friends and his family against me. I ignored it during the divorce because I didn’t have the emotional energy left to fight it, but soon enough, those folks came around again. They saw the light on their own. I had to navigate a world where my son was still loved by his biological father’s family, but not by his father. We’ve mended that relationship now, and they are part of my son’s life, but it was hard sharing the text messages and emails I had received throughout the previous months. It took a heavy toll on his parents (really, can you imagine?), and it took a heavy toll on me. The entire process left me bone-tired.
And then I began to live in fear that he would come back again. He had pulled a vanishing act before, and the day he left was exactly one year to the day that he turned back up wanting to see our child.
I couldn’t put my son through that again.
We tried our hardest to keep as many things consistent as possible. School teachers and counselors were made aware of the situation. They were so great at letting me know if he had a rough day or made any comments about his feelings regarding the situation with his dad. I also let them know when he had night terrors, or a rough night, because that usually lead to a tough school day. Poor kid.
As time passed, and my boy was able to start getting back to being a 5-year-old without the weight of the world on his shoulders, my boyfriend of two years, who supported us through the heartbreaking process, moved in. About six months later, entirely on his own accord and much to our surprise, he started to call him “Papa” and referred to him as “basically my stepdad.”
We saw all the same people — his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I ensured he saw his biological father’s family as much as he could. We lived life just like we would have previously, just without his biological father involved.
Today, I’m not as naïve as I was a three years ago.
Back in February — one year to the day from the last time he spoke with his son — justice was served. A judge granted my request of termination of parental rights, therefore allowing me sole custody.
Father’s Day will still come each year of course, which always brings its own set of emotions, and each year, I hope his biological father is reminded of the son he left behind. Abandoned. This amazing, sweet, funny, smart, strong boy.
My son, however, has moved on. He’ll remember the men who came into his life to fill the void left behind by an absentee father. The stronger men. The braver ones. The ones who loved him better than his father ever did. The ones who swim with him in the summer, who show up to his soccer games, and teach him how to fish. My son is surrounded by love and support, and he will be okay.
This week, as we were driving to his last day of school, he started talking about Father’s Day. In his soft sweet voice, he said they practiced writing Father’s Day cards like they had done for Mother’s Day. He told me that his card said, “I love my daddy because daddy loves me.”
My heart shattered. You see, he had always called his father “Daddy.” I am now a pro at changing the conversation away from his biological father, so I asked him if he thought we should do something for Papa too since he’s “like a dad.”
And then, the last 18 months of hell was released from my heart, when my son said, “But Momma, Papa is my daddy. The card is for him.”