I Met My Son When He Was 2 — And I May Never See Him Again

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I’m not particularly religious, but I believe in generational curses. I’m convinced they’re the cause of issues that course through the paternal lineage of my family tree — everything from addiction to poverty to absent or abusive parenting. I wasn’t cognizant of this growing up; I just knew I had a screwed-up childhood. But things came into focus when I had a child of my own.

My son (I’ll refer to him as “C”) came into my life unexpectedly as many children do. But this was more than just an unplanned pregnancy; I wasn’t even aware of C’s existence until he was just over two years old. I stupidly had a one-night stand with his mother, a woman I’ve known most of my life. I’ll spare the details and excuses I used in an attempt to convince myself (and my wife) as to why it happened. The cold, hard truth is I messed up, and there’s no excuse for it. And the universe came knocking on my door in the form of a miniature version of myself almost three years after my one night of idiocy.

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C’s mother was dating a woman when we hooked up, and she had no desire to break up her relationship with her girlfriend. Looking back, I believe she tried to get pregnant so that they could have a child together. Her girlfriend raised our son as her own. She took care of him day in and day out while my wife and I lived 15 minutes away, none the wiser.

When C’s mother and her girlfriend broke up, it became apparent she wasn’t equipped to handle raising a child by herself. That’s when she brought C to me. Since his birth, she hadn’t done much in the way of mothering him — she let her girlfriend play the role of both mom and dad. She worked the third shift at a local restaurant, slept days, and expected a two-year-old toddler to adopt her schedule. It required him to watch YouTube in bed with her while she passed out, high as a kite. They slept in hotel rooms because she couldn’t find suitable housing.

I give her credit for realizing she was in no position to take care of our son. She was in an untenable situation, and she needed help.

She showed up at our home on a Monday evening with C’s limited belongings packed in a backpack. Until this moment in March 2019, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since April 2016. My wife was at a friend’s house when my son and his mother arrived on our porch unannounced. I was shocked and terrified. I’d never told my wife about my night astray, but I knew my secrets had come home to roost. I just didn’t realize they’d come home to live.

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I didn’t question whether the child was my son — he looks like I spit him out. My concern at that point was whether my wife would kill me once she got home.

My son’s mother briefly explained her situation and said she didn’t feel she had a choice other than to leave C with me. She didn’t want him to continue to live out of hotel rooms with her, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she would need to get a place of her own. She asked if I’d be willing to keep him until she could get back on her feet.

Of course, I said yes. 

Though I didn’t question whether C was my child, I did question his mother’s motives. I know the law pretty well, so I wasn’t concerned about her trying to have me arrested for kidnapping later. But I still didn’t trust her. We agreed to get together that weekend in town to hash out a visitation plan we could both live with and discuss the situation further.

My wife has to be one of the most understanding people on the planet. When she came home to the surprise of her life, she carried on as if it were nothing; making C comfortable was priority number one. And we did. He didn’t have much in the way of clothing and nothing in the form of toys, but we outfitted him within a couple of days. He started calling my wife Mommy and me Daddy from day one. We became a family.

I won’t lie and say it was easy. It almost broke my wife.

Not because this child was any trouble — he’s the light of both of our lives. The pain came from my infidelity. I’m thankful each day that she forgave me and could be the amazing woman and mother she is.

C fit into our lives like a glove. His sunshine personality brightened every moment. I know most people will tell you their kid is the smartest, sweetest, most awesome child, and I’m no different. When he first came to us, he barely spoke. Within days, my wife had him saying complete sentences, sleeping in his own room, and helping with household chores.

It was clear C had never had much of a routine, and we knew that was necessary for him to thrive. My wife has two older children, so this wasn’t her first rodeo, and I also have a daughter who is now 10. She was thrilled to have a little brother to play with when she came to our house to visit, which was surprising to me. When I was a kid, my younger siblings just got on my nerves and were definitely not playmates. I guess I did something right raising my daughter.

Although C spent the most time with my wife since she works from home (he would tell you he’s Mommy’s boy), we had a special relationship. We both loved Matchbox cars — sitting on the floor, building homemade tracks, racing and crashing our vehicles, and just generally acting the fool together were some of the best times I’ve had in my life. We loved to go fishing and crabbing; he even baited his own hook.

I’ll never forget the first time he caught a crab on his line. He was so excited that he almost lost it. He hadn’t been three for long, so his level of patience was virtually nonexistent, but he managed to maintain his cool long enough for me to get the net under the crab and secure it. Once the crab was safe in our bucket, he looked at me and asked, “Daddy, can I get ’cited now?” I said, “Sure, buddy, you’re good.” He jumped up and down and yelled for five minutes straight. “Mommy, did you see it? I caught that crab, and you’re gonna cook it when we get home, and I’m gonna eat him right up!”

But even with our newfound joy, we had a custody battle to fight. My son’s mother was a no-show at the first meeting. We eventually went through the court system and set up mediation to get some routine in place for visits. She finally attended mediation on the third try, and we settled on a schedule. She rarely followed the agreement and only when it suited her. Starting in June 2019, it was decided she would see C two Saturdays a month. Of the 38 scheduled visitations, she showed up for 10. She had the right to call him whenever she liked, within reason. She rarely took the opportunity.

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Since my son’s mother never notarized her agreement nor returned it, our custody agreement was not signed by a judge, so it wasn’t legally a court order. In our state, this means that the parent with whom the child is with officially has custody. On December 19, 2020, she showed up for a scheduled visit with C for the first time in almost two months. Nothing was out of the ordinary other than the fact that she was actually there. We met where we always did, she put him in the car, and they left.

That’s the last time I saw my son.

It’s now been almost six months. I missed his fourth birthday. I missed Christmas with him. My wife missed Mother’s Day. Father’s Day is coming up, and I’m already dreading it. His mother refuses to answer my phone calls. The day they disappeared, she sent a text about an hour before she was supposed to drop him off, stating she wasn’t going to bring him back. She had gotten a place of her own, and she wanted her son with her. She refused to tell me where she was living; she refused to let me talk to him.

For me and my wife, the hardest times are at night. We had a routine. When C first came to live with us, it took a few days to get him into the habit of sleeping in his room, but we got him settled by creating a ritual. Dinner came first, then bath time, brushing teeth, getting pajamas on, brushing his hair, and choosing the story for the night. Once he picked it, my wife and I would tuck him into bed, and she would read to him. I would sit on the couch in his room and listen. Mommy is the best storyteller.

Once it was over, we’d both say good night and begin the long “I love you”s. I love you. I love you more. I love you to the moon and back. I love you forever and ever. I love you to infinity and beyond. I love you the most. In the beginning, no one other than the two of us could understand what he was saying. After all, he was only two. It didn’t matter. Over time, his speech improved, and the words changed some. But the sentiment remained.

I still have no idea where my son lives. I have no idea if he’s okay. And the law says since we had no court-ordered custody agreement in place, even though he lived with us for two years happily and healthy, what she did wasn’t kidnapping. So I have no legal right to know where he is unless I take her to court and file for custody, which costs thousands of dollars I don’t have.

Until we do, we wait and hope that he’s safe with someone who wasn’t an active parent, by choice, for the first four years of his life.

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Damian Delune is a proud member of the Catawba Indian Nation, once one of the most powerful Southeastern Siouan-speaking tribes, until their numbers were depleted. He resides in the Carolinas with his family, where he writes about social justice and sexuality.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.