The only thing that makes single motherhood hard is my son's absent father

A single mom shares the ups and downs of raising her son on her own. (Photo: Getty Images)

My son’s father left when I was pregnant. They never met. No calls, no cards, no gifts. I am the only parent. It’s a lot of work with no nights off. From the beginning of time, it’s been just the two of us.

My son, who is 11 now, is well adjusted and has male role models in my dad, my brothers, and his soccer coaches.

He knows about his father. The basic stuff, at least. His father is a runner and tool salesman. He likes Mexican food and lives in the Midwest. He has a wife and kids.

I tell my son the truth. As a single mom with no participation from the father, it’s my duty to answer my kid’s rightfully asked questions. A child therapist once told me: Answer briefly and divert. So I do. “Yep, he was a runner in high school and college and still runs marathons — that is why you are so fast!” I don’t talk ill about the father, but after 11 years, my kid has made up his own mind.

The father’s wife is very present online, like most proud moms. She posts pics of my son’s father and their children. By all accounts, the photos suggest that it’s a great life, minus the little boy in New Jersey.

I once explained this to my son using the “cloud trick” (another tip from the child therapist). We were walking our dog, Lucy, and I said, “That cloud looks like a long snake with a pot belly full of cotton candy!” But my son saw a fish swimming in the waves. We were looking at the same cloud but saw different things. Pictures can be deceiving.

Friends ask me if I’m worried about whether my son is OK without a father. The short answer is no, I’m not worried. He’s fine. Lots of kids don’t have fathers. My son loves soccer, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s son, Cristiano Jr., has no relationship with his biological mother. “We’re the same, only reversed,” my son says.

The hard part

Being a single mom can be emotionally and mentally hard — but mostly it’s incredibly joyful. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of chaos.

My son was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2017 and needed some invasive tests. The medical bills increased, and gluten-free food is so expensive. My lawyer advised me to file a motion for a child support modification since I was spending more money caring for my son due to this newfound autoimmune disease. Child support hadn’t been adjusted in six years, so this is not uncommon at all.

The amount of stress, heartache, and headaches his father caused me — he was ordered to finally share his truthful financial information after making up a false tax return and pay stubs — was debilitating. There were panic attacks and tears — it was all-consuming while I was working and raising my son. My lawyer and my family kept me grounded.

My son’s father also tricked me into believing his lies. After 10 years of radio silence, he began calling me all the time in the evenings and left voicemails and silly emails: “Holy Smokes!” he wrote in one, when I showed him a photo of our son published in a magazine compared to the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Another time he cut our email conversation short because “my son just threw up!” It was kind of cool getting a glimpse into his dad life — we’ve all dealt with puke, right? We were bonding.

The emails continued: “The most important thing is my relationship with our son,” he wrote. He wanted to be my friend and fly out to New Jersey to see his son. I was so happy and excited for my child because I thought it was important that they have a relationship. When I asked how his wife felt about this, he said they were “working through it.”

Our phone calls were like those of two old friends catching up and laughing. He apologized for leaving in my first trimester. He acknowledged his faults. He wanted to be a better person. I bought it all. My lawyer knew he was playing me all along, but I wanted to believe, at least for my boy, that he was not.

He was lying. Turns out, he was trying to get me to drop my filed motion and work with him rather than “going back to court” before a judge. He wanted me to take his fake tax return at face value. He did not want to share discovery or IRS tax transcripts that were ordered by the judge — and all I had to do was withdraw my motion to make this happen.

By then, I was already emotionally invested in my son getting to know his father, and I even had visions of sharing a glass of wine with his wife on a stoop while our kids played in a yard. I almost caved. My attorney did not let me. When I told my son’s father that my attorney was pursuing the judge’s orders, he said, “I’ve been lying. Everything is going to come out.”

Legal discovery revealed that he made a lot more money than he claimed on his fake tax return (all of this is public record). He was plotting to cheat our son out of child support. I’m lucky to live in New Jersey — we have the toughest child support laws in the country.

You can guess what happened next: My son’s father dropped off the face of the earth once again. No more emails or calls, so maybe it’s better that they never met. My son would probably end up getting hurt. As it is, he has left his father voicemails and they’ve never been returned. But in the end, my son got what he financially deserved and will until he finishes college.

People can assume I hate the father. I really don’t; I’m just disappointed in him.

As for me, I have the privilege of raising my boy, my fine young man, just as I always have. I am a present mom. I am his biggest cheerleader on the soccer sidelines. I am the spelling bee commander on car rides. I am the cooker of Taco Tuesdays. I am the finder of a lost sneaker. I am the fever healer. I am the good cop and bad cop. I do my job. It’s the best job in the world.

When people ask me if I’m worried about my kid — nope. My kid is honest, curious, good, and strong. My kid has a backbone. He was dealt an interesting hand, but he’s better off living his truth and not some fantasy where lies and elephants are in the room but not talked about.

I’m so thankful for my tribe, who never lets me or my son down, and I never forget that it takes a village.

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