Father Involvement Outside of Marriage

Ellen Hammond

I spent my twenties bouncing around Europe. I met someone, got married in Amsterdam, and just in time for my twenty-third birthday, I got pregnant. I wasn’t ready to be a mom at that point, to tell you the truth… so I, we, aborted the pregnancy. Two years later we divorced, and eventually I returned home to the States. . . .

I was twenty-eight when Gavin and I started dating. We’d biown each other as kids but never got serious until then. It was a good time for me: I’d landed a good job as a financial analyst making pretty good money. Gavin was starting his own business as a plumber. He had a child—with a woman he married but who left him for another woman. He never divorced her but she lived in another state. And, frankly, it didn’t matter that much to me because after my experience, I wasn’t too keen on marriage as an institution—to put it mildly.

Well, I got pregnant. Let me put it this way: I never was a regular pill taker, so I guess you could say I got pregnant accidentally. It seemed like the right time to have a baby. I was getting awfully close to thirty, after all. Still, I practically fell apart when I told Gavin because I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t go through another abortion and yet I didn’t know what to expect from him. He hadn’t really established himself in plumbing and sometimes I wondered if he ever would. Let’s just say he didn’t score really high on motivation and responsibility.

So I was pretty straightforward with him. I said, “Gavin, this means that we have to make a commitment. It changes things.” And he said that he wanted to

have the baby. Alind you, he didn’t say that he wanted a long-term commit­ment. I wasn’t listening for that at the time. I heard “long-term commitment,” but what he said was “Let’s have the baby.” A big, big difference.

Neither of our families was thrilled about the pregnancy. I’d biown Gavin’s mother for years and she was pretty blunt with me. She said, “You’re a beautiful girl, you’re articulate, you come from a wonderful family, and Gavin really cares for you and may even love you, but he doesn’t have the means to support a child.” My mother wasn’t thrilled either, but she did offer me our old house in Boston to live in. She was renting it because she’d moved to Florida. Gavin was pretty handy so we figured he could turn the top floor into a separate apartment just for us and we could rent out the rest. That was important because Gavin’s business was off to a slow start. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t going much of anywhere, but that’s another story. . . .

Unfortunately, Gavin and I broke up before the baby was even born. I’d had it with his lack of motivation and responsibility. He slept all the time I was at work. It was ridiculous.

When I took our baby home from the hospital at twenty-nine, I felt all alone, even with a house full of renters. I’d always pictured myself having a partner when I had a baby. I did keep that part of the fantasy alive, in a way. I made sure Gavin’s name is on our daughter Skyler’s birth certificate even though I gave her my last name. I want Sky to have a record of her father, no matter what.

Well, not long after Sky was born, Gavin stopped by to see her. I was angry at him, yes, but I felt I owed it to my daughter. And you should have seen how much in love with her he was from the very first minute he laid eyes on her. He stayed a week, sleeping on the living room couch and helping out any way he could. Then he went away. Then, maybe it was five months later, he kind of reentered our lives. I was feeling guilty that Sky didn’t have the kind of dad I imagined for her. Gavin was pushing all the time for us to work on our relation­ship for Sky’s sake. I don’t know, I guess I just gave in and tried to work it out with him.

He didn’t pay me anything in the way of child support, but he did offer to take Sky to his house sometimes on the weekends. Believe me, I needed the relief. I was still working and I felt exhausted all the time. I could afford to have her in full-time child care, thankfully, but it seemed like I never had a minute to myself.

At first things were working pretty well. His business was slow and he had the time. He liked taking Sky to his mother’s house. She loved Sky, too. I liked the fact that Sky has two grandmas, not just one. This went on pretty well for about a year and a half.

Then, like I feared, he turned unreliable when I needed to rely on him. His work was sporadic but he wouldn’t commit to picking up Sky at day care on Wednesday nights, when I desperately needed to be at a late staff meeting. He started showing up late on Saturdays. He would have a softball game or an old friend would be in town for the weekend. What made it tragic was that Sky would say, “I want to see Daddy. I want to go to Daddy’s house.” I didn’t tell her that Daddy couldn’t get his act together to come pick her up.

After months of him sometimes being there and sometimes not being there, we had a whopper of a fight and he walked out. He was sick of playing daddy and went back to his houseboat and his bachelor life.