Yesterday I appeared in court to have a DNA test result read. It turns out the boy I have been taking care of for the last four years isn’t mine. The mother—my girlfriend—has to back-pay me, yet that doesn’t make me feel any better. I know men aren’t supposed to cry, but everything is hurting, even my toenails. I want to be there right now, it hurts so much. He called me Saturday night. (He is so proud he learned my number, the boy won’t stop using it. LOL.) He wanted to know why I wasn’t there to watch him at practice like I always am. This really sucks. He’s my little man. What do I do? —Anonymous
This scenario is a father’s worst nightmare, and unfortunately, it’s become your reality. You’ve been greatly deceived, and I can only imagine the anguish and anger that you’re experiencing right now. That said, I need you to direct your healthy and understandable anger at the right source: the mother of the child.
I get why you’ve withdrawn from the child and likely his mother. You are reeling not only from a breakup with your ex but also from an ongoing deception, which makes you question the whole relationship. On top of that, you’re managing the idea that the child you believed to be yours is biologically not. Your life as you know it has been turned upside down, and in trying to answer the “What do I do?” question that you’ve asked of me, you’ve distanced yourself from the source(s) of what’s upsetting you while you work through your feelings and get a clear head. That’s understandable … to another adult.
The child has no real concept of biology, infidelity and the complications of his mother’s actions. Even if it were explained to him, he wouldn’t grasp it. All he knows is that his dad has suddenly disappeared on him. The person who was always there, on the sidelines of his practice and throughout his life—the one he looked to for encouragement and approval and to show him how to get it done right—is gone with no explanation. The idea of a 4-year-old attempting to process that—and looking for you—is heartbreaking.
I assume on some level that you want your ex to pay—not just financially—for her deception. Revenge is a natural, if unpretty, human emotion. But who is suffering the most here, who will suffer the most in the long run if you choose to opt out, are you and the child. It’s an ugly and unfair situation, but your absence doesn’t make it any better for anyone, especially not for you or the child.
For the last four years, you’ve been a father to your child. And I write “your” because a negative DNA test doesn’t sever the father-child bond. If it did, you wouldn’t be miserable over not seeing the child who, even in your hurt and anger, you still refer to as “my little man.” Love isn’t a switch that we can flick on and off, as much as we all may like to sometimes.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, because there is so much going on here, but part of the deep hurt that you’re experiencing is from being apart from the little person you love. Pushing him away is making this situation even worse for you. You want to be there and the child wants you there, so continue to show up for him as you work through your feelings, and figure out how much and what role you want to play in his life moving forward.
You and his mom obviously need to have some grown-up conversations about how to handle this situation responsibly and maturely. If you desire to continue the relationship as the child’s father or have any role in his life, there will be complications and a lot of confusion. I would encourage you and the mother to keep the well-being of the child first and foremost. If you determine that you would like to continue your role as a father, hire a lawyer and find out what rights, if any, you can secure to make the relationship legal.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.