My daughter is the most important person in my life. She was brought into this world in a marriage I believed, at the time, to be a loving and safe one. I had yet to realize that I was in an abusive relationship. It took me years to accept and reconcile that my marriage was neither loving nor safe. I could not stay, and I did not want to raise a child in an unhealthy and unhappy environment; it was not the example I wanted her to grow up believing to be acceptable. People should never treat each other in those ways.
Writing about abuse is difficult. To bring awareness to this problem, I have to tell my story, and it requires me to look back at some of the most tumultuous and painful times in my life. I was not sure if I wanted to talk about this episode until I heard my daughter the other day. She was chatting with my girlfriend's son—they are around the same age—about the time the police came to our home because her mom was trying to take her away from me. Just hearing her utter those words brought me great sadness. I wasn't prepared for it, but it is something everyone should be prepared for when leaving an abusive relationship.
Many abusers retaliate in whatever way they can. As a way to try and maintain control, manipulate, or just cause pain in the situation. Abusers will lash out towards the abused, the victim's family, and even their children. As horrible as it is to write, children are often victimized senselessly in abusive relationships.
After years of living with and enduring domestic violence, I left my ex-wife for the last time in March 2019. The process began when I filed the divorce paperwork.
Creating a safe environment was an integral part of my recovery and healing process; I needed time, space, and comfort to work through the trauma my ex-wife had put me through. On top of my own recovery, I wanted and needed to be the best father to my daughter in spite of the divorce, and finding a stable and safe environment was a huge part of doing that for both of us. I found peace by moving to Bakersfield, California, which is a two hour drive from Fresno. It was an easy distance to maintain our custody agreement while enabling me to feel safe again.
At the time of these events, my daughter was six. She was young, but old enough to notice the changes in her parents' relationship. I wanted to be a good co-parent. To show her relationships can end without her world falling apart. I wanted to create stability and happiness for her because none of this was ever her fault. She was just the unlucky bystander in a toxic situation.
The divorce agreement gave me custody every weekend. From Fridays at 4:00 pm until Sunday evening, I was a full-time single parent, and I loved spending every moment with her. I never missed a weekend for any reason. Being a single parent is not easy, I will not lie about that, but she brings so much joy into my life. I could not imagine not wanting to spend every second I could with her. Our weekends were filled with everything a typical six year old girl loves. Building her Barbie some houses because what Barbie doesn't need a few vacation homes. Going to the playground. Eating breakfast at our favorite diner on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Doing all the fun daddy-daughter things that build a relationship filled with trust, love, and respect. I was creating a foundation for a good relationship she could count on forever.
After a few months of living and creating a routine for myself and with my daughter in Bakersfield, I started dating. I only ever dated on weekdays. Weekends were always reserved for my daughter, and nothing would get in the way of our time together.
I had been in an abusive and controlling relationship for years. My ex-wife had access to more accounts than I had realized even after the separation. On a Thursday night, I used my company business card to purchase a wine glass painting class for me and a date. My ex-wife saw those charges.
On September 6, 2019, I arrived to pick up my daughter at the same time at the same place I had picked her up every Friday since March. I knocked on the door, and it was not answered. I called my ex-wife to see if they were running late or if something had happened. Every phone call went straight to voicemail. I waited and waited and waited. No answer. No phone call. The house was deserted. I was left wondering where my daughter was.
There was no other choice but to drive home to Bakersfield without my daughter. On the drive home, I passed Selma on the 99 Freeway. My eyes were so filled with tears, I could hardly see and almost got into an accident. I had to pull over and let out all my emotions before continuing the two hour drive home. Making it through and leaving an abusive relationship was one thing, but having to go a weekend without my daughter broke my heart. It was a long weekend without any word from my ex-wife or my daughter. Worry filled my heart, and sadness clouded my thoughts.
It would be longer than a weekend without my daughter. I ended up not seeing her from September 1, 2019 all the way to December 13, 2019. I did not see her. I did not talk to her. There was complete silence from my ex-wife and daughter for 103 days. At six years old, my daughter was unable to reach out without the help of her mother, and I can only imagine how she felt throughout those months. This is the punishment my ex-wife was putting me and our daughter through because I was moving on with my life. I was healing my heart and trying to find love again.
Thankfully, I was able to take back some custody of my daughter after going through with an emergency court order. From December 2019 through May 2020, I had custody of my daughter on Wednesdays and every other weekend. It wasn't enough, but it was more than nothing.
Finally on May 5, 2020, I was able to have a formal custody agreement finalized after months of litigation and custody disputes. The biggest change made to the custody agreement was having custody of her for four weeks during summer vacations—two weeks in June and two weeks in July. I also had custody on the second, fourth, and fifth weekends of every month, when I would pick her up at 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon. I signed the new agreement and emailed it to my attorney. Luckily, it was signed as it stood by all parties. Fighting for my daughter was not just for me, it was for my daughter. She needed to know her dad loves her and will always fight for her and what is best. I could not give up or let it go. I could not let the abusive relationship between her mother and I affect her childhood or growing up any more than it absolutely had to.
On Friday, June 5, 2020, I arrived at 3:30 pm to pick up my daughter. It was the first weekend of the month and the beginning of my allotted two weeks of summer vacation custody in June. June 5 also happens to be my birthday. I was overwhelmed with excitement. Earlier in the day at 12:00 pm, I texted my ex-wife to remind her that in accordance with the custody agreement, I would have my daughter for two weeks. She responded with, “Please contact your attorney in regard to the vacation. I expect her [sic] back June 8, 2020.”
In a conscious and wholly abusive manner, my ex-wife took the old and invalid court order to her local police station to file a complaint stating that I was over stepping and violating the custody agreement. The custody agreement clearly defined the terms and conditions of my time with my daughter, and it was clear and unmistakable that this was my designated and agreed upon two weeks of summer vacation with my daughter in June. If there was any kind of confusion, all the police or my ex-wife would have to do was read the document. However, she brought the nullified version to the police and used it as a way to infringe upon our daddy-daughter time.
To be continued...