divorce

My father left me and I don’t know why. I’ll never know why and I’m okay with that. I’m not a people pleaser. I don’t need him to love me or be there for me or even care if I’m dead or alive. I’d actually prefer that he not.

On the day he left, which happened to be two days before Christmas, I got a series of two phone calls.

“Your father just left,” was all my mother had said in the first call.

20 minutes later my mom called again.

“The doorbell just rang and I was served with divorce papers.”

The first words that came out of my mouth were that I was changing my last name.

I hated every minute that I had to walk around with his name. It was like finding out you have cancer and wanting it cut out of your body as soon as possible. Every time I had to had to sign my name, hear it called, or see it on a piece of mail, it felt like the cancer was metastasizing, making me sicker each day. I wanted it gone but the lawyers wouldn’t let me. They said that if I changed my name before the divorce was finalized, it could hurt my chances of getting child support.

But it wouldn’t have mattered. Because in the three years that it took for my parents to get divorced, my father would go out of his way to sever all ties from me — legally and emotionally.

It began with his initial list of demands. In it, he stated that he was willing to pay my mother alimony, split his retirement with her and, along with a few other things, he would pay for her health insurance for a while. He also stated that he refused to pay child support, wanted me off his life and car insurances and that he wanted my car, which had been a gift, returned to him as soon as possible. The twist of the knife came towards the bottom of the paper where he stated that he wanted my horses, which had been my one true love and passion — a passion that he had resented — to be sold and all of the proceeds to go to him.

Later, we would find out that my father had visited a lawyer a year before. He’d spent all of 2011 planning, hiding money, and going along with daily life as if he wasn't about to drop a bomb on our lives as we knew it. The papers were on standby. We never saw it coming.

When I set out to write this piece, I was planning on telling a trend story about parents who divorce their children. I though that what my father did to me was normal and that my story was one that had already been written thousands of times. I was wrong.

I began by speaking to Rosalind Sedacca, a divorce coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network from West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s her belief that it isn’t divorce that screws up children, it’s the way that parents handle divorce.

We talked about a number of things, including the impact of divorce on a child and how a child of divorce can have a healthy relationship. Assuming my situation was normal, I asked her if she’d seen cases where the parent divorced the child. She hadn’t.

"Was your father disconnected or uninvolved?" Sedacca asked me.

He wasn’t. He’s a dentist so he worked long hours, but when he was around he was good dad. The kind that helped with school projects, took me camping and bragged about his kid's accomplishments. We were close and I was a stereotypical daddy’s girl.

"Did he leave for someone else?"

No. As our lives were crashing down around us, we found out that he had gone out with a few women, but there were no affairs or girlfriends. We lived in a very small town where it was impossible to hide your dirty laundry. We would have found out if there was another woman.

"It's very strange that a father who was there would disconnect entirely. There's just no logic there," Sedacca said.

Sedacca led me to Amy Sherman, a licensed mental health counselor also from West Palm Beach, who has experience with divorce and children. I asked her a lot of the same questions that I asked Sedacca, including whether she had seen a parent divorce a child. She made one thing very clear.

“Parents are not leaving their children,” Sherman insisted. “They are leaving each other.”

So the story that I thought was a trend turned out to be the opposite of trendy. But I wasn’t willing to give up on it yet. I went to talk to my lawyer, Frank Beretta, in East Rochester. I needed to know if there was any sort of legal name or precedent for what my father had done. There was. Sort of.

Mary Roe v. John Doe, 29 N.Y.2d 188. The short version is that Mary Roe, 20, sues her father for support after she moves off campus against her father's will. In this case, Roe rebuffs her father's efforts and the court rules in his favor, allowing him to renounce responsibility of his daughter, legally and financially.

“What he did isn’t true, Roe,” said Beretta. “He would have had to show that he made an active effort with you and that you rebuffed him. It just doesn’t fit.”

My father never made an effort. During our first trip to court we walked past each other in the hallway. We were so close that our shoulders nearly touched. He never even looked at me.

I was with my sister the day he left. I had gone to pick her and her cat up from New York City. We were going home the next day after spending the week Christmas shopping for our parents. When she got home from work she tried to call him, desperate for some sort of explanation. When he answered the phone, he asked who it was. He had deleted our numbers from his phone.

“That was the moment I knew it wasn’t going to be normal,” my sister Brittany said. “But he never went after me like he went after you.”

My father left me and I don’t know why. I’ll never know and that’s okay with me. What he did wasn’t normal. In the words that he used under his grounds for divorce, what he did was cruel and inhumane. But I don’t have to live with that. He does.

“I always fought for Brittany because I knew you’d be okay,” my mom has said time and time again. My sister and I have different dads.

“I always thought that no matter what you would be taken care of because you were his child.”

It wasn’t her fault that she believed in him. They had been married for 22 years. What else was she supposed to do?

In the aftermath of the divorce, my father began writing me letters. They never really gave any sort of explanation. All they did was bash my mom and make me feel uncomfortable. It didn't take long before I'd had enough of his cryptic scribbles. My lawyer told me that to get a no contact order, I needed to reach out to him and request that he stop sending me things.

"You decided not to have a family," I wrote. "You made your bed and now it's time that you lie in it.”

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Caitlin Madison is a Journalism student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. You can find her on Twitter, @CaitMadison1, tweeting things that no one else finds funny and on Instagram, @caitlinmadison, where she usually just posts pictures of her pets (who have more followers than her @2dogz_5catz).