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Where’s the Father?

When my son's father and I split up, the thought of being a single black mom at once scared and infuriated me. I was afraid of being overwhelmed by the demands of parenting and infuriated that I was following in the footsteps of most of the women in my family. The stigma of the single black mother penetrated deep in my cultural experience, and I never wanted to be the woman capable of doing all things for all people while sacrificing her own needs and dreams. What I'd seen as "single black mom" always seemed like a very lonely existence.

I was determined to keep my son's father in his life and went to great extremes to do so. I often bit my tongue in order to keep the peace. I made concessions on child support and tried to do things as a family as often as possible. I thought keeping my ex close by made me a good mother.

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Things went relatively well for a few years, but then my ex started making sexual advances toward me. While being co-parents wasn't ideal, being in a romantic relationship with my son's dad was a path I'd already traveled, and I had no desire to retrace those steps. After a year of rejecting his advances, he finally got the message and retreated.

In the tone of their question was the assumption that black dads are not in the home and are not parenting their children.

In my imagination, I saw us all as a big family with new spouses—maybe even more children—a united community around our son and his needs. Making decisions alone for my son was not a part of the dream. But this was very much a fantasy. I am a single black mom. My son's father plays a significant role in his life, but I don't feel like I have a partner in parenting. While I have lots of friends and a solid support system, I feel like I’m on my own.

Over the years, I've finally learned that I can't control their relationship. I've also figured out that being a good mother doesn't mean putting myself in compromising situations for my son's sake. Lastly, I see that my son sees me. My son is more greatly impacted by my failure to take good care of myself than he is by my less-than-intimate relationship with his father.

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People have often asked me, particularly early on in our breakup, “Where’s the father?” In the tone of their question was the assumption that black dads are not in the home and are not parenting their children. I tied that question to my experience as a child and a fear that was very real for me, so it always struck me deeply. But that assumption was not my truth, nor was it my son’s experience. His father is in his life. And like me, he is not a perfect parent, but he is a present one. So, like it or not, I have to accept being the occasionally lonely single black mom.

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