A father is not technically needed for a woman to have a child, says Jyoti Athanikar. The State Department begs to differ.
I went to the post office recently to file an application for my daughter’s passport. For the first time since her birth over nine years ago, I needed to produce an official, bona fide father or have an even more official, bona fide reason why there isn’t one.
Given the present culture of the Octomom, I technically didn’t need a father to conceive a child. After our daughter was born, it was me who had to fill out the paperwork at the hospital, the father’s signature was secondary. I was able to file for and obtain her social security card. I enrolled her in daycare, pre-school, elementary school, we travelled across the country without a single question about my authority as her sole parent. So I was taken aback when I had to deal with her father’s official absence after all these years.
My husband and I were never the ecstatic couple you see on home pregnancy test commercials and despised displays of parental sentimentality. We met when we were in our early twenties and fell desperately in love as twenty-something year olds do. But after ten years of married life and graduate and medical school, we evolved into a two-career power couple in the making. Children did not really fit into our lives and was pushed to the back burner if a discussion ever veered toward that topic.
I informed him of my unexpected pregnancy over the phone and then told me he needed to hang up, his pager was going off. I felt like a single parent from that day forward. With the exception of the ultrasound and amniocentesis appointments, I discouraged my husband from coming with me to the routine Ob appointments, lest people in the waiting room thought he was unemployed or had nothing better to do. And I was no pregnant damsel in distress, I didn’t need the hand-holding. Anyway, he wouldn’t have been able to on an internal medicine resident’s schedule.
I had grave misgivings about our ability to be parents, and given his disinterest in the children of our relatives and friends, I had even bigger misgivings about his ability as a father during the pregnancy.
Our daughter’s birth was as unexpected and unorganized as the previous months, she was over three weeks early and we were unprepared. I had no overnight bag packed, the baby room was in disarray, and we hadn’t even purchased an infant car seat. After an exhausting workweek and weekend my water broke immediately after a shower on a Monday morning. I paged my husband and drove myself to the hospital in tears lamenting my loneliness for the first time in many years. When he met me at the hospital and was assured that everything was fine but I wouldn’t be delivering for hours, he debated going back on the floor. Unhesitatingly, I concurred. The triage nurse gave him a dirty look and told him to transfer his pager, they could manage without him, which he did. And that is how we spent the very best day of our lives together.
He was a nearly perfect labor and delivery partner and when our daughter was born, the perfect father. I don’t mean perfect in practice, we both made too many mistakes for that. But his love for her was perfect, complete and pure. He still couldn’t spend as much time as he would have liked with her; but when he was present, his entire being revolved around her. Neither of us expected to fall in love so hard with her; we competed for her and it wasn’t always pretty. Having her was very hard on our lives and relationship. But I will always be able to tell her that for two years of her life my daughter had the perfect father.
As I hand her my daughter’s passport application, the postal clerk asks, without looking up, “Where is the father?” And without skipping a beat for me to answer: “Do you have a notarized letter from him approving the application for this passport?” I tell him the father died, that I have a death certificate. Most people don’t expect an answer like this and it usually stuns them into silence. We clinically complete the transaction.
It has been long enough that people don’t even ask about my daughter’s father anymore, as if she was a result of some long forgotten accidental encounter. As the initial devastation of his death and my daughter’s daily night terrors subsided into a distant past, even I sometimes forget that it wasn’t always just the two of us. I never expected that the State Department would be the one to insist upon his existence and remind me how much my daughter—and even I—was once loved by him.
—Photo credit: seantoyer/Flickr