In the spring of 2002 my life changed drastically. My mother had been fighting cancer for almost a year and in May of 2002, she lost her battle. While my father was not completely absent I would say that my mother was mostly responsible for raising my brother and me. She was the “cool mom” on the block and she was one of my best friends. My friends would come over to hang out with me and often they would end up in the living room or the kitchen striking up a conversation with my mother. At the time, I thought losing my mother when I was only 22 years old was the worst kind of pain I could experience.
I was wrong.
By the time my mother was diagnosed I’d been dating a girl (we’ll call her Liz) for a couple of years. Liz was everything you could want in a woman. She had a great sense of humor. She was intelligent, charming, and generous. She was also very beautiful, and seemed honest. We grew up in the same area and of course we were familiar with each other’s family. There was no doubt in my mind that she was everything I wanted in a partner. Looking back, I suspect I was also looking for stability in my life given everything I had gone through.
Shortly after my mother’s passing I was offered a position in the IT department of a distribution center located in Southern Florida. It offered the opportunity to advance my career as well as the opportunity to (attempt) to run from the pain. I discussed the prospect of moving with Liz and we decided we’d try to make the relationship work in spite of the distance. I decided I’d propose to her upon her first visit and ask her to move to Florida to be with me. I did, she accepted, and two weeks later she was in Florida with me permanently.
Everything was going great for about two months, at which point we received the life-changing news that she was pregnant. After much deliberation we agreed that it would be in our best interests (and the unborn child’s) to move back to our home state to live near our families. We were about to be young parents, after all, and we wanted a support system. We also decided that we wanted to wait until after the child was born to get married. We moved back to our home state in late 2002 and in April 2003 our son was born. My family was ecstatic over their first grandchild, and like most families, made the little boy the center of their universe. Liz and I rarely argued and were extremely happy with our little family.
That all changed the day she told me she didn’t love me anymore. It caught me completely by surprise and as hard as I tried to get her to reconsider, she refused. I continued to pay for our apartment so that she and my son had a place to live, and took residence on a friend’s couch. Over the next few weeks I was able to get an apartment of my own and I continued to pick our son up on weekends. Just as I was adjusting to my new life, the next (and almost fatal) blow was about to be delivered. Liz called one evening and said it was very important that we talk. I made plans to stop by the following day so we could discuss it. At this point I was still blinded by love and had no idea what I was getting into.
The next day as I was driving to Liz’s house, my mobile phone rang. It was my Aunt Debbie who had taken over the role of motherly protector after my mom’s passing.
“Drew, are you on your way to talk to Liz?” she asked.
“I am….why?” I replied.
“You tell Liz that I spoke to her mother, and I know the truth…and she had BETTER tell you the truth.”
At this point in the story I know I sound completely oblivious, but I still honestly had no idea what was going on. I sat down to speak with Liz and she proceeded to tell me that she had cheated on me before moving to Florida and there was a chance our son was not mine. While I had reason to be concerned, I wasn’t. After all, our son looked just like me and he was already calling me “dada”. There was no way in the world he wasn’t mine. As I sat there playing with our little boy, Liz’s phone rang. As she got up to answer the phone my phone began ringing too. I answered, and it was my Aunt Debbie.
“Drew, did you talk to Liz?” she inquired.
“I did. She told me that she cheated on me before moving to Florida and there’s a chance our son is not mine.”
There was silence on the other end. Too much silence, in fact. Looking back, I think I knew what was coming.
“Drew…” she replied. “Liz is lying. She’s had the paternity test results for more than 8 weeks and you are not the father.”
It’s hard to imagine two little sentences could bring your entire world crashing down, but they did just that. My jaw dropped open and I dropped my phone as our son was climbing up my leg that very moment asking “dada” to pick him up. I picked him up and held him as closely as I could, and I cried.
The next three months were the worst of my life. Up until that point I wasn’t sure I believed depression was a real thing. As I learned, it is indeed very real. I’m going to step away from my story for a second to tell anyone facing depression to please get help as soon as possible. It is real and it can be very dangerous. I felt abandoned, deceived, and utterly destroyed. Everywhere I went this little black cloud of despair followed me. I cried and sobbed all hours of the day. I even had a recurring nightmare where I was driving with my son in the car and I’d crash into a tree. I was ejected from the vehicle and it became engulfed in flames. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get him out of the vehicle. I had to stand there and watch him burn to death.
I contemplated suicide on multiple occasions going as far as to strap a noose around my neck while standing on a chair. I’m not sure why I didn’t but I can tell you I was very close to not being here today to tell my story. My parents and family were also distraught and of course had to remove photos from the walls and basically erase a beautiful little person from their lives. For all intents and purposes, my son died. I lost him. My parents lost a grandchild. After 3 months of severe depression, my sadness turned to anger. It was all her fault. That bitch!
And so began my search for an attorney. I wasn’t sure how to go about it since I wasn’t even sure what to call it. But surely what she did had to be illegal on some level, right? Naturally there were no resources available for a man in my position so I began randomly calling attorneys and explaining my story. My elaboration over the potential to receive justice soon turned once again to despair as one attorney after another told me they weren’t interested in my case. It’s not illegal, they told me. There’s no case law established for this kind of thing in our state, they told me. After calling every attorney in the yellow pages I threw in the towel and attempted to move on with my life.
Three months later a number I didn’t recognize popped up on my phone. I answered it and man on the other end introduced himself and told me he had heard about my case from one of his colleagues. While he had never handled a case like mine in my state, he had handled similar cases in a neighboring state and he was licensed to practice in my state as well. He sympathized with my situation and offered to take the case on a contingency basis. I hired him on the spot and he explained to me that what she did was, in fact, fraud. There are apparently two types of fraud:
1) Making a statement as though it is true when you know the statement is false. (Example: Selling someone a car after telling them you put a new engine in it, and it turns out the engine had 150,000 miles on it.
2) Making a statement as though it is true when you don’t know whether the statement is true or false. (Example: Telling a man he is the father of your child when, in fact, you don’t know who the father is.)
During the depositions her defense was basically that she got drunk at her going away party and had sex with someone, but didn’t remember it. (Even though all of her friends knew she did, but of course it never occurred to any of them to let me know that my son might not be mine.) What made this argument particularly interesting was that she, by that time, was married to the guy she cheated on me with and they had another child on the way. So in effect, she was saying “I was drunk and never gave consent nor did I remember the sex” and yet she was married to the man who, according to her own statement, raped her.
Over the next two years her attorney dragged the case out using various legal tactics. By that time I had remarried and it was beginning to put a strain on my new marriage. While my now ex-wife supported what I was doing, she felt it was time to cut my losses and move on. My case ended up in mediation and my attorney urged me to take a settlement, and so I did.
My experience was horrific and no man should ever have to go through what I went through. While it was nice to be able to go after her for what she did on a civil basis, let me make this clear: Paternity fraud should be a criminal offense, and a felony offense at that. I decided to share my story in the hopes that it might help someone else in my position. Perhaps it will give them the courage to fight back, or perhaps it will give them the strength to carry on.