No, I Don't Need to 'Replace' My Kid's Father Just Because He Died

mom and twins
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As told to Lauren Gordon by an anonymous mom. 

My husband and I met online over our mutual love of obscure writers. For three years we dated other people, chatting here and there about books and sharing funny life anecdotes but otherwise living entirely separate lives. At 19, six months out of a relationship, I drove two hours to see him for the first time. Within two weeks we'd moved in together.

  • He'd always battled depression, but I was young and thought I could cure that. 

    I thought he just needed to pull himself up and stop being sad, that his life wasn't all that bad and it was a phase. I married him at 20, thinking we'd grow together.

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  • By 21 I was pregnant with twins.

    We had been keeping ourselves above water working scut minimum wage jobs but decided to move in with my family to save up for double babies. He'd been a drinker the whole time we had been together and I told him that wouldn't fly while living with my parents, and he agreed. Within two months he was sneaking beer in. I shrugged it off, he wasn't a loud or obnoxious or violent drunk. He just drank until he was falling asleep, and I thought there were worse things. I'd seen bad drunks; this seemed mild. Still like a phase. I figured it would change once the kids were born.

  • When they entered the world he stopped for awhile. 

    Newborn twins were exhausting enough to put anyone to sleep without assistance. When they were about a year old we moved again, this time with his family, caring for his mother. It was at this point I learned drinking yourself to sleep was a family thing: his sibling and parents did it too. Still, he didn't live up to any of the really bad drunken stereotypes. But I did start to notice the shakes when he went without. And the depression got worse.

  • Back on our own, finally, with 2-year-old twins, he swapped to liquor.

    I was doing the stay-at-home mom bit, and while I could control how much beer he drank he found he could sneak in pint bottles of liquor. He would just wait for me to go to bed before he started drinking in earnest. Our two years in that apartment were rough. I'd find a hidden empty bottle and confront him, things would improve briefly, and then start all over. The depression just kept getting worse and I'd started to develop some of my own; not being able to jolly him into sobriety made me feel like a failure as a spouse. We were poor, but I thought we were happy. Why did he need to drink? What was so awful?

  • The last year was the roughest.

     He quit cold turkey and went into delirium tremens (DTs). This, I thought, was clearly the rock-bottom wake-up call he needed. I was wrong. One August night in 2018 I steered him to bed, now trained not to go to sleep before he did out of fear he'd pass out somewhere, and went out to smoke. By the time I came back he wasn't breathing, his lips were blue. Unconscious, he'd stopped breathing from sleep apnea and wasn't able to wake up.

  • He was a sweet, funny, soft-spoken, intelligent man. 

    He was also a sufferer of long-term depression and alcoholism. He worked hard, he loved his children, but he couldn't save himself from himself and I couldn't either.

  • Within six months of his passing a number of conversations have been sprinkled with supposed "supportive"comments

    "You'll find someone soon." 

    "You're young and pretty. Some guy will be into you even with the kids."

     There have also been some not-so-supportive ones. 

     "You might want to start dating again soon. You're packaged goods." 

    "You need a man of the house. You don't want your kids growing up without a father figure." 

    "You need someone to take care of you."

  • From the older generations, these comments tend to come across as condescending, even if they're meant well.

    From men, they feel sexist and somewhat hateful, like single moms are something to be looked down on and pitied. From peers, they just feel like pity. Like I backed a loser and clearly need to retry. I wish they realized that while there were a lot of ups and downs in my relationship, I loved him.

    Replacing him isn't something I'm aiming for. There is no replacing him. While I don't believe in anything like the concept of one true love, there are some things I will never experience with someone else. Inside jokes. The birth of my children. Road trips. Songs and shows and art we both loved. Those things can't be replaced, and I wouldn't want to.

  • Being with him taught me a lot. 

    About mental illness, about addiction, about the evolution of relationships, about heartbreak. Losing him was like losing a chunk of my brain, so much of what we did we did together. I don't feel the same doing little things like grocery shopping or watching TV. It doesn't matter how anyone thinks enough time has passed; they can't and don't know that it hasn't. 

    I haven't cried all my tears yet. I'm not ready to make new memories yet.

  • My children also do not need a new father figure. 

    They had a father who loved them, even if they won't remember him well. (They are only 6 years old.) I have no desire to have another man step in and play "daddy." They're cared for and fed and loved. Filling a slot marked "dad" with a warm body seems like a pandering gesture. Like they aren't capable of growing up into complete people with just a mom. 

    I am not dating again. When I do (and I imagine I will at some point) has yet to be decided. Right now holding everything together and maintaining a sense of normalcy for my kids is first priority.

    I don't think I'm missing out on anything by doing so.