In 2005, I fell in love with a woman and moved across the country to be with her. She was having problems, and I wanted to help. I had no idea she was running from the Department of Children and Family Services because she had wrecked her car with her daughter, Casey, in it.
What I soon learned was that my girlfriend had a mood disorder and when she wasn’t on medication she could be violent and argumentative. I wanted to help her, but I just enabled her. I would get her Xanax from the ER to calm her nerves when what she needed was rehab.
We also had trouble with money. When we arrived in California, we were cramped up living with friends. Eventually, we got our own place, but it was hard to make ends meet.
I’d earned my associates degree in horticulture but months passed and it was hard to find anything in landscaping. After a while, I was willing to work whatever job I could find, including a temporary job at an amusement park.
As time passed, my girlfriend would cuss at me and attack me more and more. Still, I stayed for a long time because, after a year we had a daughter together. But when my daughter, Cadence, was 2, I decided I had to leave. I didn’t want the girls to live with the fighting and because their mother had never been violent to the girls, I thought they’d be OK. That was my biggest mistake.
My girlfriend was being monitored by child protective services because of an earlier case. Shortly after I moved out, they came and found my girlfriend intoxicated. That’s when they took both girls into foster care.
AM I STILL DAD?
I felt so ashamed when Cadence and Casey were taken. How could I tell family and friends? Who loses their kids?
I kept looking for a safe place to raise them. I was the non-offending parent. I should have been able to get custody of them. But I could only afford an apartment with friends. I would pray a lot and read the Bible. But I would also sleep long hours. The feeling of hopelessness was the absolute worst feeling I’ve ever felt.
The hardest part was that I only spent three hours a week with my daughter. We would play tea party and play with the toys in the office. But after a couple of months, my daughter began to call the foster father Dad and me Eric. This hurt so much.
I was grateful that the foster parents took good care of my daughter. But when I called my daughter, they would often cut the conversation short.
FIGHTING THE FOSTERS
Still, in the first few months, I went from supervised to unsupervised visits. I thought we would reunify. But after a few months, the first caseworker left, and I didn’t have anyone in the system pulling for me. My daughter’s foster parents regularly made negative reports about me and the mother, who was still getting in trouble. It was very hard to fight the fosters, who wanted to adopt my daughter, when they had so much more money and stability and when the new worker backed up everything they said.
I also made a big mistake trying to work with Cadence and Casey’s mother.
For about six months, I went to visits with her. But while I wanted to work with the caseworkers, she would fight with them. Finally, I decided to have visits alone. But I still went to court with her, where she argued with her lawyer, my lawyer, and the judge.
I also delivered clothes and toiletries to her in rehab. When I refused something, she would call the worker and make up allegations that I took Ecstasy. Even though I tested negative, all the drama didn’t look good.
A SERIES OF TERRIBLE MISTAKES
Then towards the end of 2008, I got a phone call that hurt. Casey was going to be adopted. It would be easier for her if I stopped having contact with her, the worker said. I was polite and said I understood. But I really didn’t understand until I tried to call Casey. The worker called back and made it clear we were allowed no more contact.
From there, things got worse.
Early in 2009, the worker started telling me that if I didn’t find a suitable place to live I could lose my daughter. I couldn’t afford much but I moved into my own apartment in an unsafe part of town.
Still, I felt so overwhelmed that I made a terrible mistake and smoked pot one day at a neighbor’s house. Soon after, my daughter’s mother called in another report that I had been using drugs. This time, I tested positive, and the worker moved me back to supervised visits.
After that, I felt like they never really considered reunifying me and my daughter.
I tried to have faith that my daughter would come home. I managed to get a full-time job and rent a house. But my daughter was living in a very expensive area, and the place I could afford was an hour away from her. I didn’t have a car and it could take me three to four hours to get to the agency using public transportation. Sometimes I would make appointments without being sure how I could get there. I looked bad when I missed appointments.
I did make it to my visits with my daughter no matter what. Sometimes I had to eat cheap for a week, but I always found a way. But none of this was mentioned in court and my bond with my daughter kept getting weaker and weaker. Something in me continued to try, but I knew it would take a miracle to get my daughter back.
HOLDING ON TO HOPE
It has been five years since I last saw my daughter. She is adopted now.
After I lost her, I moved closer to my family. I met and married a supportive woman. I found a full-time job. I volunteer with the Cub Scouts. I go to church and counseling to try to cope with my past.
Mainly, I hold onto hope that later I’ll be in my daughter’s life. I hope I will be able to see her sister, too.
I have a savings account for my daughter and I mail her a lot of letters. I also keep a progress report that I hope to present to a judge. I pray a judge will take my progress into consideration and let me visit my daughter, or at least talk to her on the phone. I am not trying to rip her away from her adopted family. I just want to be in her life.