One night gone too far.
One night where the drinking and partying would finally catch up to him. One night that would shift everything in his world as he knew it.
Jamal had an affair on his wife.
It was a weekend like any other except instead of hanging out with his wife and their friends Jamal decided to link up with one of his friends. Already heavily intoxicated Jamal went with his friend to an unknown young woman's house to drink even more. It was there he drunkardly flirted and slept with this young woman never thinking of or communicating with her again.
Until, a few month's later she contacted him stating she was pregnant and she was unsure if it was him or another man that had fathered her unborn child. Jamal would keep this secret for months waiting for the results. Two conclusive DNA tests later he was forced to tell his wife he had a two month old daughter.
Jamal's wife was devastated. She contemplated divorce and moving but didn't. Jamal states, she fears "starting over again being older." Jamal also believes that if his wife was able to afford the same luxuries she has with him she'd leave. Financial constraints being a major factor in her autonomy and mobility.
So how did Jamal get to the point of cheating? Was there a breakdown in the marriage? A communication concern? Needs going unmet? Jamal says no. He loved his wife and felt as if there weren't any unmanageable problems. Jamal would describe his marriage to anyone as being best friends sharing much of the same interests and drive for life. He didn't think that one moment of indiscretion he'd gain a daughter, while potentially losing a wife.
Jamal was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother always knew the importance of family. Something he wished for, but gave up on after his first marriage yielded no children. Never really feeling a sense of relationship with his own father and his mother more like sister. He built an incredible bond with his grandmother a model he'd use for his own family when the time came.
Jamal describes most of his life as being a lost young man, going to jail and being on drugs. It wasn't until his last prison sentence ended, he decided to turn his life around. Shortly after his release he met his wife, secured a well paying job, and took on the role of step-father to her son.
Jamal never thought he would have biological children of his own.
Today even with his daughter living only miles away from his home, he feels like he doesn't know what it's like to be a father. "I don't feel like I have that experience. My ideas are what I seen on TV and what I've seen in my family. Where the kids are close to their parents."
A major factor in Jamal not getting to know his daughter he says is his relationship with with his wife. Since learning about the child she has been living in a state of limbo. She hasn't decided to leave the marriage nor accept Jamal's daughter. Jamal has spent the last few years trying to buy back his wife's love and trust with extravagant gifts and lavish trips. Slowly he's realized that isn't going to work.
He accepts responsibility for his actions and knows it's not anyone's fault the predicament he is in but his own. Yet his mistake, has significant consequences for not only him but the lives of the families involved.
"I'm so stressed out. The main thing for me is putting one foot in front of the other and walking across that bridge. I never not think about what I did to my wife and how I hurt her [and] what she's done for me. I'm trying to keep peace with everybody and keep down confusion."
He fears that if he doesn't put in more time being a father, his daughter will grow up and resent him. He describes their relationship as a work in progress. "It's getting better. She knows who I am. I don't think its a relationship yet. But it shows signs of being a relationship. What I need to be doing is spending more long term time with her. All I'm doing now is picking her up and dropping her off for a few hours." She has never been to the home he shares with his wife.
"She calls me Daddy, says hi and bye Daddy. I didn't teach her that. She just has an instinct. Our relationship could be totally different if I was in the household. I feel like I haven't earned the relationship with her."
When it comes to co-parenting with his daughter's mother Jamal says, "It's always a battle. No matter what I do it's not enough. If I'm spending money, then I'm not spending enough time. If I'm spending time, it's not enough money. I'm stuck in the middle. If I'm battling with her, I'm not battling with my wife and vice versa."
As his father-daughter relationship grows Jamal's marriage suffers. "She say's I'm forcing it down her throat. I can't have a conversation with my wife about my daughter. I can't even bring the topic up. The mannerisms, the look on her face. It always goes back to you're still fucking her." In her eyes he'll always be an adulterer and his child an "it".
"The only way I see I can win is if my wife comes to the realization that this is my daughter and accept it even though she doesn't have to. Deep down I know she's never going to change her mind. It's difficult trying to balance a relationship with them both, but I'm willing to sacrifice to make it work."
There are no winners here. But one thing must be commended, Jamal even in his missteps is dispelling the myth that Black men don't take care of their children or abandon their family. He is like many men in the Black community who have had affairs that have created children. Often times, those men choosing to continue living life as if nothing has changed. Those Black children the worst kept secret, deserted with no father to claim. Everyday Jamal is fighting to be a parent and live life in his own truth. And as a fatherless daughter I can't help but cheer him on. My only hope is that the many Black families across America that this story represents will commence to living in their truths too, sweeping from up under the rug, and loving on their children as fiercely as they can.
Jamal's story is a part of a series dedicated towards telling authentic stories of Black fatherhood. For privacy purposes the name used in the story has been redacted.
Dominique Mack (@just_dmack) is a writer, counselor, and advocate whose vision is to help people heal through their own stories. She hails from Brunswick, GA and regularly blogs for those finding their way at: http://www.dominiquemack.com/