The Difficult Journey of a (Formerly) Single Black Father

Or, how ten years of solo child-rearing made my beard gray

Christopher A. Brown
Published in
7 min readMar 5, 2020


Photo: Johnny Greig/Getty Images

I thought I did everything right. I finished college, got married, and had two wonderful sons. Then it all changed. Thanks to my wife’s genetic disease, I was left to raise two small boys on my own.

The Tragedy

My wife suffered from sickle cell anemia, a disease affecting primarily people of color and, most often, Black people. It’s a genetic disorder that causes the body to create red blood cells that are sickle-shaped rather than spherical. Unfortunately, the abnormal cells also cause clotting, inciting painful bouts of pain — called a crisis — leading to potential tissue death and even organ failure due to areas of the body not receiving proper blood flow.

When we got married, she made it clear to me that our life together wouldn’t be a long one. At that time, the life expectancy for those with sickle cell was around 40–50 years; we were in our twenties, so that seemed like a good run. We married and then had our first son. It was a difficult pregnancy, full of nerves, a few scares, and toxemia preeclampsia, which led to an early delivery at six months via C-section. Both mom and baby recovered and were reasonably healthy, and two years later, our second boy came into the world — similar circumstances, similar delivery.

A few months later, my wife had a sickle cell crisis. The pain localized in her arm but became unbearable. This was a regular instance for us; we’d been to the hospital dozens of times for treatment, usually some form of pain medication like oxycontin, oxycodone, dilaudid, or morphine. Other times a crisis would require a blood transfusion. I remember eight transfusions over the five years we were together, but there were likely more. After hours of excruciating pain, my wife was finally admitted to a room. Once she was stable and resting, I left to go home and relieve my mother-in-law from watching the children. By the time I got back, it was 11 at night, so I let her sleep there and went to bed.

That day, the dam broke and the floodgates released. It was a cathartic cry, desperately needed so that I could face…