Chris Emanuel(AIKEN, S.C.) — Skylar is a rambunctious toddler who runs and plays and giggles with her father, Chris Emanuel.
But she has no idea she sat at the heart of a massive custody battle with far-reaching implications for fathers’ rights.
Emanuel, a 25-year-old from Aiken, South Carolina, met Skylar’s mother, whom he now refers to as simply “the egg donor,” through their work as fork lift drivers at a manufacturing company three years ago. He said they started off as friends before it escalated into something more.
“She wasn’t the ordinary girly girl. She was a girly girl but she could play pool. I could sit down and play pool with her,” he said. “She listened to the same music that I listened to but she rode horses. You know, it was different. I never met someone of that nature before but I definitely enjoyed the moments that we shared.”
In the beginning, Emanuel said they texted all the time, and their affectionate messages soon turned into flirtations. Three months later, Emanuel was overjoyed to learn he was going to be a dad.
“I was happy, who wouldn’t be happy?” Emanuel said. “It was my first child and at the time, you know, I’m going to be there. We’re going to do everything we got to do.”
Emanuel said he and Skylar’s mother talked about getting married. Throughout the mother’s pregnancy, Emanuel said he was a deeply involved expectant father.
“It was in my heart that despite anything, I’m going to be there…I’m going to do what I got to do,” he said.
After a long-awaited meeting between both of their families, Emanuel said he knew in no uncertain terms that her parents were dead set against him and even accused the family of racism.
“Like hearing racism but actually feeling it, it totally different. It’s like being punched in the stomach,” he said. “The crazy thing about it was when we left she reassured me that we would continue to raise our child together.”
The woman’s mother said Emanuel is a “liar” and that she disapproved of their relationship, not because of the color of his skin, but because he didn’t have a job.
Emanuel said he and his girlfriend continued to be in contact, talking and texting frequently. Texts often ended with a “mwwuah” kiss. But Emanuel said his girlfriend started to avoid meeting in person and asked him to skip doctor’s appointments.
“She was saying her mom was coming and I didn’t need to come,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Dang, why can’t I come to the doctor’s appointment?’ If I can’t come to the doctor’s appointment, I can’t even think about being there to witness my child’s birth.”
Six months before Skylar’s birth, Emanuel’s half-sister, Chelsea McKnabb, and her best friend, Jill Thomason, were more than worried. They feared the woman would give the baby away.