Friday, October 26, 2012

Missing: Parent

Last night, as I lay in bed adding celebratory pictures for the Facebook page’s 6 month anniversary, Mr. Perfect came into our room sobbing. Not tears in the eyes, general weepiness, but full on spastic, chest heaving, gasping for air sobbing. Anyone else might have thought someone he loved just died. But I knew better.

For his son’s recent 8th birthday we bought him an iPod. We bought it for him not so he could download Minecraft, 12 versions of Angry Birds or the football game he loved to play on his dad’s phone, but so he could have Facetime. We bought it the week his dad came to live with us in the Treehouse, an hour north of his kids. We bought it so that every night he could see his daddy and so his daddy could see him and his sister. We grasped methodically at ways to allow a parent/child relationship to flourish, without kisses goodnight. Mr. P had just gotten off a call where his six year old daughter begged him to retire so that he could take them trick or treating. He told them he loved them and put them to bed.

It’s not the same to say “I love you best buddy” without being able to ruffle your son’s golden hair and pull up his covers tight. It is not the same to tell your princess it’s time for bed, without being able to tickle her tiny body, smooth back her messy hair and kiss her forehead. For a parent, who loves their children, to infinity, it’s not enough.

“I want to smell them.” He sobbed.

 When my children’s father and I first split I tried hard to keep him updated on their lives. I sent texts of our 2 year old son doing cute things and our daughter’s accomplishments. I sent adorable pictures of his smiling offspring, happily adapting to their new lives, splashing in the pool, jumping at the park, dressed up for events. Sometimes he responded, sometimes not. One day he sent me a text back and told me to stop “guilt tripping” him. I honestly didn’t understand.

There have been many times in my life where I have passive aggressively played dumb in order to solicit a response, logically back someone into a corner and intellectually dominate them. Heavens knows, I’m practically a professional Facebooker. Knowing how one comment can affect the next is an interesting game to play in the land of words. This time though, I was clueless. The last thing I wanted to do was tell him anything. The last thing I wanted was contact at all with their heartbreaking dad. I kept him “up-to-date” because I thought I had to, according to the court mandates and what was probably best for the kids. I was enraged at the thought that having children hurt him and he was choosing to withdraw. I let him know the children would like to hear from him. I gave my daughter a phone. I stopped “bothering” him. I decided if he wanted to call her, he could, and vice versa. He let go and stepped into the role, I’ve not so affectionately named, The Wallet Father; obligatory every other weekend visits (usually) and scheduled child support payments. He is lost to communication in between.

I will never know if he is off living the life he prefers or if he was just unable to cope. Unfortunately and more importantly, neither will his children. And no child should have to wonder whether their parent actually cares.

 Mr. Perfect was a stay at home dad and when he did go back to work, he worked midnights so that he could be with his 2 young children during the day. When he was little he only wanted to “be a dad” when he grew up. He considers his children his dreams come true. Being a devoted father is how he has defined his last 8 years and who he is in this world. His ex-wife was the primary breadwinner and he was the booboo kisser, sandwich cutter and the guy you called for play dates. He loved his position as Daddy. I loved him as a father on Facebook, a friend of a friend, long before I knew there was an option of falling in love with him as man.

When his divorce originally was finalized a joint arrangement was worked out. He worked nights and picked the kids up from school, dropping them back off with their mom for the night. In the summer he picked them up at 2:30 am on his way home from work. He did his best to have his children as much as he did living in the same home. It became an impossible battle. He knew he could no longer do his dangerous night job and live sleepless days, entertaining two bored kids in his tiny apartment. He also knew moving to days meant giving up his joint status.

We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew he would ache for them. No one could question his devotion. Or could they? As Mr. Perfect slipped into the non-custodial role everything changed. How does he now define himself? How does he keep his connection? What if they don’t miss him? What if they do? Can you wish for your children to be happy but also take a smidge of glee in them being sad? If you choose to go home early and drive one way rather than another, do you become unfit? How do you cope with the absolute destruction of a dream and transform it into an acceptable reality? Does eating breakfast with my 2 children remind him of what he had or does it close the hole and make it all a little easier to handle? Should I hug him or let him be? Am I doing enough? I held him as he sobbed, like a child lost, but he was a father, missing his identity and weeping in my arms. His happiness, health and future versus what…? What was right?

We live in a country where 50% of marriages end in divorce. Nearly 25% of parents do not live with their kids. Add in the children who never had married parents and we have an enormous amount of non-custodial parents out there who are missing their children right now. Where is their support I wondered? How many times have I taken the grand power of being the sole caregiver? How many times have I complained about absent parents? Can I imagine the guilt, pain, uncertainty and longing these parents feel? I cannot. I was blessed to have my children with me through ever step of the chaos that was divorce. In my most imperfect of days I was still able to smell them, still able to feel the incredible burden of doing it on my own; and take credit. No one ever doubted my loyalty and most importantly I didn’t need to doubt myself.

Here it is, if you are a non-custodial parent, mom or dad, no matter your story, I am asking that you share it here with other parents. This can be done completely anonymously if you wish. I want to know you, support you and I hope together we can find ways to ease the pain and strengthen the bonds between absent parent and child. Personal stories, tips on blending families, custody, staying connected, active non-present parenting, distance parenting will be incredibly appreciated. Please send me a facebook message at


  1. beautifully written. i am so sorry for MR. P's situation. i was and am still (legally) married to my kids father but he CHOSE to stay away from the home instead of being a parent. i warned him he was missing out and begged him to come home. NOW, our children are adults (both living 90 miles away, one in college, one already graduated) and NOW he wants to be daddy. Mr P's children are incredibly lucky to have such a father and he is lucky to have such a supportive partner.

  2. This breaks my heart, both of your stories. Speaking as the custodial parent, children need their parents, both of their parents, as much as possible. My son's dad wants to be in his life as often as he can, so fortunately for my son that hasn't been a problem. I think if the other (non-custodial) parent is not toxic or abusive, then the custodial parent should do everything in their power to facilitate that bond. The court gave him the usual every other weekend but I gave him Wed nights every week as well. I'd txt to say he could pick him up and take him to lunch. He could call and ask to stop by for a visit. It wasn't for me and it wasn't about me. My job as a mom is to make sure my child gets what he needs, and children need their dads. When the court wanted to split up his birthday to every other year, we got it changed to *share*. Every birthday. It's his day, and he loves us both. I know that doesn't work for everyone because it takes the cooperation of both parents, but that's how it should be. 
    And if he hadn't been the type of parent to even call for a birthday, I would call him and hand the phone to my child with a lie. Because its that important. 

  3. As the only parent of two adult children, I can relate to both stories, when My ex and I first divorced, I encouraged and even facilitated the visitation.. I would take them, pick them up, provide food, clean clothes, ets... everthing I did was not good enough because their Dad just did not want to be a part of their lives... Then he moved away far far away and made no attempt to contact them....other than an occasional card in the mail...
    So rather than allow them to be hurt, waiting for their Dad to be a part of their lives. I took my kids as far as I could possibly take them legally and let them think it was my fault they could not see their father. They would ask and ask - I would always tell them, your Dad Loves you as much as he can.
    They are grown now, one graduated college this year, one enters college this year. He has yet to make contact other than a card or gift thru the years.
    It has always been his loss, his excuses, his betrayal to his kids, they will always wonder why he didn't want to know them.
    Now that they are grown, I answer questions alot more honest than I did when they were younger, I guess it will always be my version of our story but that too has been his choice.
    Parenting is a choice and a lifestyle - you have to stay committed to your family, no matter the changes to your marital status.

  4. I am not a non-custodial parent, but I WAS a single mother for 4 years. When my boy/girl twins were 5 months old, their father walked out of the door and out of our lives. To this day, I'm still not 100% sure what the problem was, but I speculate that the reality of being a father at the age of 21, especially to twins, was to hard for him to handle. He saw the, sporadically, until they were 2. He was due to get them for this Saturday visit, but failed to show up. After a week or two of digging, I discovered he took off to Texas. For a year, he had no contact with the children, didn't pay child support and wouldn't give me any information on where he was. The one day, he showed back up. But it was too late. He saw them for the first time in over a year and for the last time to date on Christmas 2007. That January, after being out of work for a few months due to being laid off, I decided to relocate my little family to Kentucky. That August, I met Matthew and 3 weeks later, we married.
    Until recently, my son and daughter thought that my husband was their real Dad, like he is to the daughter we have together. Last month, we told them the truth because we are going through what has turned out to be a lengthy adoption case. My husband is trying to adopt them. We told them the truth, we showed them pictures and the decided on their own (they are 8 now) that they didn't want to meet or have anything to do with their birth father. My husband was their Daddy and that's all that matters.
    Nothing has changed in the household dynamics. They treat him the same, they sometimes bring up my ex, only to refer to him as his name and to ask questions about why they might do a certain thing. As heartbreaking as it should be, it's not really, because my husband has provided them what they need....a Daddy. My heart breaks more for my ex than anything, because he has missed out on two pretty amazing kids.
    It sounds to me like Mr. Perfect is truly living up to his name. He yearns, so badly, to be part of his children's lives and I know it's not easy on him. Or them. He is what every father out there should be, especially those who have a separated household. He's loving and caring and clearly misses his children. They will look back at this time with fondness of the memories he created, even with a distance between them. That's more than a lot of kids can say, so I hope he takes some comfort in that.
    This has turned into a book...sorry for that!

  5. You about made me cry. My parents were divorced when I was very little and my mom has been divorced a few times since. To me it was all kind of 'normal'. When marital trouble came to my home, and in hind sight this was a small speed bump in 12 years and 4 kids) bailing seemed like an option. I figured I was fine and everyone in my crew would be too. Ugg I am so glad I realized the impact and how far the ripples really reach.
    Adore you and cannot wait to read more!

  6. I have three boys and one on the way. My three all have different fathers. I never ment it to be that way. It just happened. My oldest is 14. His dad and I never got along, he was the type that if it hurt me to take my son away then he would try. I eventually let him win and had to move 3000 miles away so I had that anxious feeling, but couldnt do anything about it. I wised up and moved back to be with him. But it killed me everyday. That feeling never goes away. I feel that same way everytime I think about it. The guilt the pain ot all washes over me and I paniac. He lives with me now but I still feel like I abandoned him. My middle childs father likes to be in control. Everything that happens has to be aproved by him. His first hair cut, first day at day care, first day of school, everything. Hes a freak. I cant stand his wife shes a fucking bitch. I play nice when I see them and I do not talk bad about either ones father in front of the children. Even though they are both peices of shit that I never should have got involved with in the first place. But I love my boys and so glad I got something so great and special from them. My youngests dad I am still currently married to. He is deffinetly my mr. P. We are with child again his 2nd at my 4th. I know how he feels and it will stay with him until the day he leaves this earth.

  7. I have been divorced for 4 years now. Our daughter is 12. Before our marriage her father stated he never wanted to get married or have children. Both happened within a year apart. I used to live within 1 mile of his home and after he decided to stalk me I decided to move. I did not give notice and because of that, he received "residential" custody. We both have Joint Custody of our daughter. However, I am only allowed to see her 1 day/week, every other weekend, every two weeks in the Summer, we split Winter Break and Spring Break in half and I pay child support (even though he makes twice what I make). I am the one that feels the pain. I am the one that is "left out" of our daughter's life because I chose to remove myself from an abuser and because I removed myself I feel like I am being punished.

    Her father makes all the decisions for our daughter (even though court documents state both parents should), signs her up for activities(without consulting me) etc. He buys her what she wants, when she wants it. I now am dealing with a "spoiled brat" due to this. No matter what I say to her father or her, I am the outsider, the failure, the "other parent." So you see, I do feel Mr. P's pain, frustration, anger, feeling like you are lost etc.