Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Father’s Regret and A Lesson for Divorcing Dads

Late last week I attended a training seminar. Afterwards, I spoke with quite a few other persons who attended the event. There was one gentleman who stood out to me and after meeting with him I made a note because I think that a blog post was a necessary follow up to that conversation. So here’s that post. I hope that it speaks to the heart of people, in general, but particularly men who are no longer in relationships with the mother of their children.
I told him about The Upbeat Dad and what we’re doing as an organization. Like most people do whenever I have such a conversation, he thought what we’re doing is good for the community. Then he opened up and shared with me a burden he’s carried for many years. He’s likely in his late 40s or early 50s. He told me that about 20 years ago, he went through a divorce. It was a cold, mean and bitter process. He and his former wife had their own civil war and when the dust settled, as is often the case, she got custody of their 2 young kids – who were both under age 5 at the time.

Now here’s the kicker. He said he thought that because of the animosity throughout the legal process, it was best if he and his former wife went their separate ways and never interacted again. That meant that, in doing so, he opted to stay out of the kids’ lives as well because by being involved in their lives, he would have had to deal with his former wife. He said he didn’t want to have perpetual conflict so he thought keeping his distance was the best option. I’m not sure whether or not he paid child support – I assume he did. But other than that possible contact, there was no additional interaction between them.
Well, here we are today – 20 years later. His young kids are now adults and they are back in touch with him. As you might imagine, the years of his absence took its toll on them. He appeared to be in great pain as he shared with me just what occurred during those years. He said, “Rodrick, I thought staying out of the way was the best thing. But, believe me, that was the biggest mistake I ever made. My kids thought that I hated them so that’s why I stayed out of their lives.” Can you imagine that? They grew up with a complex, thinking that he hated them – meanwhile, he thought he was doing the best thing for them.
I write this today to share this message with our readers: marriages and other relationships end each and every day. Sometimes these endings are mean, bitter and cold. And people wish they never have to deal with their former spouse again. The problem is that when kids are involved, it’s not quite as easy. You can go your separate ways but the kids are a factor and will always be a factor. It’s not like when you’re younger and you break up with someone and it doesn’t matter whether or not you see them again. Kids change things forever.
I’ve shared many times on this blog that I went through a divorce several years ago. It was the worst experience of my life – and I really hope I never have a worse one. At the time, if my 3 year old daughter were not in the picture, I really wouldn’t have minded if I never saw my former wife again. The process – attorney fees, division of assets, etc – really took its toll on me – and her as well, I’m sure. Today, we have a much better relationship but at the time, resentment was the name of the game.
It’s not that I wanted to deal with her or that she wanted to deal with me. But we have a daughter so the choice was clear – deal with each other for the sake of our daughter or avoid each other while our daughter is isolated from one of us. I’m glad that for each of us, staying out of touch was never an option – the life of a child hung in the balance. So if it meant dealing with someone who you didn’t love anymore then that’s what it would take.
The gentleman told me that it really pained him to think that he left 2 young kids for such a long time - almost 2 decades. He missed out on the most critical stages of their development. And they grew up with the thought that he hated them. Now that they’re in touch again, it’s taking time to heal their hurting hearts. Their pain is very real and it may take professional help to get them to fully embrace their father again.
The purpose of this post should speak for itself. Many marriages and other relationships are broken right now. And men and women are faced with the choice of dealing with each other for the sake of the kids or just going their separate ways. I hope that from this gentleman’s personal story, people will see that it’s best to remain involved in the lives of the children, even if it causes them to interact with someone they’re no longer fond of.
Certainly, when hearts are hurting it’s not easy to interact with persons who’ve caused us pain – or who we’ve caused pain. Certainly, the emotions of breakups can cause us to want to disappear and never see the other person again. But when there are kids involved, I implore each person – fathers and mothers – to work together for the kids’ sake.
If you’re at a crossroads today, I hope that this post was just the right antidote to cause you to do the right thing and be there for your kids. The purpose in sharing this story is to help you to think about the choices you make. The gentleman is now trying to undo the damage that was created over a 2 decade period. You can make a decision today that you will never regret. It may be tough but as long as you’re there for the kids, ultimately, it’ll be worth the sacrifice.
I wish nothing but the best for each of you today and always. And may you always make the best choices for your kids.
Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad


  1. thank you for sharing this story. unfortunately this does happen and hopefully people can learn from this mistake and not make the mistake themselves. Even minimal involvement is better than none at all. Try your hardest, put your kids first, and try to make it work, keep reaching out.

  2. That is very sad. Sad for the kids and for the father that walked away. There is never a good reason to walk away and it is never better for your children to do so. No matter how much animosity you have towards your ex, you can always find a way to communicate, whether it is email or text without actually having to speak to each other and you can always see your children during your time without having to interact with that ex spouse.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. One of the most insightful posts I have read thus far.

  5. Appreciate the insight and the story. My heart goes out to this Dad and his children. I once worked with a case several years ago where a Dad made a similar choice for different reasons. Due to Mom's overly controlling and contentious behavior Dad stepped out of the picture when his child was quite young. His hope was that eventually the dust would settle and things would get better when the child was older.

    Years later Dad tried to re-establish contact. Unfortunately Mom had used Dad's absence as an opportunity to alienate this child. The second time around turned out to be even more costly both financially and emotionally. After more than a year of active litigation this father decided to give up fighting the good fight. Similar to the King Solomon philosophy, he wrongly assumed that by stepping out of the picture his child would have the benefit of a more peaceful conflict free life with other parent. The end result was devastating to this child.

    I encourage all parents before removing yourself from children's lives, seek professional support. There are other ways to minimize conflict for kids even in highly contentious situations. Never make the mistake of thinking that your ongoing involvement in your children's lives doesn't matter, it does.

    As the father in your story learned the hard way, when a parent is not actively engaged in a child's life, they often perceive that abandonment as their shortcoming, not yours.