Divorced Dads: The Forgotten Parent. Wendy A. Paterson, Ph.D. Chair, Elementary Education and Reading Buffalo State College. Experiencing Divorce . “There are always three sides to the story: yours, mine and the truth.”
Wendy A. Paterson, Ph.D.
Chair, Elementary Education and Reading
Buffalo State College
Your marriage is over. Unfortunately, when children are involved, that doesn’t mean that your relationship with your ex is over too. For the sake of your children, the marital relationship must now change and develop into a parenting relationship. This change, however, is often difficult…Among the things that prevent us from seeing a need to change are highly charged emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear (Ross & Corcoran, 1996, p. 20)
Over the past thirty years, more and more fathers are actively seeking at least joint custody of their children, but only 10% actually have residential custody. For over 80% of all divorces, it is the husband who moves out of the family home and sets up a new residence.
The ownership of my son which I had signed away, so casually, four years earlier, stuck like a bone in my throat...I had not fought for custody because I assumed it was best that the children remain in their home, stay in the same school. The fact that I had actually signed away all rights as a father had not been discussed. I was thinking in terms of living arrangements, not legal rights (Stafford, 1978, p. 61)
(Margulies 2004, p. x).
“People like her make people like me feel very, very guilty about it and I still feel guilty about it. It wasn’t my kids fault that their mother and I couldn’t make it, but it was probably the best I could do. When you make a decision, and the moment of absolute certainty is not there, you have to make the best decision you can in that point in time and go forward with it because you can’t fix what’s happened in the past. You can only work on what’s going to happen in the future.”
“ I never left [you]. I’ve always been here. I always will be. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of you and miss you.”
For many men there is a dramatic reduction in the amount of time they are allowed to see their children. In fact, their parental rights typically are terminated, and they are reduced to a visitor role. Most children from divorced families have more access to their neighbors than to their fathers. And the courts typically have created this situation…For fathers and children who have been close, divorce can be extremely cruel (Wedemeyer in Oakland, 1984, pp. 21-22).
It is difficult for fathers to participate in the everyday lives of their children when they are only with them at most a few days a month. But it’s not for lack of trying. Many fathers in our study expressed deep frustration and grief about their diminished contact with their children. They miss the daily contact that they took for granted when they were living in the same household, and finding ways to compensate for that is not always possible. (Ahrons, 2004, p. 98)
Twenty years post-divorce, half of the adult children Ahrons interviewed “felt that their relationships with their fathers actually improved after divorce” (2004, p. 101). Some even commented that as adults they realized that they had “adopted their mothers’ view of their father, and as they got to know him separately they realized he was not the person their mother said he was” (p. 108). Others maintained that the separation of their parents allowed them to get to know their fathers as individuals.
They need for both of you to care for them and love them and for both of you to be involved, at least to some extent, with their activities. But what children need most of all is for the two of you to be able to cooperate around issues affecting them. They need you to cooperate around financial matters so they don’t end up in the middle when you disagree about money. They need you to be pleasant to each other when they move between households and they need you to be reasonable with each other in accommodating to changing schedules. They need encouragement to be comfortable in both households
(Margulies, 2004, p. 210).
“That’s all you hear, ‘deadbeat dad! deadbeat dad!’ Maybe deadbeat mom doesn’t roll off your tongue, but people would shut off their TVs if someone said, ‘deadbeat mom.” How can you have a deadbeat mom?...They’re not surprised when some guy goes off the handle and kills his kids and kills himself over a broken relationship…but when a mom does that, it’s ‘Oh! How can that be!’”