Who gets to label fathers as deadbeat dads? Does society, the mother, the children—even the father himself? And what’s the criteria? Can a non custodial dad still be a good dad?
I left my husband over six years ago, after we’d tried, and failed, to make our marriage work while he was struggling with depression that resulted in recurrent domestic violence. A month after I left him, he departed for the UK, looking to follow a long held dream to start up a new life.
I was keen for him to go. I was struggling to forgive him for what had happened between us and trying to provide a safe and secure base for our three children. He was a man who loved his children deeply. But he was also a man who was not in a place where he could be a custodial father.
His moving across to the other side of the world was a good move—for both of us. I chose not to charge him with abuse, and he got to get the headspace he had needed for a long time to get the support and treatment he needed. Over the years our relationship as mellowed and evolved into an honest friendship, built in part by his consistent and faithful contact to our children from across the oceans.
Many people have tried to label my ex-husband a deadbeat dad. Surprisingly the most common voice has come from other men—some also separated from their children. There seems to be a pecking order with men in terms of what makes a dad deadbeat or not, and not being in the same country definitely puts you somewhere near the top of the list!
I’ve always seen it in a different light. For over six years their father has rung or Skyped his children at least three times a week (unless he’s got a work trip.) I have helped to make that happen—despite the fact that at the beginning, I wished he wasn’t there at all. I am very thankful now I did not allow my original anger and hurt to stymie their relationship with their father.
I’ve never forced the children to speak to him, and sometimes that has meant weeks of only speaking to two, rather than three has occurred. It’s meant a natural long distance relationship has evolved that now often includes them reading their books to him, sharing magic tricks, and fun facts, and creating things they can show him on video.
He’s sent Easter treats, and we talk and work together to give cooperative family gifts for birthdays and Christmas. We may be divided by oceans, but can be united in giving.
I’ve borne most of the costs of rearing of them, though some money is sent on the same day every month, but I’ve also enjoyed the benefit of having our children with me, a blessing I am thankful for rather than a curse I regret. Being responsible for three children economically has driven me further towards success than I would have otherwise thought.
Meanwhile, here and closer to home, I’ve seen fathers who won’t stick to regular time with their children, who only contact their kids to see them when they have a girlfriend to help, or delay payments of child support when the mother has disagreed with some part of the parenting arrangement. These dads may be more physically present in their kids’ lives, but are they a better father than my children’s? How do we measure what a “good father” is after separation?
I have tried to be very honest with my children about their dad. We have talked about why I left, but we’ve also talked about the huge progress and work he’s done. They have asked why he doesn’t live in the same country as them. The youngest feels it the most keenly, as her memories are of a Skype dad. I call him the “best long distance dad they could have”—while acknowledging it’s not the same as him being there for concerts and outings and hugs.
Soon my children will be once again seeing their dad and his partner in person. It’s been four years since they were all in the same country, so there is a fair amount of both excitement and apprehension in our home as they prepare for him to come over. And then, after three weeks he will go back to Europe, and we’ll be back to a long distance relationship once again.
I never would have planned out a long distance father for my children. But that is the dad they have. I see no purpose in trying to make him be something he is not, nor filling my children’s head with stories for how he “should” be. He’s their father, long distance or not. And he certainly isn’t a “deadbeat.”
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