A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my child.”

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Mention the fatherless epidemic in the United States, and the arguments are polarizing:

Why fathers walk away after divorce

It is either:

  1. Men are irresponsible douchebags who abandon their children to mothers, who are left to raise the children with few resources, or …
  2. Women are conniving, malicious, entitled nut-jobs who alienate fathers from their children while taking all said fathers' money — all of which is supported by the family court system.

Why do fathers give up?

This post challenges a cultural assumption that men willingly walk out on their children and are irresponsible, apathetic parents. Instead, we all suffer under a sexist culture and legal system that marginalizes fathers, and makes it hard if not impossible for them to be meaningfully involved with their children, for reasons including:

  • Sexist culture
  • Family and divorce courts that favor mothers
  • Many dads don't believe the child is theirs.You can buy a home DNA paternity test online that proves whether you are the father.
  • Parental alienation, in which one parent turns the kids against the other parent
  • One dad's compelling story about why he doesn't see his kids.
  • 637 reader comments and counting

Related: This is the real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids

How can a father walk out on his child?

After studying this issue for the four years I've had this blog, I understand that the issue is complicated and nuanced, and there is plenty of legitimate room for both of these points of view.

A father's experience with parental alienation

What I haven't reported much is the point of view from the checked-out dads, many of whom have shared with me articulate, thoughtful, and often heart-breaking accounts of why they are not part of their children's lives.

These stories resonate with me, as they have challenged my earlier, blind admonishments that every parent has a moral obligation to fight for their children, no matter what.

I still believe this, but I also believe in empathy, and for recognizing each other's humanity.

Here is one story from a reader:

Point of view from a dad who doesn't see his child

From John G:

From my own experiences, I believe it's widespread for women to use children as a weapon to exact revenge against the ex during, and after, divorce proceedings.

During my lengthy divorce, my ex-wife claimed I was abusive, that she was ‘afraid for her safety,’ and tried to get ‘supervised visitation.’

None of it worked, because it wasn’t true, and because, as an educated professional I had enough money to spend six figures on an attorney.

However, it was still a waste of time and money. Even after the divorce, the games continued.

My son was being tutored on what to say to me (did you ever hear a 7-year-old respond ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’ when asked a question?) and being instructed to call me by my first name and not ‘dad.’ I grew tired of making phone calls that weren’t answered, or of being put on hold and the child not coming to the phone, and of canceled visits.

It was heartbreaking seeing the child slip away from me, little by little.

I went to court on several occasions. There is the assumption that the man will just sit there and take the abuse because he does not want to lose the child.

She stuck by the letter of the law, and was able to severely limit my contact with my son by way of orders of protection and maintaining to the courts that he was a ‘danger.’

Orders of protection as divorce strategy

Of the divorced, professional men that I know, all of them had orders of protection against them by their wives.

This is even a problem that is recognized by the courts. Some attorneys go so far as to admit that the ‘afraid for my safety’ issue is part of the ‘gamesmanship of divorce.’ I went from the mindset of being a father to the child, to being reduced to the status of a ‘visiting uncle’ or a ‘Disneyland dad’ allied with thinking all the time like an attorney.

I was often worried what would happen if she started to make untrue claims that I had (for example) abused the child. When he fell over and scraped his arm when he was with me, I was advised by my attorney to go to all the trouble of going to the doctor, having the scrape bandaged and so on, just to legally cover myself in case she would claim that it had in fact been intentionally caused.

While on the lookout for anything that could be used against me, all the while constantly being told I was a bad person, a bad father, and all my involvement with my son was systematically stripped away. The whole process became a painful sham.

Father refuses to see his child? Not quite …

I eventually reached a crossroads with four paths. Some men commit suicide because they can’t handle the anguish. Others resort to violence and anger against the ex-wife. Others take the difficult road, and sacrifice years of their happiness, battling on a hopeless battle with the ex, just to maintain some sort of contact with the kids. The fourth way, is to simply give up, and decide that the cost to the child through seeing the conflict, and to oneself, is too high.

I considered all the above paths for a long time and was tempted by more than a few of them. In the end, I walked away from all contact with my child more than two years ago.

What to do when the non-custodial parent doesn't show up or cancels last minute

Mother keeping child away from father

After I had calmed down, I tried again and contacted the ex. I had hoped she would have calmed down and would be willing to work with me.

But no, she is still the same bitter and vengeful baggage that she always was. Rather than attempting to discuss things and put things on the right track, she is willing to communicate in writing only.

She refuses point blank to let me contact the child. Everything has to go through her.

Some people will say it would be the noblest thing to carry on fighting regardless. ‘I would do anything for my kids!’ they spout.

Frankly, I feel that’s very naive and is almost always a view propagated by women.

Any father here who has been generously granted a weekend every two weeks knows the feeling when you say goodbye.

You’re just getting used to having them around, and they are gone. It’s like having a wound that never heals. Like a band-aid being ripped off over and over. The pain never really went away.

During those days, I used to recall these lines from Shakespeare's King John:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

Logically, I have to balance the damage to myself, my life and mental health, the possibility of the conflict damaging the child, against the damage done by my absence.

People who don’t know the situation raise their hands in horror, or pass judgment, assume that this is a choice that is taken lightly and easily. It is not.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. Sometimes I see children in shops that look like my child and find it hard not to break down.

Sometimes I can’t take my eyes away. Even the shoes are the same. I don’t like to watch movies with children of that age in them.

I had to remove all the photographs that I had of my child and every other item and put them in a box. And that’s where all those emotions are now.

In a box, held tightly under control, so that I can try and enjoy some semblance of a normal life. It usually works.

I spoke to my ex recently. She claims that the child is just fine. She doesn’t seem to think that I’m needed and believes that my seeing the child is a bad thing.

She told me that the gifts I had been sending postally were in a box and he never got them. What is the point of trying? Who am I to argue?

She lives with the kid and does the real parenting. All that I could do, once a month or less (she lives a long way from me) would be to visit for a shallow shared visit, a museum trip perhaps – that’s not parenting – that’s just being a Disneyland dad.

I am in despair that many people and the courts expect the impossible. They expect the man to be totally interested, committed, involved with his child’s life – and yet – they make it impossible for that involvement to happen.

How can you remain interested and involved when you are given no information about the child’s everyday life, when even the most basic contact is made difficult or impossible, when you are limited to four days a month contact time if you are lucky?

In far too many cases, the father is merely viewed as a source of income.

The mother is viewed as the ‘real parent’ who almost always gets physical custody of the child. And once she has the child, she is then almost entirely free of the threat of any consequences.

Related: Parental alienation: A call to change parenting culture — and law

How fatherlessness affects children

This is a great shame for the children involved who will probably be involved in divorces of their own or be afraid of marriage because they have seen the consequences when they fail.

I shouldn’t be surprised if more and more men eschew marriage and traditional family values over the next century.

Personally, I refuse to be blackmailed by my better instincts. I refuse to be reduced to the level of a Disneyland dad by some judge, attorney, social worker or indeed his mother.

I refuse to beg for access, or beg for photographs, or ask permission when I can please take him on vacation.

No. They will have no more of me.

One day, I will be able to get in touch without going through her once the child is old enough. Until then, I intend to get on with my life.

Please listen to Terry Brennan, co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, explain why default every-other-weekend visitation leads to absentee fathers:

Note that in cases where ‘standard’ visitation is awarded — every-other-weekend — fathers become depressed and non-involved, and within 3 years, one study found, 40 percent of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.

Have a listen:


“I hate my child's father.”

Negative feelings for your kid's dad are totally normal and understandable, but unless he is actively hurting your child, you have to work through that and put your kid first. Mothers standing in the way of fathers' relationships with their kids is central to the reason fathers don't see their kids. Focus on being part of the healing — not the problem.

Co-parenting counseling can help, as can personal therapy for you. Work through feelings of grief over the loss of the relationship, and mourn your original vision for your family. Educate yourself on the importance of fathers' presence in their children's lives and how that benefits moms, too.

Related books:

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere

Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW

Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak

Learn more about parental alienation, and solutions for reuniting estranged parents and children in the documentary Erasing Family:

What do you think? Are you a dad who no longer sees his kids? Why? Please share in the comments …

Or, are you the mother of a child with an absentee father? What is your response?

Here is my advice to moms and dads whose other parent is not involved.

If you are tempted to turn your child against the other parent, or not sure what is the best kind of parenting time arrangement, keep it simple, and equal. In fact, there are now more than 60 studies that prove that equally shared parenting is best for children (and, moms and dads!).

While we're at it, have a read about why a simple, fair 50-50 shared parenting time with no child support is the best, fairest, and most feminist arrangement.

50/50 custody — who pays child support?

Why coparenting is important

To prevent this kind of trauma, here are some tips to how to make co-parenting work:

  • Accept that mothers and fathers are equal. This is a gender equality issue
  • Accept that just because the other person doesn't parent like you do, that is not abuse.
  • Let him fail, succeed and find his own parenting style. Many dads become better fathers after divorce because they have to.
  • When communicating with him, use ‘your house' and ‘my house' … not ‘Home.' Same when you address the kids – “daddy's house” and “my house.” Both places are their homes..
  • Keep him posted on matters large and small. Even if he doesn't show up for the teacher meetings, or make the doctors appointments, keep him abreast of what is happening with the kids.
  • Buy him holiday and birthday presents on behalf of the kids.  

But the bigger challenge is to change our culture, from one in which it is presumed that fathers are incompetent, and mothers are the default primary parent. Terry Brennan of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, and an equality activist. Listen to our podcast conversation:

For more on co-parenting communication, and reasons for better shared parenting, read: Co-parenting rules–even with a difficult ex

Are you a child of a father who was not around? What do you say to this dad?

Why fathers walk away after divorce?

It is either: Men are irresponsible douchebags who abandon their children to mothers, who are left to raise the children with few resources, or women are conniving, malicious, entitled nut-jobs who alienate fathers from their children while taking all said fathers' money.

How can a father walk out on his child?

After studying this issue for the four years I've had this blog, I understand that the issue is complicated and nuanced, and there is plenty of legitimate room for both of these points of view. What I haven't reported much is the point of view from the checked-out dads, many of whom have shared with me articulate, thoughtful, and often heart-breaking accounts of why they are not part of their children's lives.

Why do fathers give up?

Instead, we all suffer under a sexist culture and legal system that marginalizes fathers, and makes it hard if not impossible for them to be meaningfully involved with their children, for reasons including: sexist culture, parental alienation, courts that favor mothers, and more.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

739 Comments

So it seems you’d rather be an absent dad than a disneyland dad. It’s all or nothing with you. Instead of trying to make the most out of the limited time you had, you decided to just walk away completely.

How are you going to explain THAT to your son if he decides to contact you again?

By making the decision to turn your back on your son, you put your son more at risk of having behavioural issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, poor academic performance etc. etc.

You’ve moved on, but your son probably hasn’t and never will. He will continue suffering the consequences of your absence his whole life. You were able to have other kids, but your son will never be able to have another father.

Wow.

So it seems this you’d rather be the deadbeat dad than the disneyland dad. I can’t understand this logic.

Your son deserved to have a father in his life, but you put your own happiness above his. By making the decision to walk away from him, you pretty much set your son up for failure and put him more at risk of having substance abuse issues, mental health issues, behavioural issues and poor academic performance.

Of course, now you’ve moved on with your life. You’re over it, but you son will never be. You have other kids, but your son will never have another father. He will keep paying for YOUR sins throughout the rest of your life.

He is probably filled with resentment because you chose to be a father to your kids from your new wife, but not to him.

If your son comes up to you filled with understandable resentment and rage, what are you going to tell him?

It is definitely

Women are conniving, malicious, entitled nut-jobs who alienate fathers from their children while taking all said fathers’ money — all of which is supported by the family court system.

I am in the same situation . It’s is both comforting and heartbreaking to know there are others facing similar situations.
I had two children , with whom I had a good and growing relationship .
Keeping close to my children after separation, was thwarted by the mother ,constantly .
One visit with my kids , unknowingly was our last …almost 4 years ago now .
I was blindsided as lawyers quickly commenced an all out assualt against me .
Within a couple months of denying visitation , allegations of abuse started flowing .
Next the children were suicidal and suffering from a plethora of issues ….and reasonably ..I was the cause of all.
This was after 6 plus years of visitation , and my children asking to see me more .
I won’t rehash all that’s been written already ..
Simply ,I have been destroyed by worry and concern for them and by the ensuing litigation .
So vicious was I attacked ,that I faced criminal charges on allegations of abuse , which I rejected and thanks to a law firm who saw my plight,and that I was truthful all along ….the prosecution folded 11hr , just as trial was to commence .
Being cleared does nothing tho to remove the damage done to character, not to mention emotional and physical carnage inflicted .
I go on , day by day ,but not the same outgoing person I was .
Just a shell , hoping one day the two persons I love most might have the strength and will left to reach out to me .
This needs to stop …it destroys everyone .

I know this is a few years old but I am so thankful I listened to the Terry Brennan interview. Much of the interview repeats what we already know. But coming from the position of a parent who can see the relationship with my child slipping away and the harm it causes children and future generations. I stumbled upon this page in search for help or guidance on whether to end the five years of battling for equality in parenting and let go. Thanks to Terry I will continue to fight for my son no matter how much it hurts either of us.

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