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

why father doesn't see kids

Bring up the fatherless epidemic in the United States, and the arguments are as diametric and unrelenting as bipartisan politics.

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.

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 points of view, outlined above.

Of interest: my Resource guide about parental alienation.

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 commenter on the above posts:

Related: Why you should (probably) sell your heirloom jewelry

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.

Read more about my stance in favor of shared parenting, empathy for absentee fathers, and other related topics here:

My kid’s dad isn’t involved and I don’t know what to say

The real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids

How to get dads involved in divorced and separated families

Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? 50-50 visitation and no child support

Should you date a guy who doesn’t see his kids?

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 judgement, 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.

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:


Other ways to listen: iTunes  ♦  Stitcher   ♦  TuneIn   ♦  SoundCloudGoogle Play


Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp

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

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.

To prevent this kind of trauma, here are some tips to healthy co-parenting.

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

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

254 Comments

  1. Ciaran Brennan on March 8, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    I’m sorry but I believe if you really care about your kids you will make a way to see them. I have an uncle who can’t keep his pants on and he had kids with 5 different women and he makes a point of staying in touch with every single one of them even though they live in multiple different states. On the other hand I have an ex-husband who walked out when our son was only 2 months old because he said he couldn’t handle the responsibility of raising a kid and still give his job as much as they needed from him! He hasn’t seen our son in almost 10 years now because in 2010 his employer offered him a huge promotion and raise if he would accept a transfer to Australia and he jumped at it and hasn’t been back since and hasn’t even contacted us once now since 2016. If it weren’t for the monthly Western Union moneygrams I wouldn’t know if he was alive or dead. Doesn’t seem to give a d*mn that his kid needs him and now at 15 years old pretty much hates him for turning his back on us all for the sake of a corporate vice presidency and a high salary.

    • Suzanne on March 11, 2019 at 4:05 pm

      OTOH, I am friends with a man who spent eight years and tens of thousands of dollars fighting to stay in his children’s lives. He sacrificed his career and happiness to be the museum dad mentioned in this article. In the end his ex succeeded in alienating him from his children. Now he has to make another decision, spend more money and more time to fight to be the parent he wants to be and his children need, or cut bait and move on and try to reclaim some of the career opportunities he passed up.
      Society is collapsing because we no longer value fathers.

  2. Arthur Dill on March 8, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    I fought fought fought for my kids…. now I have a problem. I have my kids…. and no future. No dates that do not run or stay distant. No time to go back to school. No support network. I am left in a worse position than a single mom. I never cheated or deserved to be left with a choice my kids or my freedom.

  3. Glen on March 14, 2019 at 2:35 am

    This article sums up my life entirely. My child’s mother accused me of violence that never occured. The courtz granted her full custody and ordered me to pay child support and granted her an order of protection based on her lies. She hasn’t been allowing my court ordered visitation. I was his primary caretaker for the first 15 months of his life and him and I were best friends. I saw him for the first time today in 6 months. I went from being best friends with him and the favored parent to being a complete stranger. He cried when I tried to hold him. Seeing him today I think did more harm to my psyche than it did good and it was the day I’ve been hoping and praying for for the past 6 months. His mother has successfully destroyed the relationship i had built with him and now there is zero bond between us. I go over this crossroads of 4 different things daily. Ive been fighting to see him in the courts to no avail, I don’t have any money for legal representation. I Can’t just check out and forget about my son and move on without him, I think about him nonstop.. As much as I think about it, I hope I’m not a violent person. The lasy option seems like the preferred choice. I just wish I could speak to his mother but that would just put me right back in jail for another bullshit violation of protection order. So lost…

    • Jan on March 15, 2019 at 6:08 am

      Hi Glen,

      I am exactly in the same position as you, when I say exactly I mean exactly. Checking of our sons’ life seems as the only logical option. As harsh as it sounds….

  4. Rob L on March 15, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    I read this article, it sounds about right.

  5. Christie O'Neill on March 16, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Same scenario, only I’m the mother that was alienated from her children.
    Child support issued and jail time for contempt.
    I gave up for many years by turning to drugs and alcohol for the pain. Suicide attempts failed.
    My children are grown now and I’m beginning to bond with them.
    I’ll never get back those early years and will probably never catch up on child support.
    However, having a relationship with them now makes me very happy.

  6. Tom on March 17, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Depriving a child of their fathers love and guidance is no different then denying them water, food and shelter-it’s child abuse. March 16th 2019 is the day I’ve finally had enough and checked out of my two sons lives. The family courts including; attorneys, judges, child psychologists, gaurdian ad litem, CPS representatives-it’s all a sham. Do not engage your ex and play the game. The word court should not even be applied with describing this organization. A court attempts to find balance/solution and not profit for personal gain. In order for family law to exist, it requires high conflict and a winner/loser. Men, more often then not, targeted as incapable and in some instances-a threat to their child’s safety. This in itself is hypocrisy since men of every culture over the history of time have been deemed “provider-protectors” and women “gatherer-nurturers”. If men are such a god damn threat to the life of a child why have they been the primary role in war and protection for millennia? They are the disposable of the two sexes. When one falls another will take his place. If they are the primary income earners in the relationship, then certainly they can financially support raising a child on their own without the courts intervention. Men operate out of a sense of logic, women act out of emotion-who is the more suitable role model to lead and guide? Marriages end in divorce 50% of the time, yet they are initiated by women 75-90% of the time. Lady justice peaked through her blindfold and tipped the scale in favor of women-women know this. 1/6 men get some kind of visitation with the children following the dissolution of their marriage or relationship. We get the title of “noncustodial parent”-an absolute insult in its self. I could rattle off statistics, anecdotal evidence and medical proof all day that men are just as, if not more capable then women to be the primary gaurdian. However-keep it simple. If your ex does not want you to have equal and shared contact-accept this and move on. Save your energy and money and put that towards your child’s future. The fight is futile and the more time and money you spend fighting the more the courts profit and gain. I wasted one year of my life trying to rationalize, plead, beg and even bribe my ex wife to come to terms with doing what was right. She is in violation of multiple divorce decree orders, of which she drafted and proposed. To find her in contempt of this would result in a slap on the wrist. All she sees is money. Remember the image of a donkey following a carrot on a stick being held by its owner? Men are the donkey, the carrot your child and the rider your ex wife. Buck that bitch off your back, live your life and hope someday your children will realize the truth and reach back out to you.

  7. Emma Johnson on March 18, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    This is the trailer of the new documentary, Erasing Family, by my friend activist filmmaker Ginger Gentile, who just presented at SXSW. Please watch, share:

    https://youtu.be/_nvrkDBomJA

  8. Gil on March 19, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Excellent article! There are many of us but we are disorganized. Once we unite and take on the courts, we will be able to march and take our kids back. We need to calm out the unjust system that exists that allows greed to be the purpose behind robbing us of our kids. We need our Rosa Parks moment as we, and our children, our being denied of our God given right to family!!

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