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.

702 Comments

I’m a mother who went through a situation where the father got custody. I was a drug addict and walked out of their lives when they were toddlers. When I got clean I went through HELL to get them back. You can’t even imagine. It was torture. In and out of court every month, lawyers fees, character assassination, constant abusive texts, the ex trying to turn my own family against me. It did not matter. I was going to do whatever it took. I spent 2 years in court every single month. Not a month went by where I didn’t have to show up to court and answer for my past choices and listen to new verbal assaults and accusations. It was taxing. I thought of giving up a few times. For myself and for the kids. Is this battling between us what they really need? I considered suicide a few times.

But I refused to give up. I dealt with one hour visits. Supervised visits. Every month at court I asked for more time. Slowly I did get more. Never enough to feel like a “real” parent though. More like the fun parent that got to see them sometimes. I had no idea what their daily lives looked like. Whatever they shared with me and whatever I could gleam from their father’s angry texts was all I got. It has now been 7 years. I can say that the battle has fizzled out. It did take YEARS, so it was slow and painful. Now I have a 14 year old, 13 year old, and 11 year old. And guess what? Our relationships are amazing. They spend a lot of time with me, far more than the court would ever have signed off on years ago, or my ex for that matter. But they’re older, they have more freedom. I no longer have to talk to my ex to get information, they’re able to tell me themselves! I think the fight in their father and his wife slowly died out as he realized how much they truly enjoyed seeing me, and eventually they became challenging pre-teens and teens and he was probably grateful to get some breaks. And a part of him has to respect the persistence I showed– the times I didn’t want to see them because the pain of leaving was too great, but I knew THEY needed me to show up. The times I showed up to their school or sports when no one even told me they were happening, but I kept in contact with principles and coaches. I remember about a year into the visits my kids suddenly started calling me “Bio mom.” When I asked why they said because their step mom told them to call me that. They asked me what it meant. They didn’t even know, they just knew she’d be upset if they didn’t do it. So I told the kids it means bionic mom. That I’m the strongest/fastest mom in the world and I scooped them up and held them in the air while they giggled. And they kept calling me bio-mom and I kept going with it. Eventually it faded, they slowly returned to calling me mom. We never had to discuss it. I wasn’t hurt by it because I knew their step-mom encouraged it and I never wanted them to feel put in the middle. I will never EVER accept that any parent found the battle too hard and gave up. Your ex hasn’t given up, she doesn’t even have the option. And she’s dealing with all the challenges every day. Answering questions she doesn’t want to answer. Being reminded of you. There is no excuse in this world that will make me say, “I get why he/she stopped fighting.” Use the courts to your advantage. They want both parents involved whether you’re the father or mother. Be kind to your ex, don’t engage in drama. If she’s starting drama ask the court to allow more space between you. You’d barely have to interact with her at all if you get things in place with the court. I’m sorry, but I just can’t find sympathy for people who give up. Parenting is hard no matter what your situation as the parent is. Parents don’t get to quit. You don’t get to quit.

I think the reason why most fathers are not seeing their child is because the other parents t refuses to coexist with the fathers. I’ve seen fathers take care there children but the women still puts child support on the father. That father pays for his child and spend time with him but they are still in the court system. Why, it’s because an sour relationship with the father that has nothing to do with dads don’t want to be be with their children. This causes the kid to have so many mental issues and behavior problems to the point the mother will decide to let you have them after that 18 year old mark rule for child support. By that time it’s nothing you can do with an child that lost his mind because he lost that fathers time. I think it’s best to walk away to avoid commenting an homicide on the mother for being unfair to them and the child. Some father still pay and stay away because they fear if they do come around to visit their kids the mother will arrest them for no reason at all. Now grant there are some abusive man out here but there are some manipulative mothers as well. They are fighting over the child rather then sharing that child. It’s not just one parent casing chilling to be a parent short it’s both parents and our court system do t make it no better. My only suggestion is to have all males castrate at birth before they have children so they don’t have to go through what fathers go through for many years. I say this because about time you do reunite with your child either their mind is corrupted or they have behavior issues that can’t be correct or change at the age they are when they return.

I’m sadly all the things that gentleman walked away from. I’ve fought and fought and done all I could but my daughter’s mother is the same. I can’t tell you the countless times she’s just outright ignored the court order….for concerts and birthday parties and vacations and every little thing. And she doesn’t care. She’d actually prefer if I walked away and I’ve had very close family and friends say that no one on earth would blame me if I did. But I never have. Though now that my daughter is in high school its more like going out to dinner every two weeks maybe? And she gets a wild hair up her large posterior over the dumbest of things. A reference to a song I like on facebook that truly goes over her head means I’m acting strange? I’ve never once badmouthed her to my daughter although I could. I could tell my daughter about how her and her own mother interviewed 2 different couples about adoption or how she considered very late term abortion that was only legal 4 states away but in truth I’ve ALWAYS been grateful that she’s a good mother, because she is…she’s a good mother but it doesn’t make her a good person. I can especially relate to his reference to a wound that never heels that continuously gets ripped open again and again. And that’s my life. I don’t blame this father for making that very hard choice. I sympathize and empathize. My heart goes out to him and his son. Maybe one day things will change. I would suggest maybe that he start to keep a journal for his son and then when his son is grown up he can go back through the years himself and read about all the times his father thought of him and how he not only wrestled with his decisions but just how deeply he was effected. Either way I don’t really pray but I will keep you in my thoughts and I hope that you can find some peace. Its not easy though…it’s sadly much easier to convince yourself the child will be better off or at least fine if you did check out early and sadly these women wouldn’t look at that with any ounce of guilt like they’re to blame but rather as proof they were right all along. And my daughter’s mother is married! For Christ sake her life is better that I’m not in it! It would have been worse if her and I remained together but doesn’t matter, she hates me and always has. Because I didn’t want her. That’s the only reason. I’ve been there for my daughter since the day she was born. Since beforehand when I found out about the adoption or abortion stuff and I’ve always wanted her and I’ve always said so and I’ve always fought for her. In some ways I bank on the same future that this gentleman does, a future with a relationship that’s completely void of her mother and where she understands that any shortcomings she felt from me weren’t always my doings and that her own mother preferred things this way and honestly would have preferred Id walked away completely as well.

During the marriage, mom was very domineering when it came to time being shared with child. It was a red flag. She sure didn’t mind me helping with all other things (as a dad should). Then came the divorce and allegations of abuse. She tried telling my family I was abusive to her….family didn’t bite. She went to her wealthy father and got a good attorney. Couple that with a system that is rigged to create non custodial parents to generate revenue via Social Security title4d and a vindictive ex that moved the child over 6 hours away and you have a fatherless child.

This is all well and good. What do u do with a father who only wants to see his son Xmas, his birthday and his father’s birthday.
How does that work for the child. Since the father doesn’t call in between.
Is it still the Mother’s fault and should she keep having this inconsiderate “father” in her son’s life

I am 42 year old male. Over 80% of all divorces are filled in the US by woman. That’s a fact. Ask yourself why? Men have no rights at all when it comes to divorce in today’s corrupt society. Co parenting is a complete fraud created by the government. Men that are reading this listen to a man that loved his children and walked away. First, you are not a father anymore. Once you move out of the home and are legally divorced then those children are not yours at all! I don’t care if they tell you otherwise. Your not a father anymore. Your child/childeren belong to your x wife and her new sex partner. You will not have enough time, resources or help to be an active real father. The US had created a evil fraudulent system giving the so-called co parent (the father) visitation rights. Or they will say something like 50/50 in all decisions. All of it is BS. Men, you are nothing but a paycheck to the state which makes millions off of you and you are nothing but a paycheck to your x wife. Your childeren will be raised and influenced by your x wife and her new man. The real father’s influence/respect is completely taken from you by your x wife, courts, and the new supply your x wife is sucking from. Literally. The courts give everything to the woman as of today. You Men are being used and minuplated every other weekend you visit your children. My advice is pay your child support. Tell your children that only when they are 18 years of age will you speak with them. Let them go until they are of age. Pay your bill. Or go ahead and try to deal with children being raised by a woman you completely disagree with and the other man that will be filling your shoes. Don’t do it. In the end you will realize that you are being minuplated and used. Your influence as their real dad is gone. It is a prison the government and the woman put you in. The modern woman is pretty much married to the government not you. Just pay the bill and let that woman and the government kiss your ass. Start a new life. The entire country is falling apart becuase of the actions of modern woman and the governing laws that exist. Don’t worry. Pay your bill.. Thats all that matters or you go to jail. But please Men, DO NOT Co-parenting or be involved at all! If you do you will regret it. Men will rise up. This entire process will fail. And marriage is a complete JOKE to all men. Run from it. One sided corrupt system. Do not trust any modern woman. The law is on her side. You are just a wallet to your x wife and the state. Oh by the way, when your kids turn 18 let them know what their mother did to you. But I think we don’t have much time left as a country. Just pay your bill and stay the hell away. Let the modern woman take care of the rest. And tell your children when they are 18, hell tell everyone to avoid marriage today. It is all I’m favor for woman. It is a scam. And the woman today are horrible. Goodluck men. And go to hell modern woman. Take your government and shove it up you #&@*@.

My ex showed up out of blue once again…after I told her 30 days ago don’t come around. I told her I lknow longer wish too see our children again she just don’t get it…the pain of seeing them is much worse than not seeing them at all….by the way she is married and was married when we had 2 kids together…I know silly me…she told me to say what I told her to my 3 year old daughter and 2 year old son….of course I didn’t tell them that…once they are older they will hopefully be able to see and know the truth…..I have been retired for a long time over 10 years and I’m not close to 50 years of age…I can’t and wontb ruin the life I have built

I’ve not seen my two daughters for over two and a a half years now( 17 & 10) all because their mother wants to get sympathy from the divorce courts to win her own private lottery win through 2 years of a sham marriage, it’s sickening the lows people can go in the pursuit of money, she got caught cheating with her sons friend (my step son) and then turned it around and blamed me of domestic violence, with covid the courts have cancelled multiple times, what if I had kids with me and woke up one day and decided my girls cannot see their mother, would it take their mother over 2.5 years to see them again…… no not at all, and finding that my wife had another name with two national insurance numbers claiming housing and benefits under another name while living & married to me, fraudulently signing my new car into her second name at her other address and so far getting away with it all, this has been the biggest tester of my life as I have no option but to do everything legally, however the system is defiantly bias, I reported my car as stolen she got pulled over and let go, I know if it was the other way around I would have been locked up, the world is @#%ked up and trying to keep calm while all this is happening is all one can do, there is women and men who are good and bad but it’s the man who definitely has a disadvantage, the thought of losing what has taken me 37 years to accumulate through 2.5 years of this fake marriage is something I don’t know how I will continue, it’s legal robbery and alienation from my two daughters in the process is heart wrenching.

I am sorry to hear about your loss. I am 42 and have gone through two divorces. My first cheated so I divorced her immediately. I had two children with her. My family and friends kept telling me to be active and fight to see them. I did eventually (after thousands of dollars and misery) see my two children. The courts gave me 50/50 in all decisions and called me the co-parent. So I spent 14 years going back and forth every other weekend to visit them. I tried to influence them and be a father. It was complete HELL. My advise is do not co-parent at all! It does not work. Co-parenting is a complete scam that will suck the life out of you. Once a divorce is final, you are no longer their father. If a man is not living in the home with his children then that man has lost all fatherly rights and/or influence. Run from it! Let your children know you love them and that you will speak with them when they turn 18. When they are of legal age. You need to do this to not only protect yourself against future drama/allegations comming from the bitch (x wife) but also to allow yourself a new life. You matter. This is now about you. You need to repair. You need to rebuild. If your x wife gives up and says take the children then take them. She will probably do it when they become teenagers and she can’t handle them. But until then. Pat your bill. Stay away. Rebuild.

I met my son for the very first time this week, three days before he turned one year and ten months. As we speak my son’s maternal grand mother, is fighting her own daughter, for wanting to ensure that her grandson has a sound and healthy relationship with his father.

Unfortunately I think the maternal grandmother will eventually win… they usually win against fathers. The children often pay the price for the severed relationship, and the displaced fathers are usualy blamed by society, and called absent, if not, deadbeat.

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