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
  • 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?

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.

649 Comments

Sad that you could think like this Mary.

At the end of the day, the only way we know about this story is because he’s telling us. So it is possible that there are things that are left out? Yeah. But now because he let us know he’s an educated professional and spent six figures on a lawyer, he’s narcissistic? It can’t just be him trying to show us that no matter how much you spend on a lawyer, as a man in the family system, you’re at an inherent disadvantage? We need to be careful that we aren’t reading things into the story that aren’t actually there. If this was the story of a woman talking about the abuse that she endured from her husband with all the same circumstantial details, would also meet it with the same level of skepticism? Would you assume there are things she did or things that she doesn’t want coming to light? Of course not. And it’s that same kind of biased thinking that has lead to the creation of this system that affects men in a way women can never dream of understanding because they’re not men.

As a person who’s going through everything this man has gone through, I can attest to the reality that he could very well be telling the truth. I know I may be hard to hear and even harder to process but these type of women do actually exist. Male depression of situations like this is a real thing. He has every right to be insulted by being pushed into a Disneyland dad role. He has every right to be insulted when he’s being emotionally abused by a partner and financially abused by a system.

Sure, we’ll never know whether or not he’s telling the truth about his situation. But since it’s all we have to go off of and it isn’t inherently unbelievable or contradictory, then I’ll believe him. And you should too.

This situation is reversed for me. I am a Mother that was prevented from seeing my Son. I can relate 100% with the Fathers trying to see their children. It hurts so bad. I am a Registered nurse and we had joint custody but my son wanted to live with his Father. They moved away. I was not even placed on enrollment records as his Mom. Never informed of school activities. It weighs on the other parent. I cried reading this, because I felt every single aspect of the pain. My son is 20 now and moved on with his life. I am a background Mother always desiring to just hear how his day was. I can just hope his life is positive and he is happy.

I lost my parental rights because I didn’t see my daughter. But the reason I didn’t was because my ex wife was violating the court orders and refusing to let me see my child or talk to my child unless I did everything her way. She was holding my daughter hostage and blackmailing me. The FOC ignored my complaints and refused to do anything. The FOC would only help the mother. The Judges (both female) refused to look at the evidence and hold my ex in contempt. My ex constantly violated the court orders and not once was she held in contempt. Instead they always changed the order to make it easier on my ex and harder on me. My ex even got the school to shut me out because she put down her husband as the father and lied that I was unfit. If I go and try and see my daughter the police will be called. All contact as been blocked. The Judge closed the case. I wanted to be a father. I tried so hard but it was made impossible. I now know it is illegal for a man to be a father.

Thank you
I think people need to hear this!
The Court system is setup to screw these poor dad’s who are often the more sane parent. My ex wife will stop at nothing to bring hardship to my life but it’s just a testament to her own misery.

My ex wife works for a lawyer. I have been dragged into court for 6 years now every year. She is allowed to file for the same things she lost on every time. At one time we went through mediation and my own lawyer and the mediator tried to get me to accept less time than I had with my children. That was completely wrong. What they were not wrong about was that the ex was going to take me to court forever until she got exactly what she wanted. It has not happened yet. I go straight to court to have the judge decide as it is the only way I have a chance.

My oldest refused to come my house for years. Years later she wanted to return a Christmas present since I got the version that cost slightly less(eventually I found out she sold it for hundreds of dollars less than I paid for it). I went into my room to calm down and when I came out she was screaming at me and tried to take her sister away from me on Christmas. It gets worse but I’ll keep the rest to myself. She has not apologized for the incident one time and it’s been 2 years now. The year after that , both kids showed up and opened their presents and fell asleep for a couple hours and then left. That is what it is like now if I get to spend any time with them. They get something from me and leave. I once forced the oldest to spend a holiday with me and all she kept saying was “I always spend holidays with my family”. (meaning I am not her family, of course she still wants things from me) About half the time now the youngest won’t come over for scheduled visits and never even tells me that she isn’t coming over. So in the end for some of us, we pay twice as much as the other parent for everything and have no real time to be a parent.

Anyone who says there is no incentive for a parent to keep children away from a parent is full of it. I had to watch my daughter balling her eyes out when she was ready to go home with me and her mom had sued me to take away my time when she was about 8 years old. Why did it happen? Her mom wanted me to pay more support and pay more for medical bills than the state requirements. I lost tons of time with my daughter just because of that and never got that time back. Eventually the schedule went back to the way it was after months and months.

There is an informal movement on the net to advise men to avoid marriage in the West and parenting to escape the hell that legal system and ex-wives visit upon them. Of course, the same bad actors are doing their best to silence the voices warning men that Western marriage is a very risky enterprise. Basically, ex-wives are incentivized to act deplorably. Something has to give.

I really appreciated reading these posts. It is encouraging to see that I am not the only one going through this. Being made to feel that you are a “bastard” because you left a corrosive and toxic relationship seems to be a common theme. *Spoiler Alert* The other side of the story comes out!

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