Deadbeat Dads

A while ago, a friend asked me if I’d blog about fathers who don’t stay involved with their children after the parents split. “Sure,” I said, and even offered to let her write a guest post, but in the end, she wanted me to write it.  As we’re leading up to Father’s Day, it seemed like a good time.

Now, my friend asked me to write specifically about fathers, but let’s be clear. Anyone has the capacity to abandon a child, and mothers have also done this. I think more often that women end up raising children alone, but it does go both ways.

It does take two people to make a baby. These days there are multiple ways to accomplish that – there’s the old-fashioned way, but it’s also possible to get in vitro fertilization, and, being an adoptive parent myself (and a step-parent, biological parent, and foster parent) I am well aware of the multiple options.  But biologically, everyone still has two parents.  And except for instances where children have been adopted by a single parent, most people have two parents somewhere, as well.

We are social animals. We stay with our parents for a long time. A LONG time. Few other animals stay with their parents as long as we do. We form real bonds, and from those bonds, we learn how to navigate other relationships in the world. It’s important.

I remember that my parents were always fighting. Always. And I remember that my teacher said that parents fight sometimes, and that’s OK, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to get divorced. Only then my parents got divorced. And I was really upset. But we saw my Dad All The Time. All the time.

We saw him every Wednesday night and every-other-weekend. Which, in the 1970s, was good. People weren’t doing this joint custody thing then. And even though he would have liked to live somewhere more convenient to his job, he got an apartment near to our house so that we’d be close. He was not more than 15 or 20 minutes away. (It was my mother who moved further away – back into New York City, after she remarried two years later).

My parents had a terribly contentious divorce. In fact, they were only married for 19 years, but they continued to fight each other in the courts for 20 years. Seriously. Twenty years. Over money. Their lawyers made out very well. My parents could have had a REALLY comfortable retirement if they’d just dropped it and left well-enough alone. But no. But even with all of that, even with all of the absolute hatred (and I do think there was seething hatred there), my Dad stayed involved with us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He had his issues. He was in an unhealthy relationship with a woman who didn’t get along with me at all – and things were far from perfect. But he was involved. He came to my horse shows and photographed them (he missed school plays and soccer games, but so did my Mom and stepfather). He gave me driving lessons. He drove me to college.

My friend has a little girl, and I understand that, since she and her husband split, he’s lost all interest in his daughter. I think that’s so sad! I have no idea if this guy is paying child support or not. But being a father is so much more than just paying the way for your child. As I’ve said, we’re social animals. Children need to know that they’re loved.

Now, my Dad and I got into a rough patch. During my junior year in college, I got very angry (having to do with the never-ending court cases that my parents were now dragging me into), and I stopped speaking to him for nine years. But I was the one who stopped. My father never did. When I opened the door up a crack again, he sent me a huge box of photographs (my father was a history teacher and a photographer – a good combination) – documenting my life from birth to about age 17 – all on archive board. He was showing me that he was always there.

A Dad should always be there. Parents – any parents, should be there. It doesn’t matter what your relationship is to the other parent. You might despise the other parent. My parents generally couldn’t be in a room together (well, not until the first grandchild turned two – and then they finally grew up – but that’s a different blog). But they could still be involved. There’s no excuse for walking away from children. Ever.

When Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac up on Mt. Moriah, I think God was doing a face palm. “Why aren’t you arguing with me again?” I’m sure God was saying. And Isaac never spoke directly to Abraham again. What a loss. We are not meant to sacrifice our children up on Mt. Moriah.  We are meant to be involved with them. No matter what. Don’t make God extend God’s hand – don’t make God stop this mountain and come down here. Do the right thing. Be a parent. Happy Father’s Day.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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2 thoughts on “Deadbeat Dads

  1. Fine reflection, Madelyn, but I’m not so sure the “Deadbeat Dads” headline reflects the decidedly “un-Deadbeat” nature of your own Dad whose memory you invoke so affectingly here. Thanks for this!

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