Once a father, always a father

FatherSeconds after my daughter’s birth, she was put in my arms. There I was, holding this little bundle with a pretty decent mop of black  hair, crying desperately and still quite messy from the birth. At that point I had no time to decide whether I wanted to be a father or not. The fact was literally in my face. I am a father and the few minutes I was afforded, was all it took to bond inseparably. From that moment I was and still am a very proud father. My son was born two years later with only a day separating their births. I feel a sense of pride and joy when they call me dad, to this day. It’s a title bestowed on me way back then, it’s a title I am and a title I’ll always have. I don’t have to try and be a father, I am a father. Even if divorce changes everything, it cannot change this single fact. There is something fundamentally profound about that and also something timelessly secure about it – a sense of permanence.

Why is this seemingly obvious fact even an issue in divorce? Mothers are most often the primary caregivers, leaving fathers with mere restricted visitation and financial obligations. In the beginning, there is usually an eagerness from fathers to remain relevant, present and influential in his role as the biological father. Sadly, as the fractal family find balance in a new world of single parenting, the father usually finds himself getting more alienated from his children. Hence the popular quip by many fathers that they “simply become a walking ATM”.

Anti-dad politics are easily dispensed by mothers at every opportunity, while fathers are powerless to counter campaigns of this kind. Children are easily influenced and as a result, a very precarious, volatile and unhealthy situation arises despite efforts by the father to remain available, relevant and active. Dad feels left out in the cold, while mom and the kids get on with a new life. This scenario is often exacerbated when mom meets a new partner who steps into the role of being a significant father figure in the home. This new man immediately occupies the high ground with the full support of mom. He also enjoys far more time with the children. Sadly, Dad desperately fights for a position of relevance outside the home or often capitulates and simply walks away.

As the years go by, the divide becomes complete alienation and many questions arise: Am I needed as a father? Would it matter if I just wasn’t there? These poignant questions are answered by affected fathers in a myriad of ways: some work even harder to stay close while some just give up and go their own way letting the winds of change blow at will.

Both parents need to be fully supportive of each other and need to guard against the alienation of the other, with regard to the children. Failing to do this is simply robbing the children of an irreplaceable parent. It can be avoided by sensible, unselfish and structured communication between parents who, despite being divorced, still recognise the valuable and critical role both parents play in the lives of their children.

In conclusion, to dads who are doubting their value as a father to their children – be the kind of dad you wished your dad had been, or you enjoyed your dad being to you. Remember, you are a father, so go out and be the best one you can be, despite the circumstances. It’s the greatest legacy you could leave your children.

Written for fairdivorce.co.za by Keith Patrick Arnold (Divorced Dad from the Karoo)