They're Right Here, Dad; Why Can't You Call Us?
July 25, 2011 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything a divorced mom with primary custody of three kids could say to their dad to get him to pay attention to his kids?

Briefest of overviews: Married for 17 years, divorced for the last 8; had three kids together (19 girl, 17 girl, 13 boy), after initial separation my ex moved down the street with our eldest's best friend's family (she also has three kids). This is noted for the ick factor this caused for my daughter but also to note that he lives a mile down the road.

The marriage ended because over the course of several years he became hostile to all of us and then ultimately violent towards me a few times and the kids (it just took one time and it was all over).

We had a standard visitation agreement: Wednesday dinners, alternate weekends and he had them for 2 weeks annually for vacations.

In the past four years, he has seen them once. He doesn't call them, etc. Nothing.

The kids have been in therapy about this and have basically come to the conclusion that it's not them; it's him, and that he's just kind of an a**hole.

(If this sounds familiar, I was a mefite with dzaz as my name, I'm back with a new name. Hi, everyone. Missed ya.)

Over the weekend, my 13yo son saw that his dad had called and he did this little tough guy thing, "Oh hey, Dad called." Me: "Gonna call him back?" Him: "Nah." But I could see he was pretty devastated when he checked the voicemail and realized it was an accidental butt-dial. And I just wanted to cry.

Here's the question: over the years, I've tried calling (he won't answer or return my calls) and emailing (he doesn't respond) to ask if he'd like to see the kids; if there's anything I could to facilitate a visit, etc.


Can I do anything? If not, how can I talk to the kids but also, how can I not let it cause me so much pain? And an aside, can someone explain to me what the heck is going on in his head that he can have three kids that he completely ignores?
posted by kinetic to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It may be annoying to answer your question with another question, but I can't help but wonder: If he's been violent to your kids in the past, why do you think it's important that he have a relationship with them? If I were you I'd be counting my blessings that this violent man could no longer serve as any sort of role model for my children.

I don't know what is going on inside his head, but whatever it is, it's not something you can fix or probably even understand. I would focus on your children here, on helping them to understand that the fact of him being their biological father doesn't mean he's a nice person they want to be around, and that it is absolutely not their fault that he's the way he is.
posted by something something at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2011 [15 favorites]

Because the kids are almost all adults, you might want to check out Deborah Tannens book about conversations with adult family members, I only Say this Beacuse I Love You: Talking to Your Parents, Partner, Sibs, and Kids When You're All Adults.

The subtitle says it all. One, it'l help you discuss this (and other things!) with your kids. Two, it'll give you some tips to pass on to your kids (when they're ready) for dealing with their dad, if/when they do get to have a conversation with him.

As far as therapy, make sure they understand locus of control, that is to say, that this is not their fault (it seems they do) but also, that the absence of their father doesn't need to be a reason/excuse for them to be anything other than successful, well adjusted adults. Make sure they have the skills and confidence to make the healthy decisions for their lives.

But really, it sounds like you're on the right track, and I agree with something something, the violence makes him a poor role model, and I hope the kids have been made aware of that as a factor in your decision making. IE, anyone who jeopardizes your safety is someone that is probably not worth your/our time, even if their "relationship" to you seems sacrosanct.
posted by bilabial at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

You've made the effort, and if the kids or the dad aren't particularly interested, why keep pushing for it? The kids are old enough (now) to decide for themselves, and the dad is an asshole, so if none of them are interested, isn't that the decision?

And you've made the effort yourself, so you're absolved.

As for what's going on his his mind, I have no idea. Doesn't want to face the kids or you because that means facing his own failures or guilt or something. Dunno. He's an asshole.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:27 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't fix what's broken...and the reason why his relationship with your kids, you, and reality is broken is because HE is fundamentally broken.

You can't force him, cajole him or convince him. He needs a real Road to Damascus moment and those rarely, if ever, come and can't be relied on.

Best to sit down with your kids and explain that it's not their fault that dad is like this. That you love them so much and will take care of them. That's all you can do.
posted by inturnaround at 11:27 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

This doesn't really answer your question either but after 17 years of marriage, four kids and a divorce with similar issues, a friend gave me the following words of advice: if you couldn't get him to give you what you needed when you were married to him, what makes you think you will now that you're divorced? Some people are just a-holes, and I know that's hard for kids to understand, but there you go. Sounds like you're doing the rights things with therapy, etc. As hard as it is sometimes, try not to disparage your ex in front of your kids, it only hurts them in the long run.
posted by tamitang at 11:32 AM on July 25, 2011 [14 favorites]

Maybe you can sit down with the kids (who are interested) and help them write letters to him themselves. Who knows what kind of baggage and bullshit he's carrying around (deserving or undeserving) ... a letter from his son saying "I miss you" could be the jumpstart he needs. I can't imagine anything more you can say or do that would matter (to your credit).
posted by crankyrogalsky at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

IANYL, TINLA. This is a difficult problem. You can't be in the position of telling the kids anything negative, including what's probably the truth: they are probably better off without him. (Don't disparage dad in front of the kids, or allow anyone else to do so - they will figure it out on their own.) On the other hand, kids often arrive at the devastating and wrong conclusion, which is that they have something wrong with them.

Unless your kids are seriously lacking in maturity for their age, they ought to have a pretty reasonable handle on what would be best for them. They obviously know where dad lives and what his contact information is, but they're not exactly reaching out to him, are they? Your youngest is a possible exception, but he should explore that in counseling with someone other than you.

Last, you can talk to your lawyer. In many states, custodial time spent with the children decreases the financial burden on the other party, which impacts child support. In theory, you might be able to go back to court to modify the child custody order to reflect the reality of what dad wants to do anyway (i.e., zero custodial timeshare for dad) and then to modify the support order accordingly. The net effect is a financial incentive to spend time with the kids.

This might not work. It also may not be pleasant for the kids to spend time with him if it's coerced. After consulting with a lawyer, you should discuss this with a counselor or family therapist to help you determine whether this is really in the best interest of the children.
posted by Hylas at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems you and your kids don't have much to gain by getting more of this guy in their lives, but when I was in a similar position I considered posting "He Say, She Say" by Lupe Fiasco on his facebook wall.
posted by milk white peacock at 11:37 AM on July 25, 2011

Forget him. As a child of divorced parents (including an a-hole father), I'm a firm believer that kids are better off as orphans than they are being raised by a-hole parents.

My best advice to you is this: Don't talk shit about your ex to the kids. Ever. It's abusive. "I'm sorry you're going through this" is fine. "I'm sorry your dad's an ass" isn't.

(Also, this isn't a one-way blame game. After all, you chose an abandoning a-hole to father your children. I realize that you didn't know you were doing it at the time, but don't expect to get off scot-free in your children's minds and hearts.)
posted by coolguymichael at 11:38 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Hi! Welcome back!

I think you should get your son a new cell phone number and his dad should not be able to contact him directly. Ditto your other kids. You could get a google voice number that rings multiple phones when called, and that is the number your ex can use to get in touch with all of you.

Or, just have ex use the landline if everyone is still living at home.


I remember you and this whole situation. I think it is long long past the point where you and your kids move beyond this situation. Who cares what he is thinking!!! Even asking that keeps you and your precious children in the cycle of drama, in the habit of caring about your ex.

It's time for everyone to grieve this relationship and move on. No doors left open, no false hopes for reconciliation.

Have a talk with your kids. See what they feel and want. They should know there is strong possibility that the sooner they close the door on this, the sooner their hearts will heal. They should know that disowning their dad is a possibility for them.

I know this is against the traditional divorce mumbo jumbo about not excluding a parent, but really, what choice have you got? Reality is pounding your poor kids over the head here, it's a shame if you don't give them free agency to take their control back from this man and the devastating unrequited love for they must feel for their father.

They don't have to hate him, although a period of anger is healthy and appropriate as long as it is part of a larger process to become OK with the reality of the relationship.


In short. I'm so sorry, but I think this horse is dead. Give your kids the practical and emotional tools to bury the horse and move on with their lives.

Your ex is not likely to ever want a relationship with his kids. Anyway, if were them and he did show up one day, I would be very very wary.

Empower your kids. It's the last choice you've got, and it happens to be the wisest choice, too, given the history.
posted by jbenben at 11:39 AM on July 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

That their father isn't showing interest in them is hurting your children. That your children are hurting will not be solved by their father showing interest in them.

I know what I'm talking about. I'm the child of not one, not two, but three divorces. I know what it's like to have a deadbeat father. I know what it's like to have a father who is too sick for a relationship.

It seems like their relationship with their father is a knifewound for your children. You don't heal a knifewound with more stabbing. It'd be best to give their father as few opportunities to (emotionally) stab them as possible.

Thank you for ensuring that your children are in therapy. It is extraordinarily good that you are so active in ensuring their well-being. It seems here, however, the best you can do for them is to show them that a healthy, happy life does not require their father's involvement.
posted by meese at 11:45 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oops "...if I were them and he did show up..."

And maybe I didn't want to use the word "disown" as much as I wanted to convey something that encompassed a sense of finality and acceptance about the situation as it really is and has been for a very long long time.

Anyway. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2011

To the "...what the heck is going on in his head that he can have three kids that he completely ignores...", I think we've established the "he's an asshole, move on" part of the discussion, but...

I've deliberately chosen to not have kids. Even so, I've ended up with a number of kids in my life. Yesterday I spent 6 hours or so with a 4th grader in my workshop, trying to relate to him and his interests, and I've got to tell ya: It's a lot of work.

It's a lot of work to get past my expectations of what they should be; to understand when what they say they want and what they're doing towards that are in disagreement is ADD, and when it's a matter of me not listening; to support without pushing; to inform without preaching; to let them make their own mistakes without letting them injure themselves; and so forth.

When I carve out time to do these things it can be tremendously rewarding, yesterday's struggling to figure out why he said he wanted to build a marble machine but kept getting distracted from that turned into a gorgeous little Koa ring box with continuous grain between the body and the lid that he made for his mom, but when I contemplate "oh crap, I'm being railroaded into spending time with this kid" it could be very easy to say "no". The anticipation of that time, of trying to really deeply listen to a kid, of trying to make a few hours all about them, of trying to come up with things we can enjoy together without being pushy, being "yet another preachy asshole adult" is really unpleasant.

So, yeah, I can't speak to this particular asshole, but if he's starting out having seriously fucked up on a bunch of fronts, he may just be in a space where he can't imagine a way to rescue his relationship with those kids. Or he may not feel like he has the energy to do so.

Especially given that he's got a history of violence and I-don't-know-what-else to overcome in order to have that relationship. Some times the easy (coward's?) path is to start fresh and hope that we make different mistakes this time, rather than trying to repair the mistakes made last time. The disinterest could very well stem from enough self-knowledge to know how badly he's screwed up.

In any case, neither you nor the kids can fix him.
posted by straw at 11:47 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

No, you cannot get this man to pay attention to your kids because he isn't interested in them. I'm very, very sorry that that is the case but being sorry doesn't change that. Stop looking for something from this man that he is unable to provide, because you will set your kids up for absolutely nothing but heartache and disappointment.

The only thing you can tell these children is "I'm so sorry your dad is like this. You are a great person and it's sad that he's missing out. I am so proud to have you as my kid." Don't bad talk him or make excuses or offer hope. There isn't any.

Instead, focus on what you can control in the circumstances you've been given. Work with your son's therapist to help him. Find him a male role model who is willing to call, go to the movies, play games, etc - an uncle, a friend, a Big Brother, someone who is willing to commit to building a one-on-one relationship with him.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:49 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

The short answer is "no." There is nothing you can say.

Well except for... maybe... compassion.

I would tell my kids that Dad is "lost." I would tell them, repeatedly, all of the good things that made you attracted to him. All of the times that he held them and loved them. Even if you have to search through the rubble, salvage a few stories that show that he was (at least originally) capable of being a good dad and they were kids he loved dearly.

Present him to them as a fundamentally good man who has lost his way, or has been broken. Ask them to pray for him, if that's the kind of thing you do. It's easier to accept that Dad is "sick" than it is to think that he's perfectly okay and just doesn't care to give them a second thought. It has the benefit of being true. People don't aspire to be assholes naturally.

Don't deny their justified anger. Don't quash feelings of disappointment and frustration. Don't force them to make nice or pretend he's okay. But just direct all such things to this idea that it's not really him, their dad. He's lost. And it's not their fault he's lost.

Maybe some day he, the dad, might ask about the kids. Or maybe they will come up in conversation. And then you can mention, in a compassionate, non-judgmental way that the kids love and miss the real dad they knew, but they have decided that He isn't that dad any more. And the longer he stays away the easier it will be for them to be happy without him. And he can come to the school play/hockey game/family dinner if he wants to (if he can be civil) but only if he wants to because the kids have stopped counting on him. But that doesn't mean that they couldn't recognize the real him if he showed up one day, ready to make things right.

And you'll probably get the response that you and I know is most likely. But in his sixties or seventies, when he comes face-to-face with the reality of the shit-heap of a life he has created for himself. Maybe he can take your open invitation as a ray of hope for him, in new-found humility, to redeem himself in a small way.

Leave the door cracked a bit, but guard it. If not for his humanity, then for yours and your kids'.
posted by cross_impact at 11:57 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

If he's been violent to your kids in the past, why do you think it's important that he have a relationship with them? If I were you I'd be counting my blessings that this violent man could no longer serve as any sort of role model for my children.

This, oh my God, this. I'm a survivor of abuse, and especially at that age (roughly when it happened for me, too) it would be my super special magical pony wish if I never, ever had to see that asshole ever again.

The abuser was stepdad #1, and while I did have a big void in my life at that time from my absent father, even so, I just wanted to get away from Evil Stepdad. I know the situation is not the same, but man... for me, it went on long enough that I got to the point of contemplating taking my life. No one should be brought to that point, and certainly not kids. My fear is that if you push for a greater presence from this man who has already demonstrated both that he's really not interested, and a history of violence, it could have tragic consequences. :(
posted by xedrik at 12:02 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

man, this could be me from your kid's perspective.

Dad shacked it up with a neighbor that is three doors down. Now he lives with her. I was 18 when my parents divorced.

It would be a stretch to say I've spent more then two weeks in his presence, all together, in the last 9 years (none of us have moved).

Part of it is avoiding my mother, but part of it is just that he doesn't think about me. Out of sight, out of mind. There is a 50/50 chance he answers the phone when I call him, but he almost always comes through if I need something from him.

I can't make him want to spend time with me, to hang out. I think I hold onto some vain hope that as he gets older, he'll need me and reach out more. I could be deluding myself, though.

I've made a conscious decision not to hate my father, and come to accept that this is the way he is. I had to come to this myself though, my mother wasn't able to help me much (as a matter of fact she is still all annoyed with him for the exact same reasons you are). I understand her feelings just as I accept my father's actions.

I'm Twenty-Seven years old now, but I had to go through crazy suicidal depression and recover from it to reach this state. I know this isn't very comforting, but this is not something you can fix as a Mom. You can't replace their Dad and you can't force their Dad to want to see them. The best thing you can do is be there for them, listen to them, and offer your love. (and perhaps buy them a black kitten when they're desperate for affection. Even if said kitten grows up to drive them bonkers because she meows and meows and meows..*)

(*not actual advice, just anecdotal example of my mother trying her best to make me happy when I was so very very sad)

Feel free to memail me if you have questions. :)
posted by royalsong at 12:03 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Clearly he isn't interested in maintaining a relationship with your kids. That's horrible. But what would be worse would be trying to force it. Continually reaching out to your ex-husband is simply asking your children to be rejected again, and again, and again. Your children have already had therapy to help them deal with what's happened to their family. They understand the nature of their relationship with their father from a healthy perspective. Let them continue to live as intelligent, well-adjusted individuals.
posted by litnerd at 12:11 PM on July 25, 2011

Also make sure to tell your kids, as they get older, that it's ok if they don't want to talk to him either, until and if they're ready. Sometimes "dumped kids" get well-meaning advice that they should keep trying to reconcile, forgive and move on, they'll regret not having a relationship with that parent, etc. They can struggle with feeling guilty or selfish for not wanting to reach out or reconcile.

Let your kids know that it's ok to be angry or hurt for however long they are, and that they shouldn't feel bad if they don't want any contact.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:56 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am so, so sorry that you and your family are dealing with this. A very similar thing happened to my husband and sister-in-law when they were still in college--dad abruptly left & joined a new family. I was with them as they worked through the pain of the divorce and then their father's virtual abandonment. It was, and still sometimes is, heartbreaking. Good on you for trying to stay strong & reach out to him for your kids' sake. And for having them in therapy--that'll give them the tools to deal with this.

The only thing I have to offer is what I've told my husband & SIL: the only person whose behavior you can control is your own.

Would it be possible for them to reach out to him? Invite him to do some specific things, or to attend school events? It might take a lot of repetition to work. In my family's case, I think their dad feels ashamed of his behavior and doesn't really know how to relate to his kids now. Maybe hearing from the kids that yeah, they really do want to see him, will start to mend that relationship.

The only thing is, it's different with kids. If they try reaching out and still get rejected, it's not their fault, and I wouldn't want them to feel that way. My husband and SIL are adults, and they understand that if they reach out and dad doesn't respond, he's the one who's losing out and is a jerk. It's still hurtful, yeah, but the therapy should help your kids work through that.

Apologies if this seems like a terrible idea; I don't have kids. But I just know how terrible & painful it is to lose a relationship like that and if this can help in any way, then it's worth mentioning.

I should also say, dealing with their dad is a lot easier because they have a terrific mom, which it sounds like you are, who is totally involved and interested and positive about their lives. They still have that family base to ground them and make them feel loved. So, keep on being awesome for them and for you.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2011

Ah, see, nakedmolerats makes some excellent points that I was afraid my answer lacked. Forgive my naivete.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:05 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Y'know, I'm going to have to disagree strongly with cross_impact's very well intentioned advice.

First of all, there is my experience I recently wrote about here on the green. For a good 15 years, I felt horribly conflicted as a person because I loved my dad and he didn't love me, or at least he didn't treat me well. The day I truly groked I had different values and my dad's presence in my life was only a source of disappointment - WOW - the change in my over all wellbeing was incalculable. The healing was swift after that because I was no longer stuck thinking/hoping it would get better. I have a lot to say about accepting what IS instead of operating in fantasy land, especially when it comes to intimate relationships like those with parents, close friends, romantic partners, or other close family. I think we can't afford to lie to ourselves in these situations because those relationships are the ones that have real power and often defyour our lives. At least, that's how it's worked for me.

But in terms of your son, I'm thinking more specifically about a former friend of mine....

This man was a few years older than me and I knew him roughly 20 years. His parents were married originally, but his dad was a cheater and abusive, eventually the dad abandoned him and his mom when he was still very young. I think the dad was physically nearby during friend's childhood but not involved too much, just like the situation with your son. His dad also developed another family which friend was excluded from.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, this guy at his deepest core never ever gave up hope that one day his father would reconcile with him. I think it shaped every choice he ever made in life.

This guy is the most fucked up and unhappy person I have ever known. Full stop.

I remember when not too long ago, at the age of 46, friend confessed to me he believed his dad would maybe finally reach out to him, since word had recently filtered back that his now elderly father was gravely ill. I was shocked he could believe that. No wonder friend was such a mess. Look what he was holding on to!

Oops. I think I am rambling here. And upon preview, I found what royalsong had to say eerily familiar in terms of this guy I am discussing. Friend has been suicidal and depressive since I first met him way back when.


I think it is foolish to want the attentions of someone who treats you crap. In my recent previous answer on this subject, I wrote that I never wanted my son or husband to get the impression that being treated the way my dad treats me is acceptable in any way. By continuing to wonder why your ex would do this, by not putting some practical shielding in place where your 13 year old is concerned (I seem to remember a past question about a similar telephone incident) you may be inadvertently setting your kid up for a troubled and tormented inner life.

Come to think of it, I believe I may have written something similar to this the last time there was a cell phone incident with your son posted here on the green. If that's the case, I guess it's just interesting to note that royalsong was writing about a similar personal experience while I was writing this.

The consequences for children or adults failing to appropriately process this sort of thing are probably a google search or two away, sadly, I don't think it is a terribly unique dynamic. So if personal anecdotes don't help, maybe clinical research on the subject has insights we haven't thought of?

I know your kid is already in therapy, but not changing the cell phone situation into something gentler for your son to handle just seems cruel, like picking a scab or something.

I'm not sure if expanding on my original answer was at all helpful. Sorry if this was at all off point.

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:21 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Leopard/spots. Your ex-husband is not likely to become an exemplary dad since he has shown no instance of care for your children. The best you can do is move on. Respectfully suggest you face facts and quit mourning what is gone forever. This is not healthy for you or the children.

If you have a brother, uncle, or solid male friend of the family, perhaps he would provide some male presence which might benefit the children.
posted by Cranberry at 1:22 PM on July 25, 2011

You got lots of good thoughtful advice above. I thought it might be worth mentioning that the tv series Parenthood had a relevant storyline where the absent dad sort of shows up and evokes some feelings similar to what you described in your teenager when he got the butt dial. The subplot runs for three episodes (I think) in Season 2--#'s 15, 16, and 17. It might be worth watching yourself, or with your kids. I think this show does a great job of getting inside these characters' heads, and it could help you help yourself and your kids.
posted by gubenuj at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2011

Too much good advice I needed to read to mark any one best answer. Thanks, everyone. I'm looking into a Big Brother for my son (no male relatives around), and we have all spoken about how their dad's inaction has made them feel and that none of them want him around; they get that they can't change him, etc.

As their primary caregiver, I do try to help fix things (and more importantly, teach them how to fix things themselves) when I can but I needed a reality check about when to let this one go for good.
posted by kinetic at 1:42 PM on July 25, 2011

Your job is to love and protect them. Especially protect them. I would suggest you not pursue him but instead set clear boundaries - as suggested above - give the kids new cellphone numbers and let him contact through you. Don't let them end up being devstated for his missed calls. And count your blessings - given his previous behavior that he is limiting their exposure to him by not contacting them. Given his past it could be much much worse.

One more thing - while you don't want to denigrate their dad, helping them set boundaries and acknowledging inappropriate, abusive or plain ole crazy behavior is a good thing to do. Stay away from "your father is an asshole", but a. standing up for them (if you are present for the behavior) or b. saying the behaviour is 'inappropriate', 'not okay', and teaching them to set boundaries is great. Example: "Its not okay for him to yell at you. Tell him to stop yelling and talk to you in a lower tone. If he does not, say you are going into the other room until he does. When you get to the next room, call me and I will drop everything and come get you." If this is too confrontational (and it may be given his violent history), tell them "Its not okay for him to yell at you. Tell him to stop yelling and talk to you in a lower tone.If he does not, leave the room, call me and I will drop everything to come get you". Be clear, acknowledge his problem (not denigrating should NOT equal covering up or not stating the obvious), this will help them live in the world that IS, not world of disappointed dreams - another example - "Your dad has a problem with his anger - he cannot manage it well. That is NOT your fault".

As their mom you help them learn to set boundaries and protect themselves. Dont leave it to therapist - its your obligation as well.
posted by zia at 1:45 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

On preview - may just be a language thing - but try to avoid 'fixing' things. Some situations and some people you can't fix. You can set boundaries, you can protect yourself, you can manage (your own) expectations. But you can't fix the other person - and as long as you are trying to fix them, you are going to get hurt, perhaps badly.
posted by zia at 1:49 PM on July 25, 2011

My dearest friend has an ex like this. They live in the same small town, see him at the supermarket, and basically, act like he's a old acquaintance that they're not particularly thrilled to see. Her kids (youngest is 17, dad left when she was 10) don't hate him, but don't have any expectations of him at all. He claimed it was too painful for him to have any contact with them, because of his guilt. Ya sure, you betcha. She very wisely found great therapists, other father-types, and never assumed that he would ever respond to any overture appropriately. If he did send a present or a card, it was lagniappe.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on July 25, 2011

Even worse than having a dad who doesn't give a crap about you is having a dad who suddenly swoops back into your life with bright and shiny intentions of actually giving a crap about you, but then goes straight back to not giving a crap about you. Which is exactly what would happen if you somehow managed to convince your ex to try acting like a proper dad. If he doesn't actually care, he won't keep it up. And, obviously, he doesn't care. What you should be doing is helping your kids form some kind of scar tissue over this wound.
posted by HotToddy at 3:58 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh HotToddy, how right you are.

Unfortunately, at anything less than full adult maturity though, any of the OP's three kids could easily fall for the swoop of bright and shiny intentions. The sudden, intense attention is intoxicating when you are the kid who so desperately wants to have a relationship and to make a connection with the absentee parent. It is crushing to realize that the promises were empty, the words were mere platitudes and the absentee parent is once again absentee. The child is left reeling while the parent wanders off having convinced himself that he's really a good person and he did "what he could so all is well." (Generalizing from my POV. It was my father. However the absentee, a-hole parent could be the mother.)
posted by onhazier at 5:46 PM on July 25, 2011

Well, I personally said every word I know in every combination, and was unable to unlock the Parenting ability in my children's father. There's no cheat code as far as I know.

I know we as custodial parents can make it *harder* for the non-custodial parent to see his kids -- associating CS with visitation, being angry, micro-managing his time with them -- but absent that, in the end, he's gotta wanna. When it became apparent that my kids weren't going to have a dad -- at least, not in their biological father -- I tried to be frank with them, without vilifying him, and stress what he has contributed to their lives (things "he bought them" via CS, genetic traits from that side of the family) and try to help them see that we just can't always get what we want, and that's OK. People can only do the best they can do, and we have it a lot better than most people in the world.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 6:07 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

My idea: talk to the new lady.

Presumably you knew her before the divorce due to the relationship between your daughters. She probably has some affection for your kids. She might be willing to encourage your ex to spend time with them and/or facilitate that. I'm just saying that sometimes men turn over the relationships in their lives to their women, and if you talk to her about it, you may find the kids back on his schedule.

Just an idea n
posted by bq at 7:51 PM on July 25, 2011

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