Seventeen year old Rien and her 15 year old sister, Brooke, have not seen their father in over seven years. Their relationship deteriorated after the girls’ parents divorced in 2003, depriving them of that close relationship with their father. Becoming a father is a sacred and scary time in a man’s life. Men arrive at this moment almost completely unprepared – no experienced, wise, elderly male appears to us in dream and outline the importance of bonding with our child and how to be a real father. I was ‘lucky’ in this regard. After giving birth to our son, my wife became very ill and spent months in and out of the hospital. During this time, she was unable to even hold our son. I had to be all things to him. The result – my son and I developed an unusual but special bond.
Effective fathering is not the easiest thing to do. We simply can’t just follow a manual or a set of rules even though if such things were available, as men we would just ignore them and adopt a DIY approach (which we actually do anyway).
Unfortunately, for some of us fathers, too often we miss the opportunity to bond with our kids and develop relationships with them. We allow too many big moments to pass us by. We must come to the realization that our kids represent the greatest opportunity for us to change the world. They are our number one client, our work, our entertainment, our school, and our play. As William Shakespeare says, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Recently, a Bermuda newspaper article featured fathers who are longing and fighting for a relationship with their children. Many of the fathers lost the privilege of being deeply involved in the lives of their children after separating from the mothers. In some cases, the mother, through power received from the courts, restricts access to the children. The fathers describe this as a painful experience for them. Some fathers shared that they have not seen their children for over ten years even though they desire to do so. Father of Rien and Brooke has not seen his girls since 2003 and was trying to get the opportunity to see and spend time with them this past Christmas. He said as a result of the divorce, his children moved to the United States and likely feel deserted by him. However, he feels the “hurt and pain” after his divorce left him with limited access to his “beautiful girls”. The father shared that his only regret in life at this point is that he let his daughters slip away.
These men who are fighting to be involved in their kids’ lives have earned my respect. I have to admit that I wondered whether or not they are the exception to the rule. It just sounds contradictory to what is portrayed in the media and experienced by too many people I come in contact with. My own experience tells me that, though fathers sometimes do not stick around, they later try hard to reconnect with their children. My father abandoned my mother and me while she was still pregnant with me. I was 15 when we spoke for the first time and 22 when we met. I respected his efforts to reconcile with me and his other children. It has not been an easy road for him since I am the only one of his eight children that is on any speaking terms with him. The others seem to have a difficult time getting over his past actions.
Father absenteeism does seem to affect certain races and social classes more than others. Nonetheless, it is a global problem. Without getting into the why, it is a choice made by too many men. This is the reason why I am interested in what we as counselors can do to:
1.Encourage fathers to stay (present and involved)
2.Support fathers who would like to reconnect with their children by conducting support groups for fathers who are separated from their children, for example
3.Promote shared parenting despite separation
The fathers featured in the newspaper article who are forced to live without contact and involvement in their children’s lives are hurting. I would love to see well-meaning fathers, especially those missing in action for a while, be supported and given the opportunity to reconnect and build relationships with their children. I believe it would be an awesome thing if the hearts of all fathers are turned to their children. By being present in the lives of their children, fathers are not only preparing them for their roles as responsible adults and parents but also paving the way to reverse this heartbreaking trend.
Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com