Several years ago, my boyfriend, David, had two beautiful daughters. They were the same age as my daughter, Morgan, so we spent a lot of time together. David was a great dad. He was completely devoted to them.
He volunteered in their classroom, spent loads of hours teaching them to speak French fluently, got involved in a daddy-daughter group where they went camping on the weekends. You get the picture.
If they were sick, he was the first one to pick them up at school and nurse them back to health. If David and I ever had a date and something came up that involved his daughters, he was quick to cancel. I found his commitment to his children completely charming and totally sexy.
There was huge animosity between David and his ex wife, Abby. She had remarried and the war between the two sides was sometimes breathtaking. From what David told me, there were good reasons why Abby was angry with David. He hadn’t been a good husband.
During their marriage, he had an affair and it was awful for everyone involved, though their daughters were kept shielded from most of it (thank goodness). Though David had been a really horrible husband, I could not find one allegation from anyone that he wasn’t a great dad—not throughout their marriage or after the split. All he wanted to do was be a dad and have a good relationship with his daughters.
Yet Abby was doing everything possible to minimize their daughters’ contact with David. She was working hard to have her new husband take over as Dad. It was tearing David up inside and, I believe, that was the point.
At the time, I, too, was recently divorced. My ex husband, Mike, and I had adopted the most precious two year old daughter from Russia together. Unlike the scenario with David, my daughter could not have a “normal” relationship with Mike. It involved all kinds of complicating factors that included mental illness and safety of the child. Mike was only allowed supervised visitation and if I had violated that court order, I probably would have lost custody, too. I wished things were different but they weren’t.
When I married my ex husband, we adopted another daughter from Russia when she was almost three years old. When I left him and took the children with me, he used the children as weapons against me. At first, he threatened that if I took the children, he would cancel my health insurance. When that threat fell on deaf ears, he threatened that if I didn’t give in to his financial demands, he would cut off his contact with the children. True to his word, he did.
So, yes, there are circumstances in which men cannot or will not be a part of their children’s lives. And in those cases, we are powerless to change things. But I’ve seen so many instances where men want a better relationship with their children but whose mothers do everything possible to prevent it. The pain it causes fathers is tremendous. And that, sadly, is often the point. Children become a powerful weapon used to right the wrongs during the marriage. And the losers are the children.
I can’t even fathom how difficult it must be to send children off to a visit with a dad who perhaps had an affair and is still with that woman. It must be horrific. And, in those awful circumstances, what is in the best interest of the children? When making those decisions, intent is critical. Is the intent of minimizing contact with the offending dad to hurt him or to protect the children? If it’s to hurt dad, then different decisions must be made. Good dads are important to children, too. And oftentimes very poor husbands can be very good dads.
Divorces are tough under the best of circumstances. And divorce is even more traumatic for children. If both parents can rise above their anger with each other and do what’s best for the kids, their trauma can be minimized. And that is, in my opinion, our most important role.