“It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” ~Joyce Maynard
Dear DeadBeat Parent,
Let’s be clear about one thing, this letter is not about putting you down, or making you look bad, this letter is truth, and I think, as I speak for myself, my children and all the other single moms and dads out there struggling for support.
How the heck do you do it?
That is the question, how can you walk away, knowing that your flesh and blood, your children, are out there, crying at 3 am, living their lives, going to school, running with holes in their shoes, making new friends, scraping their knees, getting their hearts broken, graduating, having birthdays, menstruating, fabricating, and creating? Your children are getting all A’s or struggling with C’s.. they are dyslexic, anorexic, or athletic. They are learning to walk or learning to drive. They are sick in hospital, or hiding out at the park, longboarding, skateboarding, wakeboarding or snowboarding. They can add, subtract, divide and multiply, recite the alphabet and sing a song. They can touch their toes, lick their nose, spray a hose, and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They smile with pride when they accomplish a goal, or cry in disappointment when things go wrong. They laugh with their friends, and play pretend.
There is one thing they cannot do: They can’t share any of this with you!
Do you ever wonder how they are?
As I watch my two leave for school, all grown up and proud of who they are, I remember it wasn’t always this way. When they were little, they would compare themselves to those who had a daddy in their lives. Even though sometimes the dad was apart from their children, he was present. I wonder if you are present even when you see them.
When you speak to us, all I hear is: “Wait, I’ll be there (financially and emotionally) when I get back on my feet”. This, every single time you call for the past 15 years. Isn’t that a tiring response? Have you even challenged yourself to reach the “feet on the ground” trick? And really, what does that mean to be “back on your feet”? I mean there were times when, during my single mom moments, that I was unbalanced, unprepared, unsafe, unwell, underestimating myself. I often felt unloved, unsupported, unappreciated and yes, at times, unhappy. However, I still laugh at my kid’s corny jokes, or, when they were little, sat with them in the living room having a Teddy Bear picnic. To tell you the truth is was then, and is now, those times when I feel or felt most grounded. Kids have a way of doing that, bring you back to who you are: A fun, loving, caring and attentive parent.
Another question, and its an important one, how does one “detach” themselves from their own children. How does that work? Do you turn off the love valve, or ignore your own feelings? Do you imagine they do not exist, that they do not need your love, or they are aliens from another planet? How do you not listen to them each time you call when they say: “Dad I miss you, I love you and I really want to spend more time with you?” I mean, often, when they were little, they would cry for you daily. They would ask me where you are and why you couldn’t pick them up that weekend. Then, who was left with their anger and picking up the pieces you have broken? Yep! ME!!
It takes a Village, and the Village won!
Also, how do you convince yourself that financial support for your children is only my job or the job of my dad, my mom, good friends and family? How do you feel when you cannot provide for those glasses, the braces, their food, a roof over their heads? How do you sleep at night when you know they need winter clothes, hats and boots, or need a trip to the dentist? Doesn’t that bother you? I know I cannot handle it for very long. I wonder if you know how much guilt I have felt over the years having to say no every time they NEEDED something.. I mean kids often want things, and sometimes even when they do not need an item it is a challenge to say no. Imagine when they NEED new shoes, money for a birthday party, school trips and events, camp, school fees, books, acne cream, and sanitary napkins.
The words “because your dad doesn’t give us a dime!” almost comes out of my mouth in anger, yet I resist. Ok.. ONCE!! I did, in a moment of panic at a grocery store because I didn’t even have a dollar left to buy my daughter a pack of gum. She was having this huge 4 year old fit, and the frustration I felt was bigger than not being able to buy a pack of Juicy Fruit.
That is what I do. I’m an acrobat who makes things happen. A magician of sorts. I step on my pride, run to church sales, stand in line at food banks, walked into community centers, worked, even when I was unwell to the point that I had to stop! I run campaigns, and ask for money.. I have even been criticized for that once. Yet, the support from friends and strangers is amazing.. but you wouldn’t know.. do you?
Call me super mom with one weakness:
I play a huge role –HUGE!–in their lives, if you havn’t noticed. However, do you know what goes through my mind, VERY OFTEN. As dreadful as this sounds, I worry. I think about “what if I passed away? Who would take care of them like I do? Listen, care, nurture, and love them? Who would fight for them, cry for them, let them speak their mind without reprimand? Who would do that? Certainly not you. You are not back on your feet yet!
So as I sit here looking at their pictures on my wall, while they are at school, I think about how I chose you to be their father, and if there is one thing I AM grateful for is that I have them because of you.
My daughter said yesterday, despite her own “dad” issues: “Dad IS the best dad to me, because he is my dad and I love him”.
You are, one lucky guy!
P.S. Take the challenge, pick up the phone, get that job, stick with it, and have a Teddy Bear picnic with them no matter how old your children are. You will find ground, I promise.
“The guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of child raising is not the child but the parent.”
~Frank Pittman, Man Enough