A horrible term for a real issue.
The term ‘Deadbeat Dad*’ used to mainly refer to those that didn’t make maintenance payments for their children, even where a court order was in place. These days, it seems that any father that doesn’t meet expectations is called a ‘Deadbeat Dad’, which is unfair to many. That said, sadly there are also many that are deserving of this moniker.
In real terms, most absent parents are good people that want to be involved in the lives of their children, Many are confronted by a legal system that, still, has a bias towards mothers. Rather than not paying it is often a case of not being able to pay. Perhaps a low-paying job, prison, disability, high accommodation costs prevent the parent (Dad in most cases) being able to afford to pay. A biased legal system and sharp solicitor/lawyer can give the Dad such a run-around that he simply cannot fight back, cannot fight for the access to BOTH parents that the children need.
I feel that there is also a case of so many broken families now, that there is an apathy towards the absent parent. A situation of case-load overload with authorities that will stop working on a case on the basis that ‘near-enough is good-enough‘. It isn’t!
From a personal perspective, my parents divorced when I was young, but I was fortunate to have parents that were able to discuss and agree on things for my care, and a Dad that was always available, never failed to be involved in my life or turn-up for access (visitation – USA) and always paid maintenance (child support – USA). The divorce was, I assume, tough on both of my parents but they never let this show to me, and neither ever spoke ill of the other to me.
Also, from observations from people close to me, I have witnessed truly ‘Deadbeat Dad’ situations. For example:
- One disappeared as soon as he found out that he was to be a father, and has never been seen since… that was in 1989… over THIRTY years ago!
His daughter has tried to find him but with no success. She is now a mother in her own right, so this ‘Deadbeat Dad‘ is now a Deadbeat Grandad!
- Another beat-up the expectant mother of his baby, despite her raising his two kids from a previous relationship, whilst he was not working and taking various drugs. The police were called and he was arrested.
He discovered about another child, now three years old, from another relationship, and fails to turn-up for access visits or make regular payments. I guess what goes up his nose is more important than his wonderful child.
So, they are out there, but so are the good Dads that are being tarnished with this label.
Be their hero – Photo by Kay on Unsplash.
Being a Dad
Being a Dad that is loved by his kids is the most wonderful feeling possible. It compares to nothing else.
The love between Father and child is not the same as any other type of love, and, if you are one of the lucky ones, you will never encounter the feeling of being separated from your kids and their lives. For many, though, separation can be one of the most wretched feelings possible.
If you become estranged, for whatever reason, it is easy to drop-out of the circles that your kids move in. If another guy comes on the scene it is easy to feel isolated, jealous and hurt. All these feelings work to push you out of their lives. You can begin to feel that they don’t need you, or that they are happy even without you there.
Anger can develop towards the other adults involved, and this can flow-over to the point where your children pick-up on it. And so the spiral goes.
It is essential to stop, get help, and turn it around. It doesn’t matter how old your kids are, or how long you have been out of their lives… If you and they are alive it is never too late to do the right thing; to become the Dad… provided that you start TODAY!
How to avoid the ‘Deadbeat Dad‘ label
Firstly, understand that you are not doing this for yourself. Everything that you do should be with your kids as the priority. If you keep this in mind you will automatically get the reward of knowing that you have prioritised your kids.
Secondly, the relationship between a mother and father is often so soured by the breakup that it clouds judgements. Anger/hurt/resentment are all natural feelings that regularly get in the way of common sense. In many cases they work AGAINST common sense and actively block one, or both parents from really putting their kids first… they just can’t see it.
There are two key elements to not being a Deadbeat Dad:
- Do the right thing
- Be seen to be doing the right thing
What does ‘Do the right thing‘ mean?
This is not, really, as difficult as it sounds, and, once the animosity is removed, is not rocket science. If you are a genuine Dad you will:
- want to know what your kids are doing – so take an interest
- want to know what they are thinking – ask and listen to the answers
- want to know that they are well-fed, clothed, and housed – pay for them
- want to know that school is going well – contact the school, tell them you want to know
- want to be part of your kid’s lives – make arrangements and STICK to them… no matter what!
- want your family to be part of your kid’s lives – encourage them to make contact.
- Remember, you will be their Dad for their whole life – not just for Christmas
All of the above you would do if you lived with your kids, you just need to find different ways to do it.
What does it mean to be seen to do the right thing?
Of course, doing the right thing for your kids is the No.1 priority. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. The problem, though, can be that much of being a ‘good Dad’ is invisible to our children… it just goes-on in the background. If some of the more tangible, visible things cannot be managed, and your kids don’t know about the behind-the-scenes activities (maintenance payments etc.) all they will know is that you are not there… that you are a ‘Deadbeat Dad‘.
Some things to try:
- Your kids will need to know that you have had them in your mind the whole time.
- NEVER forget a birthday card – If you can’t send it directly, send it to a third-party for safe-keeping
- NEVER forget a Christmas card… as above
- Write a letter every few months. Include photos – again, send to a third party, if necessary.
- If you see things they may be interested in, send them a note, or add it to your Blog/diary
- Get copies of school reports, read them and KEEP them.
- If you can have access via social media, schedule a weekly chat and NEVER miss it.
- If no electronic access, create a private blog and add content at least weekly. Keep it up, and make sure that someone has access should something happen to you. Give the password to your kids when they turn 18.
- Make sure your family know EVERYTHING that you are doing
- Keep a diary
- Tell them that you love them
- Do stuff with them, rather than buying stuff for them (that will be forgotten)
- Activities like fly-fishing are a great bonding exercise
- If you have anger/drink/drug issues get the help you need to be the Dad your kids deserve
It sounds dramatic but as your kids grow older you need to have ‘something’ to show them. Something to document your commitment to them and their development.
Some things to avoid:
- NEVER complain
- NEVER let them down – if there is a genuine issue COMMUNICATE
- NEVER discuss issues with your kids that they do not need to know about
- NEVER put a new partner before your kids
- NEVER let them see you upset
- NEVER let them see you in an unfit condition
- NEVER think that money will replace time spent with your kids
- Never be impatient
*Of course, there are mothers that, too, are in this situation, but it is more often men and so ‘Dad’ is used in order to ease readability.