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Ghost dad, not deadbeat

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Ghost dad, not deadbeat


Here's a radical thought: Instead of vilifying fathers who fade from their children's lives after divorce, we should try to understand them

By Sarah Hampson

Globe and Mail (Canada)
17 January 2008

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They are the ghost fathers, the ones who disappear from the lives of their children in the years following divorce. According to experts, fatherlessness is an epidemic problem. But let me make a radical proposal: Rather than vilify them, which feels easy, perhaps we should try to understand them.

And yes, it is a male problem. "There's a pretty good body of research that non-custodial mothers, who are smaller in number, are more likely to be involved with their children, post-divorce, than fathers," says Nick Bala, a family law professor at Queen's University in Kingston.

Mothers deal with the epidemic in silence, understanding the deeply painful irony - something Senator Barack Obama, whose biological dad disappeared from his life when he was 2, alluded to in his eloquent autobiography, Dreams from My Father.

In the book's preface, the Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful writes that, upon the death of his mother, he thought "had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book - less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single most constant in my life."

Fathers, by their absence, have a huge and overriding presence in the lives of their children. Ghost fathers haunt them.

These disappearing dads are not deadbeats. They pay support; their current address is known. But what can mothers do? To help enforce support payments, there is a government agency. But who can help with the plea: "Please make my ex see his children more?"

I am not talking about abusive fathers. Everyone agrees that children are better off to have those men out of their lives.

But the fathers who simply fade away?

They are black holes, with the potential to suck much of the devoted, compensatory efforts of the mothers into their centre.

I am one of those mothers. I have three grown boys.

It's true that some men are pathological in their ability to divorce their children - the kids are lucky if they get a card on their birthdays and are rarely, if ever, invited to visit.

But there are many divorced dads who fail to remain involved in their children's lives for reasons that have more to do with the emotional restrictions of their gender than an absence of love.

"It's difficult for men to express their hurt," explains Calvin Sandborn, author of Becoming the Kind Father, and a professor at the University of Victoria who participates in a weekly men's group.

For much of his life, Mr. Sandborn emulated his alcoholic father's example of hiding emotions, which he believes was a factor in the breakdown of his own marriage after 25 years and three children.

Mr. Sandborn credits the need to learn how to express his emotions, in the aftermath of his divorce, for the bond he enjoys with his three daughters, 25, 21, and 16.

"My relationship with my kids is way better than it would have been if I hadn't gone through that process," he admits. "I was an ignoramus as far as what was going on in my inner life."

Men see their lives in terms of doing, not feeling, he says. "We have been taught to regard ourselves as a body with a job to do, like a machine … to cut ourselves off from our heart."

Anger is a substitute for heartbreak, he says. Instead of expressing to their ex-wives how terrible they feel about losing daily contact with their children, they view the vulnerability they experience - not being in control of their emotions - as an assault on their masculinity.

"A man feels sadness," Mr. Sandborn says. "But on some level he thinks, 'I'm not supposed to feel sadness,' so the way men react is to blame the person who is making them feel sad. They get angry. There's an adrenalin rush. And that makes them feel powerful again."

Tellingly, in a study conducted by Constance Ahrons, an American author of several books on divorce, including The Good Divorce and We're Still Family, men who have faded from their children's lives reported anger at not having sufficient time with their children following separation. They disappear because of repeated feelings of loss with occasional visits.

To a woman, that seems completely backward. Someone deals with feelings of loss by creating more loss?

But that is only one contributing factor to the phenomenon of ghost fathers. According to experts, conflict over child support, perceived court bias toward mothers, stepfathers who usurp the biological fathers' role, the custodial mother moving away and remarriage, which brings added responsibilities, can also play a part. There is also the problem of custodial mothers criticizing the father in front of the children, which encourages his marginalization.

Another issue many divorced dads face is a difficulty in creating intimacy with their children.

"Dads are often less experienced as parents because, in the marriage, they were not the primary caregiver. That's just how the couple divided up the responsibilities," says Barry Willie, founder of a divorced fathers' group called Kids and Dad in Kitchener, Ont. "We have a course called Redefining Yourself in which dads have to think through what they want in a separated family."

I'm not saying that single mothers should become enablers of their ex-husband's lack of responsibility. Many women who have been in unhealthy marriages know that excessive compassion for their husband's actions is a form of permission for the poor behaviour to continue.

At a recent party, I was explaining to a divorced dad how hard it is to understand why fathers often choose not to be as involved as possible with their children, even when the mothers do everything to encourage and facilitate visits.

"It's about cruelty," I said.

"No," he replied, rather sadly. "It's about shame."

In the world of masculinity, you're either a winner or a loser, he suggested. It's black and white. Divorce is seen as failure, ergo you're a loser. Who wants to be reminded of that?

The revelation practically knocked me off my high heels, and I was overcome with generosity for these ghost fathers. I felt like sending my ex a gift certificate for a session with a shrink.

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Next Week (24 Jan): The next Generation Ex looks at what parents can do to compensate for fathers who disappear.

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Comments

Shawn rodie from Mississauga, Canada writes: Good article. Another reason why men disappear is because in many cases I have seen, the separated or divorced man's new girlfriend is not encouraging of a relationship that brings the man into contact with the ex wife. These men have difficulty with their new home lives because of this. Frequent arguments about the ex, or always spending time with the child, can wear a man down after a while. Although it is an easy fix to say rid yourself of this new relationship, sometimes years after divorce when you find a special someone it is not easy to do that. You are caught between a rock and a hard spot. I agree one should never trade family for a new love, but men need to feel loved too. - Posted 17/01/08 at 9:26 AM EST

Dad gentian from Canada writes: You may wish to include in your definition those fathers who simply give up the battle to exercise their court ordered access. I am prepared to substantiate that the court has found against my ex 8 times (including 2 contempt convictions) for frustrating my court ordered access. This was after Manitoba Child and Family services directed me to leave the house with them as a result of her threats of serious bodily harm. My choice, and that of many non-custodial parents (usually men) is to balance the cost of litigation (and my children's heritage) against the certainty I could not abandon them. My older daughter is now living with me and Legal Aid continues to fund lawyers for the mother. It is no wonder there are absent parents when they must overcome enormous cultural forces simply to exercise parental responsibilities. - Posted 17/01/08 at 9:40 AM EST

hockey mum from Canada writes: Yes, and it is very important to add parental alienation (PAS) to that as well - do not assume that just because a father is not involved in his children's lives that he does not want to be. Often, mothers actively discourage contact and thus undermine any hope of a relationship between father and child. And to Shawn,… it is not always the new wife/spouse who discourages the relationship between a father and his children, but the old wife/spouse who discourages a relationship between her children and the new wife spouse, thus compounding the issue even further. First and foremost, we need to create a legal system that makes a child's parents equal under family law. Then we need to ensure that all parents have equal access to and an equal say in their children's lives. - Posted 17/01/08 at 9:46 AM EST

P. Duddle from Canada writes: >> Divorce is a failure… you're a loser… who needs that? Add teens that constantly remind you of your failure, and blame-shift their problems on top of them, and it is a no-win situation. I know fathers who find visitation unbearably depressing as they get loaded down with cr*p and guilt from the mother and the kids from the moment it starts until the moment it ends. - Posted 17/01/08 at 9:58 AM EST

EA S from Ottawa, Canada writes: I have to say that for the most part, my other half and his ex get along. She has remarried, and the children seem to be very happy (they were quite small when their parents separated, one an infant and one a toddler).

We wish we could spend more time with them and actually develop a relationship with them, but we live in Eastern Ontario, and they live in South-western Ontario. Compound onto that, my other half's commitments to the CF, and mine to my job, and we simply can't afford the time or the money to travel to see them more than once or twice a year.

It's far from an ideal situation, we know, but other than making sure they get the monthly support and contact at Christmas and birthdays (if they'll even talk on the phone), what else can we do? - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:09 AM EST

M B from Canada, Canada writes: Having lost my children after the divorce, I can attest to the actions of mothers that do their best to alienate children from their fathers. My ex was pushing my two children to call her boyfriend 'daddy' weeks after moving in with him. She then moved away and made it impossible for me to have any meaningful access to the children (in spite of the court order that guaranteed my access to the children). I love my children and I am plagued by nightmares as the loss continues to haunt me. However, I am calling less and less often and I feel that I am becoming the 'ghost dad.' It is perhaps a means of managing the pain and sorrow: as my wife has made it impossible for me to have a meaningful relationship with my children, the only option I feel that I have left is to distance myself emotionally from my children. I do not have the money or the energy to fight what will invariably be a lost cause in court given the existing biases favoring mothers in family court. Under the circumstances, it is best to try and move on, even if that means that I become a stranger to my children. - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:19 AM EST

Eileen MacNevin from Canada writes: If these 'ghost dads' are reluctant to accept their emotions, why do they so willingly embrace anger? Or do men not think that anger is an emotion? - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:30 AM EST

John Robinson from Canada writes: Wow, I expected to see harsh criticism of Non-Custodial Dads on here. Thanks Hockey Mom. The new woman idea is quite cogent. What I have found is that girlfriends tend to desire a relationship with the kids but when they realize that they aren't going to be Mom in any case and that every other weekend is tied up they usually split. It isn't their fault but it creates problems to be sure. Add to this the certainty of child support and they realize that your financial position thus ability to contribute to the purchase of a house or anything is limited. Under the current regime the more you work the more you pay so overtime doesn't help either, in fact it digs you in deeper, as the next time the custodial mother takes you in all that is considered is the tax assessment. So in fact they raise the support. If you don't work the OT the following year the support doesn't go down, they accuse you of 'intentional underemployment'. If you want to pay a lawyer to help it costs more than you save, the courts know this and I have had this trick blatantly played on me too. Not for 'intentional underemployment' though. To try to improve your situation by education is very very hard, you have to find the money and the time. Forget about studying every other weekend. Living alone means you have no help with day to day things so finding the time to study through the week is difficult too. I was able to achieve though. It meant no relationships for years and a life of near starvation with constant obligations. Tough trade off but for me my son was more important than anything, not as an abstract thought either. I followed through. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. The point of the above is to illustrate that non custodial Dads do indeed have it tough and there is a lot to get depressed about. The idea of a happy go lucky single Dad driving chics around in a corvette is a myth as far as I can see. I genuinely believe that there needs to be some kind of support for Dads. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:11 AM EST

Jennifer Rollison from Canada writes: It is very simple. Get involved with your kids. Yes, failure for anyone at anything is humiliating. Get over it. Kids need both parents and men backing off for their own egos is total and utter B.S. Even the comment about his ex wanting the kids to call her new live in 'daddy' is manageable. Tell her and the kids they only have one daddy and that is you. Tell the new guy that, too. Assert yourself and be a presence in the lives of your kids. Nothing is easy, especially the ending of a relationship but, for goodness sake, leave your own sh$% at the door and put the children first. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:17 AM EST

Lowen Wrainger from Canada writes: From what my 'low paid' acquaintances tell me. It's all about the money honey! No money, no access and shunned as a real person. Sadly we're living in a world of increased material expectations and consumerism where the 'musical chair' parent game rules the family court system. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:22 AM EST

GM Blogger from Winnipeg, Canada writes: Eileen, anger is a reaction to a series of situations which have no immediate remedy. It is a reaction to having the odds stacked against you, as some other posters have pointed out the precedings of a divorce are frequently subject to emotional and logistical manipulation with the purpose of impressing upon those you love that you don't. It's simply a reaction to frustration. As a man, I have been told countless times about how my emotions simply don't matter. From employers, family, co-workers and girlfriends. Women are, not to stereotype, generally encouraged to discuss their feelings. Men are told to suck it up and keep on working. Only when the balance of the scales tips badly are you ever encouraged to discuss how you feel, and even then only enough to make you a productive member of society again. The result was bottling up things for 15 years until work finally burned me out. I've been working on things that have upset me for 15 years finally, and starting to feel better. But only when my ability to interact with others declined to the level that my work suffered did anyone even notice. Not saying it's right, but that was my experience with emotional support as a male. Non-existent. So when things bother you you think you failed somehow, and some people get angry because they aren't sure how to display their frustration. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:22 AM EST

john hadfield from Vancouver, Canada writes: I am a single father with two grown children still at home. Your article is interesting, as seen from my viewpoint, as, I guess, I can now characterize the 'former' as a 'Ghost mother'. I have always had a very close bond with my children. I was a 'Mr Mom' before that movie came out and labelled me. I was honoured that the children chose to stay with me, the first born. I have come to an understanding of the former,the last born, that gives me peace and shows me, in a way, that men and women are not necessarily as different as we may think. An unwillingness and/or an inability to deal with our own inner selves seems to be at the core. It manifests in the difficulties one can have communicating, expressing emotion and being intimate. The fruit does not fall far from the tree. The family of origin is the first place to look. We choose the mates for our primary relationship to work out conditions we have carried since birth from our immediate family and our ancestors. The work involved in transformation is formidable. The likelihood of a person becoming aware enough to address their own problems is less than the likelihood they will think the 'other' is to blame. If you want to change someone else…change yourself. Relationships are a wonderful way to 'find' ourselves. It can be very painful but if one has the courage… life opens up and forward. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:26 AM EST

carol c from Canada writes: This is a really good article, and the comments from Father's are very enlightening. Men are traditionally discouraged from sharing their feelings, and that must be a huge pressure.

I'd love to see some lobbying from divorced fathers who want more access to their children. The system doesn't seem to be fair at the moment and Fathers are hugely important in children's lives. Mine hardly ever shared his feelings, or really even talked, but I felt such love and affection in his presense that in the end it didn't matter too much. - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:41 AM EST

Tommy Shanks from Canada writes: As a divorced dad who managed to end up with primary custody, I am always asked for advice by distraught fathers on how to 'win' custody, or at least a co-parenting role on par with their ex. I tell them to keep a diary of the number of times they got up to settle an unruly child back to sleep, or taken time off work to take their children to the doctor, or sacrificed their career for their kids etc. Sure enough, almost all these guys roll their eyes at the amount of work they have to do to even come close to matching the parenting work their ex's do.


Sure, the courts are biased, but so what? As long as you really are a parent to your child, and not just a visiting uncle or second banana to their child's mother, the system is fair. But no judge is going to give a co-parenting role to someone who never was more than a visiting uncle when the other parent was always the primary caregiver. - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:42 AM EST

roy f from van, Canada writes: I'm surprised that there's no mention of mothers who make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible for dads to stay involved with their kids, a situation I believe most of us have witnessed. Obviously most divorces involve a lot of anger and animosity from Mum as well as Dad. I think in a lot of cases fathers just give up in frustration. I see I'm not the first reader to notice this oversight. - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:43 AM EST

The Skipper from Canada writes: Good article, but I always wondered why we call the male part of the equation a deadbeat. Given my observations over the years of this litigation nightmare , I have advised both my children, 'please don't make me a grandfather.' Go out and consume education, vacation time, travel, go buy a little farm to play with, but don't have children. The money spent on lawyers dealing with the contractual issues of the marriage contract, ranks right up there with the GDPs of many countries in this world. Don't send the lawyers to Hawaii, just don't have kids. - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:49 AM EST

raine turner from Canada writes: Interesting- I have made many mistakes in my life- this one I did not make. My sons' father and he have a terrific relationship- we live close to each other- I have included his father in special family dinners- Christmas- Thanksgiving, Easter and of course my sons' birthday parties…. we are not what I would call friends- but we are on friendly terms. The man I choose to be my childs father was one that I knew beforehand -as he had a child from a previous marriage- was one that would stick around a be a great parent regardless of what happened in our relationship—. This was a trait I actively looked for. I am also the daugher of a deadbeat- ghost - and a whole bunch of other words I would print here - father. I wanted and choose a man that would be agreat father- I am sorry kids dont have great fathers- but we do have to put that in our wish list- perhaps ahead of 'tall, good looking, rich, funny, great cook- and of the course the bedroom talents… - Posted 17/01/08 at 10:53 AM EST

Dave Toronto from Canada writes: This is a great article. I lived through a very difficult divorce and fought for shared custody, which was granted. I went so far as to have a separate phone line installed (approved by the court) in order to maintain contact with my kids, and religiously called morning and night to maintain that contact. Fortunately, although there are days when my ex and i can hardly speak to each other, she has been very supportive of my relationship with the children. Even having them contact me when i have slipped recently and providing extra time beyond our agreement. In spite of all this, it is extremely difficult to maintain a relationship after divorce. The time spent with them is broken, hurried and busy. It is much more difficult to find those quiet moments to have a conversation. Our space is limited when they are with me (I pay a lot of support) and our connection is compromised. One solution we are working on is spending one-on-one time with the kids for each of us, to provide time to connect on an individual basis. And there are the feelings of shame from the divorce (I worked hard at a marriage for a reason, it is a failure to be divorced) and the difficulty of separating after each visit. And even with great kids, there is still a feeling that you've let them down in a significant way. It is difficult for everyone involved, but it is important to remember, this was not the children's doing. It is up to the adults to act like adults and be there for their kids to the best of their abilities and beyond. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:42 AM EST

Wilma De Bruyn from Toronto, Canada writes: And then we have the 'JUST US' system whereby since 1962 they got involved with Family Law and families, in translation more dollars went to the Courts, lawyers and government. Who cares about the 'families', it's big business, government business. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:43 AM EST

R Lam from Calgary, Canada writes: Eileen MacNevin from Canada: I think you're missing the point. It's okay for men accept 'emotions', but only a select few are socially acceptable in man terms (Anger and Happy). Feeling sad and hurt didn't make the cut and thus were banished from mandom way back in pre-civilization times. When such feelings arise they are quickly repressed, turned into another more acceptable emotion (anger), scapegoated on others, or just plain avoided. The reason why is because sadness and being hurt are emotions of weakness. In evolutionary times the alpha male would keep his minions in check by being the stronger and most dominant male. Expressing these emotions would show weakness and lead others to challenge for their role. - Posted 17/01/08 at 11:45 AM EST

Michel FromBC from Prince George, Canada writes: Jennifer Rollison from Canada writes: 'Nothing is easy, especially the ending of a relationship but, for goodness sake, leave your own sh$% at the door and put the children first.'

Perhaps you should be telling mothers and ex-wives this instead of fathers who try and have their efforts blocked at every turn by ex-wives. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:03 PM EST

gbl gbl from Calgary, Canada writes: The answer is obvious. Unless you believe mothers are genetically and socially superior parents to men, the odds would suggest that men should be granted custody of children about 50% of the time…instead of the very rare instances that occur now due to the blatant bias of the judicial system. When you have no control whatsoever over where the children live, their schooling, the use made of support payments or their new family relationships and so on it is inevitable that many fathers become less and less involved with their children. Many (most?) fathers would be capable and eager to take on these responsibilities. To the extent you believe the financial welfare of the children should be a consideration and given the fact men still generally earn more than women (unfairly) they should be taking on child rearing responsibilities more often. This would allow more women to focus on their careers and get out of poverty. It would force men to make the kind of career choices women make all the time - creating more opportunities for women in the workforce. More fathers would be intimately involved with raising their children and the stigma they are not as good a parent as a mother would be ameliorated. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:07 PM EST

Bob Fugger from Victoria, Canada writes: The only value that this article brings is the resulting discourse in this forum. There are a lot of great reasons, justifications, etc., being brought up about why non-custodial fathers are marginalized in their relationships. I know of many custody agreements where the only reason the mother gets the children is simply because she is the mother. The threshold for becoming a custodial father is SO much higher, which often results in legal fees that - once you factor in the alimony/support of the gynocentric divorce paradigm - want-to-be custodial fathers cannot afford.

But Sarah Hampson shows us that we don't need to think, especially about other factors - she makes it really easy for us by latching on to ONE theory; and a caveman-ish one if I ever heard one! Men no good emotion, unga bunga!! Perhaps this theory provides her with the easiest rationalization of her own (single mother, three boys) reality. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:10 PM EST

Winston Churchill from London, Canada writes: The article is a good start in understanding this important issue. I am not one, but I know several 'ghosts', and I volunteer for big brothers and see the other side. I think that sole/soul custody mothers who tell their kids day in, day out, that their dad is a deadbeat loser is a major part of the problem. Who wants to be part of that? Who wants to spend time with children who may never know the whole story, but generally are well indoctrinated in the mother's half? What father would want to defend himself by telling his half - that the custodial mother sought the divorce, and possesses some severe flaws perhaps? Easier, and better for the children probably for the father to be vilified and absent. I think also that many men feel disenfranchised in most familial matters. The decision to have children is alienated almost entirely. 90% of divorces (I believe that's correct) are sought by women. Men are left with no choices, but some pretty hefty obligations, generally: to pay, to pay, and to continue to accept responsibility when they would mostly like to move on. Remember: no responsibility without consultation. No consultation, in any case, makes irresponsibility easier. I think also that men and women feel emotions differently. As I recall, psychological experiments suggest that 'pride in ownership' and 'love' are mostly the same thing, for men. Ultimately, therefore, if you don't own it in any significant way, the love will fade. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:14 PM EST

J J from Kelowna, Canada writes: I am in this situation right now, and I do think that mothers have a lot to do with it. My (soon to be) ex does little to encourage or facilitate contact with the children. I have to make direct contact with teachers and others to find out what is going on in their lives, so that I have something to talk to them about. It certainly is tempting to say goodbye to that part of my life and move on. However, my kids are important to me, and in spite of the heartache, I am doing everything I can from where I am - long ways away - to maintain contact. I guess I can only hope that some day they will see the efforts I put in to remain an active part of their lives and appreciate how much I do love them. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:16 PM EST

Biff Mukluk from Canada writes: There are a variety of reasons why fathers disappear from their children's lives after a divorce occurs and it often relates to what I like to call 'the f– it factor'. It's not fathers don't wish to parent their children, it's just the myriad of obstacles that exist ranging from post divorce conflict with mum to the adversarial family court system force many dads to simply say 'f– it' and walk away. One comment here suggests that dads simply 'get over it', I would suggest to the person making the comment: try to imagine what it would be like to lose your kids… now try to imagine getting on with your life. Having worked in the family law system for over ten years and being a divorced father myself, the system does little to reward collaboration between parents and that tired old gender bias still exists. It's a shame really, as a middle aged man who is probably from that first generation of kids from what used to be called 'broken homes', I was raised to believe that I should throw an equal hand into all aspects of child care. What I learned (and I suspect that most fathers would agree) is that mothers want fathers to co-parent but only to the point where mum might feel her role as mum is somehow threatened by dad becoming intimately involved in primary child care. If we want to encourage fathers to become more involved after a divorce, we need mothers to allow fathers to explore fatherhood and define it for themselves before a divorce happens. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:48 PM EST

Call me Dad Please from Ontario, Canada writes: I'm a father of four great kids. Two years ago my wife asked that we separate. We had been married for about 22 years. In actual fact we actually married twice. We had been married about 10 years and two children at the time when she requested that we separate. Needless to say many emotions ran through my body unfortunately as the days and months went by the pain from seeing my children and then having to leave them grew unbearable and I could feel myself being drawn away form them. (Love hurts) Needless to say after a one year separation and divorce my ex wife and I remarried. I call it our musical interlude. We got most issues out on the table and ultimately had two more children. Twelve years passed and here we are again with my wife requesting a separation. The two oldest live with me and the two youngest with their mom. This time the family is broken in two. Because of the age differences the older kids don't have much time for their younger siblings and the ghost has come in a new form not discussed in the article. I pay support for the two with their mother and have them overnight every Friday and all weekend every other weekend. It kills me during the week when I don't see them and as a man I have a hard time dealing with it. I love all my kids and yes my ex wife, (I made a vow). Men deal with pain head on saying things we don't mean, (we don't think before we say things in tense situations) or back away with hopefully a shred of dignity. We are not deadbeats but men trying to deal with our emotions the best way we can. Some do it better than others. Fathers regardless of the relationship with thier ex wife have to be there to encourage, mentor, scold, get the kids out of trouble and support them as they get older. My word of advice is, if you are a ghost dad due to the separation issues eating away at you, come back to life as the kids get on with their life. They need you regardless. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:57 PM EST

glenn hoefer from Forks, USA, United States writes: The post male society at its inception and duly enacted. - Posted 17/01/08 at 2:34 PM EST

Steve Gibbons from Calgary, Canada writes: As Jennifer Rollison clearly displays in her words of 'get over it,' men's feelings are somehow less important. Women in general expect Men to 'get over it' but at the same time expect support and understanding of their most minor emotional problem. Jennifer, you need to get over your sexism and perhaps try to understand the causes of this situation. Its a lot easier to solve the problem after that happens.
Although not regularly a fan I thought Sarah Hampson does a great job in pointing out the underlying issues in this situation. - Posted 17/01/08 at 2:40 PM EST

Brian Turney from Kingston, Canada writes: FIRSTLY…

How about some simple legislation that would legitimately put the CHILD'S best interest in the forefront and make the Family Law Act solely for the interest of the child not the interest of the parent that can afford the best lawyer.

SECONDLY…

How about the PROOF factor. If you claim your spouse is abusive… PROVE IT. Have the law require the accuser to prove their claim. If your abused and you dont report that abuse how can you still claim you have your child's best interest in mind. The protection of that child from abuse is part of your parental rights, weather is abuse towards the child or the child growing up where the parents are abusive to each other.

I know the idea of making parents responsible for their actions is not common place in family law..but hey change can be good!!! - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:19 PM EST

John Williams from Ajax, Canada writes: and yes we continue the ugly bias here against men. Men are discriminated against by the courts in divorce, they are forced to pay support, then the 'mother' is given the kids. Why aren't the father given 50/50 of access to the kids and only 50/50 of the support money. That would be true EQUALITY, but we don't have that, we have a grotesque bias against men.

Then the mothers very often frustrate the father, put obstacles in his way, alienate him, bad-mouth him to the kids, cancel him at the last minute with bogus excuses to get revenge about something in a passive-aggressive manner, and even write articles shaming the father, which makes a bad situation even worse.

There are also many women who have kids out of wedlock, who want to use the CONTROL of access to the kids as a power-trip over the man. One of my brothers is a wonderful father, yet his ex-wife has done EVERYTHING you can imagine to try to screw up his relationship with the kids.

It ain't about 'Ghost Dads' its about a screwed up system, and messed up human relationships. The bottom line is that most men are pushed out of the loop by the biased system, and by the mother who wants control, and even revenge against the guy. Lets see the father perspective on this too. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:31 PM EST

Blue Father from Toronto, Canada writes: Last night, as a father whose wife left in the last year, I went to a parent-teacher meeting. My estranged spouse greeted me with, 'what are you doing here?' I said, 'the same as you.'

I honestly don't know how I am going to deal with the humiliation and conflict for years to come. The child will inherit the rudeness and disrespect toward me from the mother. The mother will have the opportunity to move another man into our home to replace me in her and the child's life. Like many ex-wives, she is already enjoying complete control of the home and the children while still relying on the financial security I am able to provide. There would be absolutely no incentive for her to consider reconciling or even allowing me to have a larger role in the children's lives. She is actually better off materially without me.

Unfortunately, Sarah Hampson's article represents many of the stereotypes of the divorced father: psychologically damaged, shirking responsibility, and being incapable of loving and caring for children.

Perhaps she is just irritated and jealous that she does not enjoy the free, occasional babysitting that a lot of divorced fathers provide for their ex's while having no real role in the upbringing of their children. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:35 PM EST

Mia Pinion from Canada writes: Excellent comments- I agree with the writer- it is all about hurt and pride. But I also say - Grow up! Divorcing is tough on everyone. Just because one spouse loses custody, and has to pay c/s - doesn't mean they have to crawl under a rock and hide! Even if a spouce has been badmouthed, and they use that excuse to say what keeps them away, (but sometimes someone really is a jerk and the kids can see it for themselves!) thats just too bad! Its what you do from here on that counts!! Get over the hurt, and loss- that's part of divorce! Everyone involved hurts and has loss!! Start being a parent that cares. Pay your c/s, do regular visitation, call, and be a part of the kids lives! Notice I was NOT blaming all men- women do it too!!! My Ex is a 'deadbeat ghost dad' and I cannot have patience and concern for him beyond just understanding this is his issue- but that it affects more than just himself! My kids wait for birthday cards that never come- Christmas presents that never materialize. They have lost faith in a man who once was in their lives and cared. He tells them he has a 'new life', with a new woman and new baby.Are they supposed to say - 'Oh, good for you Dad! forget about us!' ??? And while he hides away, in self pity and pride, making a new life, ignoring the 'old life'- don't tell me the kids don't hurt. How do you think that affects a 14 yr old boy? There is no reasonable excuse. Ghost-deadbeat parent- You are dispicable! - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:35 PM EST

Betty Davis from Toronto, Canada writes: When my husband's children were younger his ex-wife made visitation next to impossible. She moved an hour's drive away and when he arranged to go pick up the children he would arrive to an empty house - she would manage to 'foget' he was coming or 'forget' a prior appointment - even though he had called earlier that day to confirm. Funny thing is he never 'forgot' to make a child support payment. There are two sides to every story. Unfortunately too often it's only the Mother's side that is heard. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:47 PM EST

Pat Gesner from Canada writes: Eileen MacNevin, of course it is an emotion. The article has not clearly stated the issue of how some emotions are deemed sex appropriate. Trouble is, some 'emotions' are classed as male or female and appropriate scorn and ridicule is cast on those children who do not show sex appropriate emotions. "Crying is female. Not showing emotions is male' is still standard in English speaking societies. (Ask any 5 year old -they also will tell you women cannot be Doctors without remembering their doctors were female.) In western society, anger is an acceptable masculine emotion - angry women are deemed un-feminine. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:49 PM EST

A ZZ from Canada writes: I think Tommy Shanks has described a situation that is more frequent than the activist fathers lobby likes to admit. They are always talking about mothers trying to deny fathers access, but barely mention the responsibilities of fathers when it comes to the tough tasks around raising children - instead they just spout off about 'rights.' In my case, we live in a different province from my ex-husband and so he doesn't pay child support, instead (the theory goes) using that money to visit his son. I would be fine with this arrangement except for the fact he seems to have unlimited funds to keep starting frivolous court actions against me to try to get even more money out of me (he invariably loses, but he keeps trying). In the meantime I am raising our son alone and without any support from him. If my ex wanted anything approaching an equal parenting role I would be more than willing, but instead he wants to paint himself as a victim whose 'rights' have been stolen. Sad to say, I think this attitude is fairly prevalent among lobby groups demanding equality for fathers (the child seems almost an afterthought in their statements). I am sure there are many fathers out there who are genuinely hard done by but they do not seem to have a voice - hence the ghost dad scenario. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:50 PM EST

George Hall from Canada writes: When the Family Support System was created in Ontario under Bob Rae not one iota of input was allowed from fathers or chilodrens groups. I know because I was there at the time. The system is set up to favour the woman and the woman alone. The courts are forced to choose between the parents and understandably they choose the mother. Fathers should in no way be paying child support but instead be providing the support themselves.You can't pay someone else to father your children. The women for the most part only care about the money and their own lives and are either don't care or are oblivious to the paternal needs of the children. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:50 PM EST

Mark Daye from Toronto, Canada writes: As a father of two sons, from two wives, I think I have some experience on this topic. As Hockeymom stated '…it is very important to add parental alienation (PAS) to that as well - do not assume that just because a father is not involved in his children's lives that he does not want to be.'. The mother of my eldest son and I have always worked cooperatively together to put the needs of our son first. I should note that this breakup was mutually decided. The mother of my younger son has always worked as much as possible to alientate me and control my life, even after I walked out of her control-based marriage. Now, I can understand hurt, anger, etc. However, after a certain amount of time sane people realize that no matter how they feel about the other parent the child should come first. I have not seen my younger son in over two years. I endured humiliating and unnecessary supervised visitation for several years and the situation with the mother never, ever changed. I should also mention that I share custody of my eldest son with his mother, we have a close loving relationship and I see him regularly. I was a child who grew up with an abusive father and know first hand how it feels to long for a fathers love. It is sad that so many angry women are allowed to drink at the tap of public sympathy and men continually get a bad rap. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:51 PM EST

NR Connor from TO, Canada writes: Congratulations to Ms. Hampson on her wonderful discovery - yes, Sarah, men are human too. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:51 PM EST

Cyrus Of Persia from Canada writes: Wow. For me it's the precise reverse. My wife abandoned our four beautiful sons and me. She continues to maintain a double life, being a highly successful VP in a public school, while involving herself with a deadbeat dad who doesn't declare any income so he can avoid paying support to his own kids.

My wife does this with astonishing energy and what she thinks is secrecy. She has profound family-of-origin issues that she refuses to address. While the boys stay primarily at her place, they and I are together more than she is with them. We live one minute apart.

I can't relate to men who are not completely smitten with their children. I loved and still do love my troubled wife. And for me, any time apart from my family is time lost. A necessary loss at times, of course.

For me the struggle is to deal with my sons' pain (while negotiating my own) at the realization that what was impossible - the betrayal of our family by the mother - has actually happened. We are a rare case, I know. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:52 EST

Cyrus Of Persia from Canada writes: Sorry Skipper, I can't relate to your sentiment about not having kids. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:53 PM EST

Bob Fugger from Victoria, Canada writes: Wow, I had what I believe a really valid, thoughtful comment about the called the columnist's subjectivity into question and it was removed! I suppose the truth hurts. - Posted 17/01/08 at 12:58 PM EST

Robert West from Canada writes: The problem is often the mother. It seems that some women are creatures that can hold a grudge for decades and they drive the men away. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:08 PM EST

John Williams from Ajax, Canada writes: Here's a radical thought. Why not have the father's perspective in this represented too? After all, its supposed to be about Equality, right? So lets have the fathers experiences represented as well. Just for the record, I don't have any kids, but many of my male friends have gone through this NIGHTMARE. What happens to dad, when mum moves away and makes things difficult? What happens to dad, when mum is dating a new guy every month-week, and saying bad things everyday about dad? What happens when mum starts dating dads former best friend, and then marries him? What happens when mum marries her divorce lawyer, and then uses every trick in the book to hammer the former dad, who earns less money than she does? You know, men are not monsters, contrary to what many people think.They want to be good fathers more than anything in life. Lets hear about how the system treats the man as a wallet and gives him no rights and the effect this has on these guys. I have seen many many really good guys worn down, abused and beaten by the system. Lets hear about some of that for a change. Why not have a little true Equality in information? Its worth a try, even as some wild experiment… imagine, lets try a wild experiment, and let fathers have their say too… - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:09 PM EST

Gerry Wood from Halifax, Canada writes: None of those reasons are why I don't see my 5 yr old. 1) My ex- gets SO much money from me in child support that I can barely feed and house myself (and pay off my student loans)… & I have a substantially lower standard of living than she does. 2) I don't trust even slightly that after spending the money on a credit card to fly half-way across the country to see him for '2 hours, under the supervision of a social worker' that she wouldn't have had to 'go on a trip' so that he wouldn't be available and the money would be wasted. Also, he needs a 'Dad' far more than the 2h a month I'd be able to see him if I could afford to fly there. 3) I don't trust even slightly that if I DID get to see him that some accusation of 'abuse' wouldn't suddenly surface weeks or months later. 4) As any guy who has dated a woman with kids knows, you have to date the ex - too… & that can considerably contribute to the breakdown of any relationship. The disputes & emotional upset involved with having two 'father' figures also contributes. I don't see my son because I want to maximize the opportunity for his mother to find a long-term stable relationship so that he can have a full-time Dad. My breathing oxygen in the same province would reduce those chances (she'd prefer I wasn't breathing… my insurance would benefit her considerably). She doesn't (clearly) want me to be a full-time dad (or else why do they now live 2000 km away?) so as far as I'm concerned it's her responsibility to find him one… he NEEDS a full-time Dad… so getting him one is her job. Why are 'ghost' fathers held to blame so often? A woman in difficult circumstance decides to put her child up for adoption (even, horrors, by a single parent) & she's considered to be a saint. A father (like me) making a like decision is vilified. Guess what? Knowing my ex-, I'm doing what's in my son's long-term best interests. Everyone else can second guess me if they want to, but they'd be wrong. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:09 PM EST

George Hall from Canada writes: The vast majority of fathers are reduced to the privilege of visitation rights and paying money which usually goes to the care of the mother. The needs of the children mean nothing to the courts… society says men cannot be nurturing. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:13 PM EST

Matthew MacDonlad from Canada writes: I'm surprised that this article doesn't talk more about the difficulties a divorced father faces with his ex-wife and the courts. As M B from Canada has illustrated, it's not as simple as picking up the phone to see your children, it's a constant battle. And the court system is set-up against the father. It's near impossible for a father to get custody. The fact that there are so many ghosts father's makes perfect sense. It's a long hard fight that few can last through. I feel bad for them, and I'm not a angry divorced father, I'm someone who grew up without his biological father. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:18 PM EST

C S from Canada writes: "An element that shouldn't be ignored is how women wield power through their children, particularly after separation or divorce. In some cases I believe that a father's absence can be the result of a refusal to continue to allow the mother to exercise power over him. Obviously, this will usually be harmful to the children." The father's culpability for this kind of misguided response is undeniable. But it is unrealistic to suggest that the improper pursuit and exercise of power by mothers in these situations is not a contributing factor that should be addressed. - Posted 17/01/08 at 1:28 PM EST
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