OK, not really, but there were many many a day (and occasionally we still revisit this issue) when he feels like maybe he could have done more, fought harder, spent more money, found a better lawyer, agreed to his ex-wife's demands, done a double back flip, found the magical unicorn or develop the cure for cancer...and in that way could have provided a better life for his children instead of being a "deadbeat dad."
And then I gently rub his shoulders, pull out the dictionary and read for him...
The Princeton.edu definition: A father who willfully defaults on his obligation to provide financial support for his offspring
The Wikipedia definition: Deadbeat parent is a term referring to obligor parents of either gender that have freely chosen not to be a financially supportive parent in their children's lives.
The Wiktionary definition: A man, especially one who is divorced or estranged from his partner, who fails to provide monetary child support when he is legally required to do so
The Duhaime.org legal definition: A father who ignores a Court order to pay child support
And...one more...This one from the "Deadbeat Dad Forum": In my definition a deadbeat dad is a man that has fathered children either in a marriage, or any type relationship, and has denied his parenthood to that child. This man does not feel he needs to be in the child's life in any manner. Or does not pay his court assigned child support. Thus leaving the full responsibility to the mother.
Are you a deadbeat dad?
Are you willfully and purposefully walking away from your children?
Are you an immoral person who does not care for their offspring?
Are you refusing to pay child support?
Have you denied your parenthood?
I'm willing to make a wager on the fact that if your are here, reading this blog, you do not fit the definition of deadbeat dad...and yet, I know so many divorced men who walk around with guilt oozing out of their eyes, ears, fingertips, sweat glands, and air follicles.
You may be one of them. I know my husband is (thankfully not as frequently as he used to be, but...) occasionally still one of them. They belittle their contribution to their children and blame themselves for not having been given the same opportunity as their ex-wife and mother of the child to be a part of the child's life.
They feel guilt for having "given up." They feel guilt for having "failed." They feel guilt for not seeing their children more often.
(Hum the Jeopardy countdown song with me here...)
Sorry, I was just going back over those definitions to try and find the one that says a deadbeat dad is a dad who pays their child support and has been court ordered to not access his children more than..._____(fill in the blank with your visitation allowance here)____. Who spends every last dollar he has on a long line of lawyers promising THIS time it will be different...and continues this journey until his child(ren) finally reach an age where they voice their own opinion or become adults.
I don't see it...do you?
We'll visit the societal requirement of divorced dads being gluttenously full of guilt in another blog post, but what I hope you dads that are out there reading this blog now will understand is this:
1. There is a bias in family courts against awarding a father custody and/or more parenting time. You not receiving custody or more parenting time does not make you a deadbeat dad.
2. More money spent on a lawyer is rarely/if ever going to change the judges mind. Choosing to not spend that money does not make you a deadbeat dad.
3. Your ex-wife will continue to make demands on you as a parent outside of the court ordered agreement. She will try to make you do and agree to what she wants. Sometimes you will think she is right. Sometimes you will think she is wrong. When you refuse to comply with her demands or agree with her this does not make you a deadbeat dad.
4. Your ex-wife will not suddenly realize that you should see your child more frequently. Your inability to convince her of this does not make you a deadbeat dad.
5. At some point the fight is no longer worth it. When you realize that you no longer want to fight, THIS DOES NOT MAKE YOU A DEADBEAT DAD.
Yep...I said it. At some point, fighting the ex-wife for custody or more time or even for the time you've got on that court document, but that is being denied to you, is no longer worth it.
In a five year period of time my husband went from an every other weekend arrangement to 50/50 shared custody to having the two youngest full time then back to every other weekend then to only on holidays and a month in the summer to custody of one child and summer/holiday visitation with the others.
Did reading that make your head spin in a circle? Tell me what judge in their right mind can look at that progression and say, "Yep...I definitely did what was best for those kids!" It looks to me more like a case of, "What mood is the judge in today? Does she/he like fathers or mothers today?"
I think the hardest thing my husband ever did was admit to me he didn't want to fight anymore. He just wanted to accept what was given and move on the best he could. He struggled with depression and anxiety from that decision. He worried his children from his first wife would feel like he was choosing his second wife (and I was pregnant at that time) over them. He wondered if they'd ever forgive him.
Take a minute and reflect on where you are at in your journey through the divorce/custody/courtroom battles. Are you just starting out full of hope and determination to win your fight? We (the collective we) are your cheerleaders and hope you succeed.
Are you in the middle of your journey and feeling the wear and tear of constant court battles, unreasonable rulings but still forging on ahead? We (again - that collective group of us) offer you all the virtual strength that we can.
Are you at the point where its time to say enough is enough and I'm ready to move on?
You are not giving up or giving in.
You are simply accepting what is.
You are not forgetting your child(ren).
You are agreeing to let other priorities back into your life.
This collective we...well, we're behind you...applauding your strength to make this decision and want to remind you that this does not make you a deadbeat dad.