I was originally asked to write an article on "Making Unified Family Rules". However, after a few pathetic stabs at that topic, I realized it just wasn't something I could write about. My Mom had sole custody of me from day one, so I didn't really live in "two households". If you are looking for information on that topic, you should check out Debbie Nigro's interview with Dr. Scott Halzman here.
Instead, I'm using this article to discuss something I know intimately: What Moms can do when their ex isn't being much of a Dad to their child(ren).
My Dad and I have a great relationship. We're not close, but we talk every couple of months to catch up and share a good laugh. On birthdays, we send each other novelty gifts – the kind of things women find immature and men find hysterical. It may sound silly, but this relationship means something to me, because ten years ago, we hardly had a relationship at all. And, interestingly, if it weren't for my Mom, I don't know that we'd ever have a relationship.
For most of my life, my Dad wasn't really interested in being a Dad. When we still lived in the same state, he was pretty good about showing up for weekend visits. But, even as a child, I knew there was something perfunctory about it all. I could tell spending time with me was more an obligation than a desire.
When my Mom and I moved halfway across the country, I saw much less of my Dad, of course. But it's when I did see him that I was most disappointed. Dad would fly out for a week-long visit with me, but then have to fly home after four days. He'd concoct some story about work, but I knew it was an excuse. I was crushed. My Dad didn't like me.
I can imagine all the things my Mom wanted to say to me during those times, when I was crying because Dad didn't love me. And, to be honest, he gave her plenty of ammo over the years. He had a drinking problem. He brought a girlfriend along during one of our visits. He wasn't good with child support checks. But I remember exactly what my Mom said when I was 12, and Dad had cut a visit short: "Justin, it's not that your Dad doesn't love you. He loves you very much. He just doesn't know how to show it."
Throughout my childhood, my Mom never once out-and-out complained about my Dad. She never cursed his issues, or told me how I should feel about him. She never tried to "win". When I'd ask questions, she'd respond honestly, but always in a way that made me feel like he was a good man who just didn't have the tools to be a good Dad. (And I should note that my Dad, too, never said a bad word about my Mom).
I did go through a period of resentment towards my Dad. While we never fought, and I'd never say we were estranged, I didn't see him for 10 years, between the ages of 18-28. We still spoke on the phone occasionally, and he always sent me birthday gifts, but I didn't want much to do with him.
And then, one day, I forgave him. I don't know exactly when it was, or how it occurred. But I forgave him. And today, I can honestly say that I have no resentment towards him whatsoever. In short, my Mom helped me to realize that it wasn't about me. My Dad just wasn't good at being a Dad. And, now that I'm older and the father-son dynamic is different, he's more interested in being a Dad. And I'm happy to oblige him by being a son.
In the end, growing up without a Dad wasn't that bad. My Mom covered in all sorts of ways, from throwing the football for me (she looked pretty funny, but threw pretty well), to demanding I had a male homeroom teacher at school so I'd develop relationships with adult males. But the best thing she did was to let me make up my own mind about Dad, rather than trying to make me see him the way she did. Thanks to that, I not only have a better relationship with him, but a better one with her.