Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Single parents voice concerns

April 10, 1992

A recent column on single fathers generated a number of responses. Several of the letters were letters from single Dads and single Moms expressing admiration and encouragement to the single father who I cited. Others were from parents describing their daughters’ struggles as single parents. A woman who raised three children by herself gave advice on how she kept her family close.

One woman, a second wife of a custodial father, gave information on support groups organized primarily for non-custodial fathers. Another woman wrote from Texas and offered an endorsement of Parents Without Partners as a support group.

There were painful letters too. One man described how his wife just left him. Another man sent a short note accompanied by a court decree to show how his parents’ “grandparent’s rights” had been violated.

Daughters and stepmothers. A North Dakota woman described how her marriage failed because her husband had too close relationships with his three daughters. These are her views on what happened:

“He, too, had an<open, close, personal relationship with his daughters, so close that they often discussed our married life and personal problems. He was not able to come to me, but went to them with his problems. He was so used to discussing everything as a family.

“He treated them like his wife and I as the outsider. I think it is important for single men raising girls by themselves to establish healthy normal relationships with women their own age and not live their lives through their daughters. You wonder how these girls will ever have normal marriages if they don’t find someone like daddy to meet their every need.

“Please use your column to inform single dads to be careful of their relationships with their daughters. A new wife would be willing to accept the girls, but the girls are seldom willing to accept a new wife. His son never gave us any problems and was very accepting of me. I have talked to a number of women who have had the same thing happening to them.”

Making Dad the bad guy. One Montana rancher was quite bitter about the way he felt his ex-wife had turned the children against him and obstructs his ability to have normal visits with them.

“I think this is a form of child abuse — keeping children away from their Dad. It’s easy to plant the seeds of distrust in little minds by small-minded adults. Children should get to know a parent and make their own decisions on what that parent is like without any influence of the other.

“Kids are naturally going to take the easy way, which isn’t always the best way! I feel my kids want to know their dad but are afraid of offending their mother. It’s like she is running a popularity contest with me to win the good opinion of the kids and our friends. Very primitive and idealistic! She blamed me for all the shortcomings of our marriage, and I was certainly worthy of some blame. I believe I was the one working for a solution.

“Dads have been intimidated and degraded long enough! We should be able to keep our pride and not have to kiss anyone’s behind to be able to have some influence in raising our kids.

“You should not be manipulated by your kids or by your ex-wife. It’s sad, but the kids pick up on this and use it well because they know their Dads have no rights.

“It’s difficult at best to maintain a relationship without all the negative propaganda from their mother. The best gift we can give our kids is the experience of them enjoying our work (ranching) together. I am being denied the opportunity to give this gift!”

Men denied equal rights. The North Dakota man who wrote the original letter wrote back and wanted to emphasize the legal dilemmas of non-custodial fathers. He cited the statistic that 85 to 90 percent of custody decisions are in favor of mothers.

He adds, “ ... this statistic alone would seem to indicate that only 10 to 15 percent of all divorcing fathers are either willing or capable of caring for their own children. This defies logic, and the responses from the other custodial fathers indicate that despite the hardships, pressures and inequities, we are managing quite well, thank you.”

“ ... If the impact of law of the administration of law resulted in such a disparity of effect in favor of one group over another in any other aspect of our lives, we would be outraged.

“Yet in this one area of our lives, perhaps the most precious, personal and enduring we may have, we tolerate a system that makes no pretense of being fair or equal. In effect, men have become the ultimate consumer product, ‘the disposable parent.’

“...There are a lot of us caught in this system who don’t understand that despite appearances of equality under the law, we have little or no chance to see our children grow into adulthood. The system is stacked against us, before, during and after.

“Until society is truly ready for equality in parenthood and parental rights, there will always be a subclass of disposable parents, deadbeat dads and weekend fathers.”

This topic touches a raw nerve: the tender feelings of loving fathers separated from their children. They feel the pain, anger and the loss. So do their children.