When I became a father, it changed my life. I had, what I call, my “dad awakening.” It was the first time I honestly realized that someone was solely dependent on me for survival. It was the scariest, yet most exciting, emotion I’d ever experienced—balled up in one big rush—as I saw my baby girl cry out for the first time. There wasn’t a T-shirt big enough in the world to cover my chest. I was one proud father.
Then, when my second daughter came, there I was again, “proud papa.” I love both my girls unconditionally and often refer to them as my right and left lung. So, when my spouse and I divorced, my world changed. It went from being daily afterschool chauffeur, monkey bar coach, homework buddy, and boogieman inspector to once-a-week chauffeur, monkey bar coach, homework buddy, and boogieman inspector—a major shift. In every sense, this change was traumatizing for everyone involved.
How do you overcome some of the obstacles of not being able to see your children everyday? Three major keys stand out.
- Communicate. Almost every morning, as they prepare for school, I call my daughters to wish them a great day. I hear the complaints of sibling rivalry and cries of not wanting to go to school. For example, every Monday morning, Madison, my five-year-old, asks in tears, “Why can’t we go to school for two days and have five days for weekends?” That’s always a tough question to answer because I felt the same way about school. However, I usually calm her down by telling her, “All your friends are waiting for you to come and have fun with them, and they will be sad if you don’t show.” I have a 60 percent success rate by using this line.
Nevertheless, I asked my 10-year-old, Jada, about her thoughts on me calling her and Madison every weekday morning, and she said, “It makes me think to look on the bright side. It makes me feel good when you call me in the morning.”
Dads, I know that most of us are not really into writing, but write your children a letter. Sending your child a goofy note in the mail can be fun for them and you. For example, writing, “I love you. Do you love me,” with a checkbox next to the words “yes” and “no” is uncommon but cute. When your kids become older, they may look back in retrospect and think, “My dad was really thinking about me. He did things most other dads don’t do.”
- Deliver on your promises. If your child has a mobile phone, make sure your direct contact number is programmed in there. This helps ensure that daddy is just a call away, building their security and confidence in you. When you are tested with those phone calls, and you will be, make sure that you can deliver on the promise of being there, even if it’s just to be a quick text or lengthy listening ear away. “Being able to call my dad on my cell phone makes me feel like I can reach out, and call him just like I can my mom,” said Jada.
- Involve yourself in your children’s activities. Show up for ballet rehearsals and recitals, basketball practices and games. Dads, no matter what activity your child is involved in, be supportive and be there as much as possible. Sometimes, your ex or former in-laws may hate your guts for showing up, but show up anyway. It’s not about them. It’s about your child’s growth, healing, and success.
All of these efforts create lasting memories in the lives of your children. They also help to heal everyone affected in the divorce. Good seeds are being planted, and eventually those seeds will produce a harvest. It may take one, five, 10, or more years, but patience yields growth and strength. When your kids become adults, they will appreciate the fact that you tried your best to be there for them.
Lance Brooks International will be conducting a seminar for divorced/separated fathers at the Smyrna Community Center on Thursday, April 14 at 6 pm. For more information, click or call 404-218-0988.
Contributor: Lance Brooks is the father of two daughters, Jada and Madison, and co-owner of Lance Brooks International.