Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hero Parents

The recent riots in Baltimore created an unlikely hero, seen and praised by millions - the mom who was captured on TV rushing out into the streets to discipline her 16-year old son for participating in the violence of the day.  She's been hailed as a Hero Mom and typified as an example of what a parent should be.  While her actions were certainly important and worthy of praise, there's another aspect of parenting to consider - that of how we influence our children. Positively influencing our children will have significant impact on the future needs to control our children.
For us divorced fathers, this is vital.  Though we're not with our kids nearly as often as we'd like, they still watch us.  They observe how we behave whether we're with them or not. They listen to our words, they pick up on our emotions and feelings, and they will - to varying degrees - follow our example.  When they see us lash out at authority, we teach them to lash out at authority.  When they see us react with bitterness and spite to their mother or others, they learn to treat others with bitterness and spite.  And even when they see us passionately fight for our rights, however justified that may be, they may learn that their own rights are more important than those of others, since many are too young to understand the dynamics of divorce and custody.  In this case, they need to know that we're fighting for their well-being, more than we're fighting for our own rights.
Many chose to participate in the violence in Baltimore and elsewhere. Others did not and chose to participate in the rebuilding of their community rather than the destruction of their community.  What's the difference between those two groups?  Many things, for certain, but foremost among them are the examples they see in their parents.

Yes, this mom was certainly a hero for stepping out into the violence to parent her son.  But equally heroic are all the other unseen parents who, by the example they set, influenced their children to not only make a better choice, but to work to be a positive, rather than a negative, influence.  By this example we see the character of these parents through the actions and choices of their children. Our children are more than a physical reflection of us - they reflect our character as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fighting for Your Children

As divorced fathers, particularly non-custodial ones, we quickly find ourselves without many of the rights and privileges related to our children that we had before.  Some of these are taken from us by the nature of divorce, some by our ex, and some by the courts.  As a result, there are many groups and initiatives that champion father's rights and encourage us to fight for those rights.  I've had to do my share of that since the divorce.  I've held my ex in contempt several times for not letting me see or talk to my kids, and for other efforts to interfere with the relationship between my children and me.

We need to be careful, however, when determining what we're fighting for.  We can easily get caught up in fighting for us - our rights, our reputation, our time - and not realize that our children are getting caught in the middle.  It's not that those things are not worthy of a fight, but what is the goal - to better things for ourselves, or to better things for our children?

In the fall of 1944, the United States was preparing the promised return to the Philippines, which had been lost in 1942 to the Japanese, and had a fleet set apart to protect the US invasion force.  Commanded by Admiral Bull Halsey, the goal was simple - protect the invasion force.  But Halsey was given another option as well - destroy the Japanese aircraft carriers if the opportunity presents itself.  Halsey opted to take his fleet aircraft carriers and heavy warships off to pursue the remaining Japanese carriers - a noble goal, and one that could certainly help the war effort.  But in doing so, he left the invasion force to be guarded by a secondary task force, called Taffy 3, comprised of slow, small escort carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts.  When Halsey removed his task force from the Philippine islands, the Japanese moved their primary surface fleet into the void.  This fleet was significantly larger, stronger, faster, and more powerful than Taffy 3, which was now the only thing standing between the Japanese and the US invasion force.  Taffy 3, though heavily outmatched in every way, succeeded in turning away the Japanese attack in an heroic defense that has gone down in US naval history as one of its finest moments.  But in doing so, one ship was sunk, 23 aircraft were lost, almost 1600 men were killed or missing, and nearly 1000 were injured.   The Japanese carrier task force that Halsey pursued was a decoy.  They engaged in no combat. (Learn more -

Halsey may have been justified in pursuing what he thought were the Japanese carriers.  There was nothing wrong with that goal in itself.  But in pursuing that goal, he lost sight of his primary goal - protecting the invasion force.  Fortunately for him and for the US war effort, Taffy 3 filled the void, though at great cost in hardware and lives - a cost that was, quite arguably, entirely avoidable.

Our experience as fathers is similar.  We have lost many rights and privileges with our children - of this there is no doubt - and we want those things back.  But our primary job is to look out for the welfare of our children.  In the pursuit of our rights, our children can get caught in the crossfire.  They can be impacted in a variety of ways.  The first question we must ask ourselves when considering the fight for our rights as fathers is this - how will it impact our children?  What price will they pay?

We must choose our battles wisely.  The primary goal of a father is not to defend and stick up for ourselves - it is to defend and stick up for our children.  There are fights worth fighting - most definitely.  But others are less certain.

Be careful to not let other ambitions, goals, or desires detract from your primary goal - being a father and protecting your children.  The stakes are far higher for them than for us.  Choose wisely.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanks for What?

It's that time of year again - the holidays.  For most of us divorced parents, at the time of year when everyone is talking about family, we're without.  While it's difficult not having a partner during the holidays, it's particularly difficult if and when we don't have our children.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the things we don't have and the things for which we're not thankful.  Divorce has a way of making us all see the glass as half empty.  We've lost a lot - materially, physically, and emotionally.  But we need to learn to focus on what we have.

First and foremost, we have our children. We often get bogged down by all the conditions that surround our relationship with our children - limited days for limited times and with limited rights.  But the bottom line is we HAVE children.  We ARE fathers.  Things can interfere with that and limit our time, limit our rights, make things difficult, etc - but nothing can or will ever change the fact that we had a part in creating new life or perhaps adopting a child.  Yes, divorce makes it very difficult, frustrating, and at times depressing.  But we have our children.  How much do you enjoy seeing their smile?  How much do you enjoy peeking in on them while they sleep?  How much pride do you have when the teacher tells you how well they're doing or knowing they do well in a sport or activity?  Our children our something for which we should always be thankful and never take for granted even if the circumstances are difficult or our time is limited.

Second, we have an opportunity to shape a life and leave a legacy.  Many men put their time and energy into work, fitness, sports, games, or casual relationships.  Not that any of those are necessarily bad, but all are ultimately fleeting.  None of it lasts for long.  With whatever time you have with your children, be the best  parent you can be.  With the time you're not with your children, be the best man you can be.  Give them a role model.  We have the opportunity to shape a young man or woman, a future husband or wife, father or mother, and so on.  And while our direct time with them may be limited, it's still time, and we need to be thankful for it and make the most of it.

Last, focus on your children this season.  Many times I've tried to craft the "perfect moment" with them and found myself frustrated when I didn't meet my own high expectations.  What I didn't realize at the time was that my children didn't know what my expectations were.  Children, particularly younger children, are simple.  They want time with their dad.  Give them that time. The moments don't have to be grand or formal.  They just have to be with your children.  Memories will always outlast material things.

Doing or recognizing these things don't solve all the problems of the holidays.  They actually don't change anything about our circumstances.  But they can change a lot about us and our perspective.  We may not have a lot of "things" for which to be thankful when measured in quantity.  But our thankfulness for our children, the opportunity we have to shape those lives, and the chance to create memories - those are immeasurable.

Enjoy this coming holiday season for what you have, not longing for what you wish.  In doing so you'll teach thankfulness, contentment and character to your children and give them something that money can never buy - an involved and loving father.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Measure of a Man

Recently I had my 45th birthday.  It seems the older we get, the more reflective we become.  At some point, it's not so much our age that gets us as it is looking at where we are in life at this point and how we measure ourselves as a man.  I know I am at a place I never anticipated being and never wanted.  No one wants to be divorced and living without their children, reduced to seeing them only a few days out of most months, and missing out on so much of their lives.  As a result, many of us divorced fathers look to other things to validate ourselves.

Some look to their career - their position within the company, how much money they make, how much seniority they have.  Some turn to conquests - how many women they can date or bed, or how many relationships they can have.  Some turn to playing - video games, sports, travel, or other activities.  We want to be able to look at our lives and see tangible and immediate results.  We want to feel accomplished and successful.  We want to make our mark and make the most out of whatever opportunities we have.

All of these things are fleeting, however.  Jobs ultimately end.  Someone else will eventually be more successful, another will have the position we once had, and the money will soon be spent.  Conquests are short-lived and empty.  The women come and go and while it may make you feel accomplished, it  accomplishes nothing of lasting value.  Games and sports will end.  Our strength will dissipate, coordination will fade, our skills slip, our bodies weaken.  While all of it can feel fulfilling in the short term, it will ultimately all be forgotten.

Yet somehow we miss the obvious - we're fathers.  True, we don't see our kids as much as we'd like and we miss out on much of their lives.  But as fathers, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy, not just to build a reputation.  Reputations are soon forgotten.  Legacies live on.  Our children will one day be someone's boyfriend or girlfriend, someone's husband or wife, someone's father or mother, someone's employee, an employer, a student, a teacher, etc.  We have the opportunity to help shape a life - one that will interact with thousands of other lives during their lifetime and one that will impact thousands more in one way or another.

While we don't get to see them as often as we'd like, we are still fathers.  We still have an influence on our children.  We can still teach them, lead them, and set an example for them so that they can be healthy, productive people as they grow.  A lessened opportunity is not the same as no opportunity.  It just means we have to be more deliberate with the opportunities we have.  We can teach our sons what it means to be a responsible and selfless man.  We can teach our daughters how a gentleman should treat a woman and give them the love and security they long for.  We may not have as many opportunities as we'd like, but we all have opportunities of some kind or another.  Don't let them pass you by.

This year, as I turn 45, while I do think about my career, my divorce, and other things, I am content and happy with my role as a father.  I'm not perfect, but I'm trying.  My kids are doing very well in school and in life and I am extremely proud of both of them.  I am a blessed man.  All of us who have someone calling us "dad" or "daddy" are blessed.  Be there for them, teach them and lead them.  Through our children, we can leave a legacy that will live on in them and in everyone they touch.  There is no greater measure of a man.  Nothing else can top that. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

"I deserve to be happy."  I hear that a lot these days - especially as a divorced parent.  We're advised to take care of ourselves and do what makes us happy.  There's a lot of good in that advice, but there can be some bad, too.  With the exception of mental health issues and violence, it's likely the majority of us are divorced because our ex (and perhaps us as well) decided to do what made them happy - affairs, drugs, alcohol, excessive spending, irresponsible behavior, general selfishness, etc. 

That advice can be problematic because it's not just us anymore.  We have kids.  It's probably a fair bet that there are many very happy parents out there (divorced or married) who have very unhappy kids.  Once we become a parent, we're responsible for them.  We are responsible for who they will become. Yes, we should take care of ourselves - physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  But never at the expense of our children. Our first responsibility is still to them.  That's what parents do. Part of being a parent is sacrifice.  We give up part of our freedom and independence when we become a parent.  But that's a good thing.  That time, money and energy is spent on raising a child.  It's spent on growing that now-little or young person into the man or woman that will eventually become someone's husband or wife, father or mother.  It's a privilege.

We do very much need to take care of ourselves - but it's easy to go to the extreme with our kids and neglect our own well-being, and we should be very attentive to how it impacts our children.  The pursuit of our own happiness can easily lead to our children's unhappiness.

Another thought along these same lines but from a different perspective - if we deserve the right to be happy, doesn't everyone - including our ex?  Did they not deserve that same right when we were married?  I know that may be an extreme example, but the point is that there is a line at which one person's pursuit of happiness comes at the expense of others - spouse, partner, children, etc.

The bottom-line is that there's more to life than the pursuit of our own happiness.  There is raising happy, healthy kids.  There is being a responsible parent.  There is making wise decisions that benefit our children, even if it's at our own expense. Those things can bring their own level of happiness.  Take care of yourself, yes.  Enjoy yourself.  But don't do it at the expense of your children.  Nothing is worth that.

There is no greater happiness a man can know than being a father to his children.  That's the happiness we should pursue - our children.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fathering by Example

On a recent weekend with me, my son, who is nine, told me this: "That's one of the things you taught me. You didn't mean to, but you showed me."  We were riding bikes at the time, and as an avid mountain biker I've been trying to get him into the sport by giving him little tips and encouragement, but ultimately it comes down to me showing him (1) that it can be done and (2) how to do it.  I don't remember at all what he was referring to, but it swelled my chest as though I had just climbed the highest mountain or completed the most difficult descent.  It made me realize he watches me more than he listens to me.

Fathers are leaders - whether they be leaders of a family (along with their wife, or alone after a divorce), leaders of a church, or leaders of a nation.  The greatest leaders are known for leading by example.  They are consistent - whether they are in front of those they lead or apart from them.  Leaders have reputations, and those they lead quickly discern those reputations.

For non-custodial fathers, it's easy to forget that we're still leaders of our children.  There's no such thing as a part-time leader.  There's no such thing as a part-time father.  Our kids may be with us part-time, but we are always fathers, just as they are always our children.  We should be mindful of this in all we do.

Our children will learn far more from watching us than they will ever learn from listening to us.  They will follow our examples - whether it be good or bad.  Even as non-custodial fathers, there are many ways we can lead our children by example whether they are with us or not:
  • How we treat women - including their mother
  • How we overcome adversity and handle frustration
  • How to apologize and that there is strength in humility
  • How to be responsible with money and time and our job
  • How to take care of ourselves - our body, spirit and mind
  • How to win and lose with dignity
  • How to be persistent and not give up
  • How to respect authority figures and the law
  • How to be faithful, loyal and honest
I'm aware that many of these are far easier said than done - and that's exactly what makes them so important.  If we don't teach our children the right way to do these things, who will?  If we don't teach them the right way to do these things then we'll be teaching them the wrong way and setting them back in life.  There's nothing in any kind of leadership that says you have to enjoy doing what you're doing.  Often, the greatest acts of leadership are unpleasant.  But leaders do what needs to be done because they know others are depending on them.

There's a saying - "Be the person you want your children to become."  There is great truth in those few words.  When they're with you or away from you, your children are always watching in some way or another.  They are learning either the right way or the wrong way to do things.  They may live most of the time with their mother, they may have a step-father, but we will always and forever be the only father they will ever have.  We only get one chance.  We can't change the past, but we can start now.  Live like the person you want your children to be.  Give them an example they can mirror and behaviors they can emulate.  Be aware that they are always watching and be consistent.  There are few things they will learn more from than your example.  Make it a positive one.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quarterback Dad

That moment.  That moment that we first held our baby in our arms.  We made it.  We are fathers.  Dada, daddy, dad - those words bring the greatest joy to our hearts.  We come home to the rumble of little feet racing to meet us at the door, wrapping their arms around our legs, looking up with a giant smile on their face and exclaiming "Daddy!"  It's like we've become the quarterback of a championship football team.

That other moment.  That moment we go to bed alone and wake up alone.  We come home to silence - no rumble of feet, no arms wrapping around our legs, no smiles and no shouts of "Daddy!"  Our role as father has been reduced to a part-time status.  We're still their father, but only two weekends and maybe a couple of weeknights per month.  In that one moment, we went from starting quarterback to being benched.

For many of us, it feels as though we're no longer a father.  We know we're still their dad, and they know we're still their daddy, but it's not the same.  We're no longer there when they get home from school, when they go to bed, and when they wake up.  We have to schedule when we see them.  We feel devalued, insignificant, and deprived of the opportunity to be a father.

But there is something similar, and there is hope that we can still be fathers and have a positive and lasting impact on our children.  We can draw encouragement and perhaps inspiration from those who have become the backup quarterback.

No football player aspires to be a backup.  In the college and professional levels, every backup was once a starter somewhere.  But backup quarterbacks are necessary.  While they may no longer be the starter - they may not see many snaps in a game or as many reps in practice - they are still a quarterback.  They are still expected to be able to do their job when called upon. recently posted an article called "QB2: - The Most Important Position Nobody Wants."  Being a non-custodial dad is not too different - it's the most important role nobody wants.  The key word in both statements? Important.

The responsibilities of being a backup quarterback are the same as those of the starter.  He goes to the same meetings, participates in the same drills and shares the same goals.  While he may not play every game, the backup must always be prepared to make a difference.  His mentality must be the same as that of the starter.  Matt Flynn, the current backup to Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, said "there's no different approach to my game.... I haven't thought about coming to grips with, 'OK, I'm a career backup.' I don't think I'll ever look at it like that."  They must have the outlook and attitude that they are important and expect to make a difference for their team.

Josh McCown is currently the starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but last year he was the backup for Jake Cutler of the Chicago Bears.  "Just stepping back and having gone through things I'd gone through, in and out of the league, to value every day, value every opportunity to come to work, to bring value to the team, no matter your circumstances," McCown reflected, "For me, it was realizing there is more self-fulfillment in that; I got more peace from doing that than to go to work every day thinking, 'I've got to do this, I've got to do this well, so I can become a starter.' The backup has to really embrace that."

That quote is easily applied to non-custodial dads.  We should value every day and every opportunity to be with our children, to bring value to their lives no matter the circumstances or frequency.  We need to be involved and embrace the thought that there is self-fulfillment in being a dad, however limited. We need to embrace it not because it's what we wanted, but because it's where we are and it's who we are.

Charlie Whitehurst, backup quarterback with the Tennessee Titans, explained that "Everybody wants to be a starter -- myself, I definitely feel that. When you have a taste of it, you start to think, I wish I had done this.  You try to think like you're the starter all the time. If you start worrying about, Where am I in my career? you can confuse the issue for yourself.  The way I do it, it's one day at a time, get yourself as good as you can today and then focus on tomorrow. I always say in the locker room to myself, I'm playing the second snap of the game.  It may not be the most rewarding thing, to be prepared, and then the starter goes in and wins, and it looks like all the work was in vain. It wasn't. You were ready to play. As you get older, you appreciate being prepared, even if it doesn't pay off that week."

Being a non-custodial father is no different.  We all want to be there for our kids every day.  We've done it, we enjoyed it, and we want it again.  But we can't dwell on what we don't have.  We have to think like we're the father - because we are, regardless of how infrequently we see our children.  It's not the most rewarding thing to go weeks without seeing our kids, but what we do is not in vain.  We can make a difference, and we do make a difference.  As our kids get older,  we will see that and they will too.

Whitehurst quotes one of his coaches as saying, "Don't ever think of yourself as a backup quarterback....  You have to view yourself as the starting quarterback all the time. You need to work like you're the starter."

Don't ever think of yourself as a non-custodial or part-time father.  You are a father.  You are always their father, whether they're with you or not.

There are stories upon stories of backup quarterbacks winning the big games or keeping their teams in the championship race.  There are also stories of backups who weren't able to get the job done, at the expense of their team.  There are non-custodial fathers who have a big role in their children's lives and who make a difference.  And there are those that do not.

We, however, are backups to no one.  We are and will always be fathers.  Be the father who is always prepared to make a difference.  Be the father who considers himself no less important than the other parent.  Be the father who steps up when needed and who can be counted on to do his best for his kids.  Know that you CAN make a difference.  Make the most of every opportunity, however infrequent.  Be there and be the father your kids want and need.  It will pay off.  It will be worth it.  It is important.