As I write this, I am listening to a gathering of men pray in my kitchen before having breakfast. The men of my church (aka “Men of Courage” as they have dubbed themselves) wanted to honor and pray for their pastors in the midst of a particularly trying season in which a number of elderly congregants have passed away, and funerals have become all too common. These are the kind of men who put their life in harm’s way to help others, who immediately pick up and go when they get a phone call that someone needs their help, who have driven to another state to find a wayward child, who have wives who are truly grateful to have them in their lives, who protect and provide for their wives and children while helping and volunteering in their communities, who put the needs of others before them (I just overheard one of them say, when asked to go first, “No. Ya’ll go first.”), who mentor young men in at-risk communities to show them what godly men do, who seek to do what is right even when it is not financially beneficial or popular, who get on their knees and pray on a daily basis because they know the crushing responsibilities on their shoulders need the help of an almighty God. They are firemen and police, engineers and doctors, pastors and chaplains, musicians and carpenters, businessmen and combat veterans. These are the good men. The men we look up to. The kind of man that, when children ask their mom a question, she can respond, “What would your father do?” Men of Courage, indeed. These are the kind of men we celebrate and are thankful for on Father’s Day.
But not every woman can celebrate a good man in her life. Those of us who have been in an abusive marriage or relationship are filled with guilt and sadness for our children on Father’s Day. We have beat ourselves up for the partner that we chose to be the father of our children, and have come to realize that he lacks a moral compass. He is not one of the “good guys.” When our children ask us a question, we cannot say, “What would your father do?”
How do we find hope and joy on Father’s Day?
Here’s a few thoughts.
Perhaps your ex has made a “miraculous” change of parenting style from being uninvolved while you were married to trying to win Father of the Year after you split. He buys them expensive toys or cars, takes them on fancy trips, and actually spends some time with them now. I call this the “Divorce-Activated Dad.” Also known as the “Disneyland Dad.” You know that he is trying to buy your children’s affections and has turned everything into a competition with you to get even. However, you can still be thankful. If it took a divorce to make him step up to the plate of being a dad, at least he stepped up. People of all ages have a father longing. Children long for a relationship with their father like they crave food and water. According to famous psychologist Abraham Maslow, our need to feel loved and accepted by those around us, especially our parents, is one of our basic human needs. It is painful for a mom who has gone above and beyond to be a good mom to see her kids spend time with an abusive ex, who never lifted a finger for them until a divorce. The children of a good friend of mine, who spent a great deal of time with their dad after her divorce, explained it to her this way, “We knew we always had you, and we know we will always have you. But now, we have dad too, and we never had him before.” The father longing, as explained by teenagers. As the responsible, emotionally mature parent, moms need to put aside our own ego and cynicism of the underlying motive of the Divorce-Activated Dad and be thankful that our children have a relationship with their father.
Maybe your ex is still mostly uninvolved in the lives of your children, but sees them on occasion. You would like for him to be more involved in their lives and take some of the child-raising burden off of you. But he just doesn’t have the emotional capacity to be a full-time dad or form an intimate relationship with them (or with you, for that matter, which is probably one reason why you left.) In this case, it’s probably best to accept that he has a limited capacity to parent, that you will be the primary parent, and that he will play the role of a benevolent uncle who shows up from time to time. However, you can still be thankful that there is some relationship between your children and their father – having an uncle figure is better than having no one at all. And perhaps over time, as they both grow older, that relationship will grow with more shared activities.
Your ex may be out of the picture and totally uninvolved in the lives of your children. Even in this situation, you can be thankful. A man who has no interest in raising or supporting his own children is completely morally bankrupt. There is nothing good to be gained by your children having a relationship with him. His influence would be negative, not positive. I came to this realization when one of the good men who is now having breakfast in my kitchen discovered at around age 50 that his biological father, who had abandoned his then-wife and children while my friend was just an infant, shot and killed his current wife and then himself. My friend had longed for and tried to have a relationship with his father his whole life, but his father had wanted no communication. After his father’s death, the family discovered tactics that we know about all abusers – he had lied to and abused his elderly, sickly wife, and he had lied to and pitted all the relatives against each other to make sure no one communicated or shared notes about him (a tactic called triangulation). He committed a murder-suicide when he could no longer keep up the façade of financial secrets and lies. If this monster had had any influence in the life of my friend (who became a pastor), it would have been entirely negative, and it is very likely my friend would never have become a pastor. God in his goodness spared my friend from this evil in his life.
If this is your situation, you may wish to seek out a kind, godly man who can be a mentor for your children and show them by example how a godly man lives and treats others in his life. Perhaps you will be blessed with a godly new husband and stepfather to your children. Perhaps this is your own father or brother. Or perhaps it is someone else in the family of God, who can be given the title of an adopted uncle, grandparent, or godfather.
I am grateful that one of the good men having breakfast in my kitchen is my new husband. He demonstrates every day how a godly man treats his wife and those around him. No stranger to abuse himself, he has partnered with me in my ministry to help women and children overcome domestic abuse. One of the blessings of this ministry is sharing our home with women and children needing emergency housing. As only God can do, as we try to bless others, he blesses us even more by bringing wonderful people into our lives. Some of our greatest blessings are the children who have lived with us and have asked my husband to be their godfather and adopted uncle, while asking me to be their godmother and adopted aunt. God is working in all our lives to heal us through His amazing love as He works in us and through us.
This Father’s Day, there are reasons to be thankful and joyful. Your family did not turn out how you had hoped. You may still be grieving this loss. But God is very good at working with Plan B, or even Plan C or Plan D. He loves your children even more than you do. He is healing your family and equipping you to be stronger and wiser. And, when a godly, earthly father cannot be with them, He promises to be the perfect Father.