Dads

My Dad Is a Deadbeat–How Do I Tell My Kids?

Shot of a senior man looking thoughtful

Growing up, I quickly learned that my father was not like other fathers. He taught my brother and me to curse, did not “do” small talk, did not want me to call when I when I got to my friend’s house late at night, did not ever tell me I was pretty, or that he was proud of me.

And then there were the things he did do He stopped talking to me when I was defiant, slammed my head against the wall when I told him to shut up, and once was so angry he told me he was not my father. As a teenager, I was full of angst and I only realize now, as a mother, that when I said to myself, I hate my Dad, I was saying, I want my dad to love me.

As an adult, I forced myself to accept the fact that he was different, that he, in fact, did love me, but not in the way that I wanted to be loved. Yet he was all I had. And not only was I his daughter, I was a daddy’s girl in my way. I had his humor, his wild streak, his heart-shaped face, his ability to rhyme for hours on end, and his way of seeing through the artifice in the world around us.

The night my first son was born, my father was there. He was one of the first people to hold the baby. I am not sure why I thought this nurturing behavior would continue, that he would be different with my kids than he was with me. But that night he was so present, so loving. It warmed my heart.

He watched my first son when I taught poetry workshops, and even let us use his office loft for my son’s first birthday party. But then when it got hard, and my son started to need more, to talk, to demand, to cry, the nurturing stopped. He let my son shriek on the floor, he stopped babysitting, he threw a party with his new girlfriend at their new place, and my family wasn’t invited. I got angry. I showed up anyhow.

He stopped talking to me. Again.

Years later, I saw him at my brother’s wedding and I pretended that we had not been “not speaking.” My husband had advised me to just move on and it worked, for the time being.

My father was still not active in my family’s life, but we achieved an understanding, and over time, got close again. And even though we did not see him much, and when we did see him for brunch or coffee, he did not really interact with his grandkids, it was pleasant enough and again, I accepted it. Thankfully, the kids did not seem to notice that he did not “notice” them.

Recently, my father went “bankrupt” (again). He was frantic and asked for money, or assumed I would give him money. I said no. My husband is between jobs, I stay at home with the kids, and although we have savings, we have to be disciplined to stay on budget.

My father seemed to accept it, but then, a few weeks later, I made the mistake of asking him to help out after my husband had an emergency surgical procedure. His response? He stopped talking to me. He said I should have given him the money—and cut me, and my family off, again.

Every day I wake up and take care of my family. I make the best food possible, arrange field trips, help my husband organize his time and do a million other small necessary things to keep the machine of my family moving smoothly. However, some days, like today, I feel a gnawing pain inside. It is the same pain I felt when I was young and I felt abandoned and unloved by my dad. And I wonder if the kids notice it because they notice everything.

Some days, I feel angry, defiant, strong, and more beautiful than ever—a voice says “Yeah, I don’t need anyone!” But that is empowerment though pain. When I have that reaction I’m denying the reality that something needs to be worked out, and fast, because when I look at my children, I am not sure what to tell them.

I struggle with the fact, that, on the most part, my father has shown very little interest in my children—his only grandchildren. But as far as I know, they don’t really feel the difference whether he is in their life or not.

They don’t “”get” that he has never called them to say hi, has forgotten their birthdays more than once, and has only had a handful of conversations with them–most always due to me putting them in his view and saying, “Your grandson wants to tell him something.”

They have a dedicated father, two amazing grandmothers, a loving step-grandfather, and very close cousins. They seem happy and loved.

And since I don’t know the inner workings of my father’s mind, I can only guess that he is OK with not talking to me and not being a part of my children’s lives.

So on days like today, when I’m sitting with the pain, I wonder if he doesn’t seem to care and my children don’t seem to care, then I am the one with the problem.

How do I hold my tongue and not call grandpa a “deadbeat,” when his memory or his name comes up? How do I not practice, lashon hara, or negative tongue? Do I just not mention my father’s name to his grandchildren and when he comes around be causal about it? Let him in and out and tread lightly? Or, if he does come around, do I tell him to stay away so that he doesn’t cut us all off again when he is triggered? Do I protect them? Do I protect myself?

Or do I keep doing what I am trying to do now—telling the kids the best stories about him, assuring them he loves them. But with whatever choice I make comes the harder task of getting over my pain, expecting nothing, feeling lovable, forgiving him, and let go, because I have breakfast to make.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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