A reader dilemma – When an absent father wants to be daddy again

A reader recently sent a distressed request on the post A Manifesto on Absent Fathers concerning her absent ex who has suddenly expressed a desire, after six years, to be part of his daughter’s life. Below is her predicament and my response. I’d love the Chopper Nation to chime in with any perspective you can offer this mom.

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I need help! Any advice for a mom? I have a 6-year-old girl her father has seen her twice in 6 years and that is because of his lack of trying. I have an amazing husband who has been here for her since she was 3 months old. The past few months my ex all the sudden has been emailing asking about her and wanting to talk to her and acting like he cares. My current husband is FURIOUS with this and I don’t know what the right thing to do is. My daughter knows about her ‘bio-father’ and asks lots of questions and this seems to hurt my husband. He is angry about him trying to all of a sudden come into her life and I myself don’t know why he is either. He lives in Hawaii and us in MN so it’s not like he can visit on any regular basis. Any suggestions? Do I allow him in not knowing if he is going to bail again and let my husband be hurt..Ugghh I don’t know what to do!

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You certainly are in a difficult situation. You’re between the proverbial rock and a hard place of trying to do what is best for your daughter while remaining supportive of your husband.

Before I share my thoughts I want to encourage him to read a post I wrote for Father’s Day last year, in it I express many of the emotions he is likely going through right now and I go on to  unpack how I deal with them.

When you must share the stage on Father’s Day

From your comment it appears that you are, at least, considering the chance of giving bio-father the opportunity to connect with your daughter. After six years and only two visits you certainly have the right to react defiant in the face of his request. From a purely biological perspective he does have the legal right, regardless of his absence, but actions always speak louder than genetics or the law in my opinion. While I don’t know why he disappeared in the first place hopefully he has realized the err of his ways and now wants to be a permanent part of his child’s life.

I don’t think you want to, nor should you, prevent your daughter from establishing a connection with bio-father, especially since she is asking about him on a regular basis. That however doesn’t mean he just walks back in as if nothing ever happened. You have the right and obligation to establish strict boundaries around how he reintroduces himself to her. You should not shy away from demanding that he follow you and your husband’s strict guidelines. Whether that be you both supervising bio-father’s visit time or just limiting contact initially to phone calls until such time as you both are comfortable with taking it further. Personally, I think you should be cautiously optimistic but make him prove to both of you his dedication.

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And you must do all of this while remaining conscious of your husband’s emotions, which may prove to be much more difficult. I can totally relate to how he is feeling. He has stepped up when bio-father choked and bailed and has been there for you and your daughter ever since. He may even be wondering “Why am I not enough?”  Then suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere bio-father comes back and wants to be involved. His anger and frustration are legitimate and understandable but, and this is the tricky part, he can’t let his personal feelings take precedent over what is best for his stepdaughter. The most difficult thing he must over come, and it was the very same for me, is putting aside his pride for the betterment of your child. You and he may have already formed opinions about how this will ultimately turn out and you may very well be correct. But I don’t believe that is for you to decide. She deserves an opportunity to connect with bio-father if he has proven himself worthy and up for the task.

My immediate suggestion on a course of action is to sit down with your husband and talk to him about what is most beneficial for your daughter, specifically connecting with her birth father. Convince him that this doesn’t change anything about his current role nor is he being replaced. Then together you should structure how bio-father will be allowed to reconnect with her. I think that it’s imperative that you both be in complete agreement on how to proceed, communication that decision with bio-father, then slowly ease him back into her life.

I believe that being a part of the decision making process will limit any feelings of intimidation and hopefully not give him the sense that he’s just been cast aside. While bio-father may be just that, your husband is probably her ‘daddy’. And from personal experience children never, regardless of what men enter their lives, forget who their daddy is.

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The opinions expressed here are personal and are not intended to replace professional or legal advice. 

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17 responses to A reader dilemma – When an absent father wants to be daddy again

  1. I want to echo CP’s sentiment that this stepfather must not allow his personal feelings to color his judgment about what’s best for your daughter. He needs to accept that a child’s curiosity about her biological father is natural and not a reflection on him. Failure to contain his resentment will not only be damaging for her, but also for her relationship with the stepfather.

    Your daughter’s wishes here count for a lot. What kind of contact does she want with her birth father? Have you explored this with her? Would one phone call satisfy her for now? Certainly there should be no more interaction than she asks for. But there also may be less, if in your judgment she’s not ready. If she is ready and wanting contact, I agree with CP that it’s your show to run, and the boundaries should be clearly communicated to your ex.

  2. The mother and step father should most definitely establish and communicate clear boundaries and expectations for all parties involved. It must be noted, specifically, to the bio father that if he flakes out on his daughter again there will be no third chances until she is old enough to make a decisions about contact vs. no contact herself. And he should understand and be willing to cooperate with the mother and step father given his extended absence. If agreements can’t be made regarding how contact is to be first established and then gradually increased as the relationship grows, he can file a formal visitation petition with the state of residence of the daughter. The mother and step father are not obligated to allow for the contact and if the parties can’t amicably agree about the terms, that’s what family court is for.

    I also think that the mother and step father should discuss and be thoroughly prepared for the possibility of the bio father flaking out on the daughter again and how they are going to handle that. Esp. since she is only six. Little kids think everything is their fault and they can internalize abandonment and negative parental interactions at surprisingly young ages. Both of the present parents should have things to do and say prepared ahead of time so that if (or when may be more like it?) needed to comfort her due to disappointment brought on by the absent parent, it comes off as as sincere and empathetic.

  3. I had this happen to me after a 4 1/2 year absence on his part. Really, what can you do? He came back, expressing the desire to ‘change his ways’ and ‘get back on his feet’. I am still waiting for the ways to change and the feet are still not balanced. He never will be and this has been a 6 year wait. They have their regrets and act on them not thinking of the child who stands confused and will be hurt. As moms all we want to do is protect our children and sometimes it’s from the ones we make those children with. I totally agree that boundaries need setting and start from there. Actions speak louder than words, so let him prove himself. If he’s serious, he will act it. If he’s not serious, let him pass. As a dad, he’s probably wondering, is the girl ok? Does she look like me? Does she have any of my personality traits? Is she safe, happy, etc… Even absent parents have those thoughts.

  4. I completely agree with CP; from the slow reintroduction of the biological father to including your husband in the process of establishing boundaries for the biological father to respect. I have experienced a similar situation and found my daughter to be resilient and capable of creating a relationship with her biological father while maintaining the loving relationship already established with her stepfather. In my daughter’s eyes there is no competition between her father and stepfather…only another person in her life to love and love her.

    Finally, CP said it best: “While bio-father may be just that, your husband is probably her ‘daddy’. And from personal experience children never, regardless of what men enter their lives, forget who their daddy is.”
    I have a feeling that if you communicate this to your husband and ensure that he truly hears it, it will help reduce some of his legitimate feelings of frustration and fear.
    I genuinely wish your family all the best in this extremely complicated situation.

  5. My ex-husband is my son’s daddy. He’s not his biological father, but he’s been his dad since he was 2. His biological father died and has a son from a previous marriage before he and I were together. My son knew he had a brother. My ex and I decided that we would tell my son that he his daddy wasn’t his real dad when he was old enough to start piecing together that he had a brother who didn’t share the same parents as him.

    The day he questioned it we sat him down and explained the WHOLE story to him. He sat there and absorbed it all without saying a word. When we were all done, the first thing he said was, “Daddy is still going to be my daddy, right?”

    I just wanted to share that story with the mom who submitted the question. Our kids know who their REAL parents are and it has nothing to do with genetics.

    And I agree with what CP suggested. He was spot on with this one.

    I truly hope this works out for you, your daughter and your husband. I hope that your ex isn’t just doing this just to do it and that his intentions are true and real. I’m going to send you positive thoughts and prayers. *Hugs* <-in a non-internet stalker creepy kinda way.

  6. From a legal perspective, this is a no brainer.

    It doesn’t matter what Dad did, only what he wants to do. His visitation was never mandatory, only an option. As soon as he says he wants to exercise his option, he’s in. The court may have the relationship reintroduced slowly at first through a graduated schedule.

    So for the person with the question, there is really no question.

    It’s about your child’s best interests….and the fact that your husband is FURIOUS is irrelevant. Your child best interests are in getting to know her parent.

  7. My heart goes out to everyone in this situation. Definitely, I’ll echo the general consensus that you and your husband protect your little girl by ensuring the contact is gradual and ringfenced until your ex has earned the right to be trusted. While I can understand your husband’s feelings, he also has to realise that a child’s love isn’t finite – it isn’t about there only being a limited amount to go around. She may forge a new relationship with her biological father – but that won’t lessen her love for the man who has always been there for her. Unless, of course, that man suddenly starts behaving angrily and demanding that she doesn’t have anything to do with her birth father… All that will do, will make your ex seem victimised and hurt and confuse her. She’s done nothing wrong – and her interest in her ‘real Daddy’ is completely natural. If you can both take a deep breath and treat his sudden interest in her with calmness and help her adjust to the new situation with sympathy and love, she will never turn her back on those who have always been there for her.

  8. mcravener

    It’s almost a good thing that your ex-husband is so far away – it makes it easier to set up structured meetings between him and your daughter, which in my opinion should be on your home turf. The bio-father should be the one making the effort to reconnect with your daughter, so if he wants to make the trip and take the time to do so, I think it’s a good thing for your daughter. The first meetings should perhaps be in your company though. I don’t see much of a risk that the father role your present husband has will be threatened, he is the one that is there for your daughter on a daily basis after all – but of course he has to feel comfortable with these changes.

  9. Joanne

    This is the usual situation for fathers staying abroad for work. When they get home, they will try hard to gain their children’s trust. But with this present technology, fathers away from home should try to benefit the good things modern technology can offer. You can still build great relationships with your children if you will have enough time talking with your kids online…

  10. Keisha12

    What a great topic, In my case which is considered as a legitimate child.. One’s in a month I can enjoy with dad doing things that commonly we didn’t play… I’m was confused bout it when I was young, Joining different kinds of activities without dad..
    And only mu uncle “John” fulfill it now and then..

  11. I’m a little late to this party… What a great topic! I’d like to echo the points that boundaries and communication are of utmost importance.

    If I’ve learned anything through my experience/study of evolving families, it’s that relationships are incredibly fluid. Things change. A lot. Constantly. Biodad’s previous absence doesn’t mean that he’ll always be absent… and even if he doesn’t prove to be the Ultimate Dad while his daughter is young, that doesn’t mean he won’t someday cultivate a respectful relationship with her when she’s an adult. The important thing is that the door be open for Biodad and his daughter to know each other. They each have a right to that relationship.

  12. “I don’t think you want to, nor should you, prevent your daughter from establishing a connection with bio-father”. so you will teach your daughter that when a man loves you; he dissapears for a long, long time. but when he comes back you will be there for him! that’s love sweetie, remember that when you are looking for a partner. that’s not how it goes at my house.

    i doubt you have anything to worry about. tell “dad” that he is welcome write letters to his daughter, so that they can get to know each other slowly. he didn’t suddenly change personalities. he will forget and lose interest soon enough.

    it sickens me that so many people think ANY relationahip with ANY bio dad is good for the child. how confusing is it for this child to have a new “dad” pop in and out of her life. bio dad does not deserve any special honor for his sperm donation. is there anyone else in your life that you would welcome back after 6 years? and saying, “it’s his right” is BS. i’d let him take me to court before i let him jack my kid around w/ a pop in after 6 years. it is your childs right to be treated w/ respect. disappearing for years at a time is not respect.

    i feel bad for you, your husband and your daughter. you are happy and doing well and this dick-head comes back to stir the pot. a friend of mine has been through this with the father of her son, on and off for 14 years. it cost her a husband and a boyfriend. each time her son would establish a relationship with another man, bio dad would come back around. he’d start showing up at school functions, sporting events, etc. then, when it seemed he was really in it for the long haul; he’d vanish again for a couple of years. but the damage he did lasted long after he left. i suggest you and your family start counseling to head off any possible issues.

  13. kandy

    I know in my situation I was told if he EVER comes back to NOT let him see his son. This was told to me by my sons phyc. He has so MANY problems as it is one includes a basic understanding of communication and he does not function “normally”. She thinks at least in my situation it would be a relay stupid decision that can make things worse then they already are. He had seen our son 6 times between the ages of 8 months and 2 years. He has not seen him since he was 2 (well a few days before. He got arrested 3 days before my sons second birthday). He will be 7 in April.

  14. Papa – Author

    Kandy, given the whole jail thing that obviously brings up a different situation.

    I am so sorry you and your son had to deal with that.

  15. This is tough for me being I am only 26 as of August 24th. Whats worse is my GF is only 21! Her son is 4yrs old. Me and my GF have been together for about the last year and her son has grown on me. His biological father was also about 15 when he got my gf pregnant at that time so he was young and I was not initially aware of that. I am forced to be a little more lenient on the deadbeat dad stuff because of his age, but his parents felt they were too good for that predicament and moved out of state taking their son with them. He has never met the son, or even communicated with him. My gf has tried to reach out to him in the past, to no avail. His parents did not want to accept that it was his child, and I feel he didn’t make necessary effort to stand up for whats right because he wasn’t there in 4 years. For the past year, I’ve fed him, played with him, talked to him, communicated with him, listened, taken him to the doctor, etc. Suddenly the biological father wants to become involved in the sons life. My gf says she is confused as to why he wants to now, but at the same time she has been trying to get in contact with him so I’m not so sure about her confusion anymore. To top it off, her mom is evil and poisons the kid about me. The other day he came in the living room after me and gf came back from christmas in my hometown, as soon as he saw me he frowned and abruptly turned around and went back to his grandmother. That hurt my heart because never in a million years would he have done that under his own terms. I understand the kid was young but 4 years of neglecting your biological son?! Not 1 dime, phone call or anything. It’s hard for me to respect him at all, let alone support the potential relationship he suddenly wants with the kid. People make mistakes, but we also have to live with them. I mean when a kid commits a murder they don’t get a slap on the wrist because they are kids. They get nice lengthy sentences. Similar concept in terms of consequences of actions, or at least it should be IMO.

  16. Just to clarify when I say I understand the ‘kid’ was young Im referring to the biological father. He was young but that still doesn’t justify not standing up for the truth or for whats right.

    Also Me and GF were there christmas morning and I bought gifts played with him, etc. Then went to my hometown to visit my fam and I had gifts to give to my neph, nieces, and cousins. It was also first time for meeting my family. I spent thanksgiving with her family, and missed with mine. We’ve anticipated her meeting my family for Christmas and would have had no problem taking her son but Grandmom wanted him to stay. Hope that clarifys a little more.

  17. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Siv, thanks for the note. Not to pry but what is your intention with his mom? Marriage? Etc.?

    Secondly, if the bio father wants a relationship with the child and you have issues you may find it difficult to have any influence as simply being the BF. Especially if the mother isn’t very keen on you.

    If you’re looking for advice I think the best you can do is support the mom in her decision but not taking it personally if she chooses to have the father be a part of his his life. You can and should offer some different perspectives and help guide her in her decisions when possible.

    I certainly think that she, him, and possibly you should sit down have an understanding of his intentions before he even meets the child for the first time. Then there is also the financial component. Is he willing/prepared to help with the child through child support? If he is then there is a good sign that he may be sincere in his desire to see the little guy and be a part of his life.

    All the best man!

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