You can’t make him be daddy.

I’ve held senior leadership positions within corporate America for over a decade. I’ve led and worked through countless others to get projects completed or goals achieved, and from all of that experience I’ve learned one essential truth regarding people – I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. I don’t believe I can give a group of associates a pep talk that will suddenly cause them to run through brick walls, nor do I buy into popular notions of how I can directly ‘motivate’ anyone.

From my many failures I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter how much I beg, bribe, plead, or prod, unless that person decides to act – on his own – I can’t change his mind. But when I stop to think about it why would I want to? If I must coerce and cajole another person to do a job how much passion and commitment will there be and how good of a job will they do?

•♦•

Down the street from the Queen lives an eleven-year-old girl. On the surface she looks the part of any classic American family except for one rarely talked about difference. The girl’s father, her biological one, isn’t part of her life. He isn’t dead or in jail and hasn’t been shipped overseas with the military. The fact is he’s in the same city as her, same area code actually; he’s just made the decision that being in his daughter’s life isn’t a priority. Getting remarried several years ago and having children with his new wife, this second family has taken all of his time and attention. He doesn’t celebrate holidays or birthdays with his daughter opting instead for the generic gift. The occasional visit consists of last minute meetings at the mall.

How their relationship got to this or what caused the parents divorce is uncertain and is beyond the point. The issue remains she is a daughter in need of her father and through his actions she will likely struggle with feelings of inadequacy, self-consciousness, and unworthiness for years to come. He has relegated her to second-class and it’s impossible to believe that his abandonment won’t cause her significant damage.

Yet amidst all of this hurt and anguish there is a happy ending to the story. Several years ago the girl’s mother married a man who has freely accepted the role of daddy the girl’s biological father rejected. When he didn’t have to –  he did what needed to be done. It’s proof yet again that fatherhood is anything but fluid donation.

•♦•

Late last year I wrote what remains my most vitriolic post. The Manifesto of the Absent Father was a 1000 word essay of venom attacking those fathers who decide without provocation to up and walk away from their children’s lives when a relationship is over. Even after months of reflection I remain steadfast in my contempt for these individuals. The comments and emails received were often painful to read and while the responses were unique each story seemed to contain a similar thread.  Time and again these mom’s desperately endeavored to get the father – during and after the relationship – to be a daddy to his kids only to be left frustrated and embarrassed.

As I read their reactions I couldn’t help but remember that lesson I learned from corporate America.

I’ve been asked many times on what to do about the father who doesn’t want to be a part of his kids’ lives, the one who seems to show no interest in his kids or only when the timing suits. The response I give has always been the same ‘You can’t make him be daddy’. While this may sound cold and sterile I’m convinced of its truthfulness. Too often I think we forget that fatherhood is effortless but being a daddy takes commitment.

One needs to look no further than the Queen’s neighbor as a model for this principle. Regardless of how much the daughter and mother may want her biological father to be part of her life no amount of guilt, embarrassment, or ridicule will force him to change his mind no matter his responsibility. I’m of the view that if he is a daddy only by force, then he doesn’t deserve to be a daddy at all and will only give the rest of us a bad name. Besides what type of impact can this man have on his daughter if he is only doing it to shut everyone up? Yet what about the stepfather? Here is a man who didn’t need to be motivated but only did what needed to be done. Demonstrating that effective fatherhood is not in direct proportion to biology. Fatherhood isn’t about blood.

•♦•

While I empathize with these mothers and commend them for their noble intentions I can’t help but think that they are doing themselves and their children a disservice. Endeavoring to threaten, coax, or sweet talk a father into being a daddy – when he doesn’t want to be – is spirit crushing and pointless for everyone. Much like trying to start a car with a dead battery we end up exasperated, beating our head into the steering wheel ultimately getting nowhere. The other alternative and I believe the right one is to simply walk away and separate the children from the disappointment, ceasing any attempts to persuade the father to assume his responsibilities. As harsh as this might sound it’s often better to act like he does’t exist at all.

Instead I encourage them to find other men who are willing to step up and assume the masculine role in a child’s life, whether that be a grand father, uncle, cousin, or some other positive male role model in a local church or the community. It certainly doesn’t have to be someone that mom is romantically involved with and could be argued shouldn’t be, at least for a while. Because what’s most important is the attention and time and what isn’t necessary is for this man to become the child’s father,  just their hero with a willingness to mentor, guide, and show them life through their eyes. There can be no arguing that children need positive male influences and it doesn’t need to be the man with the same last name – only one willing to be a daddy.

photo credit

Receive Essays By Email

* indicates required

16 responses to You can’t make him be daddy.

  1. batticus

    This country song almost contains a line from your posting, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjO1F6oCab8 , “He didn’t have to be”. I’m not a country music fan but songs like this are good regardless of your preferred genre and from your past postings, we have similar taste in music so I thought I’d share it.

  2. Papa – Author

    That’s a great song, I’ve heard it before and forgot about it. And I’m glad you did share it. May even add it to the post.

  3. So much time and effort is wasted on trying to get “the other parent” to see and think like you. It’s simply unlikely to ever happen.

    While I’m on the other side (absent mother), my daughter learned a very valuable lesson: She gets to choose whose actions she emulates. What hurt her will hurt others. What healed her will help heal others.

    Great topic.

    -Stu

  4. Papa – Author

    Thanks man. Has the mom completely bailed on her daughter or is she hit and miss?

  5. batticus

    Superb song, it should be mandatory listening for all new fathers.

  6. You make many great points here.

    One of the issues you don’t take up – and one of the reasons that mothers frequently try, and try, and try so long and so hard to facilitate more connection between father and children – even if the father is toxic to the mother – is because we see the pain in the child from the father’s voluntary absence. We are there at each disappointment, there watching the stoic face, there with the explanations that are hopeful fabrications. It’s heartbreaking to see your child in pain over having done nothing whatsoever but feeling, as you say, the unworthiness.

    I believe, personally, that this is part of why some mothers are perceived as not moving on. It has nothing to do with our feelings about an ex or how he may have moved on, and everything to do with the shreds of that departure that we live with daily, trying to make it okay for our kids.

  7. @Papa
    Her mom bailed completely for the first year or so that I had primary custody. Now she’s hit or miss, but as a great example, I just spent Mother’s Day enjoying a beatiful day with our as her mother “had other plans”.

    We parent differently, I’d say.

    -Stu

  8. I’m lucky that my kids’ dad is a part of their life; sometimes consistent other times not so much. He’s on a good streak right now, however, I still feel that it’s important for my sweet beasties to learn that family is what you make it. I have worked hard to build a strong community of both men and women who love and support me and my children. Someday my kids will realize that though we didn’t have a traditional nuclear family we had an amazing village that we may not have created if their dad and I had stayed together.

    I do have to admit, it has taken some humility to ask for help and open myself up to receive. Single parenthood is an amazing lesson on relying on others.

  9. eric moore

    My daughter is adopted. I fought like hell to be in her life. There is no DNA between us, just love. I want my daughter 50% of the time, no more, no less. I want what’s really ‘fair’. I call her beautiful every day I see her, even more so when she’s cranky or tired. I never talk bad about her mom. I look for positive ways to teach her new things every day. I’m there when other kids make her cry, I’m there to teach her and guide her and help her become a strong, confident women. I’m just the guy that stood up and said, ‘I’ll be your Dad.’

  10. My father left when I was just a baby. He’s since used lots of different excuses as to why he ‘couldn’t’ (I use the word ‘couldn’t’ advisedly) be a dad. One of the reasons was that my grandmother – with whom I ended up – didn’t like him.

    I grew up with feelings of resentment towards him. However, it was only until I had my own kids that I realised how badly he’d treated me and what he’d actually done. Kids are so dependent.

    Anyway, the moral of my story is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your past doesn’t have to shape who you are. I’m just about to publish an inspirational memoir, and a large part of it is the struggle had with abuse and poverty – direct results of my father walking out. I didn’t let that dictate who I am today, and neither do the other women like me, whose fathers left them.

  11. After reading the title of this post I added…”and why would you want to?” My ex-husband is a classic example of a Disneyland Dad. Choosing to be a father when it is convenient. He sells himself to friends and family as an upstanding father yet moved 2 1/2 hrs away from his daughter when she was a toddler and has her only 15% of the time. Yes, my daughter adores him; however, admiration from a 7 year old is easily earned, especially when her visits are basically play-dates with very few opportunities to parent. He hardly knows his daughter. A fact that will haunt him as she enters her tween and teen years. He will be left bearing the fruit of his choices and yet be utterly confused when she doesn’t want to visit anymore. I am not bitter at my ex for his choice to marginalize our daughter’s presence in his life, I also no longer verbalize to him my concern over future consequences. My daughter now has a loving step-father who demonstrates on a daily basis the role of a genuine father. I know that no amount of support for my daughter’s relationship and admiration for her father will prevent the moment she decides to marginalize her father in her life…just as he did her in his. You reap what you sow!

  12. Papa – Author

    Marrie,

    I’m convinced that dads and moms who walk out on their children will feel the very same way. They’ll have regrets for the rest of their lives.

  13. Papa – Author

    Anne, so good for you! You’re right, our past doesn’t dictate our future!

  14. Papa – Author

    “I call her beautiful every day I see her, even more so when she’s cranky or tired’…That’s awesome man. She’ll benefit big time from that.

    Rock Star, that’s what you are. Thank’s for stepping up!

Comments are closed.