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 the 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 affective 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.