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We’re coming up on Father’s Day, and even though I’m not a fan of Hallmark holidays the day will be nonetheless hard for me this year. My father passed away May 26, just a few weeks shy of his 89th birthday, so his death will be very fresh on the day to honor him.

Although he was in a nursing home some 2,500 miles away from me for the past few years (not my choice but let’s just say it was complicated), I visited him frequently and spoke to him every other day. In a strange way, I’m not so sure we would have spent so much time together had he not been confined to a wheelchair and alone (my mother passed away in 2010); I’m incredibly thankful for our time together, talking walks, going out to eat and reminiscing.

Like many men of his generation, my father wasn’t a very hands-on dad and so for many children of my generation, our fathers were somewhat of a mystery.  Divorced dads depression

Even now, we don’t focus as much on dads as we do on moms.

What’s up with dads? The married ones are as stressed out by work-life issues as moms, a new Pew study says. And divorced dads? It’s hard to know, says T. Lawrence Bottom of the psychology department at DePaul University, who looked into what research has appeared in peer-reviewed publications since 1990. There are hundreds of studies and books about the impact of divorce on children, and about as many studies on the impact of divorce on mothers. What he discovered is perhaps not so surprising: there just hasn’t been much written about the well-being of divorced dads.

That’s curious, considering divorce affects men and women differently.

The studies that have been done tend to focus on what happens with dads and their relationship with their kids post-divorce, and how it the loss of contact negatively impacts the children. But there hasn’t been much research on how the dads themselves are faring. A well-referenced 2003 study noted how divorced men were at much greater risk of suicide than were divorced women or single men. Other studies indicate that divorced men drink more booze than their married counterparts and divorced women (although women in general don’t drink as much as men).

And because men don’t often have the social networks women do, they are especially vulnerable post-divorce. As one therapist puts it:

Men starting over may be very frightened by the enormous responsibility of maintaining two households at a time when they’re feeling inadequate and insecure. … The newly divorced man has usually lost the structure and comfort of his home and daily routines, and may have been accustomed to his ex-wife handling responsibilities that are now on his very full plate. He may miss the special moments of spontaneously snuggling with his children or being privy to their daily confidences. The limited visits with his children may feel forced or awkward, and over time, the comfort and closeness they once felt may have become strained. Hopefully, as the children mature and gain insight, a closer bond can be re-established.

And a huge amount of men don’t see their children after divorce or see them rarely. That has lifelong impacts for the men and their kids.

In Florence Kraslow’s recent book Divorced Fathers and Their Families, she details the “long-term pain, sense of loss, and bereavement” divorced men experience and how difficult it was not to be part of their children’s daily life while growing up. And since two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, “the sense of having been discarded, rejected, and thrown out was pervasive … and for most of the men this feeling lingered for years and is periodically re-experienced” at family or children’s celebrations.

Bottom’s analysis of the few studies from 1990 to 2011 that focused just on divorced father’s well-being indicate that divorced fathers who were more involved in their children’s lives and saw them more frequently, or who had sole custody were less depressed and had higher self esteem.

And fathers stepped up to the plate for their kids. Since many strongly believe that divorce is a negative experience for their children, they often attempt to create as stable and secure a home for their kids to overcome that. And they often rethink their priorities to try to maintain their connections to children, even if this means conflict with their former spouse.

Speaking of conflict, Bottom discovered that more men are upset by the lack of justice in “the system” than at their former wives. The upshot is that “many do not attempt to be awarded custody of their children for fear of fighting a losing battle, even when welfare professionals agree that children would be better placed in their primary care.”

The handful of studies that Bottom discovered are severely limited because they only look at white men who lacked post-secondary education and who were of low- to middle-class socioeconomic status; that excludes a lot of men. In general, the lack of studies on divorced dads worries Bottom, and rightly so:

By omitting divorced fathers from research, scholars could be neglecting important constructs for understanding family systems and how fathers might be affected by the construction of those specific systems.  … This review also provided support for contentions that collaboration with (and participation of) divorced fathers in research has not yet been realized. … the results presented here nonetheless provide abundant evidence that very little research has been done specific to divorced fathers’ well-being. Additionally, published research overwhelmingly showed that divorced fathers’ well-being suffered during and after divorce, which must be addressed to help fathers parent more effectively.

It’s clear that we haven’t been focusing on fathers post-divorce. This must change if we are to help men in the future, especially ones who are willing to reverse traditional gender roles and stay home to raise the kids as more moms are becoming the breadwinners.

What do you think divorced dads need?

 

You may also like to read:

Why it’s harder to be a “good” dad today

Why do so many men get blindsided by divorce?

What do fathers want after divorce?

Photo © Jean Francois Perboi/Fotolia.com

 

12 Responses to “Is anyone paying attention to divorced dads?”

  1. Dave Ritchart says:

    Vicki:

    I can’t thank you enough for your insights!
    I’m a divorced Dad…..nearly three years now…and you really spoke for me in this article.
    I see my kids weekly, but it’s still really hard to have to re-live the divorce every week and be reminded of my divorced ‘position’ at kids’ events. It’s a battle sometimes to maintain my course and continue to be an active and involved father.
    Thank you for putting many of my thoughts into words! It’s really nice to see that there’s a woman out there who really gets what being a divorced Dad is like!

  2. Patrick says:

    I read your posts on Huffpo with interest and I like your points of view.

    I’m not surprised that they couldn’t find a slot to put this one in for father’s day week with all the awful dad bashing articles they printed. It literally turned my stomach. And this is what we call progressive?

  3. John says:

    Thanks for writing this.

    Eight years out from my divorce, I will say that it’s gotten easier, but it’s still difficult. I have two daughters, 15 and 12. I have always had 50/50 custody.

    I’m a very, very involved father. I’m convinced that putting my children first has made divorce tolerable. It’s like plotting a good course over terrain: you want to see great sights and you avoid pitfalls. The simple act of dedicating the majority (not all) of your energy to other people will result in experiencing the best of what life has to offer, and will help to ensure mental health.

    When you have a baby, you know you’ve committed yourself. How you pay your responsibility is up to you. When men divorce, they sometimes think it’s like declaring bankruptcy, and that you can walk away scot-free. You can’t; you will pay the full amount, one way or the other. You have to honor the creations you bring into the world, or you lose self-esteem. It’s that simple.

    (Let me here acknowledge that I’m speaking broadly, and that some people do have limitations imposed on them.)

    The hardest thing for me has been women. I’m young: 36. That means I was separated at 27. Since I live in a college town full of nubile 20-30 year old men and women, competition and temptation both run high.

    Generally speaking, women who seek their own children have been leery of beginning relationships with me (at this point I avoid them like the plague for my own reasons, but that’s only been the last couple of years, when I became relatively certain I won’t have more children). The few times that did come up, it’s been difficult.

    Being somewhat prudent by nature, wary by experience, and morally influential on two young ladies, I’ve tried to avoid relationships with women who only wanted sex, but it’s happened a few times. In general, that has been with women who were a bit on the younger side. Be cautious of young women. I’ll leave it at that.

    My greatest non-parental fear in life is ending up like some of the lonely, unhappy 50-60 year-old men that I know. I worry about what I’ll do as an empty-nester. I think marriage is a fine idea, but I’m concerned on my chances. My intuition tells me that I have to wait for more divorced moms to come on the scene: I started young, and most of them are older than me.

    Good luck to all the great dad’s out there.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Thanks for writing, John, and I applaud your attitude toward your children.
      Yes, you are at a tough age, when many women your age or younger want children of their own (and it’s a really tough age for women trying to date men who want kids and consider them a little too old).
      As you say, give it a few years and you will have many more divorced women available to you, as cynical as that sounds. A lot of people split in their 40s. If you are as intelligent and good-hearted as you sound, and keep yourself reasonably fit don’t worry about being alone and unhappy at midlife — you will have many, many women interested in you. Trust me!

  4. steve says:

    I live in NJ and have been in a custody battle for a year now. I moved out in Oct 2011, 1.5 miles away since our marriage broke down completely at that point. I work very long hours in the city to support two households, since my future ex wife just dabbles in real estate and has more than a “flexible schedule”. She is the primary caretaker because of this, and I am unable to afford a caretaker to have 50/50 physical custody. She filed a motion to relocated 2.5 hours away in NY, and I will have almost no chance in preventing her, being the primary caretaker. We are on the brink of trial, and I know its a losing battle. I hope anyone in this situation thinks twice about moving their children away from the other parent when you have someone that wants to be there all the time as well, but has to provide food and shelter for everyone. Its selfish and not in the best interest of the children. They need both parents to co-parent them together.

  5. OMGchronicles
    Twitter: OMGchronicles
    says:

    Steve, I am sorry to hear of your situation. I agree — divorced parents should not move far away from each other. Kids need to be with both their parents. Hopefully, the judge will side with you and prevent your soon-to-be-former wife from moving far away. Good luck!

  6. Richi C. says:

    Good write up … I’ve been divorced for 5yrs now but it’s been two since I finally had enough of faking Happy. I took her back four times.Two kids 8 and 6.I love my kids More than she ever did or will.Through the depression, I lost my professional job then foreclosure. I can’t get a decent job now because of bad credit. Paying child support, rent,living paycheck to paycheck, booze and sui— dal thouughts keep creeping back. Articles like these makes me realize there’s still hope.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Richi, I am so sorry about your bad fortune.Please don’t give up home because your kids, who are very young, will grow up and they will understand things (and judge their parents’ actions), and they will want to be with you as long as you keep showing up for them. All they need is your love, attention and support — if you can do that, you will never regret it, and they will never forget it. Best of luck to you.

  7. Joe W says:

    After an searching from every angle my results support what you say. What about all the loving fathers who miss the children and feel so powerless in the face of a world that seems not to care. Could it be politically motivated? As one who tends to subscribe to the idea that all behavior has reason it is unfathomable to consider what hides behind this empty spot. It is easy to find research on the importance of fathers in the child’s life and given the important emphasis on the child’s “best interest” the absence of studies, programs to support the difficulties etc… Something is amiss.

    Often times the father is pushed out of the child’s life and I hope this common occurrence one day is a very rare experience. The children are best served when they understand that both parents love and care for them very much.

    Divorce should be about the separation of the spouses and children should not be placed in the middle.

    When they ask why men have a more difficult time with divorce? The myopic answers are painful to see. It isn’t about the money or emotional support from the former spouse. Perhaps it is the loss of the children?

    If we were to perform a study that allowed us to take the children away from loving mothers at the same rate as fathers I suspect we would have a clear answer.

    Such a study should never exist as this would be most inhumane. The answer I suspect is someplace in the middle.

    Thanks

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Hi Joe. Thanks for commenting. “Divorce should be about the separation of the spouses and children should not be placed in the middle.” So true! I wish more women believed that. I am always confused by how women want men to be better dads and more present when they’re married, and then think it’s OK to keep him out of the picture when they divorce! It’s a form of insanity. I think things are changing. At least I hope so.

  8. Peter James says:

    Hi all
    Firstly, its sad we are on here…..it means there is a problem, and yes I agree there seems to be no form of real help for the guys in relationship breakdowns. I now am divorced for over 10 year. My children are…and always will be the ones I care about now, luckily for me ,I still get on with my x ….but the best thing we did, at the start of our 15 years together was discuss worst case possibilities. We split everything, time with our kids 50/50 no matter what ,money, and NEVER put shit on the other person, when you split,you cared about them …a little respect …people take sides ,its human nature, sure confide in your friends, but like it or not you still have to work hard on bringing up your kids, and you need each other to do it. Me , I hide in the corner a lot, that’s why I need help, but my 20 somethings are happy! I am in Australia and the help is limited to careplans at your doctor, having therapy,and going to things like mensheds(guys talking it out and social stuff) Compared to the ladies,we come a distant last. yes I know there are some really B A D guys out there,but even if your a bit smart …and you want help…there aint much!

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Sorry, Peter James, that you are not finding the support you need. I think it’s great that you and your former wife were able to co-parent well despite the divorce, and that your kids are doing great. They probably wouldn’t if you and your former wife were fighting all the time. I hope you find a group of supportive people to help you. Are there any men’s groups where you live? Maybe you can start one. Wishing you the best.

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