You’re not expected or permitted to feel this way. At worse, you’re made to believe that experiencing these emotions makes you a ‘bad dad’, because you’re somehow missing the point – that its not about you.
The words Dad and Father are both nouns.
Of course, they mean very different things. Father refers to parentage, the biological relationship (lineage) a man has to his child/ren. Dad refers to a different type of relationship. Its the day to day in the trenches work that men do with their children.
Dad is the word that all men want to hear. It denotes a very special role and privilege in the world. It represents responsibility, capacity to be loving and nurturing and it helps you stand just that little straighter and taller.
I never felt more alone and misunderstood as a single dad in those moments.
Many single dads, who don’t get to consistently do ‘dad work’ with their children, know all too well, the gut wrenching kick in the guts moment when you hear your child refer to the new man in mummy’s life as ‘dad’.
When I heard my daughter call her step-dad ‘daddy’ for the first time, I was heart broken. I knew there and then, I had been psychologically dislocated and displaced in my daughter’s mind, I knew she still loved me, but that special place for daddy, was no longer mine alone.
That moment, represents another loss in the post separation journey that many Dads experience. And it hurts. Not only are separated dads more likely to be geographically separated from their children, they have many smaller but just as significant separations to contented with, including emotional and psychological separation.
“Its just a word”, I was told when I complained about it. “She knows you’re her dad”, “You can never be replaced”, “She will always love you”. I never felt more alone and misunderstood as a single dad in those moments.
And as a single dad, you learn to swallow your emotions, any talk of your emotions and feelings quickly comes back to – ‘what’s best for the child?’. You’re invalidated once again. You’re not expected or permitted to feel this way. At worse, you’re made to believe that experiencing these emotions makes you a ‘bad dad’, because you’re somehow missing the point – that its not about you.
Post separation parenting for single dads can be a slippery slope into hopelessness, despair and then numbness. Numbness is the moment when the pain gets too much and you stop feeling things. You’re jettison, stuck in the currents and at the whims of the winds. Other single dads I have spoken to tell me that post separation parenting is like ‘spinning the wheels in the mud, there is just no traction, just being stuck’.
Numbness is the moment when the pain gets too much and you stop feeling things
Most people will tell you; It’s just a word. Why does it matter? He’s her dad too! Get over yourself. It’s not about you. Maybe, you’ll even be called a narcissist for wanting to preserve the ‘dad’ status.
I do not agree with children calling the new man ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’. For me, its a form of unnecessary emotional and psychological torment and, it is just a little too confusing for everyone. Its a decision that alienates.
I can accept, and I am sure most men can, that a new man in your child’s life isnt a bad thing. He can and should play a significant and positive role in your forced absence. However, that does not make him dad. It makes him a significant role model, a parenting figure, but not dad.
Most, if not all separated dads would love the opportunity to do dad work with their children. Sadly, post separation many men lose this opportunity and privilege to be a consistent presence and creative nurturer.
In the ashes of separation, there are few things that can be salvaged, hearing your child’s voice call out dad, daddy, dada, is one worth fighting for.