Dr. Little was a key father figure in my life. He was a dentist and a highly respected leader in his town, and eventually became my father-in-law.
Although he had many qualities I admired, like any dad he was not perfect. After a while, he divorced his wife and married another woman. I don’t know all the circumstances that led him to do that, but I am very aware of the heartache that his leaving caused for my bride Melanie, his daughter. There are ways she was set back because of that.
And while I have not been through a divorce in my own marriage or with my parents, knowing Dr. Little has helped me understand a little bit about what divorced dads go through. He didn’t get to see his daughters as much as he wanted to, and in his later years I saw his pain. He told me that the divorce was a big mistake, and he lived with that regret every day.
Still, he strived to be a good dad for his children; he wanted to make up for what he had done. His kids respected him, and he earned my respect also. And of course I went to him when it was time to ask for Melanie’s hand in marriage.
I have also learned about being a divorced dad from other dads I know. My friend Dave is married, with children from a previous marriage. Not long ago, Dave was excited to see his son play baseball. Dave’s son is a good-sized kid for a 16-year-old, and an excellent first baseman. That day, the boy had three base hits and Dave took some great photographs. I could tell how proud he was when he told me on the phone.
But then his mood changed as he continued his story. You see, Dave had agreed with his son’s mother that he and his son would go out to dinner after the game. He had the grandparents in town and had arranged to meet them; it would be a great time of celebration.
But even all these years since the divorce, there’s still some bitterness. I only heard Dave’s side of the story, and I’m sure it’s a complex situation. But like what has happened several times before, Dave’s former wife found a way to cut off his time with his boy. I heard the pain in Dave’s voice as he told me about leaving the football field that day without his son. I’ve never experienced that, and I can only imagine how it would feel.
Maybe you’re a divorced dad and carrying around a lot of pain — maybe some anger, maybe some regret. Maybe you feel like things aren’t fair and your ex is being vindictive and unreasonable. Although I haven’t experienced it, I believe your best course of action is clear: maintain your poise, keep your dignity, and do the right thing.
Your kids know you aren’t perfect — or they will very soon — but they also know that you’re still their dad. They need you, and that won’t ever change.
If your kids are dealing with some complicated issues, if they don’t seem to want you around, or if things are so tense with their mother that you can’t be around, just be patient. Think about your relationship with them years or even decades from now, when they’re grown up. How you conduct yourself now will pave the way for that relationship.
I believe this is a chance to model perseverance and sacrificial love, and that even in these painful situations, something good can come about.
That’s what Dave has done. Even through his pain, he is reaching out to help other dads get through similar situations. And maybe even better, Dave is showing his son how to handle adversity. As hard as it is, he’s training his boy how to function in a tough situation.
Dad, it’s not always easy keeping your poise. But no matter how your life unfolds or how hard your challenge might be, I hope you’ll follow Dave’s example. Maintain a good attitude and make the best of it. During challenges when many guys would go to the other extreme and do something hurtful toward their ex, choose a higher path. Your children need you to be a father who carries himself with character and dignity. Set an example that your children will learn to respect in the long run.