I don’t really know any fathers that fit either of those scenarios. Most of the fathers I know are either the “good” ones, the ones that are either married to the mothers AND fully participatory in their child’s life, or if not married, have joint physical custody and/or joint legal custody, see their children several times a week, and are fully financially supportive of their kids. Their children KNOW, beyond a doubt, even if both biological parents are re-married or otherwise committed, who their biological parents are, and they love them.
But I also know many “in-between” fathers. Fathers who have “stories” that don’t quite add up to me, fathers who say they are doing all that they can, but I can’t quite figure out why their relationship with their child is not better than what it is. They see them sometimes, sporadically, inconsistently. Their children love them, when they see them. There’s always some excuse about why they couldn’t get there, or why this court date was missed, or what happened this pay period, or how he gave her extra last time. Or there are those that I can understand why their relationship is what it is, usually due to a father’s actions against a mother that has made a child withdraw, or a father’s actions in general that has made a child say, “what the…!” and back up. Say, “I don’t want to see dad” b/c of dad’s new girlfriend or dad’s new apartment or the sleeping arrangements or how dad leaves me with a babysitter every time I go over there.
And when we, as children, as women, grow up, our relationships with our fathers get murky, at least as I’ve seen. When you become a mother, and look back on your childhood, you see things, actions, events, through new eyes. You see your mother and her relationship with your father, through new eyes. Perhaps not through her eyes, as she is not you, but through a mother’s eyes, through a grown woman’s eyes, through the eyes of a woman who perhaps loved that man and had sex with that man and wanted that man. And you see how perhaps that man was not the man you thought your father was. In some cases, you see how your father was not the father you thought him to be at certain times in your life. And that is unsettling.
So often we talk about the “good” ones and the “bad” ones, but what about the “in-between” ones? The ones that try, maybe hard, maybe not. The ones that are there, kinda. The ones you root for, but let you down. Sometimes.
Of course, this is not just about fathers. Relationships with parents are tricky things. My relationship with my own parents has changed so much even in the last five years – perhaps not from their perspective, but definitely from mine. Things have happened, words have been said, impressions have been made; things that make me question whether any of us can, at the end of the day call ourselves “good” parents. We will probably all do something that leaves an indelible negative mark on our child, maybe not when they are young, but when they grown older; perhaps though they will be more emotionally mature than I and will see their parents as “people” with “flaws” and not as their parents who are supposed to perpetually have some sort of superior wisdom. I’m not bitter; far from it. I’m just trying to understand how we draw the lines.