the in-between ones

We’ve been talking a lot about fathers who aren’t in their children’s lives, either because mothers’ have made it extremely difficult, or because they themselves have refused to step up.

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.


4 thoughts on “the in-between ones

  1. You ask some important, fascinating questions at the end of this post. I won’t comment about your post’s main subjects (fathers who are “in between”), but I’ll use your reflections as a springboard to talk about an issue that I’ve never really written about, just thought about. I hope you don’t mind (I don’t think I’m ready to write this on my own blog).

    One of the first things I felt after becoming a parent was intense pity for my parents, particularly for my mom. Because now I understood that my children would never, ever love me as much as I loved them. And I knew that because although I love my mom (and parents), my relationship with her is fraught because of past things she said to me and I’m sure I cannot love her as much as she loves me. And I felt sorry for myself too, because I knew that was going to happen to me & my sons. I try to be a “good” mama and my boys love me dearly, but I’m sure I must have said hurtful things to them (particularly to Kelvin last year when we were doing cyberschooling) that may harm our relationship someday.

    P.S. I LOVE!!! your new photo. What a marvelous, big, warm, genuine smile! Just so beautiful!! (you *and* your smile).


  2. LaToya,

    I think your comments hit me home because sometimes I wonder if I am not the “in-between” parent. Yes, I live with my them and provide for them. I also have moments when I feel like a “rock star” mom. However; generally, I have been so busy with school and/or work for the last ten years that my kids are neglected by me on a daily basis. Yesterday I went to read them a story, after watching Barack Obama’s problematic “Father’s Day Speech” from Apostolic for my research. I felt it was also my duty to get my kids from in front of the TV, something they do way too much of on weekends. I ended up reading to them from “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin because it was in my hands and I needed to read it before a job interview Monday :(. Needless to say I lose there attention in all of ten minutes.

    I know that my working so hard is motivated by a real desire to provide for everyone financially. I hope that upon entering my first tenure-track next year (fingers crossed and clasped) I will not feel as pressured to work all the time.

    Right now however, my youngest, who has only known me “on the market,” really gravitates to her father. He feeds her, plays with her, holds her, even changes her, almost exclusively. 😦 It breaks my heart.



    1. I wish things changed once you get a tenure-track position, but I’m afraid it doesn’t, really. 😦 I’ve got my sights set on post-tenure. LOL.


  3. I hear you, Toya. There are plenty of fathers who I want to give a sideways glance to, like “ummm, you should be taking this a little more seriously, dude.” It reminds me of when I was back in college, and a male classmate of mine had a child. My college roommate said to me, ” I want to keep being his friend, but if he doesn’t do right by his child, I don’t think I can keep it up.” It’s a reminder not to tolerate behavior by fathers–even label them normal–when we know they’re not doing right by their children.

    I like Lilian’s comment–that her children will never love her as much as she loves them. I’m not sure I completely agree, although I understand the sentiment. I pick up my child, hug and kiss her, and she looks at me like “put me down, already!” And I think, “my baby, you have no idea how I feel about you!”

    Finally, I have to give props to my mother, who has never ever said something to me that left an “indelible negative mark.” She’s not perfect, but she engaged in very deep reflection about her own upbringing, and worked very hard to have a different relationship with me. Our relationship is a beautiful thing, and it always had been. I am so grateful for that.


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