My name is Lawrence H. Leach, and I am a single father who has joint custody of a 2 year old little girl. I have been married and divorced - TWICE! To the same woman no less! (That's actually a story for another time). I am speaking to you from a perspective you're probably not used to hearing from: A divorced man who still very much believes in the institution of marriage.
I figured I would spend my first article addressing a topic I feel is NOT given the attention it deserves: Your kids. More specifically, YOU and your kids. I promise you won't regret reading this. Even if you don't have kids yet (or at least any you know of), you could still get something out of this.
Now, stop reading for a second, and look back over your life. From the time we were all little kids, up to the present day, school, society and most of our media access points have always established, and then re-enforced, the stereotypical image of "the man of the house" coming home from work and asking the wife, "How are the kids?" Television is the worst culprit of this promotion of paternal disconnection. Most television shows, and the commercials in between, love to exploit this image and exacerbate the notion that "good" fathers work and "good" mothers stay home. From "I Love Lucy," to "The Brady Bunch" and up through NYPD Blue it has been the same story line (NYPD Blue, of all shows!?).
The media, not to mention tabloid-chasing-headline-seeking-media-intoxicated-Gloria Alred-type attorney's, has jammed this image down our throats, so much so that now many married men really don't know their own kids. This doesn't make them bad fathers, just simply brainwashed or disconnected. You see, society (and those bitter Gloria Alred-type women), love to tell a man, "It's okay. Go to work. Make us lot's of money and bring it home for us and the children. Don't worry about the home. Don't worry about the kids. That's what I am here for." This actually sounds like a pretty good deal - All you have to do is work! Of course, you have to check in with the kids every once in a while - See how school is going, attend a Parent-Teacher conference or two, find out if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, what kinds of clothes are they wearing, etc.
The obvious problem here is this "good deal" is not very good at all. We see it all the time: The man works day after day, a few years pass and then suddenly (or so it seems to him) the wife wants a divorce or has an affair. Now the husband is shocked. "I played by the rules and did what I always thought was the right thing to do! I did what WE agreed upon." In court, you hear the wife say, "Your honor, all he ever did was work. I gave up everything for him and the kids. He doesn't even know his own children's favorite foods or even what grades they're getting!"
This is the message I want to get across to EVERYONE who reads this. I don't care what kind of an "agreement" you and your wife, girlfriend, fiancée, lover, partner or mistress have. Take the time to love, care for and appreciate your children. And I'm talking about love and attention independent of your partner. Your kids should know you not only as a unit, but as individuals as well. Concentrate on time and love that is just between you and your child.
Yeah, I know you and your family go on camping trips every Memorial Day weekend. That's great. I have a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat for you. But what about all those other weekends? What about all the weeknights your son or daughter asks you to spend sometime with them? Do you push it off to the weekend, only to spend the time watching TV or doing more work? It can be as simple as throwing a ball back and forth in at the park. Maybe it's spending 30 minutes every evening reading a story or learning about the social complexities surrounding why Ken can't move into the Barbie townhouse because "it just wouldn't work." Whatever it is, do it. When I was growing up, I never knew my father. Oh, he was always around. He is a VERY decent, honest and hard working man. I just never really knew him. Don't get the wrong impression here; How you are able to provide for your family, and plan for their future, is vitally important. But, don't let your priorities become clouded. Both you and your significant other may come to an agreement about work and it's level of priority in your lives. But whatever the arrangement, don't kid your kids. Give them the time and attention they deserve.
As I said earlier, I have a 2-year-old daughter. While I was married, I was of the mindset that everything I was doing was for her. It didn't matter that I only saw her on weekends and I was usually too tired to get up in the middle of the night and tend to her when it was my turn to do so. I figured, in the long run, she would know I did it all for her. It's real easy to slip into that kind of thinking. Especially, when you and your partner have come to this agreement together. Nothing can prepare you for picking up all of the extra slack in the arrangement. NO THANG! I don't care who you are or whatever kind of "solid gold" agreement you think you have. Resentment is inevitable.
I made sure that I tucked my daughter in, most of the time. I always thought of that as our "bonding" moment. All I can say is that I too, was brainwashed. Duped and disconnected from the reality of the situation I was in. And the scariest thing of all, was I wanted to be. In this hedonistic society we live in, it's encouraged. "Oh, the kids will figure out that you love them. Just keep providing for them. That's where the real love is." I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. And why shouldn't I? That's how I was raised. That's how all my friends were raised and that's what society, and all those who I knew and respected, thought as well. The bottom line here is pay attention to your life, not just to your work. Jobs come and go, but wives and children shouldn't. You don't want to look back on your life and your child's life and say, "Where was I?" or "I wish I could've..." or "I really should have..."
"...and then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.." - Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
Next issue: How the courts and feminists have created the legend of the deadbeat dad.
Lawrence Leach is a CD-Rom developer and website creator, living in Southern California.