Advice from the Trenches: Dad Is a Dud

duddadDear C,

My daughter, Lila, is 14 and she had been complaining that she doesn’t want to go on visitations with her dad anymore. I have no reason to believe she’s in any danger or that there’s some kind of abuse going on. She doesn’t come home covered with bruises or telling stories about wild parties and drugs. It’s just that her dad has always been quiet and introverted and Lila finds him an overall bummer to be around. She says that she does nothing but watch TV while she’s there.

I’ve had it with him, that’s why we are divorced. He wasn’t a bad husband, but he was emotionally absent. I feel bad forcing her to be subjected to the same depressing crap I put up with for years.

Should I go back to court over visitation rights? Can I? Again, he is not abusing her.

Sighing Single Mom

Dear Mom,

Are you serious? You can’t let your daughter avoid her father just because she finds him dull. What kind of lesson is that to teach her? That she should avoid anything she doesn’t want to deal with?

We don’t get to choose our parents. Some of us landed a nurturing mother and a loving father; others got the family from hell. Considering the odds, your daughter didn’t do so badly. Her dad could have been a criminal or a raving drunk. Perhaps your marriage didn’t work out, but your ex doesn’t deserve to have his daughter taken away simply because he’s boring. Since there are no safety or abuse issues involved you can’t stop visitations. If he wants them, it is his legal right.

I can’t help but notice, Mom — you talk about your ex as if he were a chronic cold you finally got rid of. If I pick up on that attitude from just one question, your daughter picks up on it too. Right now, you are painting a picture of her father as nothing but a mistake you’ve moved on from, and it’s a very destructive way to present him to your daughter. Consider this: Your daughter and your husband share genetic material. This means that they are similar in certain ways whether they like it or not. If you talk about him like he’s a flat lining screw-up, and she’s half him, then what does this say about Lila and her own potential? That she’s going to turn out to be a dud too?

I think there’s a more constructive way to look at your marriage: You were two young people who had things in common, but then you grew apart. There must have been valid reasons you had for choosing your husband, along with the ones that really were mistakes. Talk to your daughter about the qualities you were drawn to in her dad. Show some appreciation for him as a human being. You have a great deal more to gain from encouraging their relationship than you do from dismissing it.

The attitudes your daughter is learning from you now are going to set up her expectations for relationships and parenting for the rest of her life.You are her role model. What do you think a responsible, caring adult should be? I doubt if the dad-bashing attitude you are assuming right now is something you’d be proud to see her carry on.

I think there are some lessons for both you and your daughter to learn here. Your daughter needs to know that people aren’t worthless just because they aren’t the life of the party. And you need to realize that if you couldn’t trust your judgment before, you won’t be any better able to trust it now. Not unless you’ve somehow gained deep insight just by walking out. I’m going go out on a limb and guess that your ex wasn’t boring when you first met him. Could there have been signs that you missed? What happened to change things as the years went by? And what is to stop it from happening again?

There’s a lot more to marriage than fun. The fireworks and infatuation are just the beginning. This is a partnership between two people that is going to take hard work and involve difficult choices as well. If you learn from the past instead of running away from it, you and Lila will both have a shot at a better future.

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