A Letter to Live-Away Dads

Bill Klatte
November 22, 2000

When my daughters were three and five years old, their mother and I got a divorce and I moved out of the family home. Their mom and I both moved after the divorce and I then lived more than 100 miles away from my girls. I no longer had the daily influence in their lives that I had expected when I married their mother.

What's a Dad Worth?
Now my daughters are twenty-four and twenty-six years old, but I vividly remember the loneliness I felt through the years after my divorce. I recall how furious I was with a court system that acted as if my only value was to pay child support. I felt rage at my children's mother who seemed to want nothing to do with me. I lived with great sadness because my children did not seem to express the same amount of love for me that I felt for them. For all the years I was away from my daughters I worked hard to stay in touch with them despite our physical distance, but I often asked myself if my efforts mattered at all. I felt rejected and it hurt so much. I remember asking friends, "Will it ever make a difference that I am doing all this?" Now, in retrospect, I know the answer to that question I so often wondered about so long ago is a resounding "Yes." If you are a live-away dad and pondering the same question that I once did, I want you to know that, as I look back at it now, my involvement mattered tremendously. I am very close to my daughters today. I know now that I was a powerful and positive influence in their lives then—and remain one still.

Long-Distance Role Model
I have a better understanding now of what helped me get through those tough years then. The most important thing was a slowly evolving realization of my importance to my children. As a social worker and psychotherapist working with divorced dads and never-married dads, I came to see how much a father's involvement mattered. I learned how hurt and angry children were when their father was out of their life. I discovered that I was a role model to my children when I was respectful to women, considerate with store clerks, honest in my dealing with others and committed to a job well done.

I came to understand that my thoughts and actions gave my girls unique insights into the world.

I also needed support from others. I joined a divorced dads group and it helped me tremendously to talk with other fathers going through the same things I was. I consciously sought out other men and women who encouraged my ongoing involvement with my daughters.

I got involved in my daughters' schools. There I could engage in my daughter's lives independent of their mother. Because distance and work commitments made it difficult for me to attend regular parent-teacher conferences, teachers made separate arrangements to meet with me twice every year. Administrators sent me report cards and other important school notices. I spoke with school social workers when necessary and tried to attend important school functions in which my daughters were involved. I have a special gratefulness for those teachers and administrators who openly welcomed my participation in their schools and who treated me like the concerned parent I was.

I also received valuable support and suggestions from relatives and friends. They helped me simply by listening. I wasn't looking for people who loved to complain about the legal system, run my children's mother down or tell me what to do. What I valued the most was having people around me who encouraged me, gave me suggestions when I asked for them and let me know they were behind me.

Over the years, I came to realize an awesome truth—that I could control my own actions and no one else's. My work became accepting my daughters for who they were—not who I wanted them to be. I believe that's what kept us emotionally close despite the physical distance. I had every right to be hurt and angry about my separation from my daughters. I also had a responsibility to handle that separation as well as I possibly could. Fair or not, I was responsible for playing the hand dealt me to the very best of my ability. After all, I helped shuffle the deck.



Bill Klatte is the author of Live Away Dads: Staying a Part of Your Children's Lives When They Aren't a Part of Your Homes.