Happy Father’s Day: A Special Message to Divorced Dads of Daughters!

As Father’s Day approaches, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on the contributions that dads make to their daughters following divorce. The media often portrays a demoralized and demeaning image of divorced fathers. The typical divorced dad comes across as an immature, self-centered, irresponsible blockhead. When was the last time you read a story or saw at television show about a caring divorced father who was in touch with the needs of his daughter? Fathers and daughters suffer from assuming the worst about dads after a family dissolves.

In my attempt to understand the obstacles faced by fathers after divorce, I spoke to several dads who were eager to share their stories. Brian, in his late forties, never remarried after his four year marriage to Felicia dissolved – making regular contact with his daughter Amanda a priority. Brian describes his split from his ex-wife as contentious, saying “I made a point of recognizing that I’m going to do whatever is in Amanda’s best interest. So even if I’m getting a line of baloney from my ex that she doesn’t want to come (for a visit), I’m going to respect that. I’m not going to be a disruptive element in Amanda’s life.”

Amanda, age seventeen, was an infant at the time of her parents’ breakup and the custody arrangement was fairly traditional – with her spending every other weekend and one weeknight with her dad. Brain has worked hard to reduce conflict with his ex-wife and reports swallowing many words and biting his tongue in an effort to keep the peace. With intensity in his voice, he says, “I always say to Amanda, you do what works for you. I’m not going to feel slighted or upset – do whatever works for you.”

One of the biggest challenges Brian and other dads face is the stereotypes that exist about divorced fathers. It’s crucial to examine our beliefs and attitudes about the role of dads after divorce if we are going to break down barriers that create distance between fathers and daughters. In my opinion, fostering alienation between a daughter and her dad is one of the cruelest and most selfish acts a parent can do to their own child. Society perpetuates a negative view of dads post-divorce. The exception is the movie Spanglish, director James Brook’s poignant portrayal of a father who is a far better parent to his daughter than her mother.

What girls and women need is a loving, predictable father figure – whether married to her mother or divorced. Some dads are better able to relate to their daughters and make them a priority, rather than vanishing or distancing themselves. The following statistics may surprise you. Nearly one third of the daughters in our country have divorced parents. Roughly 85% of kids live full-time with their mother after divorce; only 5 – 10 % live at least a third of the time with their dads.

What are some of the barriers that prevent dads and daughters from maintaining a close bond after parental divorce? Many experts cite the importance of a divorced mom promoting her daughters relationship with her father. Whenever possible, mothers need to encourage their daughters to sustain regular contact – such as phone calls, holiday time, and special occasions. It’s also important for moms to eliminate negative comments about their ex-husband so her daughter doesn’t feel caught in the middle between her parents. Lastly, fathers who remain an integral part of their daughter’s life after divorce can promote a loving relationship that endures through rough patches.

When parents divorce, children are forced to give up their sense of control. Let’s face it, divorce is a decision made by parents – not children. Divorce is a painful experience for everyone but children and adults raised in disrupted homes often feel the sting of divided loyalties. Loyalty conflicts are frequently at the root of a father/daughter wound because daughters of divorce feel they have to choose between their parents.  Since daughters are particularly vulnerable to conflict between their parents, it’s important for parents to be cordial and to avoid arguments. This Father’s Day, let’s celebrate dads like Brian who make their daughters a priority!

Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW

Are you a divorced dad or a daughter of divorce who would like to speak out on this issue? We’d love to hear from you! Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”


12 Responses to “Happy Father’s Day: A Special Message to Divorced Dads of Daughters!”

  1. Connie B says:

    What a great blog. If only the adults would realize how important the communication between a father and a child really is I think children would be a lot happier.


    • Terry says:

      I’m so pleased you like the blog. My mother never realized the importance of my relationship with my father and she bad-mouthed him and at times tried to prevent me from seeing him. For years, I wasn’t sure of his love for me. Only years later when I became a woman, did I understand that he was overwhlemed with the demands of a second marriage and my stepbrother – in addition to his four bio daughters. Dads need to be given permission to carve out a close relationship with their daughters post-divorce. As a culture, we must stop demonizing dads and start realizing they are the key to their daughter’s future!

  2. Jayne says:

    My husband is dealing with PAS and a court appointed minors counsel who has bought into the mother’s PAS. So many times he’s ready to throw in the towel because her mother has pulled the daughter away from the dad and when he so much as tries to discipline her it turns into a therapist visit and more loss of visitation. And when I say discipline I mean as simple as taking an ipod away for talking back. He’s never hit or even so much grounded her. He feels she doesn’t love him or want to be with him. She’s 13. They used to be very close. He’s trying hard to stay in her life but with PAS going on it is very hard. You have given me some glimmer of hope that there is a chance she may see that it was her mother pitting her against her dad and not her dad not wanting her. Thank you

    • Tracy says:

      Hello. You are smart to encourage your husband to hang in there. Adolescence is a challenging time for girls and divorce makes it even harder. Fortunately, kids tend to see the truth but it may take time. I hope your husband read the blog and realizes he is not alone. He’s lucky to have you – you seem to get the importance of the father-daughter relationship. Girls need consistent dads who don’t give up on them! Most of the dozens of women I’ve interviewed talked about their dads as a central theme in their lives and the main relationship that was impacted by their parents’ divorce. Keep in touch! You can sign up for our newsletter on our website, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Terry

  3. Norton says:

    I was divorced, after a 2-year very contentious proceeding— all conflict caused by the mother– last March; I have not seen my 15 almost 16 year old daughter since last November– she is totally alientated from me by her mother and ignores my possession periods. My 14 year old son is hanging on by his finger-nails, and comes whenever he is supposed to. The entire divorce proceeding was entirely biased against the father….

    • Tracy says:

      I’m so sory to hear about your struggle and loss. I can’t give you legal advice but I would recommend that you don’t give up on your daughters.If you are patient in your efforts, hopefully they’ll come closer to you in time. There are several social media sites for divorced dads and you can get some support there. Most kids have a tendency to see the truth eventually but adolescence is a challenging time for girls. Keep in touch and hang in there! Terry

      • Norton says:

        Thanks Tracy, for responding. If you can refer me to the sites you have in mind, I’d appreciate it. I just have to be a “rock,” be calm, be myself, and wait– heck, that is all I can do, and try to tell (as often and whenever I can) my daughter that I am and always will be here for her. I know– you know– she will come around someday, maybe soon more likely later, maybe in a year, maybe 3 years, maybe 10 years, maybe when she visits my grave. This is hardly reassuring but it is all I have. My daughter, before my very eyes, is being subjected to a life of pain & suffering, until she herself seeks help (most likely as an adult)but only after enduring much hardship with developing healthy relationships, especially with men. It is very hard for me to watch this happening, so helplessly.

        • Terry says:

          Hi,I’m sorry it’s taken a few days to get back to you. It sounds like when you typed this comment, you were upset. It’s understandable that you would be feeling blue. However, your daughter will bounce back and hopefully will be resilient in the need. Staying strong and doing your best to maintain contact with her – even if it’s a card or email will pay off in the long run. Loving your child can be painful when you feel that you don’t have any control – I’ve been there and it hurts! However, you aren’t alone. I found the names of three websites for single or divorced dads. They are: Memories of a Single Dad, Only Dads, and Divorce advice for men. I can’t recommend them since I haven’t used them. However, they all seem to offer support and guidance for divorced dads. Stay in touch and keep your eye out for some upcoming teleseminars on my website. The first one will be focused on daughters of divorce. It might help you better understand what your daughter is dealing with. She is lucky to have you as a dad – hang in there! Regards,Terry

  4. Jim Cairns says:

    I enjoyed your article. We all need a stable, predicable environment, especially kids. It’s important to remember that kids of divorced parents have more to deal with, and biting the tongue for them is critical. I provide online divorces in PA, and only do uncontested divorces. It’s so much easier all the way around (and for me too).

    • Tracy says:

      Hi Jim, I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I want to support dads and their relationships with their kids. Unfortuantely, the daughter is often the one that suffers the most post-divorce. The lack of connection with her father can leave an imprint for years to come and impact her view of love, trust, and intimacy. Most of the dozens of women I’ve interviewed for my studies on divorce talked about fathe/daughter wounds. Spread the word and be in touch! Terry

  5. This is something that I wish my father had read when my parents got a divorce. It was really hard for me to try to emotionally support either of my parents through it when I needed them to help me through it. It was like the foundation of my life was suddenly gone.

    All the best to you dads out there, weather the storm!

    • Terry says:

      Great point about the foundation of your life dissolving. The breakup of a family can be particularly hard for girls and young women. We usually desire connection for personal growth and suffer from wounded trust after a parent leaves. Certainly regular contact with both parents who effectively co-parent can help ease the pain.I hope that you can restore your faith in love over time – it is often a slow process to rebuild trust but well worth the effort. Stay in touch. Sorry for the delay,life has been busy and we had Hurrican Sandy on here the east coast. My best, Terry

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