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Can I see Daddy?

By Jill Curtis

One of the questions which comes my way with unfailing regularity is when a child asks if he or she can see their father, and the mother knows that he doesn't want to be involved with the child.

This is not a having-a-go-at-Dad article. It applies to any single parent bringing up a child. Whether it's Dad or Mom there are sure to be questions about the absent parent. I know there are many fathers not living with their children who go to enormous lengths to keep contact. They are men who, even if they cannot live with the mother of their children, have realised that the input of a father on a regular basis, is of great importance to the emotional well-being of the child.

When considering the situation of a child and lone parent, if there has not been a dad or mom around when the child is a baby, he or she will accept that all families are like this. It is only when starting school and getting to know other families, that the questions will come. And it is important to be prepared, because one way or another, the questions always do come.

A mother told me how distraught she felt when faced by her four-year-old who complained that ‘Billy says I haven't got a dad. What does he mean? Why haven't I?' Questions come so thick and fast that it is as well to be ready to answer questions such as, ‘Does my daddy love me?' ‘Why doesn't he come and see me?' or even ‘Do you stop him coming here?'

If caught unawares, it is all too easy to give a reassuring and comforting answer, which serves for the moment. But beware, many mothers have got themselves into tight corners by hastily saying something they regret later. A white lie, meant to pacify a young child, can be the start of a full-blown picture of a father who will come home one day or even ‘who loves you very much' in the child's imagination. Answers such as these will in time bring more questions, so what are you to do? Keep fabricating reasons why ‘Daddy' doesn't come home? I know of some women who have ‘messages' from ‘Daddy' and these too, can land everybody in hot water when the truth comes out.

Be honest, be clear. Even if it is painful to tell the truth, be ready with a version which is appropriate for the age of your child. You may find the words to explain that you loved the child's father (if you did) and you are sad he has chosen not to live with you. Think of your story, which is also part of your child's history, and tell him a little at a time.

If there has been a death, then say so, and however sad the situation is there is some comfort in being able to say that there are things that no parent can prevent. There was no choice.

Your child will pick up clues from you about how you feel about Daddy, and this is another good reason to be prepared and to work out answers in advance. Remember that however badly you have been treated, the man you are talking about is your child's dad, so tread carefully. I am sure you will find the words to tell your children in a way not too distressing for you, and which will help them to appreciate the situation.

Jill Curtis is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author of "Making and Breaking Families" and "Where's Daddy?".

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