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
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
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?".