On Psychology

Jewish World Review March 4, 1999 /16 Adar, 5759

Dr. Wade Horn

Little Girl's Cry for Love of Dad Should be Heard

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: Hello. My name is Daniella. I am 12 years old. I haven't seen my dad for four years. I write and he doesn't write me back. I don't know why. Could you help me to get him to talk to me?

A: By now, I'm sure you have heard all the statistics. Four out of ten children live absent their biological fathers. Forty percent of children who don't live with their fathers have not seen their dads in over a year. Half of these kids have never stepped foot in their father's home.

But statistics, while important, can't communicate the tragedy of fatherlessness as compellingly as this e-mail I received from a 12-year-old girl. This little girl doesn't want to hear about statistics. All she wants to hear is her dad's voice saying he loves her. All she wants to know is that he still cares.

Imagine, for a moment, this were your daughter. Imagine that your daughter hadn't seen you in four years. Imagine your daughter had been writing you faithfully during this time with no response from you. Imagine your daughter was staying up late searching the internet for help in getting you to talk -- just talk -- with her. Imagine.

Then imagine yourself starting to tell me all your explanations, all your excuses about why you haven't taken the time to answer your daughter's letters. You've been busy, you might say. Things just sort of "happened."

You might even go on to tell me all the horrors you experienced in the family court system that have caused you to give up. Or you might tell me of the awful travails you have experienced at the hands of a vindictive ex-spouse who took your child and moved 2000 miles away.

In response, I would nod my head knowingly, and acknowledge that, yes, family court judges too often treat divorced or unwed fathers as mere cash machines, rather than helping them to continue to have a meaningful relationship with their child. And, yes, I would answer, vindictive ex-wives should be held to account when they set out to destroy their former husband's relationship with his own children. Yes, yes, I would say, I agree with all that.

But in my mind, I would keep coming back to this little girl's plea. She doesn't want to hear her dad's explanations, she wants to hear his voice. She doesn't care about the problems of the family courts, or stories about vindictive former wives, all she cares about is having a relationship with her dad.

I wish I could say this is the only e-mail or letter like this that I have ever received. Unfortunately, it's far, far too common. And there are millions more Daniellas out there who never write, but who instead suffer the pain of fatherlessness in stony silence.

It is for the sake of children like Daniella and others like her, that all of us must resolve to do better. Every couple contemplating divorce, should think of Daniella and resolve one last time to try to work things out. Every single man when going out at night to carouse at the local bars, should think of Daniella and keep his sexual urges in check.

Every family court judge hearing divorce cases, should think of Daniella and ensure that non-custodial parents are seen as fathers or mothers first, and not merely as cash machines. Every custodial parent when contemplating how to treat their former spouse, should think of Daniella and resolve to resist any urge to be vindictive or hurtful. And every non-custodial parent, when feeling tired or overwhelmed or beaten, should think of Daniella and muster the energy and the courage to reassure their children how much they love them.

Childhood ought to be time spent busily exploring, learning, and growing. Childhood ought to be a time filled with wonder and dreams, nurtured and protected by caring and loving parents and supportive communities. A happy, healthy, and secure childhood ought to be the birthright of every child.

But for far too many kids today, their childhoods are being robbed by family breakup and fatherlessness. Instead of spending their time dreaming and full of wonder, their days are spent wondering why their dads don't call.

It's not up to them to fix all of this. It is up to us. If you are having trouble mustering up the motivation to do so, remember Daniella. And imagine she were your daughter.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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01/14/99: Child Need Limits, Rules as well as Love
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12/22/98: Silly, Dangerous Ideas About Child Rearing
11/18/98: Problems Develop When Others Do Parents' Job
10/21/98: Government punishes marriage, pushes cohabitation
10/16/98: Television draws teens into vast wasteland
10/08/98: Sibling Conflict Not A Scream For Parents
9/29/98: Dads, moms both get job done with babies
9/23/98: Sleep tight -- and right!
9/09/98: Daddy?
9/03/98: How much should we tell the kids about The Bill-n-Monica Show?
8/25/98: Having class-clown son is no joking matter
8/05/98: When a marriage goes stale
6/29/98: Do bad 'authority-figures' make good parents?
6/24/98: When to tell the truth
6/17/98: An ode to a dad who stuck around
6/11/98: No-fault divorce and the partner who "wants to make things work"
5/28/98: The oys and JOYS of fatherhood

5/21/98: When child-support becomes a 'catch-22'
5/15/98: Why ‘shacking-up' for marriage's sake fails
5/6/98: Collision with a pathetic reality
4/26/98: It's time parents learned to 'Just Say No!'

© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn