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Home > Child Custody & Divorce > Article

Long-Distance Daddy

by Michael Bracken

I helped my oldest son write a poem the other night. It was part of his homework assignment in English. I've helped him with his homework many times before, but this was the first time I'd done it over the telephone.

His mother and I divorced some time ago and now Ryan and his younger siblings--Ian, Courtney, and Nigel--live halfway across the country. No longer do I wake to the sound of children playing; no longer do I stumble through a maze of toys each night when I return home; no longer do I chaperon field trips and sit through Christmas pageants.

Instead, each Sunday morning I sit with my phone pressed to my ear. My children and I talk about what they've done in school or about video games or about their pets. Every day I stare at the last photos I have of them, imagining how they've changed and grown. I send cards each holiday, and occasional letters between holidays. Sometimes, when their mother is unable to assist, they phone me for help with their homework.

They live too far away and the cost is too great for frequent visits of any length. I must be content with telephone calls.

How do I father my children at this distance? I'm not there to bandage the scrapes of childhood, I'm not there to hold them when they rouse from nightmares, I'm not there to steady their bicycles as they learn to ride.

Neither am I there imparting the values that I find important. Instead, I'm left wondering how many of my values my children will learn through telephone conversations, and how many of their values they'll learn from their mother and their friends.

I understand some of what my children are experiencing. My parents divorced and I had a father I barely knew. He had little influence on me during my formative years and I wonder how different I would be if he had made as much effort to maintain contact with me as I'm making with my own children. Except for Christmas and birthday cards, my father's contact was almost non-existent until my mother died and I moved out on my own. Then he wanted to be my best-buddy, calling me regularly until his own death some years later. By then it was too late. He wasn't my best-buddy. He wasn't even my father.

He was just a guy who liked to phone.

I don't want my children to think of me the way I thought of my father. It isn't fair to any of us.

So tomorrow, around 11:00 a.m., I'll pick up the phone and dial a number that causes a phone to ring in a house halfway across the continent. While the joy of talking to my kids again, and the sadness of being separated from them, washes over me, I'll discuss what's been happening in their lives.

Michael Bracken's essays about parenting--both humorous and serious--have appeared in Mothering, The Wet-Set Gazette, Parent To Parent, Parents & Kids, L.A. Parent, The Columbus Child, and other publications.

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