Long-Distance Daddy

by Michael BrackenI 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.