Where's Dad? How NOT to Answer

It always makes me chuckle when someone tells me “...but you have it so easy” in regards to my relationship and family life. Of course it looks easy from the outside; you are looking through beautiful rose-colored glasses (also know as social media) and trying to assume you know my everyday life. Well I’m here to tell you that I do not have it so easy.

My life is messy. And more than a little bit complicated. And my relationships tend to be the same (maybe it’s me, I don’t know). But either way, I am learning, just like all of you, and trying to do the best damn job that I can. However, there is one lesson in particular that stands out to me. And though it brings me much humility to share, I’m hoping at the very least it will help you know what NOT to do if faced with a similar scenario.

For all my single moms out there, if you haven’t been asked this question yet, brace yourselves. You will get asked this over and over, often at inopportune times, and it will wear on your patience on those unbearably long days where you feel like you aren’t doing anything right. “Where’s my dad?” I hate this question. Those three words make me feel like an utter failure… even writing them makes me want to punch my computer. I actually did pick up my computer and throw it at a wall once. Needless to say, it broke. The Geek Squad said it was my “motherboard” (sounds Star-Trekky). Anyways, don’t get that bent out of shape.

Let me preface my horrible response to this question with a tiny bit of backstory to make me sound less like a mom-ster. My son’s dad and I had been apart for nearly two years and he was getting old enough to ask why, why, why to everything. He asked the question, “where’s my dad” at least once a week. And to his credit, his dad promised him a lot of things and didn’t always follow through. On this particular night, Keylen sat waiting on the bottom step (his backpack filled with toys they could play together, shoes on, jammies on)… and there he sat. Ten minutes passed, then thirty, then an hour. Finally his dad called and said, “yea, I’m not coming.” That was it. And then he hung up. When I told Key his dad was working late (a common excuse in our household), he lost it. He screamed at me, told me he hated me, that he wanted his daddy, that it was my fault his dad wouldn’t come to see him.

This was probably my least favorite moment of being a mom. And Keylen was right. His dad hated having to see me, so he chose not to see him either. In a moment of weakness and defeat I yelled, “He isn’t coming because he doesn’t want to see you! He isn’t working late, he just doesn’t think you are important enough to come. That’s the truth.” Silence. Silence. Silence.

Keylen took his shoes off and meticulously put them back in their place, drug his backpack up the stairs, and tried his best to put on a brave face as he walked past me to his room. He shut his bedroom door and I heard him start to cry. If I thought it felt bad to be the “bad guy” and for taking the blame for his dad never coming to see him, this was far worse. One hundred times worse. Dare I say, one thousand times worse. I had just done the one thing I swore I would never do. I failed to shield my little man, my main squeeze, from the pain and the truth of not having his dad around. He was only four. And I vowed to never let it happen again.

Situations like this are tough. Like really, really tough. Certain days you just get beaten down and you are tired for being blamed for everything. You feel like you are the only one trying and you aren’t getting anywhere. Other days you hate that your kid(s) look at their dad like a superhero who is amazing and untouchable and perfect, when they most definitely are not acting as such. But no matter which way you slice and dice it, I answered horribly. And it hurt Keylen far worse than I was hurt for being blamed.  

When I first became a single mom, my mother told me a story about an acquaintance of hers who was also forging through motherhood alone. She had two boys whose dad hadn’t been a part of their life for a long time, but she knew how important it was to give them a healthy father-figure image. So each birthday, every Christmas, she mailed cards and presents to her boys from their "dad.” She made him the hero, when truthfully, she was the hero. And sure, at some point they would figure it out. But for as long as she could get away with it, she wanted them to believe they had a dad who loved them and thought about them.

I don’t know that mother, but she is my hero. I know that I have so much to learn in how to handle situations. I know that I am not perfect and that none of us are. And I know that as we stumble and fall flat on our faces, we have no choice but to stand back up and to try to make better mistakes tomorrow than we made today.

But my long-standing advice on this particular question is to always fall on the sword. Take the heat, feel the burn, let daddy be the hero. The hurt I saw on my son’s face when I told him the truth still tears a hole in my heart. And I don’t know if he even believed me all the times I told him his dad was busy working late, but I think he found some satisfaction in hearing that excuse and believing it… because he wanted to.

I found this beautiful quote and think it sums everything up perfectly: “My hope is that they will remember that mommy tried. Even when she was tired, even when she was stressed. I hope they will know that I did it all for them. That I had every intention of being great, good, and grand, but that some days all I could be was ok.”

Am I wrong on this? Should mommies not take the blame? What answer are we supposed to give our kids when they ask? Have any of you been faced with this question and have advice on how to handle it? I know I am just one mom, with one opinion, with one perception of what NOT to do. But you all are strong mothers and have unique points of view and stories. Please feel free to critique my subpar parenting skills, or better yet, to share you own experiences.