When it comes to divorce, there’s three kinds of fathers:
I suppose there’s a logical possibility that you were good before divorce, and now you want to be crap after - but that’s not possible in reality. For this to actually be true, it means you’re crap now and always have been, you’re just lying to yourself in saying you were good before. Only someone who’s crap now wants to be crap later.
Are you a good father now? Will you be better later? How do you know? A key problem with bad fathers is that they don’t realize how crappy they are. A lot of crap fathers think they’re good fathers!
But if part of the definition of being bad is thinking delusionally that you’re actually good, how can you be sure whether or not you’re bad? This is a fundamental question that will cut across all of your post-divorce efforts.
And this is the fundamental answer: It’s not how you feel, it’s what you do.
A good father does these three things:
You should ask questions every time you see your kids. There’s an art to this, the point isn’t to be annoying or intrusive, or even instructive. You are not a prosecutor and they are not on trial. Your questions should be the result of your legitimate curiosity about their lives, not as a way for you to control the outcome of their lives. You should ask questions of a baby that doesn’t speak, of a sullen teenager that won’t speak, of a young adult that doesn’t speak your language. Asking questions is an exercise in empathy, not inquisition.
Kids learn through stories, they are wonderfully imaginative because they need to be that way to grow. They’ll make up stories if you don’t tell them - and you may be telling them a story through your silence. So get ahead of it. Share what happened to you, share the tales that make you the person you are today. It’s great if you can relate it to something that’s happening now - maybe you’re kid had a fight and you can talk about one time you were in a fight. But the story doesn’t have to be instructive or illustrative of anything, it just has to be about you.
Kids begin their lives with a belief that their parents are not people, but infallible gods. Over time, they learn to adjust to reality, and sometimes that can lead to disillusionment or disappointment. No matter how much they knew it was coming, they're going to be disappointed that mom and dad are splitting up. But your kids won’t be disappointed to find out you’re not perfect if you can show them that you know that you’re not, that you’re trying your best, and you’re sorry when you still fall short in some way - and you're human enough to tell them. Thinking about it, facing it, and then telling your kid about it is a way to deal with mistakes that will bring you closer together. If you think you have nothing to apologize for ... you may be too far gone for anyone to help you. Well, just wait and this time pay attention, you'll see when you've made a mistake - treat it as a great opportunity to apologize.
So are you a good father that wants to stay good? A bad one that wants to get better? Ask yourself if you’re doing the three critical things on a regular basis.
And by the way, if you’re a bad father who is ok with staying that way ... so be it. We’re not here to judge. You may be missing out on a great opportunity, but if you really feel the way you do, maybe it’s better to go away before you do more harm. But think about what it takes to be a good father, it’s not so hard is it? Ask questions. Tell stories. Apologize. Try it before you give up.