Splitsville: How To Answer The Dreaded ‘Where’s Daddy?’

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Week one is easy. I can say that my daughter’s father, John*, is simply busy working. I used to give assurances like, “I’m sure he’ll call soon, darlin.” I’ve stopped making those types of promises. Either way, she rarely asks too many questions in the first week since seeing her dad. She’s pretty used to extended breaks in between visits.

Week two is a little less simple, though still relatively straight-forward. “He’s really busy with his job. He misses you a lot.” This is the week that we start sending pictures through text message, so she can show him what she wore on her first day of school or how she looks in her new dance leotard.

By week three, she wants to start calling him. My quick answers are no longer satisfactory. Sometimes, she starts to get angry at him, in what I assume is a defense mechanism. “I don’t want to see him anyway, Mom,” she’ll tell me, sounding far too confident for a pre-schooler. I let her leave a couple voicemails if she asks, but this is the week when I avoid talking about her dad at all. I’m just not sure what her reaction will be.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to go past week four. Her dad has always shown up by then, bringing a toy and a plan for their evening together. She’s always excited to see him, no matter how angry she’d claimed to be in the intervening weeks. She comes home thrilled to tell me about their visit and I sit patiently listening and telling her how happy I am that they had a good time.

It’s a thin line to walk, between trying to realistically prepare my daughter for her father’s inconsistency and trying to stay positive and supportive of their relationship. I hate myself for calling him on week three, reminding him that his daughter exists and might want to see him. I’ve always said that they’ll have as much of a relationship as he chooses. In three years, I’ve never said that he couldn’t see his daughter. No matter what holiday or family plan, we’ve dropped them all when he gets around to picking up the phone and calling us. I feel like I’ve done a good job of staying happy and optimistic when I talk to my daughter about John. I remind her how much he loves her. I encourage her to draw him pictures or leave him messages.

But there are times, at my most selfish and protective, when I simply don’t know how to be nice. There are days, like when my three year old asks me if her daddy is mad at her, if that’s why he hasn’t called, that I want to scream and yell and curse. I want to tell him to just leave and stay away, let us deal with that. I have moments when I think that anything would be better than these random, three-hour visits. I work extremely hard to bite my tongue during these rough days, and I haven’t had a slip up so far.

I live in fear of my daughter asking, “Where’s Daddy?” I never have the correct answer. And if the weeks between visits keep growing, if we pass the four week mark and start counting months, I never will have the correct answer. Right now, my daughter accepts that her dad works a lot and he’ll come to see her soon. As she gets older, I know that those excuses won’t work anymore. And to be honest with you, I have no idea what I’ll begin telling her when that time comes. Until then, I’ll keep avoiding that heart-breaking question and try to stay optimistic as we count the weeks until the next visit.