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WHEN AN ABSENT FATHER SHOWS UP

Last month three letters hit my desk all dealing with absent fathers. One 3 -year-old girl’s father left for a year and then showed up wanting to see her. Another boy of 4 never knew his father but his mother recently married and he now has two step siblings who have a father and his father wants to see him again. Here is the third letter: “My son is 5 years old and has never seen his father as he had disappeared from our lives a long time ago when my son was only three months old. My son never asked about his father until now. He calls my father “papa.” Now my son’s father appeared and would like to see his son. What is the best way to introduce them to each other? What should I do and what should I avoid?

There are two important points to make when the question of re-entry of an absent father comes up. One is safety of the child. The other is the child’s emotional well-being.

The bottom line is that children do best in a two-parent home where there are two loving parents and stability the child can count on.

The second best thing for a child is to have two loving parents in his life even though they don’t live together. But they respect each other, communicate well, and are able to put the child first when making decisions. The child can count on both of them which gives the child one of childhood’s most important commodity: stability.

The mother of the child whose absent father wants back in the kid’s life has to make sure that this man who has done nothing for his child for years is a SUITABLE FATHER–no drugs or alcohol abuse or unlawful behavior or mental illness. She can seek help from child protective services or the courts.

Never let a man who has walked out of his child’s life see the child alone. But even before the visit prepare the child. Don’t drop a bombshell on a kid by telling him his Daddy came back and introducing the man on the same day.

What can you say? I would tell the 5-year-old child in the letter above that his Daddy, who went away when he was a tiny baby, now wants to come visit him. Give time for this to sink in. Then ask the boy if he wants to meet his father. Most will say they do. If they say no, wait a while and try again.

If the boy asks WHY his daddy went away and stayed away tell him the truth in language the little boy can understand (“He didn’t feel ready to be a father.” or “He did something bad and had to go to jail” or whatever.) Do not be surprised if the child does not want to see his father or shies away when Daddy appears on the doorstep. The best thing to do is plan very short visits when the boy and both parents spend time together. A lunch in a child-friendly restaurant might be the first visit. Then a walk and an ice cream cone. Then a visit to your home. Gradually you can increase the time they spend together. You can try leaving the room for a few minutes to see how your son does. But stay around when the father visits until you are sure your son is comfortable with a man that is his biological father but a complete stranger.

The best case scenario for all three children whose fathers were absent is that the father is now mature and truly wants to be in his child’s life. He is not abusive or crazy or addicted and after a time the mother can feel confident that he has your child’s best interests at hand. Then you can work out issues of visitation, child support, etc.

The worst case scenario is that this man who happens to be your child’s biological father, cannot be trusted and the mother has to go to court to keep him away from her child.

For the sake of these three kids let’s hope for the best case.

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