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“Why did my dad leave?” is a difficult question to answer, especially to a young child who might not understand the answer. Fathers abandoning their families seems to be an ongoing crisis in America, with more than one fourth of children growing up without a father in the home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By time a child is one year old, half of couples separate, leaving the mother to pick up both parenting roles and to raise her child alone.

So where did the dad go? The consensus across America seems to be that the so called ‘deadbeat’ fathers leave because they don’t care anymore. But in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to David Brooks, the author of the article “Why Fathers Leave Their Children”, fathers don’t simply abandon their families out of laziness or lack of love; they leave because they feel unworthy.

Fathers tend to go into parenthood with unrealistic standards, which ultimately sets them up for failure. On top of that, the parents of the child begin to grow apart, dissolving the support system that they once provided for each other. Through the stress of becoming a father, the lack of a support group, and the insecurities about being the father they dreamed of being, the father begins to think of leaving as an option.

The father’s ultimate decision to leave isn’t based on a lack of love or dedication; it’s based on his warped ideology of what a father has to be. Setting Superman level standards that are impossible to achieve causes fathers to view themselves as unworthy and unable to be a parent. In reality, the only standard fathers need to worry about satisfying is providing a loving and supportive relationship with their son or daughter.

During a divorce, each of the parent’s roles change drastically. The relationship between mother and father becomes a competition rather than to continue working as a team. It becomes a never-ending game of trying to one up each other, with some parents choosing to play the guilt card. The mother might ask the child ‘Don’t you love me? If you loved me, you wouldn’t leave me’ forcing the child to bear the burden of trying to love his or her parents equally without hurting their feelings. The card of ‘it’s your father’s fault’ is also common, especially when it comes to finances. When a child asks a parent to purchase anything, the mother might say ‘ask your father’. If the father can’t afford to keep buying everything for the child, then the blame is put on him. Suddenly, the father becomes the villain in the separation. The child hates to leave his or her mother because of the guilt, and in their mind, that’s the father’s fault. The father becomes the reason the child doesn’t have school supplies or a new coat, but only because the father is already left paying for everything else.

Divorce is already a difficult process, but with the addition of unrealistic standards and mind games, it’s even tougher to get though. With the right lawyer, you shouldn’t feel alone and burdened through this ordeal. While being a father is never easy in a custody case, it’s much easier with the right help.

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