Dads Can be the Primary Parent Too: A Father’s Custody Journey
We are in the midst of a long overdue, gender equality revolution. Women deserve equal pay and equal opportunity in the workplace. But, this revolution is not just about equality for women. It is also about equality for men. Dads are being considered as equals to their mom counterparts in regards to parenting capabilities. Today more and more single dads are designated the primary parent in divorce settlements.
A Father’s Journey to Custody
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.
I have only been through one custody battle. But one was enough for me to know that I loathe them. They are emotional drains for everyone involved, including the children. But, there are times when they are necessary.
In the perfect world, divorcing parents decide together the best arrangement for the children, and then work together as healthy, functioning co-parents; supporting one another as participants in the lives of their children.
But our world is far from perfect.
Not For the Faint of Heart
Warning: Custody battles are a drain financially and emotionally, and they are prolonged. Mine lasted nearly a year, but I have no regrets. There is no price that is too great when it involves the well-being of my children. I knew throughout the process that I was doing the right thing. I never looked back, or even considered quitting. If a custodial parent systemically fails in delivering, and the other parent does not, a change needs to be considered.
- Custody is not a prize.
- Custody is not an automatic entitlement bestowed upon one parent over another because “I am the mom” or “I am the dad.”
- Custody is not a means devised to gain income through child support.
- Custody is not a vehicle for one parent to have power over the other.
Custody should serve the best interest of the children. In fact, that is the legal standard. So, what does that mean? What is the legal standard?
- Parenting ability. Is the requesting parent able to meet the child’s emotional physical needs such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, loving support, and general parental guidance? There is also consideration given to a parent’s physical and mental health.
- Routines. Kids need routines that are consistent. As much as possible, they need to sleep in the same bed, go to the same school, and wake up to their family members instead of strangers.
- Safety. Maslow was right. This one is really important.
The Equality Revolution Includes Dads
We live in a wonderful time. Since the 1800’s, we have been making a push towards equality. Yes, it is unfortunate that we have to be making a push towards equality, but at least there is a push. Bottom line; race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, religion, body shape, hormone levels, physical functions, and others I am sure I am missing, do not impact the equality of human beings.
I am a dad of 3 daughters. No big deal, right? There are lots of dads with daughters. I am single. Still no big deal. With the divorce rate so high, there are plenty of divorced dads with daughters. Between my 3 daughters, there are 2 mothers. Daughters 1 and 2, one mom. Daughter 3, a different mom. Nothing uncommon about that. “If at first, you don’t succeed….”
All 3 of my daughters live with me full time. I am the custodial parent. Is that common? Not so much. Is it a big deal? Not to me. But it might be to others, depending on their perspective.
Susan B. Anthony’s dedication to the rights of women was a big deal to those who wanted to limit women’s rights. African American woman Claudette Colvin – at the age of 15 – was arrested for refusing to abide by the bus segregation law which stipulated that ‘coloured’ passengers must sit at the back and leave the front seats for white passengers. That was a big deal to many white folks back in 1955 when teenager Claudette was arrested. By the way, the Rosa Parks incident occurred 9 months later.
So, if it is a big deal to you that this male, single dad is raising 3 daughters full-time, then the requisite follow-up question is, “Why?” If it is just because it is uncommon, awesome. If it is because “moms are supposed to raise children, not dads…” or any other expression of female/mom entitlement… then let me say this. “It’s time to get on board with the revolution.”
Believe it or not moms, I get it. I love you, I honor you, I praise you. For many decades, you have given more of your lives to your children than dads. This is especially true with single moms. So single moms (and moms), believe me when I say that I hold you in the highest regard for the sacrifices you have made for your children. But today, there is an opportunity for change. There is a method wherein moms and dads can realize equal parenting opportunity.
Working Moms and Dads Should be Treated as Equals
- Working men and women – many of whom are single mothers and fathers – need equal rights, opportunity, and pay in the workplace. I am not exactly sure where this stands today. I suspect there is still some disparity, but I do believe it is headed in the right direction.
- Working single fathers and mothers need to receive the same treatment from their employers when they have to say “My kid is home with the flu, and I am going to have to miss the next 4 days.” I can only speak from personal experience, but both my current and past employers have been very understanding in this regard.
- Single dads need to step up their effort in the raising of their children. I think there is still some imbalance, but this is definitely changing. All of my daughters have multiple friends that live with their father. What is really exciting, is that the arrangement was decided by both parents. The mom and dad chose together what would be best for their children. Wow! When I was little, I only knew of one kid that lived with her dad, and that was because the mother had passed on.
- Single moms need to be willing to let #3 happen. Mom-entitlement-beliefs that answer the “Why not dad?” questions with “Because I am the mom…” have no place in this emerging, gender equal-opportunity society. It is time to place those beliefs to the side.
- And finally, single fathers and mothers need the same legal backing to raise their children. “I am living proof that this is in place!”
I Have a Dream
I live in a different time than my parents did, when I was a child. The traditional gender lines and parenting roles are disintegrating. More women are working, and more fathers are willing to raise their children.
It is becoming more acceptable for men to wear pink and women to “wear the pants” in the family. Do we still have a way to go? Yes, but change occurs only when it is demanded. Fathers must insist society support our active participation in the lives of our children.
I will remind you — It wasn’t that long ago when women were not allowed to vote or people were legally owned as slaves in our country. Change can be a very a good thing.
I am writing this on MLK day. In honor of this great man that offended many with his wonderful dreams. Here are some of my dreams:
- I have a dream, that fathers will carry the same sense of duty to raise their children as the countless number of moms have for centuries.
- I have a dream, that moms will willingly relinquish the primary role to the father when it is in the best interest of the children.
- I have a dream, that moms and dads that are going through the very difficult process of marriage dissolution, jointly decide which parent is in the best position to provide the primary needs of the child.
- I have a dream, that after the primary-parent decision is made, that moms and dads work together to be amazing co-parents, for the sake of their children.
I wish I could tell you that my story involving my youngest was one of those “dream” stories. It was not. It was hell. But it was a hell that I would go through again and again for the well-being of any of my children. I had to use litigation.
Texas Family Law – The Tools I Used
There is a change in the air. I am proof that the courts are less opinionated on the mom/dad thing based on “how it has been in society before.” In my case, the courts focused on the actions of the individuals. And it was determined that I was the best place for my daughter.
- Make sure your children’s emotional needs are being addressed. There is an abundance of quality, mental health services available. I live in Collin County, and I have access to very qualified child therapists. I requested to the court that my daughter see one of these therapists to have an advocate and to learn coping skills. The court granted my request. She has seen an exceptional play therapist throughout the custody process and still goes today. The progress has been amazing. You love your children, so do this for them. Neither you or your ex are in a position to get them through this experience alone. In addition to your best efforts, they need someone else.
- Employ an objective and qualified party to give their opinion on custody. I knew that a change in custody was best. I also knew that my ex did not agree. I requested that a social study be done by a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem. The GALs role is to determine what is in the best interests of the child and then explain the best interests to the courts. They get to know the child in a more intimate manner than an attorney or judge might, and they look deeply into the history of both parents. GALs seek to understand what might be the best living situation for a child and then prove their findings to the court.
- Get you and your ex some help. After the custody battle is over (no matter which way it falls), get some help for you and your ex. I requested that the court appoint a parent facilitator, to help me and “mom” get our proverbial “word that rhymes with hit and starts with sh” together.
In the end, whether you are the primary parent or not, it does not matter to your children. What does matter is your active participation in their lives. Just be involved, be very involved their life. It matters a lot. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
Advice and Encouragement
I want to have as healthy a relationship as possible with “mom.” That does not mean we are “BFFs,” but we are getting better thanks to the parent facilitator. When co-parents work together for the benefit of the children, the results are incredible. Both parents love their children. Getting along as co-parents is an act of love. Fighting is not.
One final thought to dads. Don’t be scared. You can do it. Don’t be intimated by history, or the lack of history. Have courage, you and mom share the same rights. You are equals.
John, a.k.a dadofthreewinds