Selfish Dads Who Leave — For Men and Single Moms

I received the following deeply probing question from a man I’ll call Paul (simply to protect his privacy). I will respond to Paul in this post because I believe many men can benefit from this dialogue. Moms, there’s a message here for you too.

When I was young my Dad left my Mom because she “just did not make him happy.” She did not fulfill his selfish desires for success. He has now become a complete failure. I have always resented him for abandoning my mother but it took me a long time to understand how selfish it was of him. How would you address this issue with single moms left with the kids?


There’s so much to address here, Paul—far more than your one question points to. May I simply share from my personal childhood experience, my reading, and my coaching of many others over the years?

First, I feel your sadness and anger at your dad for leaving not only your mother, as you say, but you as well. I know the pain of being left. And that’s my first piece of encouragement to you—embrace your own pain too as you empathize with and feel defensive for your mother. It sounds like your dad left everyone, you included, and I know how much that hurts for a long time. We cannot heal pain we are not aware of. If you’re hurting, it’s okay to admit it and embrace it. In fact, you’ll need to if you wish to heal it. I write several chapters about that process in my book.

Second, I sure identify with the childhood resentment toward a selfish dad who left his family to be happy. I felt it for so many years myself. Now, as a dad separated from my wife of twenty years, I’ve learned to have more grace and understanding toward my dad. Relationships are far more complex than a child can understand, particularly a marriage. My own life experience has softened my judgment of my dad, though I still believe he did not consider others enough. I hear your hurt, Paul, and your judgment of your dad. Perhaps as an adult now yourself you can look back with a bit more understanding and mercy, even if you still find your father at fault. Loosening our grip on judgment tends to open us to greater understanding, compassion, and healing ourselves.

Third, you specifically ask how I would address this with single moms. I feel a great deal of respect toward and gratitude for single moms. I am the son of one. And she tried so hard to be everything she could for me and for my younger brother. It was a daunting task that she took on with loads of love and commitment. I can hardly imagine how difficult and exhausting that role is. For moms who might read this, I cheer you on and applaud your loving efforts. My suggestion to you in this specific scenario is to work toward forgiveness and release of resentment for your own sake and for the well-being of your children. The more they see you hurting, the more they may resent their father. And even though he may very well be at fault and selfish, it’s not good for children to hate, resent, or feel angry with their dads. That only breeds more hurt and loneliness. The more you can work toward your own well-being through understanding, forgiveness, and perhaps owning your own contribution to the marital breakdown (if it exists), the more you will be a great, loving mom to your kids and help them along their own path of healing. Your kids love you and especially your boys may want to rise up to defend and protect you. The less cause you give them for needing to do so, the better off they will be. It’s another heroic way you can love your children.

Thanks for asking, Paul. I hope this addresses your question.

To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

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2 thoughts on “Selfish Dads Who Leave — For Men and Single Moms

  1. sometimes the guy leaves because the woman wants him to….let’s not assume men want to leave, and let’s stop believing everything a woman claims about him….. and if he tried to stay he’d end up with 911 called

    • Yes, Jackson, this is also true. I do not believe nor say (I hope) that every man who leaves is selfish. Many are, many are not. And sometimes woman ask or tell their men to leave because the man has not been a very good partner. Every situation is different. Sounds like yours was very painful. I’m sorry to hear that and hope you find the strength to continue to be engaged with your kids and be the great dad you want to be and they need you to be. Perhaps some of the resources on my site will be of value to you as you walk this path. My best to you. Thanks for the comment.

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