That’s definitely me. It might be you, too. Since my wife and I separated, the most difficult part of the transition has been not being with my boys full-time. I miss them so much, and they miss me. Our times together are wonderful and filled with fun, laughter, watching movies, watching and playing sports (including many games of soccer, ping pong, tennis, and chess), eating (oh my, there is so much eating with three boys!), reading, talking, playing Xbox, and bonding in every way we can. It’s so lonely at my place when they go back to their mom’s house and their rooms are empty.
I recently spent the entire weekend with my second son, Cal, for his birthday getaway. That’s a tradition we started from their very first birthday. My gift to them is time with me. It started as a full day just with dad doing whatever they wanted to do (once they were old enough to tell me). When JD, my eldest, turned ten, he decided it should be a two-day event since he was now double digits. I didn’t argue at all. So now, that’s the standard for each of them.
I spent my two days with Cal and we had so much fun. I took him back to his mom’s house Sunday night, and Monday morning he called me. I could hear in his voice he was down, that something wasn’t okay. I asked him, “Are you sad?” He was quiet for a moment, then softly said, “yes.” I asked, “Because you miss me?” He again softly said, “yes.”
I’m thankful I’ve taken enough parenting and communication courses to recognize this crucial moment of fathering. My natural instinct as a man would have been to say something to my son that was said to me, to shift the energy away from this uncomfortable moment of silence and sadness, to make light of it, to tell him everything would be okay, to not worry, to not be sad, or any number of other things that would actually be telling him not to feel what he was clearly feeling and that expressing his true feelings was not okay. I could have shut him down the way I was.
That’s how most of us men got to be the way we are, right? Just ask our partners or our children if they like this aspect of the way we manage our own emotions. I dare you. So many of us men have a hard time accessing and expressing our feelings. Our partners and our children need this part of us often buried under years of being told not to feel and not express especially softer, more tender, or fragile feelings like fear, sadness, or loneliness. It’s not working for us. Why would we ever want to continue that legacy by intentionally or unintentionally shaping our kids the same way?
I’m grateful I’ve learned this and long ago made the choice to help my boys feel their feelings and become comfortable expressing them. In fact, I often tell them how natural this is and how proud I am when they do so. I recently began telling them how much their girlfriends and eventually their wives will appreciate this about them.
When Cal admitted to me he felt sad, I simply sad, “I understand, Buddy. I feel sad, too. I miss you. It’s completely normal and natural after spending such good time together this weekend for us to both feel sad and lonely for a while. That’s okay. It’s part of this season. And it will pass in time. We’ll be together soon. I love you, Cal.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
For dads who don’t get enough time with your kids, whether by divorce, travel, demands at work, it’s a good thing to be open and honest with your kids about how you miss them, how much you love them, and to encourage them to feel their feelings and express them as well, without you trying to get them to stop feeling or talking about those feelings, especially for your daughters, but equally true for your sons. Write them a letter, send them an email or text, or just pick up the phone and call or Face Time with them. It makes such a difference, for both of you.
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