I’m a bad father

Amongst the many blogs I read, I periodically check in on Tim Bray‘s. Back in February, he wrote an entry titled Love Your Children, where he linked to Daniel Steinberg’s blog titled Dear Elena, which after reading the first entry, I had to subscribe to it, too. (If you decide to read it, I suggest starting from the first entry and working your way towards the most recent one.)

At first, I thought I shared a lot with Daniel, in that I am also the father of two daughters. From his blog, it’s clear that he has a lot of fond memories and love for his daughters, and his recent loss is having an incredible impact on his family’s life. I try my best to sympathize and as I read what more and more he writes, I’m filled with an incredible sense of sadness. At first, I thought it was because I could share in his pain, his loss, but I’ve never lost a loved one like he has; I really have no idea what he’s gone through. Then, it struck me: reading what he’s written makes me sad because I don’t feel the same way about my own kids. I don’t know how I’d feel if one of my daughters had suddenly passed away, but I’m haunted by the feeling that I wouldn’t feel the same way he seems to, based on what he’s written. Somehow, that’s made me feel–or, realize–that I really am the bad father I’ve always suspected I am.

This week, I’m busy preparing to get my things in order to leave this weekend. My wife and I are separating and in a sense, I’m losing both of my children. I have no idea what to expect, how it will and should make me feel, or if I’m even doing “the right thing,” but I know that the way I currently feel about my life and my family, I don’t belong here. I don’t belong. Those three words sound so strange but they sound so right. They really describe how I feel about me and how I fit into this world. I just don’t belong.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last four years now and I’ve been told that I’m not like everyone else. I’m not normal. I don’t belong. Maybe I’m not just a bad father, but I’m a bad person. I treat people poorly. I know I do. But, not just other people, I treat myself the same way. I don’t like me and I don’t really expect other people to like me, either.


  1. Just because someone else is eloquent with expressing their love for their children, doesn’t mean you love your children less. I love my son far more than I can express. I’m sure there is some of that in your feelings.

    Just tonight, my wife and I were talking about our childhoods, and we touched on something: Just being there is probably the most important thing we can do for our kids.

    The fact that you recognize you could do better means you’re a better father than you fear. If you weren’t thinking of things to change, then maybe you’d fall into the “bad dad” camp.

    I just finished reading “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis. Between reading the book and discussing it in our Lenten series at Church, it helped me give my shortcomings shape. Maybe you can find some inspiration in there, as well.

    Best of luck, and know that there are plenty of people that feel you do belong.

  2. I have lurked on the AOLServer listserve for a few years, and one thing crystal clear to me is that you are a thoughtful, generous, helpful, committed, compassionate, insightful, and very smart person. Hell yes you’re different than many other people, but that’s part of what’s GOOD about you, not bad. My uninformed guess is that you could use some muscle strengthening in the area of accepting who you are and building on that as a strength. If you can be open to it, I very highly recommend The Landmark Forum — a great place to figure out who you are, learn to powerfully live a life you love, and bring joy to your life and the lives of those around you. In three days and $425 — not much to risk — you can open up new realms of possibility for yourself. The personal transformations I’ve undergone myself and witnessed in many others in the Landmark programs are incredible. Go to http://www.landmarkeducation.com for details.

  3. You are not alone, for I sometimes struggle with the haunting reality of being “A Bad Father”. Its hard to compare to some of the amazing parents that don’t hesitate to flex their muscles in your face. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are numerous fathers that are better than me. But when you step back, and really take a close look at the big picture, it helps to realize that we are all surrounded by a mixture of excellent, average, good, and horrible fathers. I know that I am not the best father in the mix, and you may not be either, but I can say with confidence that I’m not the worst. I do care, and acknowledging my weaknesses. By doing something positive to correct it, I believe it can only make me a better father then before. I do not know you, but I can tell from the brief description that you care about your kids, and this alone is enough to tell me that you ahead of most people in our mix. And even if you do not, compare yourself to the drug addicts, and murder’s that could give a rats ass. I am going through some hard times right now(possible divorce.. etc.. ) However, I’m going to try to do my best, and keep my head high. Acknowledge your weaknesses, but at the same time, realize that what you do with this realization is important. It sounds like you are twisting your reality into something negative, but if you twist it the other way around, you may see that you belong after all. We sometimes hit rock bottom, but that only means that our uphill climb back to the top is near. Lift your head up, and start climbing. You belong on that path uphill, not stuck at the bottom. I am on my way up too brother.. Join the ride.. You belong on it.. Take care…

  4. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words of support. Looking back almost a year later, now … I’m still not feeling whole, but I am feeling better.

  5. I am a bad father! It’s been said that just being there for your kids is enough. well i am guilty of not being there…from my son’s age 15 on I’ve slowly cut him out of my life.
    The new women in my life does not get along with my son and here i am with her not him.
    He’s a greast person and i love him more than i can say. but still i continue down this path of destruction..it’s slowly killing me…you see i love her also…this is tareing apart inside. My life is becoming more and more meaningless every day I’m apart from him. It hurts a lot around holidays especialy fathers day.I just want to say I’m sorry for what I’ve done to him and then die. that would be my just reward my carma my legacy.

    • Don,

      I can’t imagine what you must be going through, but I know one thing: It’s never too late. Looking back at the words above that I wrote 5 years ago, I can say that I’m not the same person now that I was back then. Only you know what you truly want — not what you think you’re supposed to want, but what you really, genuinely want. And, if what you really want is to have a relationship with your son, then you can make that happen.

      It might not be easy — he may not want one with you at this point, and may never want one — but you should never give up, if it’s what you truly want.

      Every journey starts with a single step. Make up your mind and take that first step. In the worst case, you die a fool for trying, which is no worse off than you are now. However, you can’t even begin to imagine what the best case could possibly be … endless possibilities.

      Good luck, and thanks for sharing your story. It’s helpful to know that we’re not alone and that we’re all broken and flawed in many ways. Do the best you can.

  6. Well, I am actually reading this by accident -was trying to get back to Twitter Karma… but I do want to say something.

    My childhood was a broken home… everyone made such a big deal out of it. I didn’t care, except the part that we never saw my father until the day he got angry at my mother and took custody of us. That was a bad father… any parent who uses the children as leverage is a bad parent. Though, I can assure you, saying you won’t do it is far easier than not doing it.

    When I wanted to get my divorce, more than a few years back, I was very worried that the divorce would hurt my children. However, therapy turned out unnecessary, they didn’t care. When I teach up at the local school, you can find any number of children who will say “Man, I wish my parents would get divorce, I want to have three Christmases next year!” My children have a grandparent Christmas, a Christmas here, and one with their father.

    Over the years, it has come to my attention that there are levels of fatherhood – levels of degrees to how a father is a good or bad father – and that only the children can really tell you if you were a good parent.

    My father thought he was a “good” father, but I think he was a terrible father. My ex thinks he is a good father… let me say that I will refrain from comment.

    What do I think a good father is made up of? I think that a good father is any man who is willing to put his own needs aside when his children need them. That any good parent will remember that it is important to have their “own” time, but that all parents should be available to their children.

    Not all children need the same amount of attention, but if you are always there when they need you, you do your best to always provide for them the things you both (mother and father) agree they need, and you do not spoil or beat your children… then you have been a good father.

    That is all it is, really, be there when they need you.

  7. Wow life is funny I truely believe i dedicated my life to my children and yesterday my 18 year old daughter told me i was a bad father and husband. There was a big explosion between my wife and son and everyone got involved, I do not tolerate a disrespect but I can’t bring myself to smaking my 17 yr old son for a stupid coment. Everyone seems to be unhappy and i am not sure why. I have been there for my kids for everything, my life evolved around them and this blows me away. I honestly think they have become spoiled and unapreciative and I told them that. Not sure what is going on…beam me up scotty

    • sickofthisnonsense says

      Ray, you’ve got to be kidding me. Reading your words was exactly like hearing my dad, except I’m a 22 year old professional now, so the “spoiled kid” excuse doesn’t wash. Even if it did, he would only have himself to blame for it. When you say you dedicated your life to your children, do you mean you were there for financial support, buying them nice holidays, sending them to good schools etc….or did you genuinely give up your time to listen to them? My guess is it was only the former, and you can’t buy respect. So take some time to examine your relationships and drop the denial act asap.

      • To: sickofthisnonsense,
        You sound like a spoiled little brat to me who never got over the fact that he was actually spoiled. The world owes you nothing so thank your father for all he has given to you, even the ass whooping for talking crap.

    • I’m reading these comments and I cannot believe how poor your (in general) spelling is. How can you be a good parent if you can’t lead by example? If my parents were morons I’d have no respect for them. Maybe that’s part of the issue?

  8. I know more than anyone how you feel right now.I am a father to my 15 month old son.It’s a fulltime thing and i juggle him and college.I have suffered from depression and mental illness for quite some time and i certainly don’t fit in anywhere.I do love my son so much but at times i feel constrained and i feel i’m not doing enough with him in certain areas.

    I’m younger than most dads (19) and i kinda in a selfish way wish i could do more with my life.

    I guess the one thing that i could say is i am all that he has.His mum gave up full custody to me as she couldn’t handle caring for him.What keeps me going is i don’t want to let him down.

    • Hang in there, Kyle. Just do your best to get through each and every day, together. Reach out for help when you need it. Surround yourself with people who care about you both.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

    • You my sir, Have balls of steel. When your kid has a child of his own he will realise what you did, no sooner, no later. Look after him and yourself.

    • You have a 15 month old son, you’re 19, and you know better than anyone how a parent of over 18 years feels? Dude in the marathon of fatherhood, you haven’t even laced your shoes yet. You have no idea what you’re in for. I’ll be shocked if you’re still in your childs life in 5 years. All my money is on you bailing. In 5 years when your peers are out of school, traveling, partying, having tons of sex with hot
      women in their prime, you’re going to be sitting at
      home with a kindergartener and a used up, angry girl. At some point in the near future, it’s going to hit
      you like a ton of bricks just how bad you ruined your life. I’m not trying to be the harbinger here but dude you have noooo idea what you’re in for.

      • Rock, you are just an ass! Wow, what a judgmental loser. Is that all you can do is insult people that are reaching out for help? Next time, just push them off a ledge, if your that much better then everyone.

        I feel for most of these stories, I have parenting issues too, but rock is an ass and I have to say that part

      • Rock, you’re a total dick. And, as a father of 3 years myself, I will tell you that it doesn’t take being a father for 18 years to understand what any father feels – because the marathon begins the day your child is born dickhead. So, before you comment about anything else here, keep your childish and egotistical arrogance to yourself, asshole. There is no room for it here.

  9. What would you do? My ex did everything she could to keep me from seeing my son. Moving around (to live) alot. After 3 years I quit paying child support. I was hoping she would take me to court so I knew where she was at so I could see him. It ended up 10 years later we hooked up but our meeting turned out as my son pointing the finger at me. I tried!! Unfortunately she lived 3 hours away oneway. Afer 2 dozen times making that trip I gave up (sad to say) We did finally get in touch and I am trying my best to pay the past balance.

    • Im having a bad time of things im going through a divorce myself my ex instigated me to leave for 2 yrs we have child whos 4. she was a controling partner i just uped and left i left her with the house took on the loans etc, i now live with my parents im 39 i cant afford to live on my own as i gave up my job to as life was turned upside down. im told im a bad father,im not even divorced yet and my ex is expecting another kid i love my daughter but i cant deal with my ex partner anymore she wants me out of her life.but when i do see my daughter she needs to control that side even though i not with her the best thing for me is to just leave.i have depression and anxiety too which doesnt help,when i have my daughter i can smell my ex and my daughters personality is her all over, i cant bear this no longer,it makes things worse when you dont have any friends to talk to i feel alone and just think of ending it all. its horrible to have nothing to look forward to or meet up with friends i have issues with social anxiety so im in a catch 22 senario.I to feel i dont belong,i have this feeling for over 14yrs its hard thanks for reading

      • Your wife sounds like a total…I’ll reserve judgement sense I don’t hear her side of the story, but anytime a woman keeps their daughter away from her father it makes me cringe. If women only understood the power that is contained between a father and his daughter, she would always make the choice to foster that relationship. You are the first man she loves and she will eventually seek that in the men she eventually falls in love with. Don’t give up that position in her life to this new man.

        If you feel like ending it, it’s because you’ve stopped having things to live for. Your daughter needs you, more than you could ever know…so try and fight…for her. Also, I think you need to realize that you have more control over your life and happiness than you think. Rather than seeing this new situation in your life as a negative, take the opportunity to do some real soul searching and rather than pine for a 9 to 5, take the time to find ways to do things you actually want to do. Back pack around the world, write a book about your relationship woes, start a blog, start a side business, get into a new hobby…ANYTHING, that you will enjoy doing. Life is what you make it, and if you are creative, and positive, you will find many reasons not to want to leave this life prematurely.

        It might seem like you don’t matter, but you do, and if you feel you don’t, make yourself matter.

        I wish you luck in love and life.

  10. I came across this site and saw many people gave their insight and thought id give it a shot..
    I am 26, divorced and a beautiful 4 year old daughter. i divorced my ex husband while was pregnant because after marrying he became abusive and controlling. after having my my daughter a few short months later he attempted to gain full custody, by telling lies and saying i was a poor mother.. after being harrassed many times with social services and many child custody cases he lost all of his rights and has to have monitored visits by me because of all the the lies he made in court about me.. which the court decided that made him an unfit parent. now our daughter is 4 yrs old and he has done nothing to be a better father, he hardly ever sees her and every visit is always awkward. he doesnt know how to communicate with her or know how to approach her.. i see the confusion in my daughter and have already seen the resentment she is having towards him at such a young age. he doesnt help me support her or care what activities i want to set up for her or kindergarten she will attend next year. i wish he would put her first and be there for her and participate in raising her. the only thing he tells me is to just give him full custody and to wipe my hands clean. (which is a joke i could never do that!) i know he does care for our daughter but i truly believe he needs to be a better father and its something that crosses my mind on a daily basis.. i try to think if it would be better to just eliminate him from the picture or do i just let my daughter and myself be subject to him. he spends hardly any parenting time with her and often disspoints her and usually ends her visits short and abruptly leaving her distraught and confused.. i try to play it off like everything is okay but usually deep down i could cry but stay strong for my daughter. i would like to know if any men on here have any situations where there guilt got to them that helped them to be a better father.. it appears that the only time i can get him to do better is when i over welhm myself with explaing to him how he could do better and thingd he could do with her.. over the past years it has become tiring for me and i can not continue to do this much longer .. so if you have some advice on how could use his guilt to want to try better please let me know. or should i just drop him?

    • MissLaila, thanks for speaking up and adding a woman’s perspective to the matter.

      I find it useful to remind myself that the only person you can change is yourself. You may be able to encourage and support another person’s changes, but ultimately, they have to commit to changing themselves — you can’t make it happen.

      As a parent, our lives are filled with challenges when it comes to raising our children. It’s important to teach our children that the challenges they face are opportunities to learn, and are our opportunities to teach. People like your ex-husband are not unique; your daughter will likely meet many people throughout her life who are similar to him. The best thing you can do for your daughter is to teach her healthy ways to navigate and handle people like him at all ages. This could be a blessing in disguise.

      I know that the mistakes I’ve made and continue to make have done and continue to do irreparable harm to my kids. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m broken in many ways, and the old cliché that “nobody’s perfect” is more true than we realize. I also know that I love my family, in my own messed-up way, and I think my family knows it.

      Try to see the situation with you and your daughter as teacher and student, and your ex-husband as a critical lesson for her to learn about. Help your daughter learn from your mistakes, instead of repeating them. That’s the most we can hope for, when it comes to the wisdom we can impart to our children. Ultimately, we can’t change them, either. We can only encourage and support them to become the people they will be.

      I wish your family the best. Thank you again for sharing your story with everyone. I’m sure it will touch someone who comes across it and needed to hear it.

  11. What am I doing wrong ?
    My 4 year old daughter seems to treat me bad when me and my wife are together, not listening , ignoring me when I try to talk to her and even snubs me when I try to help her when she is having a difficult time with something and she even looks at me and growls at me and runs away. Also when I try to tell her she is doing something wrong she runs away in a corner crying and telling my wife that daddy talked to me and I’m sad and I didn’t even raise my voice. She makes me feel like i’m doing something wrong and that i’m not a good farther. People are telling me not to worrie about it because its just her age and she will grow out of it. It just seems whatever I try to do it seems to be wrong, she says she loves me but then she treats me bad 1 min later, when she leaves the house she has to be told to say goodby to me I think she is old enough to want to do that on her own but im not shure. am I thinking to much into this and is it just a fase she is going through.

    Thank you

    • George,

      Wow, it’s so hard to hear a story like yours. Honestly, everyone’s situation is different. Only people who know you and your situation well can really assess what’s going on.

      If you’re genuinely concerned and are serious about wanting help, I would suggest you seek out professional help: speak to a family counselor who is knowledgeable about these things, who may be able to observe your family interactions and is trained to recognize what is normal and what may be indicative of problems.

      The worst thing you could do is take the wrong advice from Internet strangers and do more damage to a situation that is possibly already bad.

      Hang in there. Parenting is not easy and it can really suck at times.

  12. Hello,
    I came across this blog by accident, but many of the stories were really compelling and some very sad. I would just like to throw my two cents in as a father of a 9 year old boy and a 6 year old girl. The two of them could not be more different, from the day they came into the world. I cant say why, only that they are simply wired differently. I believe our kids are here to teach us just as much as we are here to teach them. I learn that lesson every day. Both my wife and I try to be there for them in our own ways, and some days its easier than others. Some days its near impossible. The main point I wanted to make is that they are only young once, life is short and its never too late to connect. I realize its so much easier to say that than to do it. Dossy you are so right, parenting is not easy – in fact it forces you to face things that you don’t have to deal with in other parts of your life. No one watches you closer than your kids, I think and for this reason, being a real example (as best in your heart as you can) to them is so important. You don’t have to be a superstar parent, just live your life as well as you can – OK ’nuff said – sorry for the rambling – thanks for putting up ths blog Dossy.

  13. i was busy working….not the best dad…my son got accepted to college tonight….walked by me and went and told his mother….im happy for the bond he has with her but sad i missed out…..i wasnt off golfing ….i was working trying to enable his mother to stay at home with him and his siblings….i know he loves me but it still hurts

  14. The other day I’ve learned that my stepson of 12 yrs whom calls me dad referred to me as his stephdad. He is 18 and his brother 21. We also have 2 daughters. Their biological dad was a drunk and drug user and abused their mother and them. I have never referred to either as my stephsons and have been blessed, well so I thought by them. This hurt me deeply and what should have been a night with the footy boys at the pub being just that, set me off on a bender the likes I haven’t had for a while. I don’t drink every day sometimes I just get drunk. Badly.
    OK, that is bad, but does the worst in me really outweigh the good. May be that is true and this will end my marriage as I saw a part of me that I hate. They saw it too. Who can blame them. I am a bad father, worst husband and I think it’s time I just leave them alone.

  15. Ok i a bad father. Have know this for a very long time now. I can always find new ways to make a bad situation worse. My children hate me for good reasons my ex wants me dead.
    Here’s why when my kids were younger i work way too many hours. My average was about 116 hours a week. I had no patience for my kids and was al_ays tried. I have two girls and one boy. My son is handicap i would spank my kids with a belt my girls not as often as my son. But there butts would be red afterwards. I hated doing this because i was working when the ofence happened but had to handle it when i got home. ( im not blaming my ex in any way because I realized now i could have handled it differently ) so when i finely got on day shift ,my kids were high school and middle school age
    I had no idea who they were and had missed so much. They resent me for it. And i now am paying the price for it.
    So i the only advice i can give is to spend time with your kids get to know them don’t be as harsh with them as i was. There still learning too as well as you are on how to be a good dad be a steady force in there life. Because i found out too late what you do as a father they will tend to do too as they get older. Good luck young fathers
    From an old bad father.

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