Column by Dan Newman
Two jumbo sticks of beef jerky, one Sobe pink drink, one pack Hubba Bubba gum. Twelve bucks. I paid and we got back in the car. Sixty miles to go before we get home. This is a typical start of my son’s every other weekend with dad.
We were married, me and his mother, but she left me and moved 149 miles away when my son was like 4. The point of this piece is decidedly not to bash her. Her life is her own, and she doesn’t get in my way or stand between me and my son. She doesn’t use him as leverage, and there is no drama between us. Granted, I’m a human being, so the time we spend passing off our child is not my favorite part of any day, but it’s usually quick and painless.
My focus here is on me, and how it feels to be the “other” parent. I know many many people have it worse than I do, given the above paragraph, but none of these situations are opportune, and they rarely serve the children involved. If he was in the same part of the state as me, sure, I would be more present in his life, but parenting is one of those things you can’t really phone in.
I do what I can, but I’m not able to be there for him at school functions or help him through the daily issues he has. I’ll never meet his friends, except for his “once in a while” Wausau friends, and I’ve held most of them when they were babies because they’re my friend’s children. He’s definitely my son, and he loves me, but I feel more like a B&B owner / operator than a real father.
He comes over and we talk about our lives and share, but I don’t feel like he tells me the things I could actually help him with. All his stories are weeks old or happened last whenever, and I can’t help but feel like if I were there for him at the time I could have offered better advice or maybe started his thought process down the right path.
Plus, he’s a boy and he has questions that are wildly embarrassing for him to talk to his mother about, but he still can’t talk to me. He could call me, but he doesn’t want his mother listening in, and after the fact, no one talks about embarrassing stuff until they see the humor in it, and at that point it’s long past when the damage is done and the wounds are healed. I just wish I could do more.
People could say that I should move there to be closer, but that is not an option. The city he lives in is tiny and there are no jobs except factory, agriculture and retail. Sorry, not my thing, and if I lived there I’d go nuts. Small town life is not for me, especially since my ex is in the dating scene there. It would be … awkward … all the time. Again, not bashing her, but that stuff is uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst, and I have no time for it.
So I’m the weekend warrior dad, here as long as it’s convenient. I mean, I pay support without complaint, talk to him as often as I can, and we have a lot of fun together, but still, he’s my son. I wish I could be there for him for all his life, not just every other weekend. He sees dad’s house like a vacation. He comes here and leaves his problems at home and we have fun. It’s great, but there’s a whole other level to this parenting thing that I simply don’t have access to, and it works out on my brain like punching bag.
One viewpoint is I have a fun little boy who’s happy to see me in a safe and neutral space, and that’s really good. But staying on the surface of anything you actually want to do is never good enough. You always feel like there is more to do, more to say, and when the weekend is over and we make that 60 mile drive the designated meeting place, which always feels shady like a drug deal or something, I’m kind of left feeling hollow. I could have done more for him, I could have helped him grow or set him down a better path than he has access to, but I didn’t. For a number of reasons, I never have the time to do what I think I should be doing for him.
It’s wearing me down more and more as he gets older. He’ll hit puberty soon, and then he’ll be in high school. He might hate his mother and think his father is stupid, as teenagers often do, and in that situation, all these feelings will likely compound. I don’t want him to be without me through those years. They’re hard enough without a stable father figure in his life, and though I am that stable father figure, the distance prevents us from making that close of a bond.
I know him, I love him, and he is always in my thoughts. I trust his mother to protect him and raise him to the best of her ability, but I just don’t feel like I’ve done enough. It’s because he’s not here with me, and that’s the real burden weekend warrior dads feel about what matters most in our lives.
Dan Newman is a freelance writer from Wausau with over 15 years in the game. His focus is on the underprivileged and those society tries to forget. In his free time, Dan enjoys writing, making YouTube videos, and singing to his cats.