Disneyland Dads

I talked with a friend who was having problems with his children quite some time ago. Jim was a divorced father of three, the oldest of which was a 16 year old son. He was experiencing more problems at the time with his eldest than he was with the other two children. The situation he described was pretty consistent with those I had heard from a lot of other men in his shoes.

Since the divorce his son had grown more distant from him with each passing year, and more contemptuous. Some of that was the normal and predictable struggle for individuation common to adolescence, where it is typical for teens to emotionally and even physically retreat from the presence of their parents. It is that developmental phase, one that is both painful and necessary, when teens sometimes want as little to do with their family as possible; when their friends or even their friend’s parents are just fine; cool, as it were. Yet the idea of being seen publicly with their own parents is mortally embarrassing.

It can be a rough time for everyone in a family, even during the best of times and circumstances.

But toss that normal kind of growing pain into the life of a divorced father, and add in the undermining from the court sanctioned Golden Uterus, and you have an entirely different animal. Such was the case with Jim and son.

The divorce, despite Jim’s best efforts, had been nasty. After a small fortune in legal fees he ended up with the standard deal; a stiff amount of child support, visitation on alternating weekends and Wednesday evenings — and a long list of things he no longer had the authority to do.

Like be a father.

All the parental authority he had ever possessed with his children was transferred to the mother along with the bulk of his assets. The court had not restructured his family. It had just, save for the financial obligations, cut him out of it.

He made the best of it that he could. He turned down opportunities for career advancement to remain living as close as possible to his children. He was there for visitation religiously, despite all the times that his ex-wife interfered and disrupted, which was most any time she was displeased. It became her routine, either as a matter of personal convenience, or to punish him with her newfound power.

She warmed up to calling the shots in pretty short order.

Before long, his ex-wife found a new man, remarried, and encouraged Jim’s children to call the new husband “Dad.” It was one of many forms of abuse she managed to rationalize after she found herself empowered with a legally sanctioned lack of accountability.

And during this time, Jim watched powerlessly as his connection to his kids, as his role as a father, faded. His children, particularly the oldest, figured out pretty quickly that he was a lame duck with no paternal influence. Respect for him, even as a human being, much less a father, became as distant as the memory of an intact family. At some point Jim realized he wasn’t even a visitor any more. He was a babysitter who paid money to take care of children that actually belonged to someone else.

He may have been the last one to figure it out.

That was especially so for his children, who had begun to treat their visits with him like they were some sort of punishment. This was true for the oldest son, in particular. He started to act as though seeing his father was something he was forced to endure; something from which he escaped at the prescribed time. His son also started having problems in school about that time (who’da thunk?), a problem for which Jim found himself saddled with blame, but about which there was nothing he could do. There was no practical way left for him to discipline his son.

Eventually, bordering on despondent, Jim went to see a psychotherapist about the problem. Of course, the therapist did what most therapists do with all situations for which they have absolutely no fucking answers. He came up with a stupid idea that was even more destructive.

He suggested that Jim solidify and embrace his new role as an impotent, disenfranchised father, and just spend his time with his kids giving them whatever they want, forsaking all rules and discipline while they are with him. He suggested that Jim become a Disneyland Dad.

Ah, yeah, that’s the ticket.

To begin with, let’s take a look at what a Disneyland Dad is perceived to be versus what he really is.

According to womansdivorce.com, which bills itself as “Helping women survive divorce and rebuild their lives,” A Disneyland Dad is as follows:

“Generally, he’s a father who buys his kids whatever they want, taking them out to eat and to all the fun places in town, rarely enforces regular routines, and gives in to their every whim. From a child’s point of view, it’s like visiting Disneyland.”

So, according to Woman’s Divorce, Jim has been advised by a mental health professional to further disregard his children’s needs; to not bother himself with matters like diet, bedtimes, homework, or any of the measures of psychosocial functioning by which we determine whether or not a child is in or heading toward serious life problems; to sell them out for the convenient path of least resistance. He is to lavish them with materialism and fun, setting them up to go home and face the real life disappointment from the “responsible” mother, who compensates for the enabling, irresponsible father by being the only adult the children have.

It’s a load of horseshit from Woman’s Divorce — and from Jim’s therapist.

For a better understanding, let’s take a look at what a Disneyland Dad really is in most cases, maybe all of them.

Disneyland Dad is a Disabled Dad, dysfunctionally compensating for the impossible situation the courts and his ex-wife have worked in concert together to place him and his children in the middle of. I use the word “dysfunctional” because it technically fits. But it has to be clarified that in most of these situations, there is no real “functional” manner of compensating. There is no clear “right thing to do.” All opportunity to act in the best interest of the children, by restructuring parental roles as opposed to simply eviscerating one of them, has already been laid to waste, by the courts, and by her.

We are, after all, talking about non-custodial “fathers.” Yes, I put “fathers” in scare quotes for a reason. They fit. Scare quotes should be used every time non-custodial is the adjective describing a father, unless his situation is otherwise qualified, which is rare.

A non-custodial “father” is what remains of a male parent after you strip away all his authority, access and ongoing influence in the life of his child. He is not a parent, but a hologram of one, used to house and feed the children long enough to give their custodian a break. His money counts, but not his presence. The same can often sadly be said for his love.

Love is a great thing to give a child. It means quite a bit less when someone is allowed to put a leash on it; to dictate how much and how often it is expressed. This is especially true when loving your children means providing the consistency and discipline of which fathers are so naturally the providers.

And from the first restraining order to the final decree, that loving discipline is the primary casualty of the dissolved marriage. The courts make sure of it.

And so what do men do? They often watch in horror as the custodial mother controls and abuses the father-child relationship with reptilian indifference to the emotional welfare of the children. They watch this time after time, day after day, till horror becomes an almost boring routine; till she achieves in the “father” the correct amount of utilitarian value and compliance, and the correct diminishment of his actual fatherhood.

That is when fathers, as fathers, often go AWOL, though asserting they went somewhere willingly, as opposed to being exiled, isn’t altogether fair.

Some make their departure as fathers official by taking the Disney route, especially if they are part of the fortunate few with the money to do it. It is easier, and they get to see their kids smile. Those smiles help them forget that they have become a clown in the mother’s circus, and that underneath all the fun lay the dying needs of their children.

Other men, often poorer ones, just lose interest. They plant kids in front of a television, or video games and go busy themselves with other distractions. Some of these men start sliding on visitation. They often are the subject of scorn from their exes, who waste no time in telling anyone who will listen, “The bastard doesn’t even want to use the visitation he got to see his own children.”

She neglects to mention that she undermined and destroyed everything that his being a father ever really was a long time before he made it official by no longer showing up. He is Distant Dad, just like she wanted, and now she can malign him in front of the world with “proof” of how worthless he is.

Other men, the really stubborn ones, rail for years against being marginalized, blaming themselves in the process for failing. I admire their tenacity, but I am less impressed with their thickness. I am not trying to be cruel, but I have seen this enough to know that their kids don’t benefit from it. They wind up just as alienated as the ones who check out.

Disneyland Dads. Distant Dads. Die-hard Dads. All Disabled Dads; Destroyed Dads.

It is what happens when you buy into myths like “visitation” and “child support” as replacements for parenting; as replacements for fatherhood. When you are insane enough to believe that lawyers and courts and embittered exes act in the best interest of children; when you assign not custody, but ownership of children, and when you base that kind of corrupt choice on the even more corrupt standard of genitalia, then you get what those actions have so far gotten us; children who lose everything, starting with Dad.

And you get fathers who compensate for it in whatever way is at their disposal, because that is what is available for them to do.

There is, however, one other option, assuming that we are not ready as a society to stop enabling women to destroy families. You can tell children the truth. You can tell them that you only used to be their father; that while you love them just as much as you ever did, that your real role and the authority to fulfill it, was stolen by their mother and by the court.

You can tell them that what they were told was a divorce was actually a demolition of their lives, sponsored by a system that does not give a fuck about them or about what is right; a system utilized by their custodial “parent” who similarly did not give a fuck.

And that may well be the way to go if you have the finesse to deliver the truth in a way that does not inspire suicide.

I can only wonder what it would be like to look children in the eyes; children who are angry and confused and starting to show the signs of life failure, and just tell them the truth about what happened to them.

Nah, we can’t do that. If we did, it would not be fair to their mothers.

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