DR. WALLACE: I haven’t seen my dad for 10 years. Now, I’m 16 years old. I never really discuss this matter much with my mother, as over the years I just assumed he took off and broke off all contact with my mother, my brother and me. He never mails me any birthday cards, holiday gifts or anything. Basically, he’s a big fat zero, meaning I have no contact or interaction with him at all.
My mom is a great mother, and she works really hard at her job and has given my brother and me a great life so far. We have enough food and clothes to blend in well in our schools, and although we don’t have a lot of extra money, we absolutely have the money we need for the necessities in our lives.
I was shocked the other day when I heard my mother talking on the phone to my aunt (my mother’s sister) about how important child support payments have been to help us, especially recently.
So when my mother was off the phone, I asked her what child support payments she was talking about. My mom then told me that my father, even though he has no contact with us, has been making child support payments regularly for over 10 years! I was so stunned that you could have knocked me over with a feather! I assumed he had just run off and lost all touch with us, but now I realize that he has been paying money every month to help raise my brother and me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’m pretty confused. I don’t know if it is better or worse to know that my father is making these payments but still does not make any contact with my brother or me. How is it possible for him not to see his kids but still pay child support? — Feeling Abandoned, via email
FEEL ABANDONED: Your situation is relatively unique, and I agree with you that it is very sad and unusual that your father makes no effort to contact you or your brother and that he is not present in your lives in any way — other than the child support payments he makes.
I see this as better than nothing because some children and their mothers do not receive any child support payments at all. Many go to court and do receive judgments, but the enforcement is often spotty, and it’s hard to pin some absent fathers down on making the payments that they are obligated to pay.
It’s impossible for me to say why your father has chosen this path, but do take just a touch of comfort in knowing that he thinks enough of you, your brother and your mother to maintain his financial support as required. Sometime after you turn 18, you may want to eventually try to reach out to find your father, but it may not be easy to locate him if he does not wish to be found.
In any case, I encourage you to speak openly with your mother regularly on this topic. Be sure to ask her any and all questions you might have. I trust she can help you to fill in some of the gaps about your father. Now that you’re 16, your mother will likely understand that you can handle a more frank and open discussion on this topic.
DR WALLACE: I’m back in school and already worried! Our teacher told us that many of our parents are going to visit our classroom during the first few weeks of class and spend 15 minutes each explaining their jobs and what they do. I guess the idea is to have kids in my class start thinking about what type of careers for future jobs they may want to have.
My father is the type who always likes to get involved with my school, so he signed up to do this right away. I’m horrified because I feel that my father’s job is too embarrassing to talk about.
I’m afraid the other kids will make fun of me. Some might even laugh at my father when he explains to them exactly what he does for his job.
How can I get my father to cancel his appearance and not appear before my class? — Worried Daughter, via email
WORRIED DAUGHTER: You have me wondering just exactly what your father’s job is! Though your letter did a good job of explaining that having him appear before your class will make you uncomfortable, nowhere did you mention precisely what type of job your father has, or even what industry he might be currently working in these days.
I don’t suggest that you encourage your father to not appear before your class. Rather, I suggest for you to approach him directly at home and have an open conversation with him about why his appearance might make you uncomfortable. Explain exactly how you feel and give him an opportunity to more fully explain to you exactly what it is that he does. It could be that you have some misconstrued ideas about exactly what your father’s career entails.
At the very least, encourage him to tone down his presentation of his job information so that it is delivered in the most symbiotic way to fellow students and how kids of your age think. Whatever he does, I’m sure he’s a professional and earns a reasonable living doing it, so I trust he can explain it in a user friendly and polite way to your fellow students.
dr Robert Wallace will answer questions from readers in this column. Email him at [email protected].