Viewed from behind, a mother with her arms around the shoulders of her young daughter.
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What I Told My Daughter When Her Dad Left Town

Jun 2, 2017

When people learn you are getting divorced, the stories start emerging, as if your membership in a secret club had been quietly approved. What’s disheartening is that so many tales are terrifically ugly. While a few positive co-parenting stories find their way through the mire, giving you some hope, many more are nightmares where the children are pawns in an awful match at the end of which neither side will win and the kids will be the victims.


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In my case, I have no co-parent but, on the upside, few nightmares either. My daughter's father moved to the U.S., and then to another province, under circumstances that don't bear repeating except to say they would make excellent soap opera episodes. Her father comes to see her once, maybe twice, a year, so I am “off duty” for at most five days out of 365. But that's my choice — I could leave her with Grandma on a more regular basis, so I could have more me time. I choose not to.

[W]hile abandonment was a concept that I was hyper aware of, she didn't know anything about it.

At first, it was because I couldn't bring myself to walk away, even for a day. She had already been abandoned by one parent, and I never wanted her to feel that I, too, was leaving her behind. I later realized that while abandonment was a concept that I was hyper aware of, she didn't know anything about it.

This is partly because, as angry as I still am with her dad over what he did to her, I encourage the relationship in whatever way I can. This includes sending pictures of her, sharing a calendar so he can see what’s up in her life, and making sure the teachers have his email address too, for sharing classroom information. I do this because — present or not, contributing financially or not — he is her father and the only one she will ever have.


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When he first left, she was only four. The first time she asked "Where’s dada?", I decided to tell her that he was away working, which was technically true. I didn't tell her about the divorce until she turned six, by which time she was fully adjusted to a life without her dad.

She's happy to see him when he visits, and she's surprisingly resilient when he leaves again. She hates talking on Skype, telling me, “I have nothing to say!” So I need to cajole her every single time to chat with him a little. Eventually she finds her voice and tells him all about the latest playground drama (involving girls he has never met), math woes she is struggling with (that he will never help her with) and swimming class successes (that he will never witness).

 The first time she asked "Where’s dada?", I decided to tell her that he was away working.

It occurs to me that her detachment from him is not just physical. She has no real context within which to deal with him. And, ultimately, I don't want to force her. We all talk about kids having control over their bodies and not forcing them to hug people, so how can I force her to have a relationship with someone she barely knows? I can't. He left. That was his choice. I stay, every day. That's my choice. She's only eight now but eventually, acknowledging her dad or not will have to be her choice. All I can do is hold her hand along the way.

Article Author Chantal Saville
Chantal Saville

Chantal Saville is, among other things, the chief wordsmith at Content Ghost. When not writing in her phantasmagorical voice, she is also a mother and a daughter. Usually in that order. Sometimes not.

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