When you think of the word “father” what do you think of? Your own father perhaps? A loving and strong protector? What about when you hear the expression “single father”? What do you think of then? Does the term "dead-beat dad" come up at all? Or a man who’s never around, who has little responsibility?
Obviously not all single fathers are dead-beat dads and not all fathers in the home are wonderful examples. Is it possible to live far away and still be a loving father? Can a “far-away father” still have the same impact and love for his child(ren), even if he’s time zones away?
I don’t intend on defining the difference between a good and bad father. My intention is to enhance your perception of a father. I hope after you read this, your mind will be open more to who a father can be and what he goes through, especially when he’s a far-away father. I hope the fathers who read this will appreciate their responsibility and privilege to be a father, and I deeply hope to strengthen the father who is living in a different home than his children. You are not alone, and if you’ve made mistakes, there is a way back.
I believe a child should grow up with a mother and a father in the home. Both parents offer unique advice and provide different ways of comfort for their children, but most importantly it’s instantaneous comfort, love, etc. In a home with a father, when a child reaches out with her arms for her daddy she is met in the arms of her champion, at least until she is of dating age, which we hope never becomes a serious interest until she is 35.
A complete home is worth its weight in gold; it is a keystone to the stability of a child’s development. A strong and unified marriage teaches a child how to manage and maintain a unified and equal relationship. Unfortunately, in modern times the unity of marriage is becoming weaker and weaker. Divorces are closing in on 50 percent in the U.S. (see www.divorcerate.org), and I hate to see I am a part of that statistic.
My wife and I separated eight months ago, and now I am just awaiting the judgment of the 4th District Court regarding the rules of my divorce. I won’t go into the details of it, but I will say I hold the lion’s share of the blame. I still love and respect my wife, even if she is soon to be my ex-wife.
Divorce is painful and depressing and should always be the very last option, especially when there are children involved. I do not take divorce lightly and I did not go into my marriage thinking, “If things don’t go well I can always get divorced.” My heart is especially broken for the children and the challenges they face because of my poor decisions.
My heart is still as broken as it was eight months ago when my wife and two kids left. We started out with an infinite amount of time and an outlook of unimaginable happiness, but the consequences of bad decisions and actions slowly and painfully grated our infinity down to one single finite moment of extreme anguish and permanent separation.
For me, it was like walking down a sunny path, holding hands, then, out of nowhere, with no warning, a dark and massive wall shot up from the ground between us, and we were ripped apart. It wasn't like how Velcro or paper rips, it was like the tearing apart of a quilt or blanket that had been sewn together with a strong thread.
The wall shot up as tall as the eye could see; it went past the clouds and was as hard as steel. I could not hear or be heard from the other side due to its thickness. I was on the dark side, all alone. Even if I wanted to climb over, I couldn’t. It didn’t end. This impenetrable wall had torn eternity from me in a single second. I was left only with my misery and my thoughts of regret.
The only thought of happiness or of hope was of the kids. I knew that I had to find a way around this wall for their sake. The only way to get to the other side of the wall was to dig, and that’s what I did. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I had to dig. The wall demanded I feel its weight and mass before getting past it. There were times that I wanted to quit, and the only reason I didn’t was to reach the children. For those still stuck behind the wall, know that it is deep and as heavy as it is thick, but it does end, and the other side is much happier.
When I got to the other side, I instantly realized that it was a different place. It wasn’t bad, just different, and from this side there are paths, many different ones that lead to even greater places. I also found out that all of us, in my family, had our own walls that we had to get past.
I live in Texas and my wife in Utah. There is quite a distance between us, and people ask, “how can I be a real father when I live half a country away?” I’m always happy to answer that question. During my dig under the wall, I learned that physical distance doesn’t equal spiritual, emotional and mental distance. I am still as much of a father as I was. For those of you struggling with the far-away father concept or those of you trying to live with it, the tool that helped me dig out from under the wall the fastest was the way we communicate with our Father in heaven.
Everyone needs to realize that our Father in heaven is a far-away father. I don’t know the physical distance or miles that separates us. I don’t even know the actual location of where my Father in heaven is, but that has done nothing to weaken our relationship. In fact, my relationship with him is as strong as it’s ever been. I am using the same tools he uses to communicate with his children.
The first method is always keeping the actual line of communication open. I pray every day, multiple times a day, and I’m never turned away or told to wait. We, as earthly fathers, are blessed to live in a time where we have tools to do the same. We have home phones, cellphones, email, social media, video calling (the absolute greatest invention!), etc.
The second greatest tool of communication our Heavenly Father has left us with is the scriptures. They have encouraged me to send as many letters as I can to my children, each letter stating how proud I am and how much I love them. I hope that when they are sad or need me, they can turn to those letters and feel my presence. I turn to the scriptures every single day, and I understand and strengthen my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
I think back to all the times when I lay in my empty bed holding a pair of shirts that my kids wore, soaking them with my tears. I think of the stale pieces of Cheerios that I left on their placemats so I wouldn’t forget them. I would lie on the floor in their room for hours and fall deeper into depression. I did this to punish myself for what I had done. My sentence was to always feel what I had lost.
I, like many others, sat staring at a bottle of pills or whatever it was, contemplating and wondering if they would draw their guns faster and end it all for me. Thankfully, I never let myself give up completely, but there are those who are teetering on that line and those who have fallen over it.
I can't tell you how quickly my self-pity and sadness vanished when I turned to my Father in heaven. Daily prayer and scripture study saved my life, and they have given me a new one. I am in a debt that can never be repaid. I do not doubt that the warm blanket of peace I feel and have felt are the arms of a loving Savior who pulled me back from the edge.
The ultimate goal a father has is to guide his children back to their Father in heaven, and it is our central duty to be a living example of our Heavenly Father’s love and care for his children. We may be imperfect fathers, but we can teach and show perfect love.
JT Haight is a native of Orem. He now lives in San Antonio and is a far-away father to two beautiful children.