Making the Most of Long-Distance Fathering

Many years ago, Terry Mulholland was selected as the National League starting pitcher in the MLB All-Star Game. Mulholland felt honored but planned to pass up a chance to pitch in the midsummer classic. Why? Mulholland was a long-distance dad who had promised to take his son, Tyler, fishing. As it turned out, Mulholland’s manager gave him an extra day off so he could pitch in the game and still fly home to go fishing.

Guys like Mulholland have learned how to make it work, but for many long-distance dads, life is anything but glorious. If you are a long-distance or divorced dad, here are 3 things to consider about fathering from a distance.

1. Limited access is still access.

The one obstacle all non-custodial fathers must hurdle is a lack of access. For many single dads, there’s nothing you wouldn’t give to have free access to your children. Sometimes the term “single dad” comes with baggage you can’t control. Other single dads’ poor decisions or reputations may spill onto you. No matter how committed you may be to your children, distance makes it challenging. If you are divorced, access may be limited. Make the best of any time you get with your kids and be kind to their mother, even if you two don’t get along well anymore.

2. Being consistent is crucial.

Sturdy tables have four legs. Effective fathering also requires four “legs.” We call them the I-CANs: Involvement, Consistency, Awareness, and Nurturance. Together those four things encompass everything that strong fathers do. Divorced or long-distance dads are at a disadvantage because one of the four legs, involvement, is missing. That’s no reason to give up. It’s a call to work even harder to bolster the remaining three legs: Consistency, Awareness, and Nurturance.

Work especially hard on consistency. Be regular and predictable in your emotions, your schedule, and in keeping promises. Maintain Awareness. Get feedback as often as possible about your children from teachers and coaches, keeping track of needs and concerns. Make sure you physically Nurture them when you’re with them, but do it verbally as often as possible. Shower your kids with displays and words of affection rather than gifts. Affirm your kids for who they are and for what they were created to be.

Affirm your kids for who they are and for what they were created to be.

3. You can’t make up for lost time.

Maybe you feel like you’ve let your kids down in the past. It happens to every dad, and it’s natural to want to make it up to them somehow. It’s a good instinct, but it’s easy to go overboard in an attempt to redeem the lost time. Instead of big, “memorable” events, choose consistency. Children need regular and predictable contact with their father. An encouraging phone call once a week is more beneficial to them than four trips to Disney World throughout the year.

What do you want your child to remember about your relationship? Kids will remember if you’ve done your best to stay involved in their lives. And if you’ve made the most of a challenging situation, they’ll have a wealth of memories to draw from when they marry someday and raise their children.

Sound off: What do you think kids of divorce need most from their dad?

Huddle up with your kids and tell them what you miss most about them when you are away.