He works all the time and never spends any time with us.

Dear Suzie,
I am married for seven years and have 2 children. My husband is a good man. He’s easy-going and generous with his money but he works all the time and never spends any time with us. If he’s not at work, he’s asleep or out helping friends. He never does anything around the house. I resigned myself to be mother/father and handy-man years ago but my seven year old daughter is starting to get upset with him never playing with her or doing things for her. She got a swing-set for her birthday three months ago. I tried to put it up myself but couldn’t. She asks him on a daily basis to put it up for her but it’s still lying on the grass. Am I being unreasonable considering he works so hard, doesn’t have a temper, and rarely drinks?

So he’s out all day at work, doesn’t shout at or hit you or your daughter and doesn’t piss away his earnings. That qualifies him in being a Good Man? I beg to differ. Let me tell you what is the commonest causes of personal, relationship and marital difficulty; it’s encapsulated in one statement, so often spoken through tears or gritted teeth; “My father was never there for me”.

When your father shows you that work or friends are more important to him than you, it leaves children with a life long conviction that they don’t matter, that they have no value. It leads to crippling loss of self esteem, lack of confidence, lack of self worth. It leads to children growing up to be adults who gravitate to bad relationships often with men who display the same either selfish or dysfunctional behaviour. They fall into such a relationship because they feel they aren’t worth better, or because they convince themselves that if they can change him it may be the same as going back in time and making their own Dad love and notice them. I have suspicion that’s why you’ve fallen for and stick with this man; you had a Dad just like him.

Well, look at yourself. In spite of your protestations, are you happy with him? A man who thinks work and his mates are more important than his wife and daughter? Who will ignore repeated requests to simply do what any decent person sharing a house would and should do? To do what any decent father would do? I don’t think so. To be frank, the damage he is doing to you and your children is just as bad as if he got drunk and hit you. Subtle abuse by lack of love and attention is actually as harmful as out and out violence – it just leave scars less noticeable to the untrained eye.

So no, you’re not being unreasonable. He is – very unreasonable. Criminally so. Just as I suspect you had a Dad very like him, I would imagine he did too, and that’s why he behaves in this way. He hasn’t a good model of how to be a Dad. He’s damaged by his own upbringing and can’t bear to see the enormous pain and hurt he is causing and unable to see the equally enormous payoff he’d get if he did become a caring, sharing father. In many ways I feel terribly sorry for him – he is missing out on so much. And in many ways I can forgive the initial inability to function as a Dad – it wasn’t his fault. But while he may not have had a good model of being a father, that excuse only gets you so far. Once you are adult enough to realise what your behaviour is doing – and he’s had it pointed out to him sufficient times by both you and his daughter – it becomes his responsibility; no excuses.

What to do? Difficult because unless you’re prepared to demand a change and push it through, unless he is prepared to see and listen and change, you’re stuck. One way would be to emphasise the enormous benefit of being a Dad who is there for his kids. Do you know anyone like that, whose spends time with them and for them and in return is loved by them? If you do, get them to have a word to help your husband see what he is missing and how easy and pleasant it could be to make that change.

I think your daughter needs to be firmly told it isn’t her fault and Daddy doesn’t ignore her because she deserves it. Don’t protect him from her anger, either. Help her make her request loud and clear, and be able to express her disgust with him. Any child with a family member who acts like this may need extra help with self esteem and self worth issues, and you may like to ask the school or your GP if they have someone she can talk to.

One way of dealing with it would be simply to tell him to shape up or ship out. Some Dads do change when they are about to lose their kids, or do so. The damage a separation or divorce may do you and your kids seems to me to be less than the damage continuing to condone and allow his behaviour causes. Or, you could start paying for help around the house and hand him the bills. If he objects, tell him he does it or someone else does; his choice. And don’t wait; make an appointment with a builder or whatever and only cancel it when he completes the job. Often, people who refuse to pull their weight can do so because everyone else adjusts to take up the slack. Stop cooking his meals, washing his coffee cups, cleaning his shirts until he does his share. Bring that swing set in from the garden and leave it on his side of the bed.

But most of all I’d make an appointment with a Relate counsellor. Don’t cancel if he refuses to go with you, or if you do decide the only way to deal with this is call it a day. Go on your own because it will help. Best of luck!

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