Daddies Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers

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They don’t want to admit it, but a lot of working dads don’t want to be around their kids…

That sounds so horrible. And, in fact, it’s incredibly sad. Because, for many, the solution is a lot closer than believed, once you step back and take the time to see what’s really going down.

I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a guy who tends to spend a whole lot of time examining the modern human condition. And, because I’m a dad who’s chosen what most would consider an unorthodox path, I tend to focus a lot of my attention on the dynamics of being a dad. And, one of the questions I ask a lot is…

What does it really mean to provide for your family?

It’s not easy to answer for most dads, nor for moms. But, for me, being a dad IS a magical experience. Last night my daughter said to me, Daddy, you work from home so you can be with me and mommy more, right? Yes, I replied, But even if I worked at an office, I’d still do everything possible to spend as much time with you as I could. With that, she smiled, gave me a hug and a kiss and danced off to play with her friend.

So, I am fascinated (and saddened) by the widespread dad-kid dynamic I’ve seen unfold every day that pushes dads and kids apart.

I’m sure there’s some fancy psychological word for it, but I call it the Estrangement cycle. It’s easier explained as a short parable, the story of Peter.

Peter is a married father of two kids, a 4 year old girl named Janie and a 7 year old boy named Timmy. They’ve got a 4 bedroom house in a nice neighborhood with a pretty hefty mortgage and the thought of paying their living costs, along with starting to save enough to send two kids to college is freaking Peter out a bit. He wants the best for his kids, so he puts in long hours at work, so he can advance up the ladder and earn enough to send his kids to a better school, buy a bigger house and afford nicer things for the family.

At the same time, though, the job Peter is working at, along with the hours he’s putting in, are beginning to empty him out. He dreads Monday’s and gets home most nights long after the kids are asleep. Every day is filled not only with the stress of getting his work done, but the increasingly soul-sucking realization that what he’s doing has little intrinsic interest beyond a paycheck. And, on the rare occasion when he gets home in time to see his kids, whom he genuinely loves, he’s so burnt, all he can think about is hiding away from the family so he can “wind down.”

Problem is, Peter doesn’t realize his kids see what’s happening differently…

Peter’s home so infrequently his kids barely know him and he barely knows them. Which makes Janie and Timmy not only desperate for random glimmers of attention from their dad, but also angry and frustrated at the fact that their daddy is never home.

And, here’s where all this pent up anger and desire starts to spin into something tragic…

Every time Peter is home early enough for dinner, his kids run and jump all over him. Why, because they know it’s likely a short window and they want as much of daddy as possible. If Peter loved what he did, he’d be more likely to come home in a far more energized, fulfilled state and have more to give. But, he doesn’t, so his need to wind down and recharge his battery conflicts almost violently with his kids need to have more time with the dad they love and miss terribly.

So, as the kids clamor for Peter’s attention, he begins to withdraw more.

They’re all over him and he can’t take it. So, he tries to push them off, to create a little space to breath. Janie and Timmy respond by getting even more aggressive with their need for attention, because now daddy’s home, but he doesn’t want to be with them. So, they start to act up in a big way. Not out of genuine aggression, but out of frustration. Daddy’s home, but he doesn’t want to play. Peter misreads what’s really happening and, already agitated from long hours and a draining job, gets pissed off, wondering why his kids are so wild “all the time.”

And, that leads him to withdraw further because it’s uncomfortable spending time with them. Janie and Timmy sense the withdrawal and fight even harder against it, making time together downright painful. As the cycle ramps up over months, then years, Peter chooses to work more so he’s home less and doesn’t have to “deal” with his increasingly alienated kids. Which, over the years, turns his kids’ desperate desire to be with him more into frustration, anger and alienation and eventually hatred.

What started as Peter’s genuine desire to provide the best possible future for his kids turns into a family that may benefit from wealth, toys, prestige and power, but those things become poor proxies for what the kids have really wanted from day one…a dad who’s there, truly present to love them, to play with them, to listen to and share thoughts, ideas and dreams.

Because what Peter never realized is that providing isn’t about presents, it’s about presence.

And, this doesn’t even touch on the dynamic between Peter and his spouse.

The question becomes, what do you do to stop the cycle?

As I mentioned before, I am not a psychologist, so all I can offer is thoughts and observations. But two things come immediately to mind.

First, a simple awareness of what’s really happening can go a long way toward identifying patterns and cycles. That awareness creates opportunities to deliberately break those patterns and cycles by changing your behavior. By committing to becoming more present, more engaged and involved. And, yes, that may well mean, difficult conversations, hard work and a healthy dose of apologies. It may also mean leaving money on the table.

But, I’d rather pay the price in loss of “stuff” than loss of the extraordinary connection I have with my daughter anyday.

Two, you may want to look seriously at the impact your career choices have had and continue to have on your relationship with your kids (and your spouse, lover or partner).

Is your job, regardless of what it allows your family to “have,” leaving you so depleted, stressed, angry and exhausted that they no longer get to “experience” what it’s like to have an engaged, loving, energized, present dad and husband?

And, are you left so burnt and estranged that you’re now largely incapable of drinking in the love, the conversations, the endless moments and opportunities that make being a dad magical?

Simple truth that us men have trouble wrapping our heads around…

Being a “provider” isn’t all about money, it’s also about “providing” love, attention, support, inspiration, compassion and guidance.

It’s about being there to snuggle and hug, to listen and play, to encourage dreams, and to foster within our kids an understanding, through our actions, that these are the things being a parent is all about. And, that, despite the fact that we need to work, we love, more than anything else, to be with them. That’s pretty hard to do when you’re never there or worse, when you’ve become so alienated from your kids, you’d all “prefer” to be apart.

Maybe if you’ve found yourself in Peter’s shoes, it’s time to call that family meeting, and some substantial evolution may need to unfold over time. And, it might not be a bad idea to bring someone a bit more qualified to guide your journey forward.

So, that’s what I’m thinking about on a sunny Wednesday as I write from my couch…waiting to pick up my daughter from school.

As always, you guys are way smarter than me…

What do you think? Have you experienced this cycle?

Have you been Peter? Are you Peter…right now?

Have you been Peter’s kid, wife, partner or friend?

Share your thoughts below…

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94 responses

94 responses to “Daddies Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by jonathanfields […]

    • Sophie says:

      Why wouldn’t you want to spend time with your child? I think of it as a way to wind down and bond, but that’s just me.


    • billy(peter) says:


  2. ElizabethPW says:

    I was married to a Peter.

    Here’s the amazing thing. When we decided to separate and divorce this summer, people said to me “what will this do to” our 4 year old kid? Here’s the thing … it’s been *transformational* for her.

    Something happened to her father when we separated … he became a daddy. Before that, he rarely spent time with her, alone, one-on-one … she just exhausted him and he was not quite sure what to do with her.

    But now, when she spends every weekend (and some week days when I travel for business) with him … he is focused 100% on her. The play for hours, go places, eat together, and do all kinds of secret stuff that I don’t know about. 🙂 It’s profound and beautiful and I’m so happy they have this relationship now.

    – ElizabethPW

    • @elizabethpw that was the best side effect of my divorce too. My kids’ dad became way more of a dad than he ever had before, even though before our divorce he was the stay at home parent!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Seshu and Elizabeth Weinstein, Nadia Koligman. Nadia Koligman said: Awesome article> RT @jonathanfields: Daddies Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers… […]

  4. Hiro Boga says:

    Jonathan, thanks for articulating so beautifully this very painful cycle so many dads are caught in.

    In my own practice, I meet men who feel trapped in this story and who are hurting, feeling misunderstood, and feeling isolated from their families because of it.

    It takes courage, in this culture of more-is-better, to take a step back, look clearly at your priorities, and rearrange your life to support what truly matters to you. Men are given so many messages that tie their identity to their careers. And to the belief that their role in the family is to provide financial and material sustenance.

    Thanks for opening a critical, necessary conversation.

  5. Paul Durban says:

    When we reach the end of our time here and look back upon our lives, will we remember that killer presentation we made? That fancy car? The title(s) we attained?

    I doubt it.

    We’ll remember the times we spent with family and friends. The milestones. The celebrations. The moments that made the journey worthwhile.

    Can you imagine looking back and thinking, “I wish I spent more quality time with my family.”?

  6. Sean Platt says:

    Awesome, Jonathan. I’ve never been Peter, but believe me, I know plenty of Peters. I think we all do. I have more debt than I care to admit, all gathered this last year because I knew I never wanted to turn into a Peter. I work from home and spend as much time with my children as I can. Each day when they come home I am excited to see them, and look forward to doing their homework with them and coloring with my daughter and having a light saber battle with my son. It isn’t the specific activities, it is the construction of memories. You only get one life, spending it running in circles is rather silly. You need to STOP and take a look at what’s around you.

    Really terrific, Jonathan. Thanks!

  7. […] This post was Twitted by melaniward […]

  8. Jeremy Long says:

    Powerful post Jonathan. Thanks for sharing.

    As a father of two (8 year old son; 5 year old daughter) I know the struggles of that great balance. I worked as a journalist for the first years of their lives, working an erratic schedule that often brought me back to a home filled with the ones I love, fast asleep.

    I wanted to be with them, wanted to hold them close, but my job slowly (even subconsciously) became priority number 1. I kept telling myself that I was doing it for them without even realizing that my kids didn’t care about our house or car, they just wanted to spend time with me.

    Sadly it took me a few years to realize that, but thank God I did. I started my own company, not for material things, but out of a greater need to have a higher quality of LIFE.

    Thanks again for these postings… it keeps this path in perspective.

  9. Dave says:

    Jonathan, awesome post. I’m not a Peter, but if I hadn’t left the corporate world behind to strike out on my own before we had our first daughter, it could have happened. I was probably on the path to Peter, and the best thing I ever did when I left my last job was to never get another one. Even though, your post still makes me think about areas I can do better in now that we’ve got two little girls at home. Today, I will start by making sure I get home earlier than usual..:)


  10. brian papa says:

    Interesting observations…I actually see the flip side with my friends and with dads in general. Look at the explosion of daddyblogging. These are dads that are incredibly involved with their kids. My own friends (who are dads) are also very active in their kids’ lives. Perhaps that’s why their my friends. Personally, my dad was never around when i was growing up, and I vowed I’d never be that Dad.
    It’s inspiring to see you play such an active role in your daughter’s life — and then write about it. One of the many reasons I read you. Thanks for this post.

  11. Jonathan,

    This is an amazingly insightful perspective. A lot of our culture drives this poor behavior as fathers and husbands. We need to wake up and realize the generational pain we are creating.
    Hurt people hurt people…

    I used to be a “Peter” — without really understanding the damage it was causing. I have changed (and continue to change) in a big way. A conscious part of my “success formula” NOW is that I invest in my family — not just as the disciplinarian of two amazing boys — but as their father, their friend, and their motivator.

    The similar analysis could be made for poor husbandry… We get “schooled” on being work-aholics but not on being good spouses.


    • Jonathan Fields says:


      I think so much of it comes from watching what our dads did and that dads around us when we were growing up. It’s an amazing experience to step back and realize we have the opportunity to create our own approach. As I’ve mentioned, it’s not always easy going, but it’s so worth the effort.

  12. As someone that is working to create a business in my evening hours after work, this one was perfect…absolutely spot on. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Charlotte says:

    Very powerful post.

    The parable of Peter has second-order consequences as well. My grandfather was a Peter, and I know that the lack of time and attention she received when she was a child contributed materially to her not knowing what to do when her own daughter – me – came into the world.

    This problem truly is multi-generational, but it’s heartening to see men like you, Jonathan, and like my friend Stef leaving the workaday world for work that truly fulfills them and promotes a warm and rich family life.

    Well said.

    • Charlotte says:

      Wow, I can’t write this morning. Meant to say that being raised by a Peter materially impacted my mother’s ability to spend time with and relate to her own child. That’s one thing I’m trying to work on and understand before I have children, so I won’t repeat the cycle.

  14. I was the exact opposite of Peter. I didn’t make much money and did not provide very well financially for my daughter. But I did spend as much quality time as I could with her and her half-sisters. Now my daughter is 22 years old. The two half-sisters, who I only helped raise for five years,are 24 and 25 respectively. I have a better relationship with all three of them now than any other adult. Providing love, affection and attention will make a much more lasting impact in childrens lives than anything money can buy!

  15. Karin Manske says:

    What a fabulous post and parable! I think it goes even farther than not being there physically. I know Mom’s and Dad’s who spend a lot of time at home but they are still not really ‘there’ for their kids.
    It’s all about awareness and attention and living your life with an open heart. It’s about being in love with your life, your kids and yourself.

  16. Jodi Kaplan says:

    I kept hearing Harry Chapin in my head as I read this:

    A child arrived just the other day/
    He came to the world in the usual way/
    But there were planes to catch/
    And bills to pay…

  17. Catherine says:

    Again and again I thank my parents. My dad took low-paying work (cleaning a high school at 5am) so that Mum could teach and he’d be home with the kids. He once told me, “I see loads of parents whose idea of spending time with their kids is to buy something and make the kid play with it. All you really need to do is be there.”

    I love my dad.

  18. So glad you wrote this. I am a mother. My husband has created a different approach to work/life than what we typically sees around us. In fact, he gets teased about it but just rolls with it. He rarely works long crazy hours because his place of work knows how important his family is. There are always deadlines at work, customers who can’t wait. But a little creativity can go a long way if you put your mind to it. On most occassions when deadlines need to be met at work, he comes home to spend time with his girls and goes back to work when they go to bed to finish the job (he works in manufacturing in the plant).

    He takes the girls to their dance classes and even took hip hop lessons himself because our girls wanted him to do it. We spend weekends as a family taking turns sharing what we learned in dance class and showing off our stuff. It’s what we look forward to.

    What makes it easier for him to do this is, in my opinion, that he could really care less about the teasing from the guys. He knows, in the end, that the payoff will be huge. In fact, the payoff starts now because the bond is obvious. I think there are some men out there who want to make the shift but are afraid of what other men will say. It doesn’t make you less of a man or a “provider” to move out of a sterotype in the name of family. It makes you real and present in the moment.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Okay, first, I love that your husband took hip hop lessons to make the girls happy, that rocks! And, you’re right, depending on your friends, the reply of other dads can range from teasing to outright attacks. Though, I have to say, at least from what I’ve seen, there are enough dads awakening to a different approach, I think the “Mr. Mom” thing is fading.

      It’s not about being the primary caretaker (though it may be), it’s more about building the way you work around your desire to be present “at the right times.” Like your husband, I often take off in the middle of the day to be with my daughter or have lunch with my wife, but then find myself working later at night or early in the morning while they sleep. It also helps a LOT if you love what you do.

  19. Rudy says:

    Dads are always expected to be much stronger, both physically and emotionally, than everyone else in the family. It’s a high standard that’s often dismissed because we’re too lazy or too selfish.

    It’s time to answer the call to “man up”!

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Funny thing is, while this expectation used to come largely from society, I think it comes more from the internal expectations dads have based on the way the world was when WE were kids. In other words, it’s coming from the inside, not the outside. But, it’s still an expectation and it’s something to be questioned and evolved.

  20. Jon says:

    Expectations placed on a person from themselves and others are tremoundous

    Most of this comes from peoples ideals of what life should be like and what is more valuable and the fear of loss.

    You have people saying:

    Im not being a good dad
    Im not being a good mum
    I should do more
    I should do less
    Im not

    Personally having 2 girls, I keep things relaxed, I dont place an expectation on how they should be and I dont place an expectation on myself to be or maintain a certain way of living. I just roll with it.

    Allowing people to find and live their own Rhythm is what I feel matters.

  21. Srinivas Rao says:


    I don’t have kids, but I have a friend who is an attorney. She was my best friend in undergrad and one of my greatest friends to this day. She chose a life of simplicity and working at non-profit specifically because of family and watching her as a mother makes me realize she absolutely made the right choice. I definitely think that my life is headed off the corporate path and somewhere else to doing something I love.

  22. I was Peter for years, but then started working from home.

    While I was Peter, besides what you describe, I also had no idea what to do with my kids, maybe because I was so detached from their lives and didn’t really know them. We still had good times together, but not on weekdays.

    Then, Ronit and I changed from wanting an income to wanting financial freedom and from wanting stability to wanting personal empowerment.

    It took me 3 months (!) to get to know my family again, but now, 5 years later, my kids are blossoming in every way, we know one another deeply and I feel like I fulfill the commitment I made when I decided to have them.

    This was beautifully written and sadly so very true for many.


  23. […] Fields says, “Daddies, don’t let your babies grow up to be strangers.” Getting caught up in making more money so you can provide “nice things” for your […]

  24. Tracy says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this article because it’s amazing how connections in even the most loving families can silently erode over the years and before you know it your a family of strangers. My dad is/was a Peter and while I appreciate everything he’s provided for me we are not close. I think he’s learning though because he’s much more present for my children now that he’s a grandpa.

    That being said, when I got married to my dear husband I was determined not to allow the same thing to happen to my family. Unfortunately, it still did in spite of my efforts to let my husband know how much it hurt us and his promises to change that he never really followed through on. And when our daughter was diagnosed with autism four years ago it put an even greater strain on our family beyond the regular day-to-day stress of family living.

    It wasn’t until a few months ago when I told my husband that I could no longer live with the “benign neglect” that he finally woke up. Our relationship has made a complete 180 and he’s much more present for the kids, but it sucks that we had to go to the brink of breaking up for that to happen. I think part of the problem was that both of my husband’s parents are “Peters” so he didn’t have good role models either.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      I think one of the things that scares us (ie, dads) the most is that we assume that our wives have certain expectations about how we’re supposed to play the role of dad and provider and that those expectations stay fixed over time.

      And, I know this is hard to believe…but guys tend not to like to ask for feedback (or directions)! So, we never have the conversation 3, 5 or 10 years in that asks, “how’m I doing?”

      I truly believe that if we did, we find a lot more support for a different approach, especially after the signs of relationship fatigue and alienation begin to reveal the true impact of a course committed to presents without presence.

  25. […] Fields says, “Daddies, don’t let your babies grow up to be strangers.” Getting caught up in making more money so you can provide “nice things” for your family may […]

  26. […] Fields says, “Daddies, don’t let your babies grow up to be strangers.” Getting caught up in making more money so you can provide “nice things” for your family may […]

  27. Great post! I am lucky enough to have work that allows me to spend time with my 3 year old, but all around me I see guys who lose that connection way too early in their kids development and then dont know how to get it back.
    Working in healthcare I get to treat loads of stay-at-home mums and a continuing theme is of the absent father.
    My best/ worst example of this is a father who wont even take his daughter anywhere on his own – “i dont know what to say to her” is his refrain. And guess what? He had so little time with his daughter in the first 3 years, that now she is growing up he is afraid of this stranger who suddenly has views and opinions. And he’s scared witless.
    The early years are so important and I fell so privileged to have had all the time I have had with my daughter.
    keep up the good work Jonathan….
    All the best
    Andre Duquemin

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      One of the things I wonder about a lot, too, is that dads tend to work like manaics for the first 15-20 years of their kids lives, when their kids need them most, in the name of being able to pull back when their kids need them least.

  28. Mick Morris says:

    Jonathon, sadly I can say I did live this cycle for a little while. A tragic accident to my youngest child meant a massive re-think about everything to do with my life.

    I will NEVER get the chance to do things with my youngest child like I would have liked.

    His accident led to some choices that mean I am VERY busy, but NEVER TOO BUSY for making special time for each of my children (and my wife).

    If you read Jonathons post and you ARE living that cycle, PLEASE make some changes NOW, you life will be so much better for it.

    Thanks Jonathon, a great post.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Thanks for sharing that, I know it couldn’t have been easy.

  29. Sami says:

    Jonathan, this is the most profound blog post I’ve seen you write. It touched me on a level that very few writings can reach.

    I do not have kids, but I really wish that when I do I’ll get to be with them and guide them towards better life. Perhaps the reason I feel so strongly about this is that I’ve never had that kind of guidance when growing up.

    Freeze frame high-five for writing this!

  30. Jonathan, what a beautiful post! I have always felt that “the women’s movement did a lot of damage to men in that it did not define what new roles men would take on.

    It was clear and good for women but it left men overall feeling that they did not have a say so in the matter and some how they were expected to be above it all – if they were “good” men.

    I have known many good men in my time and I cannot think of one that I respected solely because of his financial contribution. I am one of those really blessed women who had an amazing father and brother and an even more amazing husband.

    They have all “provided” love, relationship, connection, intelligence and humor along the way. That is what has made them so special.

    It takes men to have this conversation – not necessarily women. Men already feel so misunderstood by women. Thanks for articulating it.

    Iyabo Asani

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Interesting point, though, I think the women’s movement may have opened the question of a man’s role as dad and provider. But, as a dad and human being, the moment we begin to blame someone other than us for the state of our lives, we lose.

      We are accountable for the state of our lives and relationships. Circumstances may have changes and the questions may have changed, but in the end, it’s our responsibility to respond to this change.

  31. Ali says:

    I absolutely loved this post. Not because it’s necessarily true for all dads, but it brings to light EITHER working parent that is running ragged for their “children’s” future. In my household it is actually the opposite. I am the mother and I work so much that I often find myself burnt out when I get home or the weekend arrives, and I’m so consumed by the laundry that has piled up all week while I was working, that I can’t bring myself to spend as much time as I should with our son.

    Well done, Jonathan. Thanks for bringing this to my attention today – I’m going to hang out with my son tonight and built a lego fort.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      I’m sure you’re right, with so many households having both parents working a lot of hours these days, it’s not just about dads. But, that’s the only place I can speak from. Plus, it’s still hard to break free from traditional roles and expectations. Most dads I know still feel they are largely responsible for “taking care of” the financial needs of their families even if their spouses don’t share those expectations

  32. Jonathan, this was (is) a beautiful piece. Sad & sorrowful, yet hopeful.

    You are very, very lucky to be able to work in the way that you do. Not every dad — or mom — has that luxury. I think, for many, the instinct to “provide” and to keep spouses and children safe (meaning keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and shoes on their feet) is more powerful a motivator than making paper airplanes or playing tag with the kids.

    Not saying this is right, but it’s understandable. I think that the important thing for parents to focus on is that when the workday is over, it’s OVER. There has to be time when focus on family, on sharing stories and just being together, is THE priority.

    None of us wants to be Peter. None of us sets out to be. If we’re not careful, ANY of us could turn into him.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Totally agree, if you’re having trouble paying your rent/mortgage or putting food on the table, that becomes priority #1. And, if that means working long hours to keep your family out of a shelter, that’s what you do.

      But, once you’re past a baseline level of being able to comfortably pay for a nice place to live in a decent neighborhood and the essentials, you’ve gotta start asking, What am I working for NOW?

  33. […] Jonathan Fields asks Dads, “What does it really mean to provide for your families?” He tells the tale of a friend, and we all know a version of this friend. We may even be him or her: Peter is a married father of two kids, a 4 year old girl named Janie and a 7 year old boy named Timmy. They’ve got a 4 bedroom house in a nice neighborhood with a pretty hefty mortgage and the thought of paying their living costs, along with starting to save enough to send two kids to college is freaking Peter out a bit. He wants the best for his kids, so he puts in long hours at work, so he can advance up the ladder and earn enough to send his kids to a better school, buy a bigger house and afford nicer things for the family. […]

  34. At various times both my husband and I have each taken turns at being the dad you describe Jonathan, and while working long hours is the last thing conducive to experiencing a close relationship with your kids, it is not what really does the damage…

    Because what you have articulated so beautifully is the need for parents – not just fathers – to actually “be present” for their children. It’s just as easy for mums and dads who work from home to fall into a destructive pattern of allowing the pressures and necessary demands of their work to detract from spending any quality time with the kids. (Some full-time mums and dads would argue there is often a greater incentive for creating quality time with the children because of their absence.)

    The essential thing is to truly gift your kids with your whole being – really give them your attention and time and physicality and love and focus…then no matter what constraints you are under with your working life. This is our challenge as parents AND providers.

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Such a powerful and important point. Being “physically” present is very different than being “emotionally and psychologically” present. Being able to deliver the former without the latter, in a way, is potentially more damaging than not being there. Because you’re standing in front of your kids, but it’s like your saying, “I see you right in front of me, but I still choose not to pay attention.”

      I’m guessing a short burst of genuine presence, love and attention goes a lot further to satisfy your kids’ needs than a longer bout of having your body in the same room, but being largely tuned out.

  35. I’d like to suggest that this can just happen over the years as a slow accumulation of expecatations. It’s not necessarily that the dad is trying to “advance up the ladder” to provide for the kids.

    You get a job, and you do what they tell you. You try to keep your job, and navigate the ever-changing expectations, goals, deadlines, and craziness at work. You don’t dare rock the boat, not because you want to be a superstar at work, but because you want the paycheck and the vacation time you have accumulated over the years.
    And the family time just sort of slips away. Not only are you exhausted by the time you get home, but you have no time for the stuff that needs to be done around the house. So weekends are filled with kids activities, housework (lawn work, laundry, cleaning, bill paying, filing, repairs), and rushed family time. So you’re exhausted by the time Monday rolls around again.
    I don’t have a solution. I just wanted to say that people can fall into this trap even if they aren’t trying to “be all that they can be”.

  36. Ed Gandia says:


    This post really struck a chord with me. Like you, I spend a lot of time observing human nature. And this is one issue that’s near and dear to my heart. Because I see an incredible amount of evidence of Peter-like behavior out there.

    I live in an area with a frightening number of Peters. This is an affluent part of town with lots of senior execs who spend most of the week out of town or working 14-hour days. Weekends are spent catching up on work and the inevitable round of golf Saturday or Sunday morning. That scene is so common around here, it’s pathetic.

    One of the biggest reasons why I decided to leave the corporate treadmill is that I saw myself inevitably falling into this cycle. After my son was born, everything changed. And I knew that I had it in me (because I’m very driven) to make this mistake, only to regret it one day. That vision scared the hell out of me. So I created a solo business that would enable me to chart my own course. Haven’t looked back.

    Something else I wanted to comment on…

    I truly believe that absent fathers are a big reason why we have so many problems in society today — everything from drugs to alcohol, teen pregnancy, suicide, crime, you name it. Plenty of evidence out there that this assertion is true.

    After doing some research, I found an organization that helps fathers become better dads. It’s called the National Fatherhood Initiative ( They’re doing great work over there. If this is an issue you feel strongly about, I urge people to check them out.

    BTW, don’t be fooled into thinking that the fatherhood problem is confined to low-income households. IMO, the problem is just as great in affluent homes.

    Dads – we need change our ways. Our kids need us. They yearn for our love, time and attention — not toys and money.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post!

  37. Lost Abroad says:

    Not that easy sometimes. I scrapped two companies, sold my farm and moved to another country to be a father to my daughter, then I restructured my life as soon as my visa was changed so I could work independently and have more time for her. For years the relationship was great, but eventually my ex managed to poison it. Now I’ve seen her less than two hours in three years and I’m looking forward to a long, miserable exile without family. Even if she does come around, I don’t think she can be trusted any more. No character.

  38. I used to be Peter. One day I realized that when I got home from work, if I just dropped things at the door and smothered my four kids with attention, in 15 minutes they were ready to go back to what they were doing before I got home, and I felt better than if I’d had an hour to myself, brooding about my sucky day.

    Those kids are grown now, and I have a new family with a 5-year-old, and I’ve gone a different route. We don’t have much money, but her Mommy and I both work from home, and we spend oodles of time together.

    The Little One has decided that the Best Thing in the World is for Daddy to tell her a story he made up; not one from a book, one of his own. Over the past couple weeks, it’s turned into a nightly ritual, sharing a new story about Ginger the Ship Captain’s Cat, and oddly, I’ve realized she’s inspired me to finally write the childrens’ book I’ve dreamt of writing since my oldest son’s impending birth was announced nearly 30 years ago.

    ‘Providing’ has little to do with money. As the saying goes, presence, not presents.

  39. […] Yes, I replied, But even if I worked at an office, I’d still do everything possible to spend as much time with you as I could . With that, she smiled, gave me a hug and a kiss and danced off to play with her friend. …. Simple truth that us men have trouble wrapping our heads around… Being a provider isn’t all about money, it’s also about providing love, attention, support, inspiration, compassion and guidance. It’s about being there to snuggle and hug, to listen and …Page 2 […]

  40. Bob Bessette says:

    You know what I like most about you? You challenge your readers to think about their lives and how they are living it. You aren’t just preaching to us. In this post you almost present a parable that we can learn from. I definitely wasn’t Peter but could I have gotten closer to my two daughters? Sure. Did work get in the way? Sure. But my daughters are now older (19 and 15) and they both love me. I know that. Could I have done things differently? Of course. But I am not going to feel guilty about not doing things perfectly. My wife and I decided earlier on that she would quit her job to be with the kids all the time. That was 18 years ago and my kids have turned out to be two beautiful young ladies, inside and out. I must admit that I am jealous of your lifestyle but I am also content in the fact that we did the right thing by our kids. I know that.
    Thank you Jonathan, for being one of only blogs I have found out there in the blogosphere that elicits true emotion and thought from your readers. You have yet to disappoint me.


    • Jonathan Fields says:


      Fact is, all we can do is the best we know how on any given day. I don’t have all the answers and, as you know, the answer that’s right for me won’t necessarily be the answer that’s right for you or any other dad.

      I’m not perfect, I have the same struggles and inner battles, emotionally and even financially, as everyone else. But, I guess what I’m trying to do in posts like this is open the conversations that so few of us have. Between each other and between our spouses.

  41. […] This post was Twitted by melissachess […]

  42. the_IRF says:

    I don’t have happy insights or commentary for any of this. Many cultures across time evolved arranged, “loveless”, marriages. In these social arrangements, designed by the “cave of the cultures’ society”, it was understood that procreation was a duty; a duty in support of the “caves” continuance. From this perspective, being distant from the offspring was not a psychological problem for the father. The mother had her rules. The children were raised under a code of rules directing their personal understanding of their duties as evolving members of that cave. Then came the age of thirteen when the rites of passage into adult responsibility took place. “Tradition” and the demands of the cave for survival made the personal interests of the child or wishful parent unthinkable. In fact, they were not thought of. From this, all proceeded well. The cave, as a social entity, survived to be the home of another generation. And on things went.

    The idealized pastoral “farm” of the past was a place where most of the relationship between father and son and father and daughter was silence. Most of the “learning” and correspondence between them was accomplished by way of osmosis and watching and then doing.

    We of today rebel instinctively, reflexively, to the thought of these truths without ever asking a simple question. Could it be that if the “nature” of how things have evolved, actually did so because there was some good reason for it all? In the end, it is the chore of each Being to become their own self, confident and adequate within, all by themselves, or fail that test, and die. Some parents do all the things possible to try to raise their children well and support the future success of that offspring. Rarely are the results satisfying. Children grow distant, as they should. Quarrels start, just because they can. No home or family that I know of is truly a happy place. They are all dysfunctional one way or another.

    The old family homes do not have the problem of the kids crawling all over dad when he is exhausted. The kids are soon sent away to private school at the soonest possible age. These children are sternly taught their duties to be proper and not cling to dad. The child becomes cold and the stuff of leadership, as is required by the cave for its own purpose of survival sake. Peasant families have their close warmth and no schooling. The cave survives.

    The idiocy of dreaming about a utopian fantasy world, one where you can feel good about yourself because you have tended and nurtured your children properly, and they all grow up to achieve the highest levels on Maslow’s scale of self actualization will never be achieved. To set yourself to that, sets you to the path of certain defeat, and better yet, it sets you up for ever more guilt.

    It is the guilt thing that is the real issue here. It is what you survive on, what we all survive on. Without it our present culture is not complete. This alone speaks to the inadequacy of our present culture, at least as it presently exists in the “intellectual” world.

    Different environments do things differently. Rural doesn’t do blame and guilt really well. Urban and city cultures are much better at that, they have talent for it. Protestant cultures are not particularly skilled at blame, it is the Catholics that are the natural talent pool for that gift. Anglo-Saxon culture doesn’t do guilt at all well. Generally, they just don’t have any talent in that direction at all.

    Wring your hands all you want. It is never going to work out. You will always be castigating yourselves for failing to do “right” by your family. In the end, Kahlil Gibran was on track as the Prophet, “Children are not your own. They are life’s longing for itself.” Notice how that takes the blame and guilt out of it all. Ah, the shaman salves the psychology of the cave with romantic poetry. Deft. And, how cruel and cynical of me to point that out.

    So, does this mean that someone should say, “Chill-out dude.” Should we recognize that it is always going to be war and peace, haves and have-nots, unrequited this and that? Probably. Will that person get yelled at for saying so? Of course.

    Have many parents asked these same types of questions over and over again, generation after generation? Yes. Why doesn’t the cave of culture have an answer? Why isn’t it taught in school? Why don’t we hear it from our parents?

    Hearing the voice within, following its guidance and dancing the step of one’s own, personal real balance is what might best be taught to ourselves. Children will learn by watching and doing. Osmosis it the silent language of the cave.

  43. Kevin, soon to be ex-corporate guy says:

    Excellent post, Jonathan. I work with dozens and dozens of Peters in one of the nation’s largest corporations. It’s a scary world where, on paper, the corporate machine claims to be family-friendly. But the organizational culture is far from that. The folks (like myself) who leave promptly at 5:00 each day get raised eyebrows or “half day?” wisecracks as we walk to the parking lot.

    It amazes me that so many people have the mentality that puts work before family. I have dear friends who have been brainwashed by Corporate America. They check their Crackberries on Thanksgiving break. They have mind-numbing commutes and spend weeks on the road away from their families. Being friends, I’m able to talk candidly with these guys and try to understand their mindsets. I can’t. All they want to do is continuously climb that ladder.

    Bottom line is that the mindset needs to change in this country. I think many of us start out wanting it all… it’s human nature. Fortunately, many of us wake up. We realize that life isn’t about working like dogs in order to keep up with the Joneses. I just wish we didn’t have to wake up. We all should know from the beginning. How do we change that?

  44. Anne says:

    Men can also do this when they are too busy pursuing their “dreams” to see what their families (especially their wives, in my case) need and prioritizing their time to meet those needs.

    My husband has always worked long hours. I was the one who finally got him to quit working weekends. Nevertheless, he spent 20+ years pursuing his “dream” of being a professional musician in his “spare time.”

    You can imagine where that left me, as a full-time mom (and home-schooling mom at that) home with babies, toddlers, then older children with all their activities, while my husband was gone in the evenings “following his heart.”

    All my pleas fell on deaf ears and now that I don’t care about the marriage anymore he thinks he can undo all the damage.

    Fortunately, because of the sacrifices I made my kids are amazing, well-adjusted people and because I insisted on him being involved with them, as much as I could, he has a good relationship with them.

    Meanwhile, I feel totally beat down by a marriage that didn’t fulfill my hopes and dreams and the trials and tribulations of a life filled with loss and tragedy (through the early deaths of several family members.)

    I guess the reason I am writing is to tell you dads that it’s not just the job that can keep you from being involved but also your hobbies, “dreams”, or whatever that you are choosing to spend you time with instead of your kids – and you are probably destroying any love and respect your wives have for you.

    Just sayin’.

  45. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mirko Gosch. Mirko Gosch said: A fabulous post and parable by 1 of my favorite writers and bloggers @jonathanfields . Please read: […]

  46. “…but those things become poor proxies for what the kids have really wanted from day one.”

    I like that description. Proxies.


  47. […] fan base among corporate cubicle dwellers when it launched in January of 2009.   A recent post on dad-child relationships is typical Fields – blunt, wondering and engaging his audience in sharing their ideas about […]

  48. Paul says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Love your article – this is exactly the sort of journey I am going through at the moment, partly by choice in that I want to be the best dad to my young boy (now 4 months old), and partly by necessity as I have been hard hit by the Credit Crunch.

    Hope you’ll take a moment to pop along and follow my journey on



  49. I see lots of “Peter’s” who, especially in the credit crunch, have been forced to spend less time with their families through pressure of work. This is often as a result of their wives giving up work which puts more pressure on them to be the provider.

    Society has a lot of changing to do before it comes commonplace for parents to have discussions about work and childcare which are not gender based.

  50. […] Fields says, “Daddies, don’t let your babies grow up to be strangers.” Getting caught up in making more money so you can provide “nice things” for your […]

  51. Patrenia says:

    Yes, this is an awful cycle. I can’t say that I’ve personally seen this, but I do know that it exists. Our homes are now filled with two working parents. So, not only do you have the Dad out of touch, but the Mom is as well. Sad…

  52. […] in the air about being present as a parent because just as I had started this post, I read the best description I’ve seen as to what happens when you are not present with your kids by one of my favorite bloggers, Jonathan Fields.   Then, right after that, I came across this […]

  53. […] boomers, Gen X and Gen Y are all looking for smarter ways to blend work and family. I found this post by Jonathan Fields about his decision to become a home-based entrepreneur in order to spend more time with his wife […]

  54. It is pretty sad how many “Peter’s” are in this world. As a dad, I know how important it is to provide for your family, but you can only do so much until you are separated from your family because of work. You put it best “Being a “provider” isn’t all about money, it’s also about “providing” love, attention, support, inspiration, compassion and guidance.” That’s how a real dad provides.

  55. Wong says:

    Jonathan, I’m glad you wrote this article. It describes EXACTLY how I felt as Peter’s kids: emotionally neglected turned frustration (due to complete misunderstandings etc) turned rebellious & finally, as you’ve said, hatred. They were physically there but just not THERE for me. Worst still, I wasn’t as successful in school as my other siblings (they were top in their classes & good in sports while I’m just an average student & more into music. My father, a good sportsman himself, spends a whole lot more time with my other siblings coaching them. I’m just not sporty enough) – more reasons for the lack of attention given. If only I could get my parents to read this article to understand why am I so bitter with them all these years. Tried talking to them about it before but they took the easy way out by saying it’s all in my head (ie. that they’ve been good parents – providing all of or materialistic “needs”) and that everything that went wrong is entirely my fault/imagination. I wish that they could just understand it. I’m not asking for their apologies. Just understanding. Only then would they understand why I made the choices I did now: a rather low paying (for the talent I have) but self-satisfying & less consuming job. God willing, I’m starting a family of my own soon and I vowed not to let my own children suffer as I did.

  56. Wow Jonathan. You may not be a psychologist, but you sure nailed it. I work from home as well, and enjoy the benefits that come with it, including the opportunity to sneak a kiss from my little Lucy any time.

    I remember a story I once heard about a Dad who was often busy at work, and when we wasn’t at work, was busy doing chores and yard work around the old house. He promised his son that over the weekend, they’d take a field trip to the city for a day out on the town. “I’ll even take you to the toy store,” he pledged, “and you can pick out ANY toy you want.”

    The father and son had a great time that day, and when it was time to pick out a toy, the son’s choice was quite telling.

    He decided to get a plastic rake, so that next weekend, he could spend time with Dad working in the yard.

    Somehow, kids have the wisdom that we grown-ups often forget: It’s not about the STUFF.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I hope it will be a great inspiration for all Dads who read it!

  57. Rex Williams says:

    Great stuff, Jonathan.

    And reading all the comments makes this such a complete experience on this subject.

    I work from home too and allow my kids to come ask me a question or otherwise ‘disturb’ me any time (maybe because I’m easily distracted.) But they know that I am working, so they usually don’t abuse it, and mostly leave me alone while I’m working.

    Being generous with your time with your kids usually pays off by not creating ‘Dad-needy’ children. Then, you can have brief periods of time when you might be more focused on work and it won’t cause problems because you’ve built up a reserve of love and trust.

  58. I really like this article.

    I think a large part of society has chosen a path of life that they’re not particularly happy with, so the thought of other people stepping outside of that causes them to shun the “outcasts” away.

    I’m talking about folks like Peter who feel like providing for the family means to be absent as long as you are bringing in money to provide food, a nicer house, better school, etc.

    For those who want to still “live” their lives after they have children, they are made to feel bad because society wants us to think that if you want of a life of your own once you have kids, you’re a bad person… without taking into consideration that spending time with your family is a HUGE part of providing for your family.

    I think many people should read this article and start re-shaping all the social-conditioned beliefs we have about being a parent who provides for their family.

    Thanks for the great article.

  59. […] This post was Twitted by scottanderson […]

  60. […] This post was Twitted by stacilandis […]

  61. […] Daddies Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers – They don’t want to admit it, but a lot of working dads don’t want to be around their kids… That sounds so horrible. And, in fact, it’s incredibly sad. Because, for many, the solution is a lot closer than believed, once you step back and take the time to see what’s … […]

  62. […] [need proof? check out Jonathan's article: Daddies Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Strangers] […]

  63. Crystal Jay says:

    As far back as I can remember my father has always kept away from home. The last couple of years I have noticed a strange behaviour within myself. At the age of 24 I still live at home with my parents & my father is always away, even after all these years. To make sure I am out of sight for when he returns, I have taken it upon myself to memorise his schedule, so that I know when he is likely to arrive; there are times however, that he arrives home unexpected or early, and I find that when my father walks through the front door I feel an instant rush of resentment. I say to myself, why is he back? . Its not that I don’t love my father…I just don’t like him very much. I feel very much that this has stemed from my childhood, & unfortunately this cycle continues with my younger siblings who need him just like I needed him then. Its just a shame he is unable to see this for himself.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Crystal – I’ve heard so many similar stories. I sometimes wonder if one of the more constructive ways to deal with it is to try to learn and understand what he’s gone through that’s made him this way. Not that it’ll change who he is or what the behavior is, but it may change how you process the way he’s come to interact with the family. Dunno, but thanks for sharing that story

  64. I just came out of a period like this one, and as I am finishing a vacation of rest and family (after three months of long hours and no time to be a dad), you have articulated the struggle that I just recently freed myself from. Thank you, Jonathan, for helping me see it clearly.

  65. Jonathan,

    You struck on a powerful topic again.

    As I reading your post I thought about the many families where mom and dad are both Peter’s. And then they wonder while their kids do wilder and wilder things to get their attention.

    You’re absolutely right that the first step is awareness. Without that parents don’t even realize there is a problem.

    I was blessed that my mom had a homebased business and my dad, since he was older than my mom, was retired by the time I was born. We interacted with our parents before and after school as well as on weekends–my dad took us to the movies EVERY Saturday of our childhood and my mom took us to church EVERY Sunday. In addition, we learned the ins and outs of running a business.

    Based on that role model, my children were the centerpiece and everything else had to work around them. Although I had a teaching career, I made it flexible so that I was involved in all their music lessons, sports activities, church, scouts, etc. In addition, we decorated and celebrated all major holidays throughout the year.

    It’s too bad that some families do have to break up before the importance of spending time with the children becomes a priority. That’s why divorce is not always breaking up, but sometimes a bringing together.

  66. Craig says:

    This is a great post. I am a young dad of 1 with a 2nd on the way I sometimes feel the way that you describe. Though it’s different for me as I work from home I spend a lot of time with my Daughter. I do think If I worked a typical 9-5 the last thing I would want to do when I get back from work is entertain my daugher. It’s really sad to feel that way but I guess parenthood isn’t a walk in the park.

  67. I can sooo relate to this post. My husband works all of the time. I am becoming more and more aware of the currency of time. As I see him growing more and more tired, me more and more thinned out, the kids totally feeling the imbalance, we are beginning to realize the importance of being more aware of how we spend our time, what we give our time to. We are trying to make decisions that actually help us as a family(ie. more important to spend good time than to have the newest gadgets or the bigger home). My husband is also starting to take more accountabilty for the vicious cycle that you mention in this article. It was great to read this well-articulated statement that I wholeheartedly, 100% agree with. It is so easy for our goals that pertain to our families to become misaligned. This article is great if you need re”alignment”. Thank you!

  68. biren says:

    when my son was born, i was facing a (self-created) crisis in my busines, and i was progressively getting sucked into it in an attempt to get out of it.
    i had waited for my kid’s arrival since most of my adult life, dreaming of my days of ‘kid-ing’ with her/him.
    but when he arrived, i was barely there for his welcome.

    thankfully, in a matter of a year and a half of his coming, i had nothing left to save – life took away everything from me. my business, my ‘sanity’, my vanity, my security, my concepts and world-views. all that was left was my family and friends. and an ’empty’ me.

    i was ready to receive what truly mattered.
    but i did not know it. and i was taken there, dragged by life.

    one day i suddenly realised that my toddler son, cringed at my touch and would turn away when i slept next to him – even in his sleep.
    he knew a stranger when one came near him.
    it was soul searing. and, i feel, almost all dads would know what i mean.

    that was one lesson that stayed with me through my nervous breakdown. and even today it stays with me, sharply defined like a hot-iron-branded scar on my heart.

    it took me years to get back his trust and open his heart a little bit to let me in.

    he is 11 now, and i think he is enjoying our relationship as much as i am enjoying working my way towards becoming a ‘broken-human-loving-dad’.

  69. you’re right, sadly. a lot of people don’t want to spend time with their kids and I have to wonder about the selfish reasons they had them in the first place. 🙁

    glad to here a father thinks of his experience as “magical”!

  70. […] keep their families secure, their mortgages safe and their jobs certain. But is living as a virtual stranger to your kids the best way of providing for them? Are you throwing the baby out with the bath […]

  71. Andrew Morgan says:

    4T’s – Time, Talent, Touch and Treasure. This father gets a “D”. 25% right doesn’t cut it.

  72. Ian Butcher says:

    This is so true and a warning to all parents. Kids are so precious and your real legacy, do not waste a minute. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I spent first ten years of my sons life working away from home – not through choice but because work in area where I lived was so scarce. I did not want to move family away from Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, Cousins and huge extended family we had but actually it was during this time that I learnt the lesson that work was a means to an end and my family was the most important thing to me. I was lucky I have great kids, now adults, that I am really proud of but I wish I had spent more time with them when they were younger. I do wonder if those career minded individuals who treat their kids as a hinderance actually transfer their behaviours to work as well. Some of most appalling managers I have ever encountered are also what I consider to be bad parents. If you cannot treat the magic of having children the way you should do not have children! The same applies at work, if you cannot treat people properly do not become a manger – or learn the lesson quickly before your team takes action and leaves – the same as your kids would if they had a choice.

  73. This is a beautiful article. Both my husband and myself have these natural tendencies to be Peters. We don’t have kids yet, but articles like this are getting book-marked for the future.

    x Denise DT

  74. Ester says:

    Just ended a 20 year relationship with a man who I had two children. Both boys are now 14 and 16 and for years I have told my soon to be ex that the children would out grow him someday. Well that time has come and gone. Both boys do not know him he has always been on his own and never put the family first. All he wanted to do in the end was be left alone. So I convenced him to finally move out. He has been gone for approximatley 3 months and nothing has changed in our home. Everything is the same except for the fact we don’t have him complaing and wanting left alone all of the time. At first I thought that this was his mid life crisis but he has been so detached for so long I can’t remember the last time he actually did anything positive with the boys. Makes me angry with myself for putting up with this behavior for so long.

  75. charlie says:

    Nice site and you are right a child needs both parents when growing up.Dear old Dad needs to be a part of that.