My Open Letter to Fathers this Father’s Day


After my open letter to moms for Mother’s Day received such a warm response, I think sharing some thoughts for dads this Father’s Day weekend is only fair.

As it goes for moms, being a single, divorced, or separated dad on Father’s Day must be bittersweet, if not lonely and sad. Being a dad – I might guess – is full of rewards, but it is likely not without its challenges when faced with separation and divorce, no matter what the family custody agreements might look like.

I've seen and heard many client stories involving fathers throughout my career, some good, some bad, and some ugly.

In one particular example, there was an excellent father where his child's mom was excluding him from their daughter – excluded until I came in and got him significant custodial time (eventually, he was awarded primary custody). He was up against somebody who was being bankrolled by a third party who had the money to spend. Ultimately, this good dad prevailed, and it was the right outcome, in my opinion.

There was another excellent dad whose relationship with his daughter was interfered with by the child's mom. She engaged in domestic violence with him through physical violence and aggressive texts and emails. We had to go to court twice to help stop the abusive behavior and secure him the opportunity to have a quality, undisturbed relationship with his daughter.

I have also represented multiple dads who were the primary breadwinners and also the primary custodians. These working dads are juggling a lot, similar to what many women do regularly, yet it remains not as usual for a man to manage all those responsibilities. It is fascinating that a father doing it all is still not very common, despite all the progress toward gender equality.

As I pondered these working dads, I recently asked my kids what it was like having a dad and a mom who worked full-time and how that impacted their growing up, including how it influenced what they wanted for themselves. 

My daughter said she was proud of what I did, but it came with tradeoffs. She has seen that women can now do it all, which also means they are expected to do it all, making the pressures and expectations much higher. Moms and dads who work full-time still have to do everything that moms (and dads) traditionally do, whether together or separated. Both of my kids said, however, that they didn't want to work as hard as I did (or their dad) and that they wanted more work-life balance. They also understood that this is a choice and that the choice might come with a trade-off in benefits like lifestyle.

To be fair, I do not see many couples who have entered into their marriages and parenthood lightly. Most are well-intentioned people in love and trying their best to make things like work-life balance and family-together-time a reality. It is the rare parent for whom separation or divorce comes easy. And despite what one might think, divorce and custody battles are often brutal on the dads.

So, what can a single, separated, or divorced dad do to help make things easier in his life and for his family? I would like to share some examples from the fatherly role models in my life who have taught me some beautiful lessons.

First, I pay tribute to my father, who was my emotional parent. He was a great role model and was very involved in my life. My father was always teaching me, whether in the taxi to school, at the dinner table, or even on the beach where we played Scrabble. He taught me addition by playing blackjack with me. He taught me how to spell and learn words by doing crossword puzzles with me and helped me grow my vocabulary with the World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary. So, in essence, he found fun ways to teach me. He also instilled in me key traits that were instilled in him, like how to do what was right. He worked incredibly hard but loved doing so, which was inspiring and motivating. He expected me to give everything my all, whatever I set out to do, without limitations.

My first husband supported my career, encouraging my involvement in the community and helping me be active with the kids. I was fortunate both of my ex-husbands were not challenged by the fact that I was a driven professional and a successful woman. They were both very accommodating and encouraging. I even teased Craig, my first husband, that he had created a monster because he needed less time with me than I needed with him. So rather than be needy with him, I found other things to occupy my time, like being involved in the community, having very close girlfriends, working very hard, and spending time with the family.

My second husband challenged me to go further and made me a better lawyer, wife, and parent, except, that is, in dealing with his alcoholism vis-a-vis my family. I take full responsibility for the horrors of living with an alcoholic as long as I did. In nearly every other aspect, he was a great partner and friend, except when dealing with his alcoholism. Sadly, though, there were three of us: Him, his bottle, and me. So his disease and inability to manage it destroyed whatever great things he brought to our marriage.

I’m grateful for the father figures in my life, and although not always perfect, I believe they always tried their best to be their best.

Finally, as a family law attorney, I would be remiss not to send a direct message to deadbeat dads, wherever you are. Unless you are destitute or institutionalized, you should be taking care of your obligations—no questions or arguments about it. I have seen far too many women, even mothers of often more than one child, who have to struggle because their ex-husbands are not keeping up their end of the bargain. Of course, there are legal ramifications and strategies to combat this, but one would hope and pray that it never needs to come to that.

Happy Father’s Day to all the excellent dads out there! And to all the others trying their best, please keep stepping up and showing up.

This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on June 15, 2023.