What's best/better for the child in the long/short run - to have no father in his life or to have a "no-good" father in his life?

And by "no-good" I mean - mentally and financially unstable, irresponsible, irrational and alcoholic (in my opinion - not professionally diagnosed).

After reading the answer to post Sharing parenting/custody duties with an ex-partner, I can honestly answer NO to all those questions. BUT - this is my opinion. And I am sure my ex doesn't think of himself that way.

I am struggling with the concept of my son having a right to have a relationship with his father no matter what kind of a father he is and no matter how damaging I think it might be for my son in the long run.


Keeping my son safe and making sure he is growing up well-balanced, physically, emotionally and mentally healthy child, in a safe and stable environment - which would mean keeping him away from my ex.

Can I tell my son (if his father doesn't seek visitation until then) - that when he reaches 18 years old he can seek out his father and get to know him and have whatever kind of relationship he wants with him. But until then try to fight his request for visitation (if it ever happens)?

My son is 4 years old now and doesn't have visitation with his dad now. He saw him last when he was 2.5 years old. His dad had supervised visitation when my son was 1.5, but only came once and withdrew his court petition for visitation since then. Also I have a restraining order against him because he has zero respect for me and my boundaries and has been harassing me for years.

Thank you.

Edit: I have to add that I do not talk badly about my ex to my son. My son has a right to make up his own mind about the kind of person his father is and my opinions about my ex - have nothing to do with my son's opinions about his dad and I keep those separate.

But, my son is starting to ask about his dad now - things like: where is he, and can we go visit him and why isn't he here. And sometimes he says things like "my father doesn't want/love me". And it is heart breaking for me to hear him say things like that. So I reply with "Your father loves you. Of course he wants you. And he just lives far away and is working and cannot visit". Which is partly true. I don't want to lie to my son, but I also don't want him to think that he isn't loved or wanted. And I know that my son will always be curious about his dad, and that the response I have will soon get "old", and I would need to come up with a better response.

Another addition: The reason this is a struggle for me is because I realize that I am not a perfect parent. That I make mistakes and that in some way I am sure some things I do - will have long term and possibly damaging effect on my son. I hope not - and I try my hardest not to make those mistakes but - I am not perfect and I can only do my best while striving towards a goal of raising a happy and healthy and stable, responsible, compassionate, etc. child.

So - how can I tell if not having a father at all is better than having an unstable father in my son's life? Even if he (the ex) does things that are potentially long-term damaging - isn't the benefit of having a father still outweighs it?

  • 11
    I'm not sure I have enough for a good answer, but if there is a credible threat to you enough that you obtained a restraining order, ALL other considerations are irrelevant. The person should come nowhere near a child. (and this comes from a strong Father's Rights supporter). Also, on a personal level, your portrayal of how you treat the topic with your child strikes me as a very good balance.
    – user3143
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 17:13
  • I would have answered, but I would essentially just be recounting my experience as one of 3 children raised by a single mother.
    – Noah
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 17:44
  • 1
    I'm not sure there is a professional diagnosis for alcoholism. Someone is generally an alcoholic if: They can't control their drinking, they drink habitually, they only drink too much when they drink, or they have had a history of one of those. Alcoholism isn't a medical condition, it is a psychological condition. Generally, if you think someone is an alcoholic, they probably are, at least to some degree. Also, they are either an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic - there's no such thing as a cured alcoholic. Commented May 30, 2014 at 18:44
  • Anyway, I suggest that you tell your son that his father has very bad habits which will harm you all. You could show him the videos/movies which mention the problems people have with drinking and drugs. Tell him that daddy is trying to fix himself. If he fixes himself, we might go back. Otherwise, we won't. As DVK suggested, you could find a "father figure" for your child in your family. If you are interested, go to dating sites to find a man. There are plenty of men out there. Good luck. Chenqui. Commented May 31, 2014 at 5:40
  • I don't think finances has any relation to being a good father. In the same way being a cheating unpleasant husband has no direct relation to how they are with their child. You might not be able to support the child financially but that doesn't mean you're not good at teaching and loving and raising a child, as well as helping the child in difficult times emotionally. Measuring finances as how good a father is, is so materialistic. There is plenty of poor mums living on benefits because they are financially not doing good, but no one considers them a bad mum for it. So why fathers?
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 20:53

6 Answers 6


I won't answer everything (short version - I think you're doing the right thing on most levels).

  • Do NOT badmouth the ex in front of the son. You made a very wise choice!

    For one thing, it won't really help you long term. Second, it may cause damage to his own self-image as a man long term. For another, if you ever meet a man you want to be involved with romantically, he will find it one less worry about you ("if she badmouths her ex to her son, what if we have a child together and divorce, I'd get the same treatment"). Third, your son when he grows up will appreciate that you let him come up with his own conclusions.

  • Don't let the ex near if he's truly a bad juju. Drugs, alcohol abuse, threats of violence. If you filed a restraining order for valid reasons, they are even more important reasons when it comes to your child's safety.

  • Make it clear that it's not HIS fault the father isn't around.

  • As he grows older, start explaining the real situation. Be honest about WHY you made up a white lie earlier ("it is hard to explain to 3 year old what a drug addict is") and apologize for any white lies.

But 3 suggestion I would make would be to

  1. Put a high priority on finding a good father figure for your child.

    This does NOT need to be your romantic partner. It can be a male family member (your side, or in some rare cases even your ex's side if he's the weird one of the family). It can be a male friend. It can be a father of your kid's playmates.

    That's one thing that godfathers used to be for, but that doesn't seem to be a popular institution anymore these days.

  2. Ensure the ex pays child support.

  3. Find a parenting "buddy". Ideally male, it doesn't much matter (full disclosure: idea stolen from my work's parent support group), but someone who is a parent, single or not.

    This would be simply someone to listen to you. Hear out your rants. Serve as sounding board. Someone who you can tell your frustrations without bottling them up. Someone to offer advice as an outsider after hearing you out. Someone to validate the calls you make that you aren't sure about. Opposite gender works better since they will provide a different perspective.


The reason this is a struggle for me is because I realize that I am not a perfect parent.

FYI: There is no such thing.

I got teary-eyed when I read your post. For 2 reasons: 1) I was raised in a household where my father was unbelievably violent and abusive, and 2) I, too, have had to balance a hard decision as my daughter's mother is not one who appropriately fills the role of a mother. I was teary-eyed because as the once-child and now-parent, we want them both!

Finding a man (or father figure) and/or getting child support seem enticing, but, though they may be helpful, they do not solve the problem you and your son are facing: "Where's daddy?" It is truly a heart-breaking question, both to ask and to need to answer.

In addition to what you have asked, there is what you have not asked: how do I handle the questions a father is meant to answer? My mother was in that position and (genders flipped, of course), I am also in that position. It is hard and uncomfortable for both.

My daughter came back to me when she was around 4yo and asked me what to do when mommy went into a place all night and she was outside and had to sleep in a bush, wrapped in a plastic bag. A discussion ensued thanking her for asking, explaining that calling emergency services at 9-1-1 was free, a police report... and a court filing meant her mother would not be able to put her in such a dangerous situation again. It is such things we all as good parents fear and hope to never experience.

Now, first, I would like to say that as you have expressed things, you are doing a superb job at doing what you can given the situation. Kudos! Doing the "right" thing is not always easy in such a situation.

Now, to answer your question directly: Your question has a bit of a flaw -- it is not yes/no, but yes/no/partial. My rephrasing suggests my answer.

My daughter's mother has many issues in her life, some similar to your son's father. When she was younger and I was asked, "Where's mommy? I want to talk to her. Is she ok? She doesn't call me. Does she love me?" I replied (not a white lie b/c in your and my situation it is the truth), "The last time I talked to her, she was not well and needed to get help. She loves you, but must get better first. If you want to write her letters and save them, then I will make sure she gets them when she is feeling better. And, yes, she does love you... even though she can't say it right now."

For the questions asked that aren't your field as a female, I can only offer that I seek the advice of my mother for the questions which aren't my field as a male since her mother is not in a space to offer the proper support. When my mother is hospitalized, I seek the advice of a female doctor. Is it ideal? No. But it is what I can do, so I am sharing with you.

Now, I do not let my daughter live with her mother (I wrote the paperwork and it's solid from a legal perspective); however, like you I want my child to have the best possible relationship with the other parent, so when her mother calls her I do not interfere with the call. When she was younger (she's now 14), I would have her put the call on speaker phone to ensure the call did not become inappropriate.

You have great, strong, wonderful principles for parenting, so you understand the principle I am espousing: namely, allow interaction where it is safe and appropriate while guiding your son to a balanced view of life and filling his needs.

  • 1
    Maybe I should have added this as part of my answer, but I'll put it as a comment: Neither I nor my daughter have ever wondered if our non-present parent was our fault. Commented May 31, 2014 at 3:17

I know it is hard and I know it is nauseating to have your kids go with a dead beat, and as a parent we never want to see our children suffer or be hurt...but let that parent rise to the challenge. They will fail...but u will save them from the fantasy dad. I k ow it is harsh and I had to wait 5 years! But it was worth the wait.

My story is below...

My kids dad I a total looser. But the courts gave him the status quo. My ex was an abuser, rapist, drunk and dead beat who never worked (I was young, dumb & insecure)

I filed for divorce 4-5 years ago. My ex is an abuser, I fought for full custody, but the courts don't care. I knew that abusers never change and it scared me to let them go, but it was court ordered.

The kids got thrown into a verbally abusive environment. But I didn't have enough to go back to court. And at the end of the day...you cant reason with a selfish deadbeat. 2,years later, their dad was arrested for rape and has his throat slashed by a stripper. He was even featured on the news.... The courts still wouldn't let me take my kids away from him, until he is convicted. The kids were so scared when they thought that their dad almost died...

I am actually glad he didn't die... Not because I am nice, but because my kids would of had the "fantasy dad" as a memory. The dad the wanted , but never actually existed.

So, after his scar healed, he went back to his old ways. Since then he has punched my son, forced him to steel and they receive regular dysfunction and abuse. Protective services doesn't care, they did nothing. My son ran away. AndThen I finally got full custody of him. now he only deals with his dad because he is forced to for a few hours a couple times a week. He knows his dad is a dead beat douche and a sorry excuse of a father ... And the best part is...my son learned it and decided it on his own.

It has been an awful fight for these past years, always fighting in court and trying to save my kids. Watching the mental and physical abuse was the worst. And watching their disappointment is hard. they will know when they r over 18 who the good parent is and who isn't a good parent. I just keep telling them. One day he will be a dad...and does he want to treat his kids the same way...

I know it is tough and it is not the plan any of us had, but we can only give them guidance and to be there for them when the pieces crumble.


There's no easy answer to this question.

No father is no father - there is no degree to which there can be no father. So for the purposes of this answer, I'm proposing that there is absolutely zero contact with any figure that could be considered a father. No adult males living in the same house, no visitation. An uncle or good friend would count, but I'd consider a long-term boyfriend who is seen an average of once a week or earlier to fill the role. So none of those. Note, I am NOT suggesting that you enter that state - by all means seek a reliable father figure (and as many other good role models as you can find!) But for purposes of analysis, that's my definition of no father.

However, bad father has a wide degree of depth to it. A bad father could be verbally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive. (And probably a few other ____lly abusives that I just forgot about.) In truth, all fathers do some kind of damage to their children at some point. Whether it's as simple as losing our temper, being a bad example, or some other trivial and not-very-often occurrence, we all do something at some point that isn't being a perfect father.

Now let's look at two extreme fathers: If you had a father that was literally perfect in every single way possible, except one time he picked his nose and ate it in front of the kid, maybe we call him 0.000000001% bad. And if you have a father who physically mutilates their child, they're 100% bad. Clearly, the no-father scenario is between these two. It's worse to have no-father than an almost perfect father. But it's better to have no-father than it is to have a tortured child. The no-father scenario is between these two extreme outliers.

So it appears the real question is, where is the break even point? At what point does a father become bad enough that it would actually be better for the child if he wasn't in the picture? And this is something that is impossible to enumerate. We can identify things that definitely push someone past the bad point. Sexual assault, physical mutilation, trafficking, etc. But once you get the obvious things out of the way, it becomes difficult to remain objective about it. How can you determine whether playing catch in the evenings outweighs being drunk and physically challenging Saturday mornings after a night of partying? There's no real way to quantify those, which means there's no real way to compare. (In case there was any doubt, the idea of X% bad father is not a real measurement, only a conceptual tool in a thought experiment.)

So unfortunately, your question is truly (and demonstrably) unanswerable. You can begin to add details, and perhaps a reasoned community can make a consensus based on the facts you give, and it appears some of those facts may indeed put your particular ex-partner in the "obviously past the break-even point" category. But, with the exception of the alcohol (which can be managed) it would appear the major detriments to the arrangement are being directed at you, not at your child. Perhaps we don't have all the facts and your ex-partner does indeed have detrimental behavior directed toward your child, but I don't see specific evidence of that in your post.

What is certain is that there is not going to be, in any reasonably expected time frame, a way to objectively determine based on a set of facts or a test whether or not there is more benefit than damage to having any particular father figure in your child's life. I agree with DVK's analysis, about what you're currently doing and what steps you can do to improve. But as good advice as it is, it doesn't actually answer whether or not it's better to have no father than a bad father, and it doesn't because you simply can't.

I know you're not supposed to put signatures or closing statements, but I do wish you and your child all the best!


Good post, great question. As with others, I hesitate to lay down a definitive yeah or nay, but I'll tell you as a child that was in that position it was better for us to not have a father than to have a truly crappy one. My mom left my dad when I was 18 months old, taking my older sister and I and never looking back. She never really talked about him much, and did not spend time on getting us to think one way or another about him.

Sometimes while growing up I thought I missed him, but mostly there was just a blank. Sometimes I blamed my mom but it was fleeting and usually just when I was mad at her. As I've always said 'you can't miss what you never had' and that's how it was and still is. Many many years later I met him, and saw for myself what a complete ass he (still) was. I turned around and apologized to my mom and thanked her for not letting us grow up with him. He had a heavy hand and a cold heart, and I'm more than grateful that she kept us away from that. Life is hard enough without having to grow up with a bad parent.


I'm going to be blunt and politically incorrect here: it sounds to me like you've already decided to cut off the father's contact with his child, and are now asking us to justify your decision and assuage your guilt.

My son has a right to make up his own mind about the kind of person his father is

Does he? If he does, you are denying him that right, because you are not allowing your son any actual contact with his father. Without it, all he will ever know about his father will be filtered through you, and since you clearly hold a very negative view of him, that will be passed on as well.

As you yourself say, "mentally and financially unstable, irresponsible, irrational and alcoholic" are all your own value judgments, and without concrete examples it's hard to say what any of those mean. However, you're not saying he poses an actual threat to his own son, right? In other words, it's pretty unlikely the father would abuse, kidnap or otherwise intentionally let his son come to harm.

Now I can totally see why you would not want your son to (say) spend the weekend with an alcoholic, because that could lead to disaster even if the father had the best of intentions on Friday night. However, if he's in town, sober, and wants to take your son on a brief 'date' to a park or out for pizza or whatever, and you still refuse, then I suggest you think twice about whether you're really doing this to protect your son, or whether it's your personal antipathy and/or fear of your son actually getting to know (like? love?) his father that's stopping you.

  • When you say that his view of his father will be completely filtered and freedom to make up his mind isn't there, I believe you are wrong. My mother doesn't like my father and they broke up shortly after I was born (though, he wasn't "bad" at all), I didn't see him much as a child and eventually I didn't see him at all for around 10 years. During that period my mum never said anything bad about him, and talked about him completely neutrally, ie she let me make my own mind up.
    – J_mie6
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 14:19
  • Now I am 19 and have been back in contact with him for over a year now. My grandparents half expected me to say I didn't want to see him, but as I didn't have any negative feelings towards him from my mother, I agreed to see him. Recently my grandfather asked my mum if she was OK with me spending more time with him and his girlfriend and her family, and she said "why shouldn't I be? It's his family and his choice to make. It's not my place to influence him in that regard". This is the sort of attitude that the OP seems to have, and it does work, even if I didn't have much/any contact!
    – J_mie6
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 14:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .