My parents divorced when I was 10 and that was the last time I had a relationship with my father.

My father still lives close to me locally but he doesn't contact me, and if I see him in public I do not address him for personal reasons. Now I am married and I have a child and he has seen me with my child.

My child is almost five and has started asking where my daddy is. This is a hard topic to discuss and I do not think my child would understand if I just said "my father was a deadbeat dad." I also know that I do not want to lie to my child and say my father is dead in case my father might grow up one day. My child has asked several times now and I have dodged/changed the topic.

How do you explain to a child that one of your own parents is not around?

4 Answers 4


I feel for you, I had a bad relationship with my father for a long time. Fortunately we managed to patch it up but that's not always in the cards.

I wouldn't sugar coat too much or lie to your child. He's asking a fair question and it deserves an answer. Life doesn't always work out how we want and he's going to have to learn that sometime. That doesn't mean you have to tell the unvarnished truth either, you may want to take the really hard edges off in places. Talk about your feeling about it.

What I would think is most important is what you say after you tell him about your father. You are about to tell him that not everyone had a father that cares about him and he may worry about him and you. Make sure he knows you care about him, and that the same thing isn't going to happen to you two. Maybe do something fun with him to reinforce that.

  • +1 for pointing out that the most important is what you'll tell after. He doesn't need to become insecure thinking that all father/son relation has to have troubles Sep 12, 2013 at 17:55
  • +1 for "Life doesn't always work out how we want" and we do the best we can with what we've got. Also, let your son know how important responsibility and reliability are to you, and at some time, as he gets older, talk to him about your father's good qualities and bad qualities. If your father ever does contact him, you don't want your son coming back to you saying,"You never told me that..." Dec 13, 2013 at 15:53
  • And be prepared if, some time in the future, he asks more questions about "his" grandfather -- which is how he's going to think of this man, especially after other children have been talking about fun times with their grandfather and your son feels left out. Dec 13, 2013 at 15:54

The usual recommendation is to give an honest answer, but only answer the specific question and don't volunteer extra information. Also, adjust your answer to the maturity of the child.

This is totally abstract and not always helpful, but what you can do is think of the ways - and the situations - in which your child might ask about the grandfather. Practising your responses helps you not panic when asked.


Recent studies have suggested that knowing a lot about their family history --both good and bad --increases a child's resilience and ability to deal with difficult situations. The reason, perhaps, is it gives them some context for the events of their own lives. Given that, I would tell your child some age-appropriate version of the truth.

Since reading that study, I've tried to tell my kids some story about personal or family history every evening. It's often led to some difficult or uncomfortable lines of questioning, but ultimately I think it has been positive --and it's something they really like and respond well to.


I know this is a very old question, but I'd like to chime in with my perspective.

I think it depends what you mean by "my father was a deadbeat dad"?

If he was literally dangerous and/or abusive, then you have a responsibility to keep yourself and your family away from him.

If this is the case, you may want to simply tell him the truth... That your dad is a bad person, so you need to stay away from him.

I don't believe in second chances for violent/abusive adults. Rehabilitation is a myth. People don't change. They just get better at pretending.

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