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Should I Show My Son A Pic Of His Dad? Advice from a Ph.D And My Brother

The other morning JD and I were being lazy in my bed. It was early, so I didn’t even have the television on. My eyes were closed and JD said in the sweetest voice: “What does our dad look like? Can we drive there?” My stomach sunk and my eyes popped open. I turned to my go-to absent dad line: “Bud, you live here with mom and everyone has a different type of family"—then I turned on the television and Barney took it from there. I want you to know that I absolutely do feel like I’m avoiding talking about D.A.D and I tell myself it’s OK, because the child psychologist told me not to elaborate. She told me to have a line ready, then distract. But, when JD asked me what his Dad looked like, my first thought was: Look in the mirror, kiddo. JD is his Dad’s mini-me. I know some of you think he looks like me, but remember, you don’t know what his dad looks like.

I thought about showing JD a pic of his Dad. There are images of him and his family on the Internet, but then I remembered that he’s 4. Sometimes I wish he was 24, so I could be straight with him and just talk to him like an adult. Anyway, I did not show JD a pic of his Dad. When I was writing Single Parenting Advice for the June issue of Parenting, I interviewed Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., the author of Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men. She cautioned that showing a picture of an absent-by-choice parent isn't the best move. “A growing child needs to be able to focus on successfully passing through his own developmental stages without distraction, worry, or preoccupations that are not solvable—like an adult who refuses to visit his child.”

I decided showing the image would result in a lot of questions that would be cognitively hard for JD to swallow. Instead, I emailed his Dad and alerted him to the fact that his son was asking questions about him. He wrote back immediately and blamed everything on me. My brother Brian (who met JD's Dad) was over and said: “Of course, he did. He’s in Indiana with his wife and son. He is doing everything in his power not to think about you or Jack. He doesn’t even write a child support check—it’s all direct deposit. It’s been 4 years, Chris, and he’s done nothing for his child. You popped his bubble. He just thought about you and blaming you made it easier than thinking about the fact that, holy sh*t, I have a kid in NJ. Think about it—why did he write back? This bothers him. This lives in him. And you know what, maybe there was a time where he did blame everything on you. He still might. You didn’t know what you wanted. He didn’t know what he wanted. You didn’t communicate. That excuse is retired now, though. No one cares that he doesn’t want to see you and everyone realizes it will be hard for you two to be in breathing space of each other. But none of this stopped you from being Jack’s mom and that’s the difference here. OK, look, my friend from work grew up without his dad and he loves his mom, respects her, she's the world. He said if he ever met his Dad he’d either say 'hi' or want to run him over with his car. There's a lot of gray area you're not getting, Chris.”

“How old is your friend?” I asked.

“28,” Brian said.

“Oh,” I said. 'Want a beer?"

"OK," Bri said. We both took a swig.

"Should I show Jbird a pic?" I asked.

Long pause.

"Not yet," said Brian.

Single parents, have you shown your child a pic of the absent parent?

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