An Ode To The Invisible Father

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
Eva Katalin Kondoros / iStock

My husband is in the kitchen, prepping dinner. I’m in our bedroom, sorting clothes. My 7-year-old was in the kitchen 15 seconds ago, but now he’s standing at the foot of my bed, asking me if he can have a snack.

Let me repeat that.

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My husband’s in the kitchen. My child’s in the same kitchen. I’m in the bedroom. Yet when my darling offspring decides he’s hungry and needs to ask for a snack, he doesn’t ask his father who is standing right there in the room where we keep all of the food. No, he comes to find me, his mother, because apparently my husband is invisible.

I’ve joked before that I must have superpowers, because according to my family I’m the only one capable of doing certain things. No, seriously. I could be working on the computer and helping another child with schoolwork at the same time, while my husband is sitting in the same room doing exactly nothing, and my other kids will walk right past him to ask me a question.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like my hubby is a slacker father in any way. He’s present and involved and readily available and every bit as capable of slicing an apple as I am, children. They just don’t see it. When their little brain synapses fire with “need,” an image of me, me, and only me pops up in their heads. They don’t see their father at all.

In fact, sometimes my husband will ask a child what they need, and they’ll say, “I need to ask Mom a question.” And at least 90% of the time, it’s a question that my husband is totally able to answer.

It’s because I breastfed them too long, isn’t it? Or was it the co-sleeping? Maybe all that babywearing formed some super-psychic bond that makes them automatically seek me out for every need. No one warned me about this in the attachment parenting play group, people.

What’s really funny is when our kids are so tired of me responding with, “Ask your father! He’s right there!” that they finally do start to ask Dad for things. Because more often than not, they’ll address him as “Mama? I mean, Daddy?” At this point, I think the thesaurus entry for “father” should include “Mama-I-Mean-Daddy.” Kids just can’t seem to internalize the fact that their father is equally able to assist them. It goes against every one of their instincts.

I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had many a discussion with other parents about the Invisible Father syndrome, so apparently it’s universal. This is why moms complain about never getting to sit down to read a book, pee alone, or take a bath without kids taking a dump next to them. In fact, I’m convinced that kids’ needs are actually triggered by a mother’s sense of peace. The moment we have a little relaxation time or a few minutes to ourselves, the kids’ brains start flashing need-need-need, which of course brings up the Mom picture, and it’s all downhill for us from there.

I know this is true because of how many times my morning shower gets interrupted by kids asking me things. I’d estimate three or four times on average — every blessed day. My favorite is when they tell me they can’t find something or something isn’t working. Really, kids? 1) I’m in the shower, and 2) your father is right there.

I can’t decide whether I should feel sorry for my husband or jealous of him. I can tell he’s a little hurt that the kids always come to me, but at the same time, hello, they always come to me. Occasionally, he acknowledges how much this fact sucks for me, and he always does his best to steer the kids in his direction. But that’s kind of sad in itself, isn’t it? It’s like he’s that awkwardly desperate kid whom everyone avoided in school. “Hey kids, look! I’m here too! Don’t you wanna play with me? My mom made brownies!”

Lest you think this phenomenon happens because Dad is gone at work all day so the kids are used to coming to Mom…nope. My husband works from home, just like me. He’s here just as much as I am. Makes no difference. Not a lick.

If you have an invisible father in your house, I do have some hope to offer. My oldest, at almost 16, has finally become an equal opportunity help-seeker. She spreads it out pretty evenly between my husband and me, despite her extended breastfeeding and years of not being able to see her father in times of need for most of her life. So I know we can eventually train it out of our other two, and I’m sure you can too.

In the meantime, I recommend employing the answer I’ve used countless times over the years: “Go ask you dad — he’s right there,” and have faith that they’ll see him on their own. Eventually.

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